Who is the greatest?

Who is the greatest?

posted in: Sermons | 0

Readings for Pentecost 17

Jesus asks… “So… what were you talking about on the road?” Put another way, “what’s important to you?” What are we talking about in our churches today? What is important to us? What are our priorities? Prioritizing is a key skill when all of our lives seem so busy with too much to do. You’re likely feeling the crunch now as the Fall season gets underway and we become more busy at home, at school, at work, and at Church. So with Rally Day behind us, and as our program year kicks into gear, what are our priorities?

Here are some questions that have been posed for us by to think about this Sunday to help us think about our priorities:

What is your congregation known for in the community?
How is it making a difference?
What would be missing in your community if your congregation ceased to exist?
What do you do that you celebrate and are proud of?

We all want to belong to successful organizations, and the Church is no different. Just as the disciples discussed their vision of greatness, we all want our Church to be successful in its ministry. That’s a good thing. But by asking us to think about “what we’re talking about” here, or what’s important to us, Jesus calls us to examine our priorities. What do success and greatness in God’s kingdom look like?

Jesus goes to great lengths to answer this question by talking about the cross. Here in the middle of Mark’s Gospel, he will make his mission to the cross the focal point of God’s new kingdom. Sacrificial love and service are the heart of the Gospel. It is where our priorities should lie. One cannot talk about the joy of God’s kingdom without love and service to neighbor. We cannot turn blind eyes to poor and vulnerable people. We must love, welcome, and accept them into open arms as Jesus did for all humanity on the cross.

But somehow the disciples don’t seem to get this. We are tempted to read some feelings of guilt into their silence when confronted on their ideas of greatness. What did success and greatness look like to them? Well, I have a pretty good guess that it’s all the things we often want so bad. To be richer, to be more successful in terms of job promotions and bigger achievements, to be safer and more comfortable, to have nicer and better things, and to be the “in” crowd.  In the church, we want our pews to be full, our budgets to be cushy, our worship to be vibrant, and people to simply come and support what we do. It’s easy too see how the desire for greatness creeps into all areas of our lives and society. And so fingers point blame, and we avoid dealing with real issues, while playing the victim card and trying to think of ways to “make ourselves great again.” In recent news, we are seeing how great politicians are at all of these strategies, but preachers and church leaders are not immune either.

But fortunately Jesus’ way isn’t about any of that. He turns that all upside down in his explanation that follows, using a child as a sermon illustration. God’s kingdom isn’t about our wants or needs, but about caring for the wants and needs of others-particularly those who are helpless and vulnerable (children in Jesus’ time). Following Jesus to the cross doesn’t offer blessing of wealth, health, power, or safety. Instead, the cross is a way where we are blessed by helping others who don’t have those things.

And that’s the great scandal and irony of the whole thing. Who would go along with that? Who leader would get supporters with that plan? Why would we want that? And so when we are confronted with the question of what is important to us, we respond with chirping crickets, just like the disciples. The answer is too often ourselves.

And since we find that God’s kingdom isn’t built around us and what we want, the only thing we can do is ask for the grace and forgiveness we need to keep trying. What the cross does promise is that forgiveness. We come to the cross asking for forgiveness because we have not been the servants we have been called to be. God’s kingdom isn’t built with us at the center, but it is most certainly built with God at the center. The cross is a testament to God being present in the world, even in the most difficult and broken places, despite anything or everything that we do. God doesn’t promise to bless us with greatness, good health, or lots of money, (contrary to everything we read about God on Facebook) but God does promise to be with us through all of our struggles. God builds a kingdom around a way of love and service-when people love and serve each other, and offers forgiveness and continues to be good, even when we fail.

So, having been forgiven… having heard the Good News that God is with us and will not abandon us, can we keep trying? Can we trust that it is never too late to re-prioritize? Can we boldly follow Christ into our world and find new ways to embody this kind of radical love and service that the cross draws us to? As we continue on the road, what are we going to talk about? What’s going to be important to us? Let’s talk about it! Let us know what you think in the comments below!

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