“Because Jesus Has a Place for Me”

Mark 9:30-37

Proper 20 Year B, 20 September 2015

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Church

 

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 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.”

 

Prayer: Dear Lord, who gathers little ones upon your lap; be in my mouth and in my speaking. Be in our ears and in our hearing. And be in our hearts and in our understanding of your Word, your will, and your ways. Hear this, our prayer. Amen.

 

What brought you to church this morning?

<solicit responses from the congregation>

 

My stock answer for the past 30 years

Is what I learned in seminary:

We attend worship to give praise and thanksgiving to God.

Sunday morning worship attendance has been the

Bread and butter of Christianity

For the past two thousand years.

Growing up a preacher's kid,

I always wondered why

I never had a choice about whether or not

I attended Sunday School and church.

I noticed that not all of my school friends attended my church.

In fact,

Some stayed at home,

Others slept in,

And others watched T.V. or played sports.

 

I was odd, even as my name is Todd.

 

For those of us who roused ourselves out of bed

And got to church on time,

There was historically, and so to remains today,

Lots of reasons why we don’t go to church.

We don't go to church to

Catch up on the latest neighborhood gossip.

We don't go to see who is there or who isn't there.

We don't go because we are going to feel guilty if we don't go.

We don’t go because we believe we are better than others.

We don’t go to boost worship attendance.

We don't go to raise money.

We don’t go to grow the church.

Neither do we go to church to keep it from closing.

 

We only go to church on Sunday

To give praise and thanksgiving to God:

For life,

For health,

For breath,

For each and every heartbeat.

All that we are,

All that we have,

And all that we will ever become

Is because God first gave our lives to us,

Gave us talents to develop,

And blessed us with abundant grace

Each and every day.

As individuals and as a community of faith,

We respond to this grace which God provides

With praise and thanksgiving.

We respond with worship!

 

This tells us WHAT we do when we get here,

But you'll notice that I asked

"What BROUGHT you here this morning?"

I would suggest,

In addition to the many excellent answers that you gave me,

That you are here because God wanted you here this morning.

I would suggest that God gave you the longing in your heart

to come and participate.

It was up to each of us to answer God's call with our decision. Those of us who decided to answer God's invitation are here. Those who chose not to,

Well, that's why we have empty pews.

We are here because God invited us.

God has room for you and for me.

 

Look around you.

Look at the empty seats.

Their emptiness isn't because of something God neglected to do. God warmed enough hearts this morning

To fill our church three times over;

Enough to fill every empty place.

God has already invited hundreds to come.

God has sufficient room for everyone.

 

I would suggest that these empty pews

Might serve as a source of motivation.

While there is an empty seat,

There is someone called to be here

But who has chosen not to come.

 

Are we able to employ every means possible

to persuade those people not here

To make future decisions to attend;

to give their praise and thanksgiving to God?

We are called to work together

To make worship exciting and vibrant.

Church should be fun

And something that we look forward to each and every week. Everyone should have a special role,

Such that if someone doesn't attend,

They are missed and searched after.

We shouldn't ask people if they WANT a ride to church.

We should ask them what time we can pick them up.

 

Now I don't say these things because that's what I'm paid to do.

I don't want people in church to boost attendance figures,

To recruit warm bodies for committees,

Or to raise income.

I only want one thing: a commitment to Jesus Christ.

God has already made the invitation.

I simply want every person to answer God's invitation for their life;

To choose the road that God would have them travel.

 

I was evangelical before it was cool to be evangelical.

I was evangelical before others hijacked and misaligned the term.

This is what I mean by using the word “evangelical”:

My DNA is wired to spread the Good News,

to share the love of Christ,

to tell the story of God's grace.

This desire is the fiber of my soul.

I am this way because

It is my core passion

To want everyone

To have the same opportunity

To come to know God

and to richly benefit from a relationship with him.

Just as I am blessed living in relationship with God,

So too, do I want this same blessing for others.

 

The image of Jesus gathering me into his lap,

Of having room for Todd Richard Goddard,

Was given to me in Sunday School

at a very early age.

Today, it is important to share the same image

With everyone here today;

Especially those who have not yet come to know Jesus Christ,

To live in God’s grace.

I want you to know that Jesus has room on his lap for you, too.

 

Our Gospel lesson for this morning

Reminds us of last Sunday's lesson.

Again, Jesus tells his disciples

Of his forthcoming passion, death, and resurrection.

Again, none of the disciples understand

what Jesus is teaching them.

Again, Jesus wanted his teaching to be kept a secret,

less he rouse the Roman or Jewish authorities.

 

But it is here where our narrative breaks from last Sunday's:

While Jesus and the disciples were traveling to Capernaum,

Jesus overheard some of the disciples

Squabbling among themselves.

As the teacher,

Jesus walked ahead of his twelve students.

He was aware of their disagreement,

but couldn't hear the content of their conversation.

When they got to the house,

presumably Simon Peter's house,

Jesus asked them what they were arguing about.

In the other Gospel narratives,

the disciples answer his question.

But St. Mark reports that it became silent,

Shamefully silent.

 

The disciples were ashamed

because they had been arguing over

who was going to be appointed to what position

when Jesus retook the throne,

when he fulfilled his Messianic expectations

and reclaimed governmental control of Israel.

The greatest would become Jesus' right hand man.

The least would

fulfill some insignificant and thankless public service job.

 

Jesus understood the disciple's inability to understand.

He understood the human desire to compete and to win.

The shame poured out of their silence

and informed Jesus of their selfish ambitions.

 

"Whoever wants to be first

must be last of all and servant of all," Jesus told them.

The first time I heard this in Sunday School,

I remember that my heart leapt with joy!

 

You see, I've always been a big person.

I was always the biggest person in the class.

Every time we would do some kind of running in gym class,

I was always one of the last people to finish.

I just couldn't run as fast as everyone else.

To me, as a fourth grade child,

I heard Jesus speaking to me,

"the first shall be last and the last shall be first."

In my own simple way,

I learned early on in my life that,

in God's eyes,

I was already a winner.

 

As an adult,

I have now learned that

this is one of the great contradictions of Christianity,

an oxymoron,

a complete upheaval and reversal of the social order:

to receive, you must give;

to become full, you must empty yourself;

to gain power requires that you give it away;

to be loved, you must love;

to find forgiveness, you must forgive;

to be first, you must be last.

Even Christ couldn't escape it:

to find life, eternal life,

you have to first encounter death.

 

What this means, as Christians,

is that our focus needs to change

from getting to giving.

If we are preoccupied with GETTING salvation,

or GETTING love,

or GETTING our own way at home or in the church,

or GETTING money,

or GETTING participation out of our members,

then we haven't heard the Gospel.

We haven't made the Gospel a part of our fiber, our character.

As Christians, Jesus calls us to lead a life of GIVING;

of GIVING our prayers,

GIVING our time,

GIVING our love,

GIVING our resources,

GIVING of ourselves to meet the needs of others.

Where there is one who is hungry, Jesus calls us to give.

 

I detest the saying that

if you give someone a fish you feed them for a day

but if you teach them to fish you feed them for a life time.

It make it too convenient to neglect the hungry all together.

The difference is ideological:

a response might determine

whether you are a conservative or a liberal.

Jesus is not ideological.

 

Jesus calls us to do both.

Feed the hungry.

Once they are fed,

teach them how to feed themselves,

so that when the time comes, they can in turn, feed another.

The message has everything to do with GIVING;

giving to our God and giving to our neighbors.

He makes his point when he sits down,

assumes the posture of teacher,

and gathers a little child in his arms and on to his lap.

"Whoever welcomes a child in my name welcomes me."

 

There is no one in our world

who is more in need

than is a child.

A child is in need of everything

and can give very little or nothing in return.

A child's survival depends on what someone else can GIVE.

I thought a lot about this

When it came to raising our two sons, Nicholas and Christian.

In the earliest part of life,

Our sons were completely dependent upon Cynthia and I,

for their every need.

They were dependent upon us

for food, shelter, warmth, hygiene

(Someone had to change the diapers),

and they were even dependent on us for our love.

 

As children age, they start to learn how to give kisses back,

how to share Cheerios,

how to return respect to those who give it.

To become like a child in our world today

is to define what being powerless and vulnerable is all about.

No one is more powerless or more vulnerable than is a child. That's why we have such strict laws about child abuse and neglect.

The reality is that all of us have places in our lives

where we are vulnerable or helpless,

where we have needs longing to be addressed.

 

It is assumed that when someone turns 18

They can suddenly make it on their own as an adult in our world.

Truth is,

no one is able to make it on their own in our world.

We need each other.

We need to GIVE to each other.

That isn't an option.

I need to love you,

 and I need you to love me back.

And you have the God given need to love me,

and to be loved back.

 Indeed, I would even suggest

that God has given you as a gift to me,

me as a gift to you,

and each of us as gifts to each other.

 

The bottom line is that we don't need this building.

We don't need a budget.

We don't need committees in the church.

All that we need

Is each other,

To reach out,

To GIVE of ourselves to our neighbors,

Serving them in his name,

In the name of Jesus Christ.

 

It is suggested that St. Mark was recalling this incident of Jesus

For the benefit of new members of the Christian community

In the first century church.

Not only is the church to reach outside of itself

To address the needs of the world,

But once someone has become a new member of the community,

The older members of the community

Are to make an active attempt

To reach out and help meet the needs

Of those who are just beginning to grow in the faith.

 

I would hope that our more seasoned members

Make a conscious effort to bring in newer friends

And to care for them under their wings,

to help guide them on their way,

and to give to them the rich inheritance

That the Christian life has to offer.

If not, well, it’s time we started.

There are a lot of people who’ve never been to church

Or who haven’t been to church in years.

Reach out, love, and give.

 

All this comes back around

To that early childhood image

Of crawling up onto the lap of Jesus

And having him put his arms around me.

The last will be first, the first shall be last.

Oh, that makes me feel good!

That makes me feel like Jesus has a place,

Not just enough for me,

But an abundance of room for everyone on his lap,

Even me.

 

Our job is to give up our place to someone else,

To share our place on Jesus's lap.

You see, that is the only way

By which someone else can come in.

There is plenty of room.

God has already made the invitation,

Has already warmed the heart

Of every person outside the church.

The responsibility is left up to you and me

To make way for others,

To reach out

And give them every good and perfect means of grace

That God has given to us.

 

Let us all work hard at focusing our lives

Around what we can give,

Instead of what we can get out of life.

There is so much more joy to giving,

Especially when our gifts meet the needs of others.

For that is when we meet the need of our God.

 

The Word of our Lord.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.