"Love all, serve all"
16th Sunday after Trinity
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.’
Who knows the name of the record first released by the Paragons in l967, it was a hit for the band Goldie in 1980 and was a chart topper for Atomic Kitten in 2002? You didn’t know I was so modern did you!
The answer is ‘The Tide is High’..altogether:
THE TIDE IS HIGH BUT I’M HOLDING ON
I WANT TO BE YOUR NUMBER ONE – NUMBER ONE.
Hold on to those words and imagine the scene.
Jesus and the disciples are walking down the road toward a village where they were going to stay for the night. The disciples have separated themselves from Jesus and have been arguing about something. When they reach the house Jesus asks them what they were arguing about. Now this is one of those rhetorical questions that we hear from Jesus a lot. It is kind of like when our parents caught us in the act of doing something bad and they asked “What is going on here?” Jesus knew what they were arguing about, but he wanted to see their reaction. Their reaction is like our reaction to our parent’s questionstunned silence. The disciples knew that they had done something wrong and they thought they hidden it from Jesus, but alas it’s hard to hide things from God. Jesus knows that they have been arguing about who is the greatest among the twelve. Who is going to be number one? Who is going to be top dog, Jesus right hand man? Jesus takes them and sits down with them in the house. This is the posture of a Rabbi a teacher, so in a way Jesus is saying “OK, Class its time for a lesson”, so we know what is to follow is important. Then Jesus once again, completely blows their minds. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Wow – I bet that went down like a lead balloon. I can imagine you could have heard a pin drop. This is not what they expected. People in Jesus time are just like people now; there will always be those who want to be the best. Those whose goal in life is to be the best in whatever occupation they have, and to rise to the top and be successful. Leonard Bernstein, composer of the music for West Side Story and other musicals, will perhaps be best remembered as a conductor of international renown. He worked with many famous orchestras, including the London Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic. On one occasion he was asked what he thought was the most difficult instrument to play. “Second fiddle,” the great man responded. “I can get plenty of first violinists, but I have a hard time getting someone to play second fiddle. Yet if no one plays second fiddle, we have no harmony.”
For most of us, our natural instincts urge us to want to play “first fiddle” – to do something that commands the maximum prestige, status and earning capacity. Who in their right mind would want to come second in any contest or, even worse, come last?
The Roman government was filled with people who competed with one another for power, and it was the same for the Jewish temple priests and now their teacher is telling them if they want to be top dog they have to be the flea. It doesn’t make sense, it is illogical. But then nothing in the Gospel is logical?
Jesus teaches that we have to work hard not to be the first, but to be the last and not just last, but to be a servant. We have a term that we use in ministry called servant leadership. It means that we should lead others not by bossing them around, but by humbling ourselves and leading by example.
Fifteen years ago I was ordained Deacon in Norwich Cathedral. Some of you came to the service. I wonder if you remember the sermon? It is indelibly stamped on my mind. Philip North asked if we remembered as children, what we wanted to be when we grew up. He didn’t have any takers for foot-washers. We see servant leadership when Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. Jesus wanted to show the disciples that they should go into the world and serve in whatever way was needed, even if it meant doing to lowliest job.
Jesus then says something else. He picks up one of the children in the household and says anyone who welcomes a child like this welcomes not only me but also God. We might think this is just another example of Jesus being kind and sweet. Perhaps we have pictures in our mind of children playing around Jesus and he is smiling at their innocence. We might think that Jesus is referring to the fact that we have to welcome the innocent children, but that is not the point Jesus was trying to make. In order to fully understand the significance of this act, we must first understand the status of children in the days of Jesus.
Unlike today, children in the days of Jesus were considered not just second-class citizens, but non-persons. Their social status was lower than that of women and even household servants. So Jesus is making a radical statement. He is saying that if you welcome this non-person, this lowliest of the lowly, then you welcome him, King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus is putting himself at the same level as the lowest in society.
Of course it is not like that today, where on the whole children are treated with respect and often have a high status in the home. Some parents even move house to get the children into the best schools. Much sacrifice goes on in the home to give the children the best, they are of high status. So who would Jesus use today as his example? Who would fit the non-person, the lowest of the low criteria? Perhaps the homeless person on the street, the asylum seeker or the drug addict.
The reality is it is the poor, the different, and the marginalized wherever you might find them. Jesus is saying if you want to be truly great if you want to be number one then you must be welcoming not just to those on your same social level but to all people even the lowest of the low. Open your home, share your food, open your heart share your love and respect all people no matter how lowly they are. I know that times are different now and we do have to be careful, for sadly we live in a very different world today but the truth remains. We must be humble if we are going to be exalted. That is why you will see the Kings and Queens and Heads of State always leading a procession, and Bishops and Archbishops are always at the end of a procession. The place of the servant.
This leads us to the beginning of our reading from Mark; Jesus tells the disciples that he will be killed and then will rise again. Mark says that the disciples did not understand the meaning behind these words. They did not understand that Jesus had to humble himself even to the humility of the Cross in order to be exalted above every other name.
Sometimes we fail to fully understand what the cross means. We understand that “Christ died for our sins” but often we forget the meaning behind it. The disciples certainly didn’t understand the meaning behind it until Jesus had been resurrected, and then very slowly the penny began to drop.
They didn’t understand that since God is the greatest, God had to make the greatest sacrifice. God had to be the greatest servant. Jesus laid down his life on the cross for many reasons.
His display of ultimate servant-hood shows us that being a Christian is not about coming to church or donating money or even preaching a sermon, but it is service and if we want to be first for Christ than we must be prepared to be the last in this life. This is not what society teaches us. Society teaches us that we must work and strive to be the best, go to University, get a profession, so we don’t have to serve but so we can be served; Society urges us to fly first class not dish out soup in a Salvation Army mission.
Jesus did not have to be born in a feeding trough; he could have been born in a palace. Jesus did not have to be born to a poor working family; he could have been born to a king. Jesus did not have to walk around with 12 men from place to place often with no place to lay his head. He could have been chauffeured in a chariot. Jesus did not have to die a humiliating death on a cross; but the world changed because he did. The greatest moment in the history of the world was not a moment of grandeur and spectacle, but a humble, humiliating death on a cross. The greatest became last and servant of all.
If you ever go to a Hard Rock Café, you will see the waiters wear a cap and on the back it reads “Love All, Serve All”. What a perfect slogan for Christianity. That is what it is all about, if we boil it down to its most simple form. It is what Jesus wants from us, to love all and to serve all. If we want to do our best for Christ, If we want to be his number one then it is quite simple, we must humble ourselves and be last, welcome and serve the others first. Amen.
Let us pray:
Grant, O Lord, that what we say with our lips we may believe in our hearts, and what we believe in our hearts we may practice in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen