Sept. 23, 2012;

Mark 9:30-39

I spent most of my professional career within a culture that hungers for promotion to serve at the next higher level.   A Private soldier wants one day to give orders to other private soldiers as much as a Captain wants to one day command a Brigade.  Promotion makes that possible.  Chaplains are not immune to that human drive.  Giving orders to others rather than always obeying them is a core drive that has been in us since Adam’s sin.

I have seen chaplains enhance their chances for promotion by nay saying their peers.  Blaming is near to all of our lips, and it starts early.  The Lehrer children still chuckle at the phrase, “Johnny did it,” because little Johnny did so much wrong that he was a convenient scapegoat for most everyone.  I have listened to the confessions of soldiers at every level of the Army who have gotten ahead by trampling on others.  So Jeremiah’s complaint about the plotting of his kinsmen is part of our dark side.  Trampling on another by killing him is the ultimate form of pushing yourself to the head of the line.  “Where is your brother, Abel?” God asked Cain.  Trying to shine, even at another’s expense, is that old.  And though we may pretend otherwise, this is the wisdom of our world (“…get ahead but don’t get caught…”).  But it is alien, even hostile, to God’s intent.  In our 2nd lesson for today James says that climbing over others is the devil’s work.

In the aftermath of His second attempt to teach  the disciples that His whole purpose in this kingdom of heaven ministry was aimed toward a Jerusalem encounter where He must suffer and die at the hands of sinful men, Jesus added some startling features to life in His kingdom.   Let me unravel Mark’s  incredible story.  The first time Jesus told the disciples that He was going to Jerusalem to die, they were so offended that Peter rebuked Him (8.31f).  But Jesus insisted and called on all disciples who want to follow Him to pick up their crosses too.  Today’s Gospel is about 40 verses later, and clearly the disciples figured out that rebuking Jesus didn’t work – so they were silent.  Silent not because they agreed or understood.  And nothing says they grasped the critical point, “That the Son of Man came to give His life as the ransom for the many.” They haven’t heard Him say that He MUST die – they still think He is saying that He may die.

Back to that silence.   Mark goes on to tell you that while they were walking to their next destination, in the aftermath of that silence, the Twelve were arguing about which one of them was the greatest.  Pr Mark referred to this already last Sunday.   It is almost like which one of the twelve had been selected for promotion!!  When Jesus asked them what they were talking about, they were silent again!!  Only this silence is more than frustration with what Jesus says is going to  happen.   This silence is guilt.  This silence is like all of those silences your Mom heard when you were growing up.  Remember them?  When she asked, “Who did this?” Or, “Is your home work done yet?” Or, “Did you wash your hands?” The Twelve already knew that their quarrel was wrong, but they quarreled anyway.  As late as the night on which Jesus was betrayed they were still having this same quarrel. And it is exactly here, where the Apostles are as human as we are human, and as sinful as we are sinful, that Jesus exhorted them to an entirely different life.

“Whoever wants to be first (and if he had paused here, their argument says that all 12 would have raised their hand!!), whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”  I never saw that on any promotion guide.   In fact I remember being reprimanded by one of my commanders for working beside one of my soldiers – because officers don’t do that!!  And I remember telling him that whatever officers might do out there – meaning outside the chapel and outside the kingdom – in here we are all servants.  All.  So important was that lesson that on this day in today’s Gospel Jesus took a little child as a tangible parable and told us to welcome and love this little one.  That child stands for all the least and lost and lonely ones that the world ignores, that never make any of its promotion lists, but who are the great ones in the kingdom of God.  On the night in which He was betrayed, while the disciples were arguing about which was number one, Jesus stripped off His outer garment in order to put on an apron and pick up a basin so He could wash their feet. “Who is greater,” Jesus said on another day, “Who is greater?   The one who sits at table or the one who waits on him?”    In every culture, including Jesus’ culture and ours, the answer is the same – the one who is seated is the more important one.  But Jesus says, “I am among you as the one who serves.”

I know that is not the life style we want to follow. I saw it in the eyes of young chaplain lieutenants who hated taking orders.  I’ve seen it in my children who each wanted to be most important.  I’ve watched soldiers at every rank suck up to the powerful ones and try with all that  was in them to be noticed.  None of them chose service, or being last. “Hey Mom look at me,” isn’t the song of a humble one.   Yet every one of us has sung that song and we’ve loved being at the center of things so much that we sang it often.

The Son of Man did not come to be served, or to sing that song, or win the popularity contest that would get Him elected Messiah.  He did not spend His time wooing Herod or Pilate or Caiphas, the 3 rulers of record in 1st century Judah.  But he noticed a widow at Nain as she set out to bury her last relative, her only son.   He noticed 10 lepers, but devoted special affection for the illegal immigrant from Samaria.  He ignored the nobility at the Temple but blessed a wretchedly poor widow who gave God her last two coins.  He didn’t just talk about visiting and feeding and clothing the least and the lost.   He visited and clothed and healed them.

And He has never stopped calling for us to do the same.

I loved my service to our nation as part of her Army.  And I looked forward to every promotion and lived with the anxiety of being promoted or not just like all my peers.  But the kingdom was never in any of those lists.  The kingdom comes to me in the least one, the lowest one, the most hurting one, the forgotten one, in my enemy, and in the child no one notices.   Just so Jesus found me, and  you.  We are the last sheep, the lost lamb.  I am Jesus’ little lamb because He ransomed me.   In the kingdom of God, a servant is not cut out of different cloth from His Master.   So this lamb serves because my Master serves.  I serve because He commands me to serve.   And as His serving lamb, one day I will meet Him and He will finish what He has begun in me.  Until then we keep on serving.


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