March 27, 2019- Who is the Greatest? Mark 9:33-50

suffer-the-children.jpg

And they (Jesus and His disciples) came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”  But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’  For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Mark 9:33-50 (ESV)

So who is the greatest? It’s a very human question. If we were to answer that question from our own perspective, would we look to historical “greats” such as Abraham Lincoln, or Winston Churchill or Mahatma Gandhi?  We like to categorize people and things- the top 40 pop songs, the 10 greatest visual artists, the 5 top movies of the season.  It seems silly that the disciples argued over who was the greatest among them, but we do the same thing to each other all the time.  We speculate over who has the most prestige, the most money, the best car, etc. and so on.

Jesus has different categories than we do. Who is greatest in the kingdom of God?  The helpless child, the one who quietly and humbly serves, the person suffering from dementia who doesn’t remember who he is, or the mentally challenged person whose only real ability is to smile- these are normally people considered among the “least.”  Yet in Jesus’ economy, these are the greatest, the ones to be considered first.

Jesus takes educating children in the faith (catechesis) very seriously.  As parents, grandparents and concerned people of God, we should care about our children’s Christian education.  Public schools are not permitted to teach anything regarding Christian faith.  Kids will NOT hear the Word of God or be taught about Jesus in public school.  If our children are going to know Jesus they need to learn about Him at home from parents and grandparents.  If children aren’t learning about Jesus from parents and grandparents then we as the church need to offer a safe place for kids to come to learn with solid resources.  Kids’ Worship, VBS, Day Camp, Scouts and Catechism all are ministries designed to bring the Word of God to our children. (Romans 10:17- So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.)

Jesus uses some very harsh language to describe the plight of those who mislead or mistreat children or who take advantage of people who are ignorant about Him. He also uses harsh language to remind us just how ugly our sin is, and to underscore how it separates us from Him.

He does not mean for us to literally put our eyes out or cut our limbs off, but to avoid those things that lead us to sin. The wages of sin is death, death that manifests itself in so many ways.  Therefore we should work together with other Christians and we should strive to help each other live in a way that is pleasing to God.

We are not able to live perfectly without sin. We live with one foot in an imperfect world and the other in the kingdom of God. Jesus has made us perfect in God’s sight- by faith.  By faith we respond by sharing the Good News with our children.

 

December 16, 2018 -John the Baptist, Repentance and O, Come Emmanuel!

john-baptist

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’” (Isaiah 40:3)

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.  People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.  Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

 

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:1-12 (NIV)

Repent. It’s not a word we like to hear.  It means we need to change our outlook, our opinions, our view of others.  It’s a word that says we not only need to identify our sins, but to confess to God and others that we fall short.  We’re not doing things correctly- too much we have done should have been left undone, and so much left undone that we should have done.  The apostle Paul shows us in Romans 7 that as long as we live in the “not yet” world, we will struggle with the dilemma of being both God’s saints and sinners who sin.  We can’t just straighten up and “fly right,” but we trust that Jesus has done for us what we are not capable of doing for ourselves.

Repentance is more than “I’m sorry I got caught,” or even a mia culpa. It is a deep desire to turn from our sins, a gift of the Holy Spirit that promises that in our baptism our sins are drowned and washed away from us every day.

John the Baptist points out that Abraham’s children are the children of the promise- the children who God has raised up in Christ.  John the Baptist points us to Christ, the one who was far greater than him.

In this season of Advent, we not only celebrate Jesus coming to us as God-with-us, we also look to His return to this earth.  The end of days as we know them and the re-creation of heaven and earth can and will occur at any time, but there is no cause for those who belong to Christ to fear.  Since we who trust Jesus know that we are baptized, named and claimed for Him and that He has won the victory over death, Satan, evil and hell, we look forward to that day.  The day of the Lord is near.  Repent and turn to Him.  He provides us with all we need, now and in the world to come.  O, come, o come, Emmanuel.