Sunday, September 20, 2009
The Least of These
If you would like to hear Pastor Yolanda preaching this sermon, please click the link above.
Time After Pentecost - Lectionary 25
Mark 9:30-37 (NRSV)
Prediction of the passion
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 welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."
Sometimes I forget just how honest Jesus was with his disciples about his coming betrayal and murder. It seems that they acted fairly “surprised” when he was apprehended in the garden, sentenced to death, and then crucified on an old rugged cross.
It amazes me what we—as human beings—are capable of ignoring, or forgetting, when we are afraid, anxious, or worried about a message. It also amazes me how afraid we are to seek further clarification when we do not understand something—particularly as it relates to The Church.
All too often when I speak to my non-Christian friends I find that they simply do not understand the good news message. Just like the disciples, they may have heard it, but they do not understand and they are afraid to ask more.
I really believe that this is why it is incumbent upon us as Christians to follow the example of Jesus and use “real plain talk” with our non-Christian friends. Jesus kept it real ya’ll. He said, “I am going to be betrayed. I am going to be killed. And I am going to rise again.”
It doesn’t get any plainer than that, does it? But, even using these very simple words did not get through to his disciples. And do you know why? Their minds were occupied with other things! They were busy arguing amongst themselves about who was the greatest amongst them!
My Lord! Isn’t that just like a human being? Jesus, the Son of God, the Word made flesh, the Alpha and Omega is saying, “I am about to be murdered like a common criminal,” and his disciples are fighting over who gets to sit “shotgun.”
Isn’t that amazing and isn’t it sad?
I think in this moment, we truly see why it is that Jesus chose to go to the cross for us. The reality of sin is so real, is it not? Pride is so real. Vanity is so real. Jealousy is so real. Greed is so real. Desire for power, wealth, fame, and fortune--it is so real. All of these realities threatened to overwhelm us! Our sinful desires threatened to overcome us. Our inability to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength threatened to consume us and so God reached down and rescued us in the god-man Jesus!
Aren’t you glad that God loves us so much that God gave Jesus to die on the cross to save us from our sin and gift us with eternal life?! Aren’t you happy-glad that Jesus did not stay dead, but was resurrected just as he promised that he would?!
Jesus could have eschewed the cross. He could have sought earthly power, fame, and fortune. He could have set up an earthly kingdom and made humanity bow down before Him. Jesus could have done all of these things. But, he did not. Instead, he set an example for us by becoming a servant to all.
As the disciples argued over who would be greatest, Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all…Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Can you just imagine how shocking these statements were? I can only imagine all the questions that must have started running through the heads of the disciples. Perhaps they were thinking, “What does he mean when he says I must be last? Does he really expect me to serve others? Why in the world would I welcome a child as God?”
These would have been radical statements in Jesus’ day. Children were considered nothing more than chattel or property of their fathers. They had no rights and no status within the community. Why would anyone treat them to the grand welcome and radical hospitality that Jesus was suggesting?
Well, it seems that Jesus was articulating a principal that shows up again and again in his conversations with his disciples. Jesus is making it clear that we are to care deeply and passionately about “the least of these” in our society. We are to speak up for those with no voices and serve those with no means. We are to love the unlovable and touch the untouchable and make provision for those who can never ever pay us back.
And do you what to know something? This is dirty work, my friends! When we make ourselves allies with people whom others would prefer to ignore or abuse, we will share in their shame and in their abuse. But, we must not resist this reality.
Jesus did not resist it! Jesus humbled himself to the cross. Jesus became one with us in our shame.
As Christians we are called to get our hands dirty as we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, house the homeless, visit the sick and imprisoned, care for the widows and orphans, and speak truth to power.
Some may question why we hang out with “those kind of folks,” but we must be willing to love and serve all of God’s children with a warm smile and a radical welcome!”
Why must we do this? Jesus said in Matthew 25, “Whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done the same for me.”
In Jesus’ day, the “least of these” were the servants and the children; in our day the least of these are: people with no jobs, facing home foreclosure, suffering from HIV/AIDS, prostitutes, gang members, the depressed, the dying…
I could go on and on, but we all know exactly who it is that we push to the margins, try to forget, refuse to hear, and hope will go away. These are the people that we--as Christians--are called to take into our arms and serve to the best of our ability!
For reasons that we may never know, God chooses to identify with those who are suffering, broken, and forgotten. God chooses to see those people, whom we try to ignore. God chooses to seek solace and aid, for those whom others say should go to the end of the line.
What an amazing God that we serve!
Although it is counter-intuitive for us, we do not need to seek to be the strongest, the bravest, the richest, or the most powerful people within our spheres of influence.
Rather, we must seek to be like JESUS. I want to be empowered and equipped by Spirit to give my very life away in love and service to others.
Although it does not sound glamorous, it is the path that leads to a resurrection life. We die to sin and are made alive in Christ. We die to pride and we are made alive in humility. We die to greed and we are made alive in our generosity. Hallelujah!
When we embrace The Truth that what we see here on the Earth is not all that there is, we will live into a life of Love, Joy, and Peace. When we remember that we are ambassadors of a greater Kingdom and King, we will not hold so tightly to the kingdoms of this world. And when we remember that our care for the least of these, will be remembered above, we will serve with humility and with gladness.
Today, we are invited to go to our non-Christian friends and plainly tell them, “Jesus loves you this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” And then, we are invited to show them the same.
Although they may not immediately understand our simple words, God loves, gave, and saves; they will understand our actions. They will understand that they were hungry and we fed them. They were thirsty and we gave them a drink. They were naked and we clothed them. They were homeless and we housed them. They were sick and lonely and we visited them.
They will understand that when others shut them out, we welcomed them in. When others stepped over and ignored them, we stooped down to help them up. When others rejected and demeaned them, we built them up and encouraged them!
And let me say this in closing, at some point our non-Christian friends will ask us, “Why have you done all of this for me?” And we will have the blessed privilege of saying, “God loves you and so do I! Jesus died for you and so you are precious to me.”
The work of The Church is so wonderful! We get to be the hands, feet, mouth, and heart of Jesus in this world until he comes from Heaven.
I don’t know about you, but my greatest joy in life is seeing people put all of their hope in Jesus! Very often this happens because some Christian, somewhere, takes the time to love somebody to the cross in words—and in deeds.
Will you be that person today? If so, please pray with me:
Holy God, I am sorry that I have often sought greatness at the expense of Your Kingdom building work. I am ready to love and serve all of your children, no matter what the cost may be. Please forgive me of my sin and fill me with the Holy Spirit so that I will be unafraid to give my life away in service to You. Make me an instrument of your peace. I pray this in Jesus’ Name, Amen!
There may be someone who is listening today, who is ready to put all of their hope in Jesus. If that is you, won’t you pray with me today?
God, I believe that You gave Jesus to die on the cross to save me from my sin and gift me with eternal life. I believe that Jesus did not stay dead, but got up on the third day just as He promised! Won’t you please forgive me of my sin and fill me with the Holy Spirit? I believe this good news and I want to share it with others. I pray this in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
If you just prayed that prayer for the first time, today, you are saved! Let me encourage you to tell a Christian friend that you just put all of your hope in Jesus. Ask him or her to help you find a Bible that is easy for you to understand and to find a good Bible believing church where you can be baptized and make new friends who will walk with you on your Christian journey!
Congratulations and Happy Re-birthday! Your salvation is our GOOD NEWS, please go and share the GOOD NEWS with others!
Won't you please take a moment to answer "YES" in the upper-right hand corner of this blog in answer to the question, "Did God save you today?"
Peace be with you friend and thank you for reading "Ain'ta That Good News?!"