Mark 9:30-37, James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a NLT
Today, whenever I say, “this is the way,” you say it back to me. Let’s practice it. You at home also.
Last Sunday, my husband Rob and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary by doing a little bit of sightseeing. We thought it would be fitting on our Sunday off to go to Jerusalem. Little Jerusalem, a state park about three hours west of us. The pictures online look like this ↓
But, as those of you who live in Kansas know, the road to anywhere in Kansas looks like this ↓
Long, straight, boring.
One of the reasons that Rob and I like to go on driving trips is that they’re great opportunities to talk without any distractions. We get into some great discussions on our driving trips. Sometimes, even into arguments, especially when we’ve been on the road for awhile and we’re getting tired.
Maybe that’s what was happening with the disciples in our scripture reading for today from Mark 9. Mark tells us that Jesus and the disciples were traveling through Galilee, headed for Capernaum, which was their home base. Traveling meant walking. And there’s nothing to do while they’re walking except talk.
Jesus takes this opportunity to tell them for the second time about what’s going to happen in the near future – he’s “. . . going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies. He will be killed, but three days later he will rise from the dead” (Mark 9:31).
The first time Jesus told them this, Peter got in Jesus’ face about saying such negative things. “No, Jesus, this is NOT going to happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). And Jesus reprimanded Peter. “Get behind me, Satan! You are seeing things from a human point of view, not from God’s!” (Mark 8:33).
So this time, none of the disciples dares to ask Jesus what he means. They don’t understand, but they also don’t want to repeat what happened with Peter. So instead they’re arguing about which of them is the greatest. Mark doesn’t tell us how that argument went, but in my head it sounds like kids arguing.
“Mom likes me better.” “No, she doesn’t, she likes me best.”
“I can run faster than you.” “No, you cannot. I’m the fastest.”
“I can pray better than you. God likes me better.” “No way, I give more money to the poor than you and I’m God’s favorite.” “You are not.” “Am too.” “Are not.” “Am too.”
Not surprisingly, the disciples are embarrassed to tell Jesus what they were discussing, but Jesus knows. So he sits down, always a sign that he’s ready for some serious teaching, and he says, “So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35 MSG)
Instead of trying to be the greatest, be a servant.
He’s telling them how to be disciples who walk in the way of Jesus. Jesus is not going to fight for greatness. Jesus is going to be arrested and put to death. It’s going to look like failure, not success. But God does something miraculous with Jesus’ death. God resurrects Jesus from the dead, and through this resurrection, God brings forgiveness and salvation to all of humankind. This is the reason we’re here today. This is the foundation of our faith. We don’t always understand what God is up to, but God’s resurrecting power is always at work.
Sometimes we miss it because we’re looking for the wrong things, big things. Resurrection is a big thing, but sometimes it’s happening in small ways. We can trust God to do what only God can do, and live this out through our wise, selfless choices. Today’s reading from James says, “. . . the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds.”
James’ description of wisdom lived out through good deeds reminds me of the Mandalorian. This is the television series on Disney+. The setting is the Star Wars universe sometime in the future. The main character in the series is the Mandalorian, a bounty hunter. He makes his living going after people that the someone is willing to pay to have captured. But along the way we learn that Mando, as he’s sometimes called, is not just in it for the money. Sometimes Mando will forego the money in order to help someone, and especially if that someone who needs help is a child, and especially if that child is Baby Yoda.
Mandalorians have a sort of creed. “This is the way.” (This is the way.)
It’s something Mandalorians say to one another as a reminder of their moral code, their willingness to take risks to help one another, and to stand up for those who are being exploited or abused.
In the early days of Christianity, followers of Jesus were referred to as “followers of The Way.” (Acts 9:2, 22:4) Jesus had said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). And in John 17:3 NLT, Jesus says, “. . . this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.”
Jesus is the way. And when he told the disciples that the way to be first is to be last and to be the servant of all, he was teaching them that this is the way to follow him.
This is the way. (This is the way.) Jesus is the way.
The prophet Isaiah had said that God would help us to know the way. In chapter 30, Isaiah says,
Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes. Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left. (Isaiah 30:20-21 NLT)
The Holy Spirit helps us to know the way. Sometimes we can hear that little voice saying, “This is the way,” or sometimes we have a gut feeling that helps us know this is NOT the way. And if we need help to have wisdom, James tells us to ask God, and trust God to help us. Verse 7 in the Message version of James 4 says, “So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him make himself scarce. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time.”
This is the way. (this is the way.) Say yes to God. Be the servant of all. (This is the way.)
In our gospel reading, Jesus adds an object lesson. He brings a child over and tells them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me” (Mark 9:37).
In Jesus’ time, a child had the least standing of anyone. Not only were they to be seen and not heard, they were like servants. But Jesus puts the child right up front, thereby giving the child a place of honor, and tells them that welcoming a child is the same as welcoming Jesus.
Did you know that there are some churches that are doing this in a literal way? They welcome the children right up in the front of the church in an area called the “prayground.”
The name “prayground” comes from Rev. Catherine Renken, pastor of Kirkwood Presbyterian Church in Kennesaw, GA . . . a prayground is a place in the front of the sanctuary where young children can experience worship through age-appropriate worship materials and tools that will help keep them engaged in worship.
The Presbyterian church in Wellington, KS has a prayground in the front of their sanctuary. They have child-sized tables and chairs up front, and toys and crayons ready and waiting to make kids feel welcome. The pastor at Wellington, Deb Schmidt, says that when families come into the sanctuary, the kids go straight to the prayground. It makes them feel welcome. Which helps families feel welcome.
Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes a child welcomes me.” Let’s say that together.
This is the way. (This is the way.)
God’s way turns our worldly ideas of success upside down. Pay attention to the little ones, the outcasts, the ones on the sidelines. Be a servant of all. Trust God to do God’s resurrecting work as we spread God’s love in big and small ways.
This is the way. (This is the way.)
Thanks be to God.