One Who Sent ~ Rev. Christy Clore
Text: Mark 9:30-37
September 20, 2015 Cycle B 17th
Sunday after Pentecost
Focus: Jesus personifies the demand for radical hospitality in a child, naming that by welcoming the child, embracing them, we welcome not just Christ, but we welcome the one who sent Christ. This act of welcoming is one that has such power to transform us—not simply the one who is welcomed by us— because it’s the sort of welcoming that forces us to release so much of what we think we understand, of what we desire. It is in this release of whatever it is we are holding onto so tightly that we are able to welcome not only Christ, but the God that sent Christ. God seeks to enter into our lives and when we release our hold on what we think we know, God is able to enter in and reshape us into the patterns of hospitality we are meant to follow as the brothers and sisters of Christ.
Prayer of Preparation: Holy Creator and Inspiration, you send Christ into the everyday, ordinariness of this worldly life. Through the invitation of Christ’s life, guide us to welcome not just Christ into our lives but to find our very selves. Let us be reshaped in all our patterns of hospitality as we welcome your very presence into the center of our being. Amen
Sermon: Last Spring, I invited our confirmation class to join me for a destination unknown on a Saturday. I had a full day planned and we were moving from place to place about every couple of hours throughout the day with our group of chaperones and youth. We shared lunch and a Bible study with Worth here at the church and moved into questions of what it means to live out of this connection between the Biblical story and our stories. So after a visit to the Bethabara palisade and conversation about what makes us community, we headed to Sam’s Club for a grocery scavenger hunt to prepare a dinner for our partner site with City with Dwellings, Augsburg Lutheran Church.
The youth filled the kitchen with laughter and activity as they helped to cook lasagna, mix salad and stuff goodie bags with sandwiches, granola bars and fruit. We spent a few minutes as the lasagnas cooked getting the kids ready to go – who they’d see and what to expect, reminders that the food we were bringing was for these guys whose lives were pretty different from their own. We were the volunteer crew for all the positions except for overnight staff that evening with Tiffany Woods joining us as the monitor for the night.
And so we arrived, 4 carloads of people and food. They got dinner set up and I was learning our guests names at check-in with Tiffany and Blake. Finally after everyone had a plate, several with seconds, all of our group were sitting down with food too. And I was exhausted – as I sat down with one of the older gentlemen at a table. Honestly, I was too tired to talk. I had been getting things ready for Sunday in classrooms at the church, getting the lunch food purchased, unloaded, and ready and then guiding the youth through their day since 8am and it was 8pm.
I greeted him, my table mate, but then was so tired I was gazing out into space somewhere up past his left shoulder when not scanning the room to check on all the youth. And he asked after a few minutes, “Do I have something on my shirt?” I snapped out of my distraction to reassure him, “No you don’t, I’m just very tired. It’s been a long day and I have another tomorrow. But so do you.” I was embarrassed by my own lack of presence, by my knowing better, but we welcomed each other in that moment and sat quietly together for several more minutes – I think he even brought over a cookie for me. God, the one who sent Jesus, showed up, even if I was a little slow to see the arrival.
My hands were almost too full, in the planning and ensuring safety for the youth, for me to be open to the exchange of ministry to one another that night. Welcoming a child, as Jesus puts forward to the disciples, forces us to drop what we’re carrying in order to fully welcome them – that we might catch a glimpse of the one who sent Jesus to share such a powerfully simple message.
Our text from Mark demonstrates the sandwiching of stories the author prefers. This is the first slice of the 2 part look at who is the greatest; we looked at the second half last week – with James and John asking for places at Jesus’ right and left. Bartimaeus’ healing offers an example of Jesus’ upside down kingdom in last week’s reading; the child that Jesus draws into the circle of disciples and then onto his lap becomes his example in this vignette.
“The one who sent me.” This phrase always catches my attention when I read this text. “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
One of the key characteristics for all of what Mark says about Jesus is that Jesus is the Son of God. God is the one who has sent, God is the one with the authority. God is the one that through Jesus desires to enter into our lives. And as Jesus attempts to teach his disciples this, he is forever trying to give them examples of how God’s reality calls for a reorganization of how they and the culture around them have always made sense of the world. Jesus is always confronting them with images that challenge the dominant notions of whom or what holds the power.
God’s power and authority simply doesn’t abide by the same rules.
And so, Jesus chooses to use a child to make his point with his disciples. Jesus pronounces that those who welcome a child, welcome God who lies at the heart of all that Jesus is doing. Perhaps what is most interesting about this text is not just that Jesus uses the metaphor of a child, but draws a child from the household the disciples are now in, brings the child to the center of their circle, and lifts the child into his arms as he makes his final point on the subject of argument at hand among them. They want to know who is greatest among them and Jesus calls them to account by saying that those who wish to be first must be servant of all and then draws the child in as the focal point for this final capstone—you must welcome the child as though it is me, and not only as though it is me, but as though it is the God that has sent me as Messiah to you.
In going back two thousand years to first-century Palestinian society a child would symbolize one with a complete lack of social status and legal rights. A child was a “non-person” totally dependent on others for nurture and protection, and one could not expect to gain anything either socially or materially from kindness to a child. By placing the child in the midst of his circle of disciples Jesus is clearly using this symbolic action as a way of instructing his disciples. By embracing the child, Jesus displays his acceptance of the child, who is a social nonentity unworthy of respect and care. In the perspective of Jesus even the most apparently insignificant people are important because they too, perhaps especially, carry the name of Jesus and belong to him. When Jesus embraces this child and says he or she should be welcomed as the disciples would welcome him and even more so, would welcome God, he is demanding that they put aside their pride —their clamoring for who is the greatest among them—and see that they are not being asked to climb the social hierarchy of Palestinian Jewish society, they are being asked to become servant and caretaker for those who are among the most disregarded.
One of the other subtle pieces of this metaphor of hospitality that is illustrated by the child that Jesus embraces is simply what is required in stopping to embrace a child. To welcome a child, to embrace them—we have to put down whatever we are carrying. We have to be willing to stop, to kneel down, to lay aside whatever we might have in our hands, whatever urgent task we are late for and enter a different rhythm of life. It demands of us a different pacing of our living and developing an accompanying attentiveness that we can too often allow ourselves to forget. In fact, the things we are carrying that must be laid aside to stop and embrace a child often require far more of us than simply laying down the physical burdens and barriers.
Last Spring, at that table, I was carrying the work of the day, the list for tomorrow – I hadn’t laid aside what I was carrying to greet my table companion fully. Miles had occasion to remind me of this yesterday at the Bethabara Apple Fest, I was tired and not feeling so well and he laid down his backpack in the midst of our moving through the many people there. We were halfway home when David asked Miles where his backpack was and Miles didn’t know, didn’t remember where he laid it down. And so, we stopped, turned around and searched for the backpack – even though I was tired and didn’t feel well – I had to lay some things aside. Children, especially little ones, fill our hands with their very selves, but they are not the only ones who need such care and attention. We all need some of this attentiveness and care that forces us to empty our hands. It can come with illness or age.
What might engagement with ministries like City with Dwellings CROPWalk, Stephen Ministry, our emerging Connections team – along with the many other ways we choose to act – mean for the open hands and reshaped selves of our life together? What else might we discover?
This laying down of what we carry in order to embrace a child, asks that we lay down anger or frustration, that we put aside our own hurts or injuries, that we bury our pride and seeking of status. Children have incredible gifts of dressing down the adults that interact with them, taking them down to a core perception of what is going on. They are incredibly perceptive and awake to the world around them. They know when the adults around them are preoccupied, they don’t care so much for what you wear or how much power you might have—they instead invite us to see again through their eyes a world that is marvelous. In that embrace, in welcoming the child, God and our wonder and awe about all that is around us enters us again—through the release and laying aside of what we are carrying that keeps us from hearing the movement and call of God. In welcoming the child, God enters into us again continue to transform us to know more fully what the kingdom of God truly offers, what it truly calls us to be. ”
There is something in the mere presence of a child that conveys the essential more wondrously than all of our adult words, understanding and efforts to give shape and meaning to life. There is something in welcoming the child that loosens our tight grip on things, on power and even on those treasures of life, love and faith we hold dear.”
Jesus personifies the demand for radical hospitality in a child, naming that by welcoming the child, embracing them, we welcome not just Christ, but we welcome the one who sent Christ. This act of welcoming is one that has such power to transform us—not simply the one who is welcomed by us— because it is the sort of welcoming that forces us to release so much of what we think we understand, of what we desire. It is in this release of whatever it is we are holding onto so tightly that we are able to welcome not only Christ, but the God that sent Christ. God seeks to enter into our lives in this way. When we release our hold on what we think we know and lay it aside, then God is able to enter in and reshape us into the patterns of hospitality we are meant to follow as the brothers and sisters of Christ.