The 17th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 20B (Sept. 20, 2015)

Lessons:Jeremiah 11:18-20 or Wisdom 1:16 – 2:1, 12-22 Psalm 54 (4) James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a St. Mark 9:30-37 Semicontinuous Series Proverbs 31:10-31 Psalm 1 (3)

Prayer of the Day: O God, our teacher and guide, you draw us to yourself and welcome us as beloved children. Help us to lay aside all envy and selfish ambition, that we may walk in your ways of wisdom and understanding as servants of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

9:30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.  33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

St. Mark 9:30-37 New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Last of All and Servant of All

“He was teaching his disciples, but they did not understand.” In this way, St. Mark characterizes the ministry of Jesus. We may be tempted to think poorly of these men, who live in the presence of the Savior yet never seem to figure out what he is all about. But if we are honest about it, there are no shortage of ways that people misunderstand him still today. The Prosperity Gospel argues that God wants all believers to be financially successful. Focusing on the family shifts the believer’s attention from the world to his or her own home. Over-emphasis on liturgy suggests that faith is all about ritual behavior. Making rules and regulations central to life suggests that faith is all about moral or ethical commitments. Muscular Christianity promotes manly behavior and rewards those with physical prowess. The list seems to go on and on.

Perhaps it is so difficult for the disciples (and us!) to understand because the way in which God’s kingdom breaks into this world through Jesus is not always what we may have expected. The disciples surely are imagining that their proximity to Jesus will pay off for them if he is the Messiah who ushers a new kingdom. We may be tempted to imagine that our Christian faith will pay off for us, making our lives more productive or successful. Yet in this text, Jesus explains that at the heart of his ministry will be betrayal, death and resurrection. And referring to the ministry of his followers, he says: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

Then, to dramatize what he is trying to help them understand, he takes one of the most vulnerable and insignificant members of society into his arms, and declares that caring for the needs of a child is the kind of activity that welcomes God into the center of a believer’s life.

We may be tempted to suspect that dramatic acts of service are what God most desires. The evangelist who brings thousands to faith. The medical missionary who ministers to people in far-off locations. The author whose writings are a source of strength and hope for many. But the reality is, we are called to a daily life of thinking more highly of others (and their needs) than we do of ourselves. We are called to a daily life of offering ourselves in service. Family members, community members, fellow students, co-workers, friends and acquaintances; these immediate neighbors of ours are the ones we are called to serve. “He took a little child and put it among them; and took it in his arms.” Our acts of kindness, whether great or small, are to be signs of our participation in the life of Christ.

This weekend our congregation will be participating in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s “God’s Work. Our Hands.” Sunday initiative. After a brief worship service we will make our way into the neighborhoods that surround us to offer ourselves in service to our neighbors. It will be, we hope, a way to proclaim what has long been at the heart of our Lutheran movement: a deep care and concern for our neighbor. It also will be, we hope, a concrete way to respond to Jesus’ words in this Sunday’s Gospel lesson.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why is it so hard for the disciples to understand Jesus?
  2. What is at the heart of what Jesus is inviting them to experience?
  3. How might the image of the child have spoken to them?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. In what ways have I misunderstood the message of Jesus?
  2. How has my Christian faith changed my outlook on life and living?
  3. In what ways will I attempt to serve my neighbor in the coming days and weeks?