Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sermon for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost (September 23, 2012)

Wordle: Untitled

Text: Mark 9:30-37

           In the movie “Rain Man,” Charlie Babbitt is a successful, smug, self-centered, smooth-talking young man running from a background he barely remembers.  Raymond Babbitt is his autistic brother who is really a genius who remembers everything.[1]  And Charlie has had nothing to do with Raymond since he left home many years ago following an argument with their father.
As the movie begins, Charlie has inherited a ’49 Buick from his recently deceased father.  Raymond, however, has inherited three million dollars.  Charlie, therefore, tries to trick his disabled brother out of the money.  The rest of the film shows them driving across America.  Along the way, Charlie is obliged to modify his selfish intentions to meet his brother's anxious need to maintain his routines and rituals.  For example, Raymond has uncontrollable fits if he doesn’t get to watch “Judge Wapner” and “People’s Court” every day at the same time in the afternoon.  Also, he will wear no other underwear except those bought at K-Mart.
During their road trip, Charlie finds himself beginning to change.  His self-centeredness is shattered by his brother.  Whereas he once considered himself better than his brother, more successful, more intelligent, and more entitled to his father’s inheritance, Charlie learns to love and to serve his brother and to care for him as he needs to be loved and cared for.
You and I are a lot like Charlie Babbitt.  We often think we are better than others.  We reason with ourselves and try to justify our behavior and our attitudes, setting ourselves above other people.  Somebody cuts us off on the freeway, we yell at them, and we think to ourselves, “I’m a much better driver than that.  I would never do that!”  We look at the way someone is dressed, and we take pride in how much more stylish our own clothes are.  Those who are conservative think, “How can those liberals be so immoral?”…and those who are liberal think “How can those conservatives be so stupid?”  As Christians, we also take pride in our moral values.  Like the Pharisee in Jesus’ story, we thank God that we are not like all those other “sinners” out there.  Like Charlie Babbitt, we might think that we are more entitled to the inheritance of our Heavenly Father because of the type of people we are.
          Jesus overheard the disciples talking about which of them was the greatest.  When he questioned them about this, they were silent.  They were ashamed and embarrassed.  And indeed they should have been ashamed.  Instead of contemplating what Jesus had just told them about – his suffering and death – they had been occupied with the senseless argument about who among them was the greatest.[2]
Likewise, it is time for us to be silent before the condemning accusations of God’s Law.  We should be ashamed and embarrassed that in our sinful pride we have thought that we were better than other people.
Mark writes that Jesus sat down to teach.  In those days, teachers sat down when they had something very important to say.  So the disciples knew to listen carefully.  And we must listen carefully to Jesus’ words here, too.  His words will lead us to repent of the ways in which we have considered ourselves the greatest.  And his mercy and grace will lead us to willingly obey his words.
          Jesus calls us to be last of all and servant of all.  How do we do this?
          Jesus gave a concrete example about how to be the last of all and servant of all.  He took a little child and had him stand among their little gathering there.  Then, he took the child in his arms and said, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”  What is Jesus teaching the disciples … and us?
Jesus is teaching us that the way you treat children shows a lot about how to be last of all and servant of all.  Children are sometimes seen as insignificant.  They are helpless, weak, and small.  In the same way, there are people in this world who we may see as insignificant, helpless, weak, and small … either because they really are, or because we think we are better than them.  Do we reach out to them like Jesus reached out to that child?  Do we take them into our arms and love them like Jesus does?  Being last of all and servant all means to receive others in the name of Jesus.  Love them with the love of Jesus.  When we do, we also show our relationship with the God the Father, as Jesus said, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
Where you and I have failed to become the least of all and the servant of all, Jesus became least of all and servant of all for us, in our place.
Philippians 2 tells us that Jesus “ made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:7-8).  Jesus, although he was fully God, made himself to be nothing when he was born in that lowly stable in Bethlehem.
And he lived his entire life as though he were nothing, putting the needs of others before himself.  He came and showed his care for those who were helpless, weak, small, insignificant.  He showed his love not only to children, but also to the sick, the lame, the blind, the outcasts … and most importantly, to the sinner.
          In our text, Jesus foretold that he would be delivered over into the hands of men.  With a kiss, Judas, his betrayer, delivered him over into the hands of those who wanted to kill him.
But Romans 8:32 reminds us that this was all in God’s plan.  St. Paul writes, that God the Father “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32).  God the Father delivered his own Son over into death.  Jesus willingly gave up his life for us all.
Sadly, the disciples did not learn their lesson here.  In fact, it was right after the Lord’s Supper that this dispute arose again.  As was the custom of the day, they were all reclining around the table.  Their meal was finished, and the after dinner conversation once again was “Who is the greatest?”  Luke records Jesus’ response in chapter 22 of his Gospel.  He said, “who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27).
Jesus reminded them of what he had just done.  He had just served them with his body and blood.  In few hours, that same body was going to be nailed to the cross and that same blood was going to be poured out as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.  He was indeed among them as one who serves.  The disciples would never be great on their own.  They would be great, though, in God’s eyes through faith in Jesus’ great saving death and resurrection.  They would be great through the servant-like love that flows from that faith.
Jesus is among us today.  We have become great in his sight through the gift of his righteousness.  Through faith in his saving death and resurrection, you are declared holy and righteous in his sight.  You are invited to recline at His table … or kneel, as the case may be.  God himself comes to you today and serves you with His own body and blood.  As you receive these gifts in faith, God also serves you with his love and forgiveness, with life and salvation.
          Now, we gladly can be last of all and servant of all.  But be aware that this kind of servanthood may bring suffering.  It did so for Jeremiah in today’s OT.  It did so for Jesus.  And it meant suffering and martyrdom for the apostles.  But that is the path to true greatness … not in the world’s eyes, but in God’s eyes.  And it’s not your own greatness.  We do not serve to be great.  We serve because it is our thankful response to what God has done for us in Christ Jesus … his suffering, his cross, his death.  It is the response of faith, the faith whereby we receive greatness in God’s eyes … the greatness of God’s love … the greatness of God’s forgiveness.

[1] This and the following information was primarily found at
[2] Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Mark, p. 706

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