Pastor’s Blog – from September 20, 2015
- Proverbs 31:10-31
- Psalm 1 (UMH 738)
- James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
- Mark 9:30-37
The “radical reversal” of the scriptures found in Mark 9: 30-37 is one that challenges us in many ways. I have seen it lead to divisions regarding specifically what the text is asking of us and what sort of life it is promoting. While some say we must drop all and follow Jesus others say we cannot be expected to look after others unless we look after ourselves and take care of our own. The text seems to imply that all those who have, or are of means, need to check themselves because all that material build up counts for nothing in the Kingdom of God.
What I see when I approach this story is that Jesus has a house in Capernuam. It is a place that the disciples are familiar with and it is a location that they return to again and again. Contrary to popular belief Jesus is not some wandering vagabond; rather, Jesus has an established place of residence. It is a warm place of familiarity to lay his head.
The next thing I notice are 3 components that make up this story. The first of which is the recurring theme of fear that has appeared in the lectionary as of late. Jesus warns the twelve of things to come, his prophecy of his own end, and they do not understand. In their misunderstanding they have fear and do not ask for clarification. Instead they discuss which of them is the greatest. The fear probably prompts them to this sort of discussion in response to Jesus’ worrisome proclamation because they are concerned about their own position in the coming kingdom.
The discussion that breaks out among the disciples leads us into the second component of the story. That is the “radical reversal.” The idea that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. It is an idea that destroys any worldly sense of hierarchy in the Kingdom to come.
The third component seems to contrast sharply with the build up and logical sequence followed in the first two components. The action itself is much like a parable. Jesus explains to the disciples that whoever accepts the child actually accepts Jesus himself, and that this mean they accept God, who sent Jesus.
When we examine all of these moving components of the story we get a larger perspective of what Jesus is talking about in this particular passage. All too often we fall into the same patterns of physical thinking and overlook the metaphysical implications of what Christ is telling us. When Christ in this story makes the first last statement the disciples have not been arguing about who has more, the are talking about who is the greatest as disciples; as a people who have already given up there possessions to follow Christ and perform their particular type of work.
Rather what I think we are witnessing is a teaching regarding fear and security. Fear being the central motivation for seeking the security of who is best; who has secured a position in the kingdom. It is at this point the “radical reversal” comes into the story and squashes all assurances of that security. Instead of being able to avoid such fear in that sense of security the disciples are only left with the option of embracing that initial fear that occurs in the first place.
Our fears are a natural part of our lives; they come with being human. We are brought into this world kicking and screaming, detached from the security of the mother to face brutal, cold reality. But Christ teaches that we should move beyond our fear. Rather than eliminate that fear, Christ offers the opportunity to embrace it and move forward with that human attribute with which we are all blessed.
Fear is not always a bad thing. Fear causes us to think. It is what drives us to study, to practice, to achieve new skills in order to be better equipped to take on our daily tasks. Fear can become a bad thing when it consumes us, however. When we act in fear we typically do not act with all our reason. While fear is a quality of being human, it is not the only quality so acting in our fear is not to act with the full reasoning blessed to the human condition.
When Christ introduces the child after this radical reversal he proclaims that to accept this child is to accept Christ-self and thus the Lord. What is the positioning of this Child? What is the Child’s relationship with fear?
Having taught children to snowboard I know that the most unsuspecting of people can do amazing things. I know that a properly empowered child can pretty much do anything they set their minds toward. A child is the best example of someone who does not begin without fear, initially they fear almost everything, but given the proper love support and care they will set this fear aside and quickly make it the last thing they react with; instead they lose themselves in involvement of whatever it is that has captured their attention.
Children are quickly fed by the things that we know to be Godly. They feed on trust, warmth, kindness and assurance. We should all learn to be like the child, accepting the spiritual gifts of Christ and placing our fears last as the component of our condition. We should move with our fears and not in the response of our fears.
Embracing our fear is what it means to embrace what is human. To be consumed by them is to only seek hopelessly for hierarchical seats in heaven that are not being offered. We cannot know the extent to which this lesson will bring blessing into our world. While this unknowing maybe the cause of our fear, we cannot let that prevent us from being what Jesus has called us to do for our fellow humankind.
Adam Hamilton recently spoke about what it means to be the Holy Catholic Church. He reflects on this creed of ours, and specifically the meaning of Ekklesia; the word for church used in the Greek texts. He tells us that this is what we are called into assembly for; to be a Christ-called people concentrated around the world.
We are called out by Christ to welcome the child into our care. This last week someone placed a story on my desk. The story told the tale of a Cambodian women that would not have made it to this country if it were not for the kindness of many that helped her along the journey. This woman had been a newborn during the time of the Kmer Rouge, a genocide that rocked the small Southeast Asian country.
In the story, as a small girl, she escapes in the care of her mother to Thailand. The Thai peoples did not care much for the Cambodian immigrants that were fleeing to their country so they placed them in refugee camps. As a child the camp was attacked with grenades one night and the girls mom took the brunt of the blast to save her child’s life. But she too was hit. A German doctor began to work on her thinking there would be no way to save her mother. After saving her, he was eventually able to move to the mother and save her life too.
Fast forward many years and the small child grew up to attend Oregon State University. This is were she began to fulfill her call to become a doctors She now works to save the lives of other people. When asked why it is that she is called to do this work she thinks back to the work of the doctor. He was a person that had come to a small country, a dirty country, a dangerous country in order to save those that would never be able to repay him.
We will never fully know the ripple effects of our actions and it is not for us to know. That is why it is useless to measure them up against one another in order to determine our hierarchical seats in heaven. Rather we are called to move forward, despite our fears, with the confidence of children as assemblies of Christ and perform these deeds in the world. That is what it means to accept the child.
We are called to love and nurture one another as the ekklesia. This nurturing is no different from what the Psalms teach us about; they are the nurturing waters of God. We are to be the trees planted steadfast and die-hard in this assembly spreading our branches out to the world that so desperately needs our love. This is what we affirm, week after week, in our creeds.