Gospel Reading and Online Sermon for 19th September - hopefully still relevant after that date!

Mark 9:30-37: 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 about 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."

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It's the second time Jesus has told his disciples what will happen to him, and still they don't understand. Would we do any better? It's easy to look down on these disciples - how dense are they? (In Mark's account, the answer is: very dense.) But in truth, they are being presented with something so strange and unexpected, so counter-intuitive, that in a way it would be wrong if they did get it, if a collective light-bulb went on and they chorused, "Oh yes, Jesus, you're turning the world upside down, you're subverting everything we think we know about power and status and success, to show us all a new way. Oh yes, we're totally on board with all that!"                                                                                                               

Instead, they expect him to triumph, to sweep all before him, and where does being executed fit into that narrative? On the contrary, as far as they're concerned, positions in the Cabinet are up for grabs, and so we have muttered arguments about status, as they walk, hoping Jesus won't notice - but Jesus always notices! And he gets a live teaching aid: a child - no legal status, no protection, basically the possession of its parents, regarded as utterly insignificant. This is who they need to welcome, accept and honour, Jesus says, if they want to welcome, accept and honour him. If they want to be top dog, they have to be the underdog - and not grudgingly, we might add, but with the heart of a willing servant.                                                                                                                     

A little later, after another skirmish about status, Jesus will tell them that he comes to serve, not to be served. On the cross he will enact this service, which entails humiliation and suffering, death and apparent defeat. He will give up his life, out of love for us all. And so, every time I see, or hear of, someone pursuing power, pushing others out of the way or trampling them under foot to get it - and sometimes it's me doing it - I remember Jesus, giving up everything to teach us how to love one another. And every time I see, or hear of, someone putting others first, showing kindness and generosity in even the smallest way, often unnoticed but nonetheless real - and sometimes it's me doing it - I remember that this self-giving love is what will last, that Jesus is risen. Love wins, and we will win if we learn to live in love, leaving behind our self-seeking because we have glimpsed, we are caught up in, something so much greater, so much more beautiful and true...