Pentecost 17, Year B

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Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C October 2, 2016 Proper 22, Year C II Timothy 1:1-14
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C September 25, 2016 Proper 21, Year C Luke 16:19-31
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C September 4, 2016 Proper 18, Year C Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C August 28, 2016 Proper 17, Year C Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C August 21, 2016 Proper 16, Year C Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C August 7, 2016 Proper 14, Year C Genesis 15:1-6, Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, Proper 14, Year C
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year C July 31, 2016 Proper 13, Year C Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23; Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 12:13-21
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C July 24, 2016 Proper 12, Year C Luke 11:1-13
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C July 10, 2016 Proper 10, Year C Luke 10:25-37
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year C July 3, 2016 Proper 9, Year C Luke 10:1-11, 16-20; Galatians 6:7-16
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C June 26, 2016 Proper 8, Year C Luke 9:51-62, Galatians 5:1,13-25, Psalm 16, 1 Kings 19:15-16,19-21
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C June 19, 2016 Proper 7, Year C Luke 8:26-39: Luke 24:13-35
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C June 12, 2016 Proper 6, Year C 2 Samuel 11;26-12:10-13-15, Luke 7:36-8:3
Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year C June 5, 2016 Proper 5, Year C Luke 7: 11-17
Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C May 29, 2016 Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C Luke 7:1-10

 

Pentecost 17, Year B

Sermon Date:September 20, 2015

Scripture: Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12-22, Psalm 54, James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a, Mark 9:30-37

Liturgy Calendar: Proper 20, Year B


"Christ Blessing the Children", Lucas Cranach the Younger, 1540

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What is more wonderful than a new baby?

Last week we welcomed Courtland Merkl, the grandson of Jim and BJ Anderson, into our midst through the sacrament of Holy Baptism. We’ve been blessed with babies, lovingly welcomed into this congregation over the past several years.

Children, for the most part, are receptive, wide open to life. A child can pick up a rock or a stick or a handful of sand and find it an object of endless fascination. A butterfly floating by in the air can lead to a thousand questions. The wind blowing through the leaves of a tree can create a sense of wonder in a child. It’s fun to feed a baby something new—and to see the expression on his or her face as the taste buds register either delight or surprise, shock, or lead to a spitting out of the offending food, or a big smile and the reaching out for more.

Francis J. Moloney, in his commentary on Mark, points out that when Jesus takes up a child in his arms in welcome, he is making the point to his followers that if they are to grow as his disciples, then they must have the receptivity of children. That last verse of the gospel that we heard today reads like this when you take the Greek into consideration.

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives not me but the one who sent me.”

Maloney says that “there is an intimate link” between ‘receiving,’ that is welcoming the child, welcoming Jesus, and welcoming the one who sent Jesus.

If we want to receive Jesus and to be his disciples, then we have to be receptive to the things that God is busy doing in our lives, and to be receptive to those in our midst who still have much to learn.

Jesus expects us, as his disciples, to have the expansive openness of a child and the willingness to receive from God the constantly deepening understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

This openness to God includes, as Moloney puts it, “a profound receptivity to all that Jesus asks of us and that includes the cross.”

Just as the disciples were not receptive to what Jesus said to them about being killed and then rising again, we also have trouble welcoming the idea of the cross into our lives.

How do we move beyond this reluctance?

Today’s readings give us help with how to be receptive and welcoming to Jesus and to our fellow human beings, by identifying some of the things that can get in the way of our openness to God–so that ultimately we can get rid of these things to make room and welcome God into our lives.

In the Wisdom of Solomon, the writer describes those who have lost their receptivity and have become so cynical and hopeless about life that they want to destroy those who are righteous and welcoming.

Their wickedness has blinded them, and they are led astray by their cynicism. Cynicism is easy to engage in, but it stands in the way of being receptive to God. We have to give up our cynicism about the state of the world and our tacit belief that God cannot or will not bring forth change.

Cynicism is easy. And it’s easy to believe that when righteous people are put to the test that they will crumble and do what everyone else would do, that there can never be anything but war in the Middle East, that hatred and conflict is a given when it comes to the way different religious groups end up responding to one another, and that violence on our parts may be the only way to deal with evil.

But the writer of the Wisdom of Solomon challenges us to let go of our cynicism and to hope for the wages of holiness instead.

The psalmist tells us that the righteous person acts in the knowledge that God will take care of him, rescue him, and sustain him, even though his enemies are after him. God is a God of justice and mercy, and God will make the wrongs in this world right.

It is out of this belief about God’s supremacy and power over all of creation, and the belief in God’s goodness and everlasting mercy, that the psalmist can focus on offering praise to God and can trust in God rather than wasting his time defending himself and plotting revenge against his fellow human beings.

Fear is a powerful motivator. It’s easy, when we’re afraid, to take matters into our own hands and to leave God out of the equation.

Fear can shut down our receptivity and make us less than welcoming to people who aren’t like us. Fear can close our minds to ideas that aren’t our own. Fear can worry us to death and fill our hearts with hate.

Fear stands in direct opposition to our trust in God, and can lead to a fracturing of our relationships with God and one another because we are afraid.

So much of our public discourse these days is based on fear. Politicians in particular play on our fears that we are no longer safe, fear that we’ll lose our way of life, fear that we’ll lose the little power and prestige we might have. They want to play on our fear of change, because changes might not benefit us—we get scared, and we get mad, and in our turmoil, we forget that God is as near to us as our very breath, and that, as Christians, our first line of defense is to welcome God into our deepest fears, because only God can truly defend us.

In order to welcome Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we have to make our best effort to turn those fears over to God, and to stop carrying fear around with us, because fear pulls in the welcome mat and slams the doors of our hearts shut, not just to God, but to one another as well.

Another thing that destroys our sense of receptivity and welcome is the desire that we all have for power and control, just like the disciples who argued among themselves about who was the greatest. The desire to be someone important in this world can negatively impact our relationships with God and with one another.

And our current culture buys into that kind of ambitious and unrighteous fame. Who would have ever guessed that in this nation many of us still believe to be Christian, we would take Donald Trump seriously as a presidential contender? Trump relies on his own power and ambition, and regularly denigrates his fellow human beings through bullying. He promotes fear, discontent, and anger, and yet, at the moment he’s near the top of the heap of contenders for the Republican presidential nomination.

James, in his New Testament letter, lays out in clear detail some more things that keep us from being receptive to God and welcoming to one another.

Bitter envy and ambition in our hearts. Disorder, wickedness of every kind. Conflicts and disputes. Cravings. The devil.

When we give these things space in our lives, we become cynical, full of fear and wishing to seize power so that we can protect ourselves and get everyone else straightened out.

James reminds us that we need to be receptive not to our own limited understandings, but to what he calls the wisdom from above, God’s wisdom—

and God’s wisdom is pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.

And God’s promise is that a harvest of rightness with God and with one another is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Imagine being a child again. Imagine being welcomed by Jesus himself and being taken up in his arms, letting go of your cynicism, your fear and your need for power and control.

Imagine being truly open and receptive to God, so that God can truly give you the gifts that we prayed for in the baptismal prayer we prayed last week–

the forgiveness of our sins, being sustained by the Holy Spirit, being given an inquiring and discerning heart, and the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know God and to love God, and the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works.

Imagine being held in Jesus’ arms, and wanting to welcome God and your fellow human beings into your hearts more than anything you’ve ever wanted.

Imagine being as full of wonder and as receptive as a child to God’s unchanging and welcoming love.

Amen.

Resource:

Maloney, Francis J. The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2002.

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