The Greatest!

First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
September 23, 2018
Scripture: Mark 9:30-37
Sermon: “The Greatest!”

I remember when my first Credo/Master’s thesis crashed and burned and I was asked to do a rewrite. I met with one of the two professors on my examination team and recall one of his comments, “You know Kent, in the midst of our conversation that day, it just appeared to us, when we would offer suggestion and critique, it just appeared you didn’t get it.” I remember looking at him and saying, “You know, that is the same way I felt about the two of you.” After an uncomfortable pause… there was a brief bit of laughter… but I think it might have been a little strained on both our parts…

So…This last week I am reading again about Jesus who continues to turn his world’s understanding upside down. About a “Messiah” that is about surrender: bearing crosses, suffering, and a death that leads to life.

And there are the disciples who still do not get it, and somehow I can hear my professor’s words in Jesus thoughts… “It just seems like you don’t get it…” And in the midst of all this… they seem to still have the impudence to argue about who is the greatest… Jesus takes a little child and says, “This… this is what it is all about. Innocence. The disarming wisdom of a little one…”

Other lectionary selections for this particular Sunday include proverbs and the book of James. In James, the author talks about quarrels, arguments, wars, conflicts, and disputes while admonishing the reader to have wisdom borne of gentleness, wisdom that is pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield where peace begets peace.

And as I think of them, as I read them this last week, they are on my mind. They are on my mind as I lay them as a template over the news of our country and world, the images and words and comments and I wonder how they cannot “get it!”

As I read about continued denial and accusation about climate change and a hurricane bearing down in the east coast with threat to human life and livelihood… Reading the story here about the Omaha Planning Department and Housing Code Enforcement conducting an enforcement sweep at the Yale Park Apartments. One hundred units occupied almost entirely by families from Myanmar, many of whom speak little English. Of the residents, about 175 are schoolchildren and a significant number are elderly. And how do we participate with our core OTOC team here at First Church to be present for, and empower these vulnerable ones against the forces that would turn them away?

In the news… once again…the horror stories of #MeToo… the diminishing of women and the abuse they suffer at the hands of the powerful… the continued shaming and blaming and attempts at silencing their stories. While a well-known pastor in our country, clambering for power… who says a Supreme Court nominee’s treatment of a female wasn’t really assault because it was “attempted rape.” The law does not apply to him because he didn’t finish the assault… It’s the continued double standard of male privilege in a patriarchal society. Not just in the Public realm either …We know it happens in the church as well…

The continued discrimination against our LGBTQ+ friends and family by those who wish to wield power and control over the entry not only into the church… but a presumption of who can enter and who cannot enter the kindom of God. Churches refusing to ordain women or will ordain them but send them to serve in churches refusing to pay them an equitable salary as their male counterparts with like experience and gifts.

Threats of violence if control of the houses of our government are given to the “other” party. The continued disrespecting and threatening of athletes who take a knee in peaceful protest against violence fueled by racism and bigotry.

Road rage, just drive down Dodge at 8:00 am, or any major thru street.

The vitriol that happens in the anonymity of social media, and from adults in the public sector & in our churches … those who ought to know better!

Those in the public and private religious sector who just can’t seem to hold their tongue… some while claiming and wearing the badge of Christian!

Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.

As I ponder, it seems we are increasingly a culture and society who is arguing over who is the greatest! A culture and society who plays the privilege card…

A culture and society who refuses to understand the notion of picking up a cross and carrying it… it seems we are a culture and society that can be more interested in directing those who we think should be carrying the cross than lending our aid in shouldering the burden.

It seems we are a culture and society of one-upmanship: …I am… we are… the greatest.

We have forgotten what humility ought to be… too many claim humility all the while boasting about being the greatest.

We… I… are all subject to this kind of struggle… none of us are immune. It requires constant mindfulness to resist slipping into the us versus them mentality that fuels the arguments about who is the greatest… and I wonder as I watch Jesus pick up the little child and place her among them… I wonder: where is the voice of reason? Where is the Understanding? Where is the voice of the church? Where is that response? What should it sound like?

Our response to incivility must be tempered with civility. In other words, we as followers of the Way of Jesus should not respond “in kind,” i.e. with incivility, but rather speaking the truth in love, our words should be tempered and couched in gentleness and humility…

Mindful of the child of God that we are AND the child of God to whom we are speaking. These should be the marks of a Follower of the Way… the Journey of Peace… inner peace… that bears and witness the message of Jesus.

We are called to practice humility. We are called to practice vulnerability without letting the arguments of who is the greatest disturb our inner peace. We are to speak a wisdom from above, speaking in humility of peace for peace.

Wise as serpents… innocent as doves. – Jesus

Be at peace with all… so far as it depends on YOU– Paul

Where is the wisdom borne of gentleness, of peace, of servant of “all?”

Where is the wisdom that is pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield; full of mercy and good? Fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy? The church should be leading the way, setting the example like a shining beacon on the hill!

Maybe the voice is out there. Maybe it just isn’t loud enough. Maybe it just isn’t getting the coverage, the whole squeaky wheel thing… maybe we need to be a little more “squeaky!”

But maybe it is not being said out there… I think of my own activity, my own speaking out… or rather, lack thereof. And if I am unwilling to speak, if the church is not willing to speak, to “BE” a shining light of grace and peace, an example will be found elsewhere. We are seeing the fruits of that example now! Rather than the example of peace, grace, and understanding, a gentleness willing to speak is justice sown in peace. And if we are not willing to be that spoken justice in the world, is that the world, is that the faith, we really want to leave behind? Is that what we want to leave for these little ones… for all the little ones?

I hope not. I pray not.

Love is the Word. Peace is the Process.

May it be so.