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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
September 23, 2018 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
Mark 9:30-37
Pentecost 18B

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: September 23, 2018 – Pentecost 18B

Mark 9:30-37


Just Who Is Welcome Here?


            At yesterday’s block party, I got up from my chair for a second. I’d brought a few knick-knacks to decorate our table. There were the Martin and Katie Luther bobbleheads, and then there was the talking Jesus doll in between them. The problem was that the Jesus doll had difficulty standing up without help. Kind of ironic, I know. So, we tried taping his feet to the table. He either ended up on his face or doing the limbo. So we tried to position him kneeling. While I was doing that, two little girls, with little hands carrying steaming plates of chicken and noodles, sat down at our table to eat. OUR table! Before I could stop myself, I growled, “Excuse me! This is OUR table!” They looked blankly up at me. One of their parents calmly asked, “Is it okay if they sit there?” While my mind said, “No! It isn’t okay!”, I said, with a deep sigh, “Yes, it’s okay.”


            And then I remembered what I was supposed to preach on today. How Jesus welcomes a little child and places him or her among the disciples and says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me…(welcomes) the one who sent me.”


            Yes, even I, sweet and even-tempered as I am, fell into the “This is my pew!” syndrome!


            We all know the “This is my pew!” syndrome. It happens in most congregations. Most congregations I’ve served have a “this is my pew” story, where a long-time member chased out someone else sitting in their pew. But this sort of behavior doesn’t even have to involve a “pew” per se! When an outsider encroaches on turf we consider ours, or upsets the balance of our lives or our nice, comfortable, insider-only spaces, we can become fiercely territorial. We can become more exclusive, more isolated, more turned in on ourselves. Too easily, we don’t live out the welcome that Jesus exhorts us to live.


            And it might not be the most comforting thing, but the disciples had trouble living out this sort of welcome, too. In our Gospel this morning, Jesus has just come down from the mountain where he revealed his divine nature to Peter, James, and John. Bedlam awaited him at the bottom. Scribes and religious lawyers surrounded the disciples, arguing with them. A crowd, in turn, surrounded them. Caught in the thick of this was a man with a demon-possessed boy – a boy whom the disciples had failed to heal. Jesus, exhausted and overwhelmed, heals the boy. When the disciples ask Jesus why they couldn’t throw the spirit out, despite having been given the authority to do so several chapters prior, Jesus tells them that it was because of their failure to pray. Their self-reliance on their own authority and abilities set them up for failure.


            So when Jesus makes his second passion prediction – the second prediction of his suffering, death, and resurrection – it is in this context of being in the company of disciples who want to be a self-contained, self-reliant group. A group that wants to be able to do anything by their own powers. Little wonder that “they didn’t understand this kind of talk”, as Mark tells us. Winners don’t suffer and die! Winners, by definition, win! Don’t they?


            And they even want to make sure they know who the winners are among the winners! In other words, they want to iron out just who is the greatest among them. Is it Peter? John? James? You can imagine this kind of argument as Jesus and the disciples travel through Galilee, the disciples speaking in whispers hoping their teacher doesn’t overhear. They know he wouldn’t approve of this sort of thing, after all. But they had to know! Who is the greatest? Who’s the best? The disciples fall into the “This is my pew!” syndrome by arguing over who has the greatest place. This metaphorical pew – this position of dominance and greatness – is mine, they all say.


            Look at where such an attitude gets them. Look at where such an attitude get us. In such a group, in such a church, some will always be more welcome than others. Some will always be more desired “members” of the community than others. Long before there were organized churches doing this very same thing, the disciples model this kind of sinful behavior.


            Thank God that Jesus shows us a different way. A better way. A way that frees us from living under our own power and abilities, from our own hierarchies of welcome. Jesus takes a child and places him or her before them. Remember that in Jesus’ day, children were not exactly beloved members of the family. They were nonpersons. They were expendable. They were vulnerable. This weak, vulnerable, child, Jesus says, is the one you ought to seek to welcome the most.. This child, who cannot work for a living, who cannot contribute to the offering plate, who rather is dependent on others to care for him or her, is one who is to be most welcomed among Jesus’ followers. If we expand it out a bit, we can see just who Jesus is talking about in our society. Who is supposed to be welcome? The vulnerable person. The man who can’t stand on his own two feet. The woman who doesn’t have her life together. Those that the wider society forgets.


Why does Jesus enjoin us to welcome these people? Because whether we know it or not, we too are vulnerable. We too are weak. We too are undeserving. And we too are welcomed. As Luther wrote, just before he died, “We are all beggars. This is true.” Jesus welcomed us into his family, giving us a place with him now and in the world to come. For most of us, this was when we were baptized as babies – when we couldn’t speak for ourselves, when we were completely dependent on someone else. Jesus extended this welcome to us when he brought us into this community of faith. Jesus continues to welcome us whenever we hear his Word or receive him in Communion. Jesus is always, always welcoming us, inviting us to take his gifts.


So when we welcome the newcomer, especially the most vulnerable, we are welcoming the one who became vulnerable for our sake. We are welcoming Jesus who first welcomed us.


After the girls at the block party had eaten, I went to their parent and told them I remembered what I was supposed to be preaching on this Sunday. I apologized to her and to them for my grouchiness, and thanked them for giving me my sermon for today. You just don’t know where Jesus might show up and teach.


© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.