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

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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.

 

July 19, 2017 – Do Not Fear, or Be Afraid- Isaiah 44:6-8, Matthew 10-28

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Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; besides Me there is no god. Who is like Me? Let them proclaim it, let them declare and set it forth before Me. Who has announced from of old the things to come?  Let them tell us what is yet to be. Do not fear, or be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? You are My witnesses! Is there any god besides Me? There is no other rock; I know not one. Isaiah 44:6-8 (NRSV)

Fear is a word that can be taken in a few different ways in Scripture, but the only “fear” that we are told to hold onto is “fear of the Lord.”  The phrase “fear of the Lord” appears 134 times in the NRSV translation of the Bible, so it is an important theme.  However, the English translation, “fear of the Lord” can more accurately and completely be taken as meaning, “an obedient reverence and awe of the Lord.”

God doesn’t want us to be afraid of people or afraid of what people think they can do to us. As much power as some individuals may hold- even up to the power of physical life and death- all power ultimately comes from God.

Jesus tells us-

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 (NRSV)

The fear of hell never brought salvation to anyone, and that’s not what Jesus is emphasizing here.  He is underscoring the point that there is a limit to what power other people and earthly circumstances actually have over us.  Life in the physical body is only for a limited time.  The worst thing any human or any condition can do to us is to extinguish the life of our bodies.   That is eventually going to happen anyway. Bodies are temporary.  But our souls live on, and they belong to God.

So God’s the one we need to be concerned with. Not with the fear of other people’s wrath, or the pursuit of stuff, or the fear of scarcity, or the fear of pain, or the fear of anything else.

God isn’t a big fan of people being bullies, or of people living to be trendy, or of people striving to “have it all.” God is a big fan of people living according to His love- bringing mercy and kindness to others, standing up to injustice, and being His hands and feet here on earth.  It’s His opinion of us that matters, because it is life with Him that will last.

What are we afraid of? What (or who) is holding us back?