Sunday, September 23, 2012

how to be the greatest

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

There seems to be a natural tendency for people to want to be better than everybody else, to lord it over them … we see it in the Bible a lot … Cain wants to be better than Able … Jacob wants to be better than Esau … the Philistines want to lord it over than the Hebrews … so do the Egyptians … we see it in History too … that's why we have characters like Alexander the Great and Pompey Magnus or the great one … or Peter the Great … or even Mohamed Ali being called the Greatest …

So we shouldn't be too surprised the the disciples in today's Gospel are arguing about which of them is the greatest … they're only following human nature … but Jesus, despite the fact that they are only doing what is natural, seems to be disappointed in what's going on … But before we go into that, let's back the story up a bit, and see how we got to where we are …

Our reading begins with Jesus and his followers walking … they are in the region of Galilee … a fairly dry and dusty place unless you are right near the freshwater of the lake itself … the colours of the landscape are sandy reds and light browns … with some greens when the season is right … vines, olives, other small trees … and the season is right in our story today … because in this part of the Gospel Jesus is just about to start his journey to Jerusalem, to the scene of his passion and death … that will take place during Passover … the time we know would think of as coming up to Easter … so it is springtime … there are green-shoots everywhere … and blossoms on all the trees amidst the different shades of browns … but that is not what Jesus is thinking about as they walk along … he is thinking of his passion that is to come … he has already told his followers about it twice now … but they don't understand … we heard him tell them about it in last week's Gospel … and St Peter tried to tell him he was wrong! He tells them about it again in this week's Gospel, but they don't really seem to understand …

So maybe that's why Jesus is walking alone as they journey home to Capernaum … the Gospel doesn't say that in so many words, but it seems to imply it … because when they get back to the house on the Lake that is their base and Jesus asks them what they were talking about, there is a guilty silence … they hadn't realised he had heard … so he must have been walking a little apart from them …

Can you picture this group of people as they walk? Jesus and the 12 of course; but others too, other disciples, and as we know Jesus had women followers as well as men, they are a mixed group … not too rich, so their clothes, robes we might call them that flow down to their ankles are probably plains colours, different shades of brown, their feet in sandals … the women with their heads covered as was the custom, the men probably bare headed in the spring sunshine … Jesus a little bit ahead … in Mark's Gospel everything is done with urgency … there are a lot of 'and thens' & 'at onces' pushing us from scene to scene … Mark is trying to convey Jesus' sense of mission, I think, to show the drive & dedication he had to the task he had … so he is walking briskly, but perhaps with his head down … seemingly lost in thought … and why wouldn't he be? He knows what is to happen soon … he knows he is to suffer and die … it is on his mind & he has finally started to talk about it … but his disciples don't understand … and even though his own situation looms large in his mind he can still overhear snippets of the chatter coming from behind him as the men and women following him shorten the road with some conversation …

And what are they talking about? Well their leader is the Messiah! Peter said so and Jesus agreed with him! And something amazing just happened up the mountain! Peter & James and John won't talk about it much, but it must have been something amazing, cause they are looking at Jesus with a new sense of awe in their eyes … whatever happened it must have really confirmed that he is the Messiah … how could he not be? Haven't they all seen the miracles? He cures people, casts out demons, even has control over the weather! He is the Messiah and they are his followers … his first followers … which means that when he takes over, they are going to be the first in line for helping him run the show … so they are getting really excited about what is happening …. and they start to have an animated discussion about which of them are going to be top of the heap when that day comes when the … which of them are the greatest …

But they don't want Jesus to hear, because he has already told them that to be his followers means a life a self-denial … and so when the get to the house and the closed of his followers have gone in with him … and he asks him what they were talking about, they fall silent … they are ashamed and don't answer him … because they already know that this isn't what he expects of his followers …

So what happens next? He calls the 12 near to him … think about this scene … there's too many for everyone to fit in the house … only the closest are with him … from those he calls the 12 to be near him … so think of rings or circles … and the nearer you are to Jesus, the higher up you are, the more important you are … and what does he do? Who does he call to be right next to him? A child. A lowly child. Someone who was of no importance in that time and place. This is the one he takes into his arms. This is the one he holds up to the adults. This is the one he tells them they must be like. The one who is closest to him is the one no one can think of as being of any importance … someone no one can think of as being the greatest … a child … he wants them to put aside all their worldly ideas … all their man-made ideas of what it means to be great or important … and just follow him … just serve him and serve others in his name … just listen to his teaching … and live their lives the way God wants them to … not the way that they want to … not with ambition or greed or self-importance … but humbly … and if you can do that … if you can humbly serve those whom human society sees as being of no importance … and welcome them in Jesus name … and in the name of the Father who sent them … then you have come to understand what it means to be 'great' in the kingdom of God … by being the one no one thinks of as the greatest …. not an easy thing to do, to set aside all our worldly ambition and seek only to do the will of God … but Jesus helped his disciples to understand finally … and to live their lives accordingly … and it is something that I pray you will understand and do also, with the help of God: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.
sermon notes for 23 September 2012 (16h after Trinity) 

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