Sermon for Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 20, 2015, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Mark 9:30-37
Sermon Theme: “A Christian Is Humble, Never Haughty”
(Sources: Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 25, Part 4, Series B; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Emphasis Online Commentaries; original ideas; The Parables of Peanuts by Robert C. Short)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Jewish people have an ancient joke they like to tell about Moses. It goes like this: The Hebrews were dissatisfied and constantly complaining to Moses as they made the journey through the desert wilderness toward the Promised Land.
Frustrated with their weak faith and their griping, Moses finally prayed to God, saying, “Lord, these people you have put me in charge of, never do anything but argue and complain. What should I do?”
God replied, “Take two tablets and call me in the morning.”
In our sermon text from Mark, Jesus faces similar frustrations. He is trying to lead the people to faith in the Promise, which He is there to fulfill. Not only are the people only interested in free meals and free medical service, but also, His carefully chosen disciples just don’t seem to get it and are a headache, too.
Even the disciples don’t seem to understand His Messiahship, even though He tells them of His impending arrest and death. Not only do they not seem to understand, they are afraid to ask questions, no doubt not wanting to hear what they think they are hearing.
As they walk along with Jesus on their way to Capernaum, they have conversations which they make sure the Lord doesn’t hear. So when they arrive at the house in Capernaum, Jesus asks them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” Their sheepish silence certainly says a lot. He knew that they had argued about which one of them was the greatest in their mission work with Jesus. He then tries to teach them a lesson in humility, saying, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
This situation reminds me of a Peanuts cartoon strip. In the strip, Lucy is in her psychiatric help booth with the “Doctor is in” sign on it. She tells Charlie Brown, “The whole trouble with you is that you’re wishy-washy.”
Charlie asks, “What’s the difference between being wishy-washy and being humble?”
Lucy replies, “You are wishy-washy, Charlie Brown,” she explains, shaking her finger at him. Then, holding her head up high, she says, “I am humble.”
Lucy never seems to catch on in any of the Peanuts strips that she is the very opposite of “humble.” Likewise, the disciples have the same problem, except maybe their sheepishness when confronted by Jesus suggests they knew their attitude was not Christian.
We’re like the disciples, too. We know that God’s word calls for us to be humble, to be servants of all, and that haughtiness and a one-upmanship attitude have no place in Christian behavior. Yet, we often act like bullies and sarcastic smart alecks in our relationships with others. My, oh my, what a heartache we cause Jesus! Not just a headache, but a heartache!
When Jesus told His disciples “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all,” that set their world of values upside down! They thought like the world thought, — some of today’s political leaders could have been their teacher.
But the real shocker comes when Jesus uses visual aids and takes a little child in his arms and says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Using a child as a symbol of humility is not so shocking to us, because our attitude toward children is not at all like it was in the time of Jesus. In the Roman Empire, which included Capernaum, killing children was common. Unwanted children, more often girls than boys, were put out on the trash heaps in the city dump, where they either died or were picked up by someone and raised as slaves. You’re going to come up on needing a good slave, go to the city dump and pick up a baby that’s still alive. Today, instead of taking unwanted babies to the city dump, they are taken to abortion clinics.
Devout Jews had no such practice, — only pagan gentiles. But children held a very lowly place, even among Jews, to be seen but not heard or highly regarded. To be a child in New Testament times was to be a nobody. So Jesus gives this blockbuster shocker, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.” Did the disciples get the point? I don’t think so, because the next time people brought little children to Jesus, the disciples tried to chase them away.
In Matthew’s gospel, Matthew’s favorite word for the followers of Jesus is the Greek word, “microi” ( ), which literally means “the little ones.” To Jesus, and at least to Matthew, John, and later, to all the Apostles, “the little ones” are the poor, the outsiders, the lame, blind, and the deaf , — the nobodies of this world. Thus the term, “the little ones” becomes a metaphor for all true Christians, who, by the very nature of being Christian, are humble. To become a child is to become as one without any claim to any sort of recognition or privilege.
Becoming such a child is what John calls, in his Gospel, “being born from above.” The disciples finally got the point before they died, but do WE get the point?
To receive a child is to receive one who is dependent. Children cannot give things, except the pleasure of their company. To receive a child is to receive one who needs things, but who cannot advance our career nor enhance our prestige. Jesus is saying that if we receive those who have no influence, wealth, or power, we are receiving Him. It is a call to reach out to those in need – another way of saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
To be sure, the truly great are truly humble. That was true of Albert Einstein, probably the greatest genius who ever lived, who had a gentle, humble mind that lay behind his mighty thoughts. He once said this, “Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” The thrust of what Jesus is saying in our text is summed up by Proverbs 18:12: “Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, and before honor, is humility.” Let him or her who has ears hear this!
You know, you and I have our own ideas about who is the greatest, and often those ideas just reflect the post-Christian world we live in. In the text, the disciples argue among themselves who is the greatest. We’re like the disciples in that our pride often causes us to think we are better than others. But Jesus shows us the true measure of greatness: “Whoever would be first, must be last of all and servant of all.” We must measure greatness by how much service we give to others; true greatness is found in humble service. True greatness is found in humility.
Jesus is the greatest, because He is servant of all. He came into this world, not in the royal robes of a king’s child born in a palace, but in swaddling clothes, born in a cow barn. His bed was a bed of straw in a manger, — a feeding trough for cattle. He had neither home nor money, his friends were poor and humble, He suffered incredible torture and pain and died an agonizing death on the cross, as servant of all, bringing salvation to those who believe. He is the greatest servant of them all, and His story is the greatest story ever told! Be humble, never haughty. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.