Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, September 23, 2012
What Is Greatness? - September 23, 2012 - Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20) - Text: Mark 9:30-37
Last week we heard the narrative concerning the problem the disciples had in casting out a demon from a young boy. We heard Jesus lament over this “faithless” generation and how He would probably have the same words of concern and lament for our faithless world today. We were reminded that the miracles of Jesus and His disciples served the purpose of validating their teaching and how after Jesus suffered, died, rose and ascended back into heaven and how as the apostles passed on, so did the ability to do miracles. And we were warned of the false teaching of today that suggests that if you have faith enough you can do miracles which often leads people who cannot do miracles to despair thinking they do not have faith.
This morning we have moved ahead one verse in Mark’s Gospel. The disciples have been with Jesus for some time. They have seen the sign, wonders and miracles He has performed. They have heard Him preach and He has taught them personally. Certainly we would think that they know that Jesus is the Savior of the world, yet as we see they do not understand what that means. They are thinking in worldly terms of fortune, fame and power. They have been with Jesus and have seen the great things He has done and can do. And they are looking to capitalize on being in Jesus’ “cabinet of advisors” when He “takes over the world.” They are thinking in terms of true earthly greatness.
We live in a world in which the view of greatness includes money, fame, and power. In our world of today, money is seen as success. If I earn more money than you then that means that I am more successful than you. If I have more money than you then I am better than you. Very often money is the driving force behind one’s behavior. We see people today who do everything they do for the express purpose of making more money. Yet, too often we see that the richest people are very often the saddest people.
In our world today, fame is seen as success. Famous people are seen as successful and are looked up to. We all dream of our fifteen seconds, or is it fifteen minutes, of fame. Again, if I am more famous than you then I am more successful than you. If I am more famous than you then I am better than you. The drive for fame moves people to compromise anything and everything in order to be famous. Yet, again, too often we see that the most famous people in the world are very often the saddest people as well.
In our world today, power is seen as success. People who have worked their way up the ladder into positions of power are seen as being successful. If I have a higher position in the corporate structure then I am seen as being more powerful and more successful than you. If I am more power than you then I am better than you.
These three, money, fame and power are strong forces in our world. The temptation of these three simply for the sake of having them is great. And lest we think that we do not have these influences attacking us because we are not the richest people in the world, we are not the most famous nor the most powerful, we had better beware and take heed, before they do overpower us. The enticement of money, fame, and power attacks everyone, even down to the lowest who would like to step on those above them to get to the top. If you do not believe me, I will give you a few examples of how this happens to us, right here.
Have you ever thought to yourself or even out loud that the money you are paid for your work is yours and that God had nothing to do with your earning it? Have you ever thought about not putting a portion of your earnings in the offering plate because you did not like what God’s called servant the Pastor did or said? Have you ever thought you would just put some money in the offering plate so that someone else could be paid to do the work of telling others about Jesus and helping out around church so you would not have to? These are ways we use money for control and these are ways we sin.
Have you ever thought about using your influence to get things your own way? Maybe you like the way things are at church, you do not want to grow and have others take what you think to be your place of influence? Maybe there are times which you say things that are true, but are not helpful? Maybe there are times which you do not say something helpful, but allow hurtful things to be said instead? These are ways we use our fame for control and these are ways we sin.
Have you ever thought about the power you think you might have by being on a particular board or committee? Maybe you get a feeling of power by being on a particular board or committee? Maybe you have forgotten that the term used for being on boards and committees is the term “serve”? These are ways we use our power for control and these are ways we sin. And let us not think lightly of this, because sin is sin and sin, all sin, our imagined big sin or little sin, all sin is punishable by eternal spiritual death. We are deserving of hell for these sins and for lesser sins. So, what do we do? How do we correct our sins? Is there any hope or us? Yes, there is always hope for us.
God’s view of greatness is seen in the person and the work of His Son, Jesus. God reminds us that money is important, but only as we use it as a tool and especially as we use it as a tool for Him and in service to Him and His kingdom, never as we use it for personal selfish reasons. Jesus showed us how to use money in that He had no money, He had no need for money and yet He had access to all He needed and all He wanted. Jesus reminds us that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” and we have seen that this is true. Jesus reminds us that the heart of the matter is our motives and is our heart, “for where a man’s treasure is, there is his heart.” What is most important to you in your life can be seen by where we spend our money.
God’s view of fame is that it should be used in service to others. Jesus was probably one of the most, if not the most, famous person in all human history. Yet, He did not use that fame for His own selfish purposes, rather He used His life for the salvation of the world and more in particular, He used His life, He gave His life for you.
God’s view of power is that we should serve and not be served. Jesus’ words to His disciples and to us are, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Jesus is God. He was and is the most powerful person ever and yet He did not use His power for Himself or for His own interest. He used His power to save all people, you and me included.
Who is the greatest? Well, I believe Jesus is the greatest, yet to illustrate who is the greatest, Mark tells us in our text that Jesus “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.’” Notice that Jesus points, not to Himself as being the important one to be welcomed, but to God the Father. If we want to be great we will want to welcome the little children of the world.
And why are children the greatest? Well, children are not the greatest, but one having faith as a little child is the greatest. Have you ever noticed the faith of a little child? Children, really, have nothing which is theirs. They trust their parents, and here we might say they trust God acting through their parents, for everything, clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and home, and so forth. Likewise, Jesus’ compares us as He calls us His little children. We have nothing of our own. All that we have is on loan from Him and we, as His little children, with His help, trust that as He has, so He will continue to provide us with all that we need. And most especially, we trust that He has provided for our greatest need, the forgiveness of sins. For we do indeed, daily sin much in thought, word and deed. We do daily, fail in our use of our money, fame and power in service to Him and His kingdom. Yet, He is there always ready to forgive and give us a second chance, again and again.
How does this look, practically speaking? When Jesus looks at us, does He see us as His disciples arguing about who is the greatest? Or who gets their way? Or does He see us pulling together as His people, the people He died for and saved? Does He see us pulling together to do the work He has for us to do in this place because we see the opportunities for us to get our own hands dirty with the hard work of spreading His Gospel message to these people who do not know Him? What an opportunity lays before us, but we cannot sit around and let just a few people make it happen. We all want to be involved. My prayer continues to be that the Lord would stir in the hearts of us all to pull together, to encourage one another, to pray for each other, to use our money, our fame and our power for the purpose of serving Him and extending His kingdom. And yes, we cannot do this alone, but here we have God’s promise that He is with us and that He will be with us until the end of the age.
When we go out to eat, and that is not that often, I evaluate my waiter or waitress by their invisibility. I believe a good waiter or waitress is one who takes care of filling my glass, bringing me anything extra I might need, without my being aware of it. A good waiter or waitress is one who takes such good care of me that I do not even realize they are around. Jesus is the greatest Savior of all. He has taken such good care of us, suffering, dying and rising, forgiving our sins, so that, unfortunately, too often we are not even aware of all that He has done for us and all that He continues to do for us. (And here I might say, tongue in check, this is so unfortunate so that we do not even tip Him as much as we do our waiter or waitress.) Jesus is the greatest and He shows us what greatness is all about, and what is more, He works in us to serve Him in His kingdom in such a way that our service is unnoticed by others, but is noticed by Him.
God gives and we are given to. Jesus came, not simply to be an example for us, but to do for us what we are unable to do. Jesus came, not to be famous for us, not to be rich for us, not to be powerful for us, although we might imagine that as true God He is the most famous, the richest and the most powerful. Yet, for our sakes He gave up all the fame, richness, and power that was His. He gave up all the glory that was His in heaven for us, in order to become one of us, in order to take on flesh and blood. Jesus lived for us, in our place, as our substitute, doing for us what we cannot do, live perfectly. Jesus suffered all the temptations we suffer and greater. Jesus never concerned Himself with all the things of this world as we do. Instead, Jesus concerned Himself with the most important tasks, taking care of our sin so that we might be with Him in heaven. Let me assure you and encourage you, Jesus has taken care of your greatest need, forgiveness of sins. And as He has, so He will continue to take care of all our other needs. His desire is to have you, to have your heart and if and when He has you, He will have all of you. What a great God we have. What a loving God we have. What a gift giving God we have. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.