Sermon – September 20, 2015 Mark 9:30-37
For a second week in a row we hear Jesus making a prediction about his passion, trial, death and resurrection. The first instance of this which we heard last Sunday occurs in Mark’s gospel just before the Transfiguration while today’s reading occurs just after that event. We hear these two stories on consecutive Sundays because they are companion stories, they play off each other. You might remember last week Jesus “teaches” the disciples about his death and resurrection right after he heals a blind man. In Mark’s gospel (just before today’s reading,) the prediction occurs immediately after he heals a young boy of an unclean spirit.
After telling his disciples that he will be rejected, suffer at the hands of the authorities, be put to death, but then be raised to new life after three days, he then uses the exact same phrase in both stories: “If anyone wishes……..”
If anyone wishes to be my follower, with the first prediction. If anyone wishes to be the greatest among the disciples, with the second prediction.
Have you ever wondered why Mark wrote his gospel? For us it’s always been there, in the bible, read on Sunday mornings at services. You’ve known about it and heard its stories read ever since you were a child. But have you ever wondered where it came from? What was Mark trying to accomplish with this piece of literature. Every author has a purpose, a reason to sit down and compose a work whether its non-fiction or fiction. Why did Mark take the time, effort and expense to write his gospel? What was he hoping for?
Sometimes we think of the four gospels as biography: the story of a great man, Jesus of Nazareth. Biographies were common in the ancient world. For example, Plutarch wrote his “Parallel Lives” where he links a great Greek personage with a great Roman. So did Mark think it would be a good idea to publish a biography of Jesus to put on the library shelf alongside stories of other great men and women? I’d have to say that is pretty unlikely, because the people who were rich enough to own books and possess libraries were not the kind of people who would be interested in the story of an outlawed Jewish peasant. So who is Mark’s audience? Isn’t it the fledgling Christian communities sprouting up around the Mediterranean? It’s important for these folks to know about Jesus, but it’s even more important for them to know how to behave as Jesus’ followers.
When Mark wrote his gospel, the Christian faith had only been around for about 40 years. It was a brand new spirituality, and anytime something new is introduced it takes a while for people to settle into its way of operating. At the start of something new the leadership has to spend as much time saying “No, no, no it’s not that” as they do saying “Yes, yes, yes It is this.” So Mark’s gospel is not just a biography of Jesus but it is also a handbook for how to be a follower of the Christ – how to behave as part of this new spirituality.
Mark’s gospel begins with baptism and receiving God’s Holy Spirit. After that, Jesus begins his life of service, satisfying the world’s legitimate hungers and healing the victims of the world’s disorders. That’s what we Christians do. After our baptisms, we are called by God to lives of service, addressing the illness, suffering, pain, violence, and injustice produced by those who are ruled by their own fear a greed. But is that enough? Are we done, when every hungry person is fed and every sick person is healthy?
For those who wish to be my followers they must empty themselves, take up their own crosses and follow to the death.
For those who wish to be the greatest among the followers, they must become the least of all, in the same way that a child is given the lowest position in the ranking of a family.
Jesus heals a blind man and then in effect, asks the disciples if they can see what needs to be done, or do they remain blind? He removes an unclean spirit from a little boy and then tells them they must become just like him: lowly, open to learning and development, not haughty or full of themselves. Here is the handbook for Christian behavior. If you want to be part of this enterprise, then here is how it is done: by emptying our agenda that serves us first and foremost, and in the resulting vacuum, filling ourselves with God’s Spirit, and becoming humble enough to let God direct and rule in our hearts.
Living the Christian life is no bed of roses. It is difficult work requiring attention, discipline, and patience. From the time we were infants, our instincts were to cry out for our needs, fuss incessantly until they are met, and only be good and quiet and well–behaved when we are satisfied. But now Jesus, through Mark and his gospel is instructing us to consider an alternative path, a mature path, – a path that not only leads to life, but a new life, a life in God’s Spirit.
If WE want to follow Christ, we must empty ourselves and be open and welcoming to God’s Spirit, with the confidence and courage that God can work through us, that God has chosen us to be instruments of good news. The Christian faith is about proclaiming good news: freedom for the captives, food for the hungry, justice for the abused, and healing for the diseased. The only reason a church exists is for the followers of the Christ to continue their training and to find support and renewed energy for the proclamation of good news in the world. Church does not exist for itself. It is not the end, it is the beginning. If we filled Trinity Church with people on a Sunday morning but none of us were working to bring God’s goodness and grace to those around us, we would have failed in our mission. If we only gather 30 o 35 on a Sunday morning but everyone one of us is actively and intentionally opening ourselves to the guidance of the Spirit, then we have fulfilled our calling. 35 focused and committed people can accomplish infinitely more than 100 people who do nothing.
Everything we do here on Sunday is conducted so that you can continue in Christ’s ministry as you walk out that door. (Pointing to the front door of the church.) The hymns we sing are not for the sake of performing a mini-concert for whomever comes here. The words and music are intended to teach and inspire us as we go out to the world. The ancient stories we read are the foundational stories through which we remain faithful to Christ’s teachings and not replace them with our own. Through our prayers and intention, the Eucharistic bread and wine contain the Holy Spirit of God, and as we take those elements into our own bodies, God’s Spirit becomes united with our spirits.
We live so that we can die. We die so that we can live anew. We are the followers of Christ, and through us together, God is glorified and the world is transformed.
In Christ’s name. Amen.