1 17th After Pentecost 2012 B Sunday, September 23, 2012 Pastor Dena Williams Denver, CO The Holy Gospel according

to the Community of St. Mark in the 9th Chapter Glory to you, O Lord Jesus and the disciples went on from there and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know it; but he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, for the second time, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But the disciples did not understand what he was saying and they were afraid to ask him. Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put the child among them; and taking the little one in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.

2 The Gospel of the Lord Praise to you, O Christ Afraid to Ask Across the summer, before and after the five weeks of bread from John, we heard stories from the Gospel of Mark. We listened as Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, comforted the lonely. Jesus roamed the countryside with his friends sharing God’s love for all people, teaching the good news in story and parable. Last Sunday, things changed. The summer of wandering around helping and healing ended abruptly. The story in Mark’s Gospel took a turn. The journey to Jerusalem was begun. Jesus warned his disciples of what is to come— an arrest, suffering, a cross. Peter got angry, remember? He did not want the happily ever after story of his friend Jesus to end. Why couldn’t Jesus spend beautiful Spring days by the lake, teaching a new group of young friends each year? Why couldn’t he just continue to heal the sick, cast out demons, and tell stories, and bless children until he grew old and died quietly in his sleep? Peter wants a resurrection without a crucifixion. He wants an Easter without a Good Friday. He wants a Messiah without a cross. And so do we. Jesus says to Peter and to us:

3 “That’s not how it works.” “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it.” Jesus says, “Who am I?” Peter says, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow me.” In today’s Gospel, Jesus tries again to explain what is about to happen, tries to warn his friends about how there will be suffering and death for him and for those who take up their cross and follow him. With this second warning of what will happen in Jerusalem, the disciples do not understand; they are afraid, too afraid even to ask questions. Ever been that afraid? Too afraid to ask questions? Of course, but when we’re that afraid, we’re often too afraid to even name our fear. What is it that we fear so much? What is it that we fear so much that we can’t even name it? Well, it’s what the disciples feared as well— it’s death. Oh, there are other things that make us afraid— losing our job, not being able to provide for our families, the crime rate,

4 global warming, violence across the world, the decline of the Preble jumping mouse or the pilleated wood pecker. But our greatest fear remains our fear of death, our own or that of someone we love. How shall we respond to our fear? Well, as is usual in Mark’s Gospel, we won’t want to take any cues from the disciples’ response. Not only do the disciples not understand what Jesus is trying to tell them, they have this ridiculous conversation about which of them is the greatest. They know it’s silly; they are too embarrassed to tell Jesus what they were talking about. Jesus knows, though, what the disciples were discussing. He says gently: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” We act just like those disciples when we’re afraid. Oh, we don’t generally sit around talking about out loud about who’s the greatest. But we act just like them— wanting our way, to be the “greatest”, demanding that our voice be heard, insisting that we be in control of our lives and often everyone else’s. That’s how life works for most people some of the time and for others a lot of the time. We respond to our fear with the human desire to be in complete control . . . or what we perceive to be complete control. We’re afraid and we act as though having control will relieve all our fears.

5 And we seek that control wherever we can find it: at work or school, behind the wheel of our cars. Often we seek the control we think we need in places where we know people will love us anyway— at home or at church. Jesus says to us, gently: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Jesus says to us, “Give away your need for control.” Jesus says, “Let it go.” Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid. You don’t need to be afraid, because I am in control. I am in control even when you are most afraid, even when your are too afraid to ask questions, I am in control. Don’t be afraid. For after three days the Son of Man will rise again. And because I live, you will live also.” Then Jesus changes the subject. Rather abruptly, he leaves off warning about what is to come, leaves off trying to explain his fate and theirs to his hard headed disciples. Jesus knows his days are numbered. He hastried explaining this to the disciples. He’s pointed out that after three days he will rise from the dead. Now he moves on. What will he speak of? Jesus knows he has only a few days left before his death.

6 How will he spend the short, precious, remaining time? What does he choose for a last lesson for his disciples? What is so important that he will spend his last breath speaking of it? Summed up in a single word, “Welcome.” And not just any kind of welcome, but welcome for a child. “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me and welcomes the one who sent me.” In our place and time, this emphasis on the needs of children does not seem unusual. But in those days, in that society, children were invisible. They did not count. I think that there were kind and loving parents, nurturing families, but in the world at large, children were of no consequence. Children were of little consequence, and yet as we hear today’s gospel, and the gospel stories to come in the next couple weeks, we will find that to Jesus, children count. To Jesus, children represent the kingdom of God. To Jesus, children need to be cared for and welcomed. Well, death and children, fear and welcome. These seem to be Jesus’ words for us today from Mark’s Gospel. Our fear of death and our welcome to children— perhaps our fear of death and our need to be welcomed as children.

7 For it is when we are afraid, too afraid to ask, when we are that afraid God welcomes us as beloved children. “Then Jesus took a little child and put the child among them; and took the child in his arms.” So God comes to us when we are afraid, holds us, welcomes us, says to us, “Don’t be afraid.” Hear St. Paul’s words to the Christians at Rome: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen