They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever.

Mark 9:30-37

Pastor Marc's sermon on the 16th Sunday After Pentecost (September 20, 2015) on Mark 9:30-37. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


Later today, starting at around 1 pm or so, my family is going to notice I’m looking at my phone a little more than normal. They’re going to see me cheer - grumble - say “yesss!” - to no one in particular. I’m going to totally confuse my two sons. And that’s because they do not realize that in my fantasy football league, the mighty Paramus Avengers, led by Seattle Seahawks’ Quarterback Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos defense is taking on that powerhouse from the nation’s capital, I Call Shanahanigans, led by running back Jamaal Charles and quarterback Matthew Stafford. It’s my game of the week. 

Now, I’ve been playing fantasy football, poorly, for years because, well, there’s more to football than just watching it. There’s also that part where I need to pretend to be the coach and owner - yelling at the tv and telling the professionals how they should be playing the game. I need to be arguing with my fellow fantasy football players that starting Tre Mason, running back for the St. Louis Rams, is the right thing to do today. I need to have these arguments - investing myself emotionally, almost spiritually, into a fantasy for a sport where the integrity of that sport and the league is questionable. Fantasy football: that’s going to be focus of all my ridiculous arguments today. 

What’s going to be yours? 

Now, ridiculous arguments don’t need to be intense. They don’t even need to be angry. They just need to be silly, like one of those arguments when, in the middle of it, we literally say out loud “why are we arguing about this?!” Like arguments with our kids about whether they should wear red or orange shoes. Or, even better, arguments with inanimate objects - like our car or that vacuum that just won’t suck up that one piece of lint like it should. I’m sure we’ll all have our share of ridiculous arguments this week. And the disciples, while walking with Jesus, they had their share of ridiculous arguments too. Because that’s what we’re hearing in the gospel of Mark today. Jesus and his disciples are wandering around Galilee, heading from town to town, and the disciples are spending their time having a ridiculous argument about which one of them is greater than the others. 

We don’t know what criteria the disciples used for this comparison. Maybe they were comparing the number of people they healed or who faced the scariest demon when Jesus sent them out a few chapters earlier. Or maybe, after awhile, the argument devolved - focusing on smaller, more petty things, like who has the best hair or who’s the tallest. Or maybe they just fussed over which one Jesus loved the most. Either way, Jesus - who’s walking ahead of them - keeps talking about the next part of the story: about Jerusalem, the Cross, and being raised from the dead. But the disciples aren’t listening. Instead, they’re putting each other down, and saying that they are the best. But the best at what exactly? The best at not understanding what Jesus is actually saying? The best at trying to stop people from finding Jesus? Or, like we heard last week, are they arguing about which one of them is the best at telling Jesus he’s wrong? If you’re walking around with God’s Son, hanging out with a guy who casts out demons, makes the blind see, and feeds thousands of people with the crumbs he finds in his pocket - arguing about who is greatest is….well - pretty ridiculous. 

But it’s easy to be that kind of ridiculous - and not just because it’s fantasy football season. We spend a lot of time looking around at what seems greatest. There’s always that better house; that better car; that better job. There’s always the need for more money so we can buy the newest iPhone, newest BMW, or that gold plated Apple watch. And there’s always that person - that couple - that family - and that kid - who just seems to have everything more together than we do. Every time we turn on the tv, read a magazine, or read what our friends post on facebook, we can always find one more way to feel like we’re less than someone else. We live in a world where we’ll always look for what’s greater, what’s newer, and what’s better. Because we act like the next big thing is going to finally give us that sense of worth and value that we’ve been looking for. The disciples wanted to be worth something. They wanted to be greater. They needed to compare themselves to others to figure out what they were worth. The disciples couldn’t see what they had. They couldn’t see who had them. 

And that’s when Jesus brings over a little child, telling them to welcome this child because whoever welcomes a child, welcomes God.

Now, Jesus chose this child for a reason. This child is a stranger - someone who isn’t rich, doesn’t have any authority, a kid who can’t raise up armies to fight for him or order anyone, really, to do anything. This kid has no power, no authority, no status outside their family. And this is who Jesus welcomes. He welcomes the powerless - the one without status - the one who can only be picked on rather than fight back. That’s who Jesus brings into the community. Because, as Christians, we’re not about what others can give us. We’re called to focused on what we can give others. 

Because we can give a moment of our time even when we think we can’t. We can give a helping hand even if we don’t know exactly what kind of help to give. We can gather 230 new friends to make 41,000 meals for people we will never meet. We can keep giving to those who can’t give us anything because the God who made everything gave Jesus for us.

What the disciples didn’t get was that they had Jesus. Jesus called them - these un-great - fishermen, women, tax collectors, and unwanted. They couldn’t give Jesus any status, any power, any worth. And yet, that’s who Jesus wanted to follow him. Jesus doesn’t call only the great or perfect. He calls us. He calls us even though we compare ourselves to others. He calls us even though we ask what others can give us rather than what we can give them. He calls us even though we sometimes don’t love. And that’s because, in spite of who we are, Jesus has us, through and through. 

We can give - because we’ve been drafted. We’ve been selected. Our stats have been compiled, our fantasy points awarded, and in spite of who we are, what we’ve done, and what we’ve failed to do - we’re still in the starting lineup. Because we aren’t on God’s fantasy team. We’re on God’s reality team. We’re who God wants to start on gameday. We’re the ones who Christ has claimed as part of his body. We’re the ones the Spirit promises to be with, no matter where we go. The truth is that we’re going to screw up. We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to forget to love. But God’s ridiculous argument is that we, the imperfect, are already worth God’s love. Our value is already promised. Our rebirth has already been granted. So let’s go out - head to where we play - our neighborhoods, our schools, our workplaces, and our homes - and let’s give Jesus.