The Title of My Sermon Is – Welcoming Little Children

As I worked on preparing this message, I was sitting outside on the deck of a cruise ship looking out at the ocean – one of my most favorite things to do.  The reason is because when I look out at the ocean, it reminds me of how vast God’s love is for us – when you are in the middle of the ocean and there is no land in sight, you cannot see where the ocean begins, where it ends or where it stops and this is how God’s love is for us!  This is one of the times that I feel closest to God.

Today’s gospel is like a repeat of last week.  Last week Peter rebukes Jesus, Jesus rebukes Peter and commands the disciples to take up their crosses.  In this week’s Gospel, Jesus predict His betrayal, murder and resurrection, the disciples do not comprehend what Jesus is teaching them and Jesus gives a surprising definition of discipleship.  Again, we have prediction, misunderstanding and readjustment.  Why does Mark repeat all of this?  First in Mark, true discipleship is hard to accept.  Second, Jesus’ closest followers are so dense, we could say their elevators don’t go to the top floor or they are missing a few cards in their deck.  All throughout Mark the disciples are scared. 

Throughout his gospel, Mark spells out that those who have faith in Jesus, have nothing to fear. Yet, Mark does not even once attribute faith to the twelve disciples.

In Mark, Jesus makes three predictions of His passion, Mark 8:31, Mark 9:30-31 and Mark 10:33-34.  Jesus teaches that the Son of Man must go to Jerusalem suffer, die and on the third day be raised again.  This is the secret of Jesus’ Messiahship and it is now being revealed.  But Mark emphasizes that to follow Jesus is to follow a path of suffering and maybe, even death.

In our text today in verses 30-31, we see that Jesus continues to want to be in a secluded place to teach His disciples.  The reason Jesus wanted a secluded place was so that the disciples could really concentrate on what He was going to say to them.  Jesus continued teaching about His passion because if you remember, the disciples had not understood Jesus’ first prediction.  But now Jesus adds another prediction to His teaching and that is betrayal.  The word betrayal means “to be delivered up.”  Here God took the initiative in providing salvation for the human race by delivering up Jesus as part of God’s Grand Plan to redeem the world.

In verse 32, we see that the disciples still did not understand.  Maybe they were afraid to ask Jesus to explain more about exactly what He meant or maybe they feared facing a full revelation of the suffering that lay ahead.  Or maybe the disciples may have been afraid of being reprimanded like Peter was in our Gospel reading from last Sunday.   We can only comprehend the “why” by studying the Gospels. 

And what are the disciples doing instead of asking questions of Jesus about what He is talking about?  The disciples are arguing about who is the great among Jesus’ disciples all the time they were traveling.  Finally, they came to Capernaum and went to a house, most likely, Peter and Andrews.  And Jesus asked them, “what were you discussing on the way?”  Of course, there was silence!  No response at all to Jesus’ question.  The disciples were probably embarrassed and ashamed of arguing among themselves about who was the greatest of Jesus’ disciples.  And they should have been ashamed!!  Instead of thinking about what Jesus was telling them about His passion and suffering and what it would involve for Jesus and for them, they had been selfish and argued about greatness.

In verse 35, Jesus sits down and begins to teach the disciples again.  Jesus says, “if anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”  Jesus demonstrated that true greatness comes through service to others, and we know that this is exactly what Jesus demonstrated in His life on earth.  The service Jesus was referring to involved sacrifice. This idea of service to others is completely opposite of the values of our world today.

The more Jesus talks about His death the crazier the disciples got, so, to show the disciples what He meant, Jesus took a child and placed the child in His arms.  This was to show that true greatness means caring about all people – even insignificant people like children, because Jesus Himself was concerned about them.  Why children?  In Jesus’ time, children were at the bottom of the social scale in terms of status.  There was no other group this far down.  For Jesus to elevate children to the position of “first” was unimaginable!  So when we care about the lowest of people in our world today, we are “receiving” Jesus and God Himself.

All the values of the world today are turned upside down.  It takes caring for the least in the world to be like Jesus.  We must welcome those with no status.  Situate yourself in the world.  How do you regard yourself as you regard other people?  Do you recognize the least of people in our society?  Are you compassionate like Jesus was compassionate?

Jesus came to earth and proclaimed that the reign of God has come near.  Jesus called for repentance.  Jesus forgave sins.  Jesus healed diseases and disabilities.  All throughout His ministry, Jesus associated with the last and the least in society – Gentile women, bleeding women, lepers, raging demons, tax collectors and dishonorable sinners.  Jesus even welcomed little children much to the dismay of the disciples.  And just think.  For doing all of this Jesus was condemned as an outlaw and blasphemer by the religious authorities – who decide that Jesus must die!  The religious authorities decide this because they cannot tolerate the radical grace of God that Jesus proclaims and lives!

This radical grace of God that Jesus lives obliterates the world idea of greatness based on status, wealth and achievement or houses, cars and clothes.  Could this be one reason why we resist grace so much?  Is it more appealing to be great on the world’s terms than on Jesus’ terms?  Jesus terms means being humbled, lowly and vulnerable as a child.  Being great on Jesus’ terms is risky.  But greatness on Jesus’ terms is also the path to eternal life with our Savior.

Let us close with prayer.

Compassionate One, open the eyes of our hearts to all in need around us.  Move us beyond ourselves.  Give us courage to walk humbly with you so that we may learn to love mercy and do justice in all the places we dwell.  Amen