Monday, September 24, 2012

Sermon for 23 September 2012, Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20B)

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
St. Mark 9:30-37
True Greatness
Proper 20B, 23 September 2012
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[A man] (named Horville Sash) had a humble job for a large corporation. He worked in the basement as a gofer doing whatever others wanted him to do to help them—mostly what other people didn’t want to do.
He often thought about the people on the floors above him and the nice jobs they had. One day as he worked in the mailroom he saw a bug scurry across the floor. He raised his foot to smash it, but then heard the bug say, “Spare me.” Horville did, and as a reward the bug offered him a wish.
“I wish to be promoted to a higher floor,” he said. The very next day he was moved to the second floor, and he marched up like MacArthur and Patton rolled into one. As he worked on the second floor he listened to footsteps on the floor above him and wished to move up. So he called his bug for a wish. He received higher wages and more power when he moved to the third floor as sales coordinator. But he wasn’t satisfied because there were other floors above him.
He wished and wished and gradually moved up to the 20th floor, to the 50th floor, to the 70th floor. He was on the very top floor, sitting by the indoor pool, when he discovered a stairway leading still higher. He scrambled up and found himself on the roof. Now he felt he was as high as anyone could go.
Just as he turned to go back to his plush office, he noticed an office boy off to the side with his eyes closed. “What are you doing?” he asked. “Praying.” “To whom?” The boy pointed to the sky and said, “To the Lord in Heaven.” Horville panicked. There was a floor above him. He could see only clouds and could hear no shuffling of feet. So he summoned his bug and said, “Give me a position God would want if he were on earth.” The next day [he] (Horville) began work as a gofer in the basement.

What exactly is true greatness in the kingdom of God? The Gospel is our focus.

[The First & Greatest]
In Mark Chapter 8, Jesus predicted His death and Resurrection for the first time and called on His disciples to take up their crosses and follow Him. Next, Mark records the Transfiguration and then shows Jesus healing a boy with an evil spirit. They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. 
Jesus again predicts His Passion, death, and Resurrection. This is the second time in the Markan account. But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. Apparently, the disciples went on to discussing other matters, things more important to them.
They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
Amazing. [T]hey had argued about who was the greatest. Earlier in this same chapter, Mark 9, Jesus had been transfigured up on the mountain and appeared to Peter, James and John with Moses and Elijah, and they, the disciples, were arguing about who among them was the greatest. Jesus had just cast out a demon and they were arguing about which of them was the greatest!
How much like us are these disciples? We sit here on Sunday, hear the message that The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise. Then, many times we leave this place and go out into the world and argue about who is the greatest. How much time have you wasted, turning an honorable pursuit like sports in to an obsession, and argue about who has the best baseball or football team? Or taking your work too seriously just to get the promotion up the corporate ladder? Or delving into discussions about what teen heartthrob is the coolest. We easily get distracted from that which is truly great, truly First. 
What does Jesus say about being the greatest? About being First?

[The Last & Servant of All]
(35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said,) “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”  36 He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
Jesus turns contemporary logic about success on its head. In the kingdom of God, one’s resume does not include the prestigious things, but what our society considers menial: service, humility, taking a low profile, even caring for children.
The greatest service, purest humility, the ultimate low profile for One who was the Son of God, and one who cares for children is seen in Jesus. He is the ideal, the greatest, the first, even the Alpha and Omega, First and Last we hear about in the book of Revelation. But His greatness comes in this: “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”
For our Lord is not just our example of how to serve. In His service to us, we have been freed from bondage. We are no longer in bondage to our own egos, to the lies about success we hear from the evil one, we are freed from endless discussions about worldly greatness. We are freed to be the very last and the servant of all.
“I serve,” is the proud motto of [a particular prince,] (the Prince of Wales). We read and ponder and are startled. How these words clash with the attitude that people commonly take toward life! Out in the world we see how people make every effort to thrust themselves into positions where they are able to command and force others to serve them. They are willing to serve, but only themselves. Selfishness is the plague sin of our age. What a contrast is, “I serve.” The person whose heart speaks these words rises to heights of true nobility, true greatness.
In Christ, each Christian is a free lord and master, subject to none. (Luther) Forgiven, we are freed from living under the law. Yet, at the same time, the Christian is a slave and a servant of all. As you live out your vocations, your roles in life as father, mother, child, student, supervisor, worker, neighbor, friend, we serve God as we serve those around us. We are freed so that we can serve our neighbor and help and befriend him in every bodily need.
 Here then is true greatness: “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” Christ served us, became the very last, the servant of all by being killed and by rising from the dead. And by being last, the servant of all, freeing us all from sin, so that we may serve.
Jesus embodies true Greatness. He who made Himself last, has been made First. He is what the book of Revelation calls the first and last, beginning and end, Alpha and Omega, Jesus.
Rejoice with me that our sins have been forgiven for Jesus sake! And even though we may be looked down upon in the eyes of the world and considered as last, as our Lord has said, the first shall be last and the last shall be first. He who has begun this good work in you will bring it to completion in the Day our Lord Jesus Comes. He will make us truly great with Him. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.