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.

 

March 19, 2018- Show Me Jesus- Psalm 4, John 12:20-25

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Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

How long will you people turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?  Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.

Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Offer the sacrifices of the righteous and trust in the Lord.

 Many, Lord, are asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?” Let the light of your face shine on us. Fill my heart with joy when their grain and new wine abound.

 In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4 (NIV)

 

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival.  They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”  Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. John 12:20-25 (NIV)

The human condition is such that we have all experienced the “dark night of the soul.” People who live with anxiety especially know the fear that seemingly comes from nowhere and grips one in the middle of the night. Panic attacks and night terrors are not logical, nor are they pleasant, but in the midst of them we can cry out to God and cling to Him, knowing that He does hear our prayers and He does have mercy on us. The Good Shepherd we learn of in Psalm 23 truly does walk with us through the valleys, even through the valley of the shadow of death.  Even though we can at times be terrified, (with rational explanation or not) Jesus is with us, in us, and through us, even in our terror.  He has defeated the things that terrify us.  Death no longer has power over us- let alone the lesser things that vex us. See 1 Corinthians 15:54-57.

There is a prayer (St. Patrick’s Breastplate) attributed to St. Patrick in which he affirms:

Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

The Greeks in the passage from John 12 came to Philip and asked to see Jesus. Jesus may have surprised them in what He told them- that to gain your life you have to be willing to lose it.

Some of the most miserable people on earth are also some of the most materially wealthy. There is a saying that “money buys one the misery one likes the best.” Many of us would like to test that theory!  The reality is that we are made in God’s image- God Who is a gracious and generous God.  When we give of our time, talents and resources from the overflow of a grateful and loving heart, we fulfill the purpose God made us for- to be His hands and feet here on earth.

It’s not always easy to surrender our lives to serving God. It means we have to sacrifice, just as a farmer or gardener has to sacrifice to sow seeds, tend and weed them, and harvest the crops when they mature.  Nothing worthwhile is easy, but we remember that Jesus came and lived on earth, died on the Cross and rose from the grave so that we may have abundant life, (John 10:10) not just in the world to come, but now too.

It may sound simplistic to say that if you want to see Jesus you have to be willing to be Jesus.  For the hedonistic Greeks it meant they had to espouse a lifestyle of sacrifice and sharing instead of one of opulence and being served by others. We are not Jesus of course, but as His people we are called to be His hands and feet here on earth. Martin Luther actually said we are called to be “Little Christs” here on earth.  We know that He is before us, beside us, within us, and that He has already conquered sin, death and anything that can cause us fear.  He is with us to bring us peace, love and joy- to spread around now and in the world to come.