The Future for Jesus

September 20, 2015

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

The 17th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 20 
Proverbs 31:10-31; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8; Mark 9:30-37

(Gospel text is provided at the bottom of this post)

PChPT_AndrewDoyle_1This past Friday I spent the morning at All Saints, in Atlanta. Bishop Andy Doyle was there – he’s the bishop from my home diocese in Texas. He was talking about his new book: Church: A Generous Community Amplified for the Future.

Pointing to the future, he shared a couple of videos. These videos included images like self-driving cars, and 3-D printers that not only create parts for cars, but implantable organs for our bodies. driverlesscarsWe saw integrated technologies that anticipate our every need, and a tube-passenger train that gets us from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes. Some of these futuristic imaginings are already underway, while others are only in their early stages – but all could be viable in the next fifty years.

24264D6F00000578-2879730-image-a-1_1418938968877Bishop Doyle pointed out that the business world thinks a lot about the future. It looks at current trends and considers shifts in cultural behavior. From there, it explores the possibilities of what is needed to meet future needs, and then begins to lead society in a direction of what the next reality will look like for us.

In our time together, Bishop Doyle challenged us, as clergy, to do some of this same kind of future-looking work in the church. He pointed out that the church isn’t historically good at this kind of future-looking work, which is probably true. But, I don’t think this is unique to our generation. I don’t even think it’s unique to Christianity. We get a sense of how difficult making shifts to new things can be, even 2000 years ago, when Jesus came to start a new thing.

Now, to be sure, Jesus didn’t come to create the institution that is now CHURCH. His purpose was to reconcile us to God and to help us see the importance of being reconciled; being in relationship with one another. His message is one of God’s love for all people, and God’s hope that we will transmit that love to one another. But, our human-ness keeps getting in the way.

We see in today’s gospel lesson, Jesus tells the disciples some things they don’t understand:

“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 [the disciples] did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

These guys have been hanging out with Jesus for a while. They’ve even been sent out two-by-two to go out and proclaim God’s message, and to heal people. But here they are again with Jesus, and they don’t understand what he’s talking about and are afraid to ask. So, instead of trying to figure this out, they just begin talking among themselves, arguing about who is the greatest.

Jesus Speaks Near the Treasury, by James Tissot

by James Tissot

Then it says that Jesus sat down.

A little Bible-trivia – whenever you hear a story in the Bible that says that Jesus sat down, or is sitting, it means he’s about to teach something. Sitting is the posture of a rabbi who is teaching.

So, Jesus finds out that they’ve been arguing about who is the greatest, and sees this as a teach-able moment. It says:

He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

Now, you and I are used to hearing this kind of stuff – we’ve heard the refrain of “the last shall be first” from years and years of sitting in these pews. But that isn’t the way things worked in Jesus’ time. In Jesus’ time, the first was the first, not the last. The greatest was the one who got to call the shots. Serving others was a submissive role, which didn’t work well in a patriarchal society.

So, this new thing of servant-hood was a brand new concept. It didn’t fit in their culture. This was as crazy to them as a self-driving car is to us.

And, if you think this servant thing was unexpected, just listen to what happens next:

Then [Jesus] took a little child and put it among them;

Now, here we have this group of disciples – fishermen who have dropped their nets and left their boats – being re-purposed to now go out and “fish for people.”

But Jesus is changing all the rules. He not only says that the rules of hierarchy don’t apply, but then he puts a child in front of them.

still-of-steve-guttenberg,-tom-selleck-and-ted-danson-in-3-men-and-a-baby-(1987)-large-pictureIt reminds me of scenes from the old Tom Selleck and Ted Danson movie “Three Men and a Baby.” I can just imagine the awkwardness of the twelve bumbling disciples holding a baby with outstretched arms wondering what on earth to do with it! This was women’s work, after all.

And, as comical as that may be, and while a child might be considered “the least of these,” I believe something else is happening here.

In the preceding chapters of Mark’s gospel, Jesus shows repeated signs of frustration with the current generation. Jesus is all about spreading the message of God, like scattering seeds on the soil. Remember, there’s hard ground, rocky soil, feeble roots, and then good soil.

Jesus is out there sowing the message of God’s love, but this current generation is having trouble hearing it. They are not proving to be good soil. They want to hold onto the old ways; the existing rules. Jesus has fed the 5000 and then the 4000 and still the Pharisees are asking for signs to test him and it says:

And [Jesus] sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” (Mk 8:12)

A few verses later he calls them a sinful and adulterous generation. And a few verses before today’s reading, he called them a faithless generation. This generation is not getting it. Some could argue pretty convincingly that the disciples themselves are struggling with it. Change is hard. We like things the way they are. It’s familiar to us.

But Jesus said earlier, we don’t put new wine in old wine-skins or they will burst.

So, he presents this child – the new wine-skin for the new wine that is the message that Jesus brings. Children don’t have preconceptions. Those things they are taught early in life are what will form them.

And, children are amazing. They can learn things that we have difficulty grasping. Just look at children today – they’re so quick to pick up on new technology. They adapt quickly to the newness that is all around them.

Jesus knows that the same was true in his time. The children will have the ability to hear Jesus’ message of love. This is good soil ready to receive Jesus’ re-imagining of a future without squabbling about who is the greatest, but instead about compassion and caring for each person God has made.

And so, it is to this little child that Jesus lifted into his arms, that God’s message can be most firmly planted; most deeply rooted.

So, by bringing the child in the midst of the disciples, Jesus is saying – focus on these little ones. Fish for these people. They will be the future and they can bring about God’s dream for the world. They are hungry to be included. They are thirsty for love and care. They are joyful and not yet tainted by the harshness of the outside world.

I am blessed to get to be in the midst of children in my work here at Christ Church. I love seeing their curiosity and openness. It’s great when they share their cheerful energy and open enthusiasm with me and those around them.

12034241_862620187153317_3592136481286125888_oOne child in particular that shares his enthusiasm and energy with us at Christ Church is little David. He comes with his mom to the Wednesday Healing Eucharist service. When he is there, as you might expect from a toddler, his presence is known, seen and heard.

I love to see it, and what I love just as much is that this faithful worshiping community welcomes him in their midst. They may have to say the prayers a little louder, or may not hear every word of the gospel lesson, but that’s of no consequence. They see this wonderful, beautiful boy, sharing in the life of the community. And let me tell you, when he comes to the rail and kneels for a blessing, it’s gift upon gift to me and to all.

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

I grew up in the church. I ran the halls and played around the altar area just like David does now. And although I don’t remember my Sunday School teachers’ names and I couldn’t tell you any specific lesson they taught me, I remember that I felt at home in my church. It reminds me of a quote by Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I think this is true. And I believe the impression and feeling we impart to children is eternally lasting.

FullSizeRender (1)I also believe that we never lose touch with the little child inside of us. When we are unsure or afraid, when we are happy and joyful – these emotions reveal the small child inside each of us.

It’s comforting to know that Jesus holds this child, the child that is you, and the child that is me, in his arms – not just as an infant or toddler – but even now. There’s something very comforting in the caring embrace of Jesus. It assures us of his love.

So, when you need that extra assurance and support, hold onto that image, of Jesus holding you in his arms, and remember the familiar children’s song:

Jesus loves me! This I know,

For the Bible tells me so;

Little ones to Him belong;

They are weak, but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me!

Yes, Jesus loves me!

Yes, Jesus loves me!

The Bible tells me so.

IMG_1814.jpg-crop

Gospel Text:

Jesus and his disciples 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.” (Mark 9:30-37)

One Response to “The Future for Jesus”

  1. Loved it ! Love YOU (You may not remember the dress is a sculptured terry cloth towel . mom😘

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