James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a? Mark 9:30-37

September 20, 2015 by Ken Dale

It was intriguing earlier this week to learn that due to a lack of budget those who have recently won in the lottery in the state of Indiana must wait to collect their winnings.? Just imagine the greatness of winning hundreds of thousands of dollars and having to wait to get it due to a glitch.? The money is there ? they just don?t have a budget so they can?t let it go.? One reporter actually flipped a lottery ticket that said ?IOU? on the back.? Can you imagine what it?s like to have something that great happen in your life ? and you have to wait for it?? It brought to mind a story I once came across about an Assembly of God Church ? I think in Florida ? that got one of those letters from American Family Publishers.?? Apparently the computer that prepared the letter wasn?t all that great or it had an incredible sense of humor.? When the people at the church opened the letter it was addressed: ?Dear God,?? and went on to explain that God was a finalist for an $11 million prize.? It continued by saying such things as, ?God we?ve been searching for you.?? ?If you win, can you imagine the looks you?ll get from your neighbors??? ?But don?t just sit there God??? I suppose many of us all along have thought God to be a winner but American Family Publishers made it official.

In some way we all want to be winners ? we all want to be great.? In our gospel lesson Jesus questions the disciples about an apparent argument they were having over greatness.? It?s interesting that their response is silence and it?s the second silence.? At first Jesus tells them how he will be betrayed, killed and on the third day after will rise again.? But they didn?t understand what he was saying ? and they were silent because they didn?t dare ask him.? Then they are silent when he asks what they are arguing about.? This time the silence is more out of their being ashamed to answer.? I wonder if we put ourselves in their position ? if we were one of those disciples and Jesus asked us what we were fretting about the most.? Would it be greatness?? Do we fret about our status, or trying to get symbols of prestige, or seeking to maneuver so that we get the acclaim ? if Jesus asked us would we too be silent?? Interesting that even though they were silent Jesus seemed to already know what they were talking about.

And he tells them ? and he tells us ? ?whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all?? He is saying that the truly great person is the one who is willing to serve others.? Even Jesus said, ?I came not to be served, but to serve.? And, ?whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.?? At the Last Supper, we see how Jesus took a towel and bowl of water and began to wash his disciples? feet, something that people would never have thought that a person of Jesus? position would do.? But having done that, Jesus turned to his disciples and said: ?If I your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another?s feet.?? In other words, ?If I, the Son of God, have served you in this very humble way, should you not be prepared to serve others in the same kind of way??

Jesus tells us ? greatness comes in serving others.? Jesus illustrates his point by placing a child in their midst.? Children had no status in that time and? he says, ?whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.?? Short version ? ?whoever welcomes one such child welcomes God!?? Does not that child represent the vulnerable, the marginalized, the poor, those in need in some way?

It is that same wisdom we find in our lesson from James.? In today?s lesson ? if we really hear the word of God then we really need to do the word of God.? ?Who is wise and understanding among you??? ?Show by your good life that your good works are done with gentleness born of wisdom? ? and that wisdom is from above ? our speech is merely the product of what is inside of us ? if we are filled with the wisdom of the Spirit of God then our speech will reflect that ? pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits.

Today we move another step forward toward new beginnings.? This church is called to be a sign of hope and the sign of God?s presence.?? We seek to be as a church that moves beyond our words to the life that we live as a church? –? to become doers of that word and people who live that wisdom from above.? The wisdom from below is marked with selfish ambition and bitter envy.? Wisdom from below is focused on one?s own self-establishment.? The culture in which we live and sometimes even in the churches where we find ourselves ? people strive against one another for the first prize in faith.? James names it as earthly, unspiritual, devilish and it results in disorder and disputes and conflicts.? Wisdom from above focuses on the needs of others, not on its own self-establishment.

For James wisdom is not a matter of the head but in the behavior ? a way of life, not a way of thinking or even believing ? but a way of life.? And James says the key is to focus on God ? ?draw near to God and God will draw near to you.?? And how do we draw near to God but to welcome the child, welcome the vulnerable, welcome the marginal, welcome those in need in some way ? and it may be poverty in a physical sense but it may be poverty in a spiritual sense.? The need may vary and have different faces ? but I think it?s quite clear that we are called to reach out.

Sometimes we hear that phrase ?God has a plan for my life.?? A point made is that God didn?t give us a plan, God gave us Jesus Christ ? and what God wants for us is something quite larger and more lasting even than winning the lottery, having a good marriage, a good job, the right house, the right neighborhood ? so many of the things that we wonder about in God?s supposed plan for our lives.? God?s greatest desire ? the plan to which? God is relentlessly moving us is simply for God to be with us, now and for all eternity.? Jesus didn?t say to the disciples ?I want your little light to shine forth before the people with whom you work in your office on Monday morning.???? Of course he certainly implies that ? but what Jesus says is YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. ? That?s large! That?s HUGE!

This church is called to be a rainbow ? all Christ?s churches are called to be a rainbow.? I was talking with Kathy on the phone on her way home from work this past Monday when all of sudden she exclaimed: OH WOW A RAINBOW!? There was a dark cloud in the sky and in front was this unmissable rainbow!? What we are called to as church is so much more than personal satisfaction ? personal fulfillment ? it is about having our lives caught up in some larger purpose than our own lives.? We are called to live out God?s dream ? to live our lives so that God get?s what God wants.? Being part of that is greatness!? Folk singer Chris Smithers has a catchy tune called No Love Today and the last line of the last verse says, In the end no one will sell you what you need, You can?t buy it off the shelf, You got to grow it from the seed.

I cannot help but close with that same challenge I spoke of yesterday while?celebrating the life of Jane Najim.? We are sowers of the seed of God?s love ? and as a people of faith there is much to do in service ? sowing seeds of faith ? as St. Francis put it ? seeds of love in the garden of hatred, seeds of pardon in the garden of injury, seeds of faith in the garden of doubt, seeds of hope in the garden of despair, seeds of joy where there is sadness and seeds of ?light where there is darkness.? And from that comes our own growth ? so that consoling is more important than being consoled, understanding is more important than being understood, and loving is more important than being loved.

So may it be as we seek to be faithful to our God.??????????????????????????? Amen.