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Sermon for the 15th Sunday after Trinity It seems that the claim to be the greatest is deeply

Sunday 20th September 2009 ingrained in our culture – and even in the youngest of
Jeremiah 11.18-20
James 3. 13 – 4. 3, 7-8a It‟s often the case in our gospel stories that Jesus‟
Mark 9. 30-37 disciples behaved like troublesome children. Look! Here
they are in today‟s story, arguing amongst themselves on
This past week in school, the Year 3 children have been the road to Capernaum, about who is the greatest. And
reading a story by Dick King-Smith called „The Hodgeheg‟. what‟s worse, their petty squabble is taking place at the
As you might guess, it‟s a story about a hedgehog – a very moment when Jesus is trying to explain to them, in
young hedgehog named Max, who sets out to discover all seriousness, that he is about to be betrayed, and be
why it is that humans can cross the road safely, when killed, and rise again.
hedgehogs so often can‟t!
As we heard last Sunday morning, the disciples were
Now, beginning a new story prompts much classroom completely unable to grasp what Jesus was saying. In this
discussion. morning‟s reading, Mark – the writer - actually explains to
us: “They did not understand what he was saying and
“What do you know about hedgehogs?” asked the were afraid to ask him.”

The hands shoot up. In a way this isn‟t too surprising. The disciples, who
genuinely believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Saviour of
“Miss! I had a hedgehog in my garden and it was sick and Israel, would naturally resist the idea that he was soon to
we had to look after it”, said Aidan. die. Do you remember Bishop Tom Wright‟s football
analogy, which Martin quoted last week?
“Miss! We‟ve got five hedgehogs behind the shed in our
garden and they come out at night,” claimed Ellie. “You might as well have had a football captain tell the
team that he was intending to let the opposition score ten
Not to be outdone, little Jacob was the next to speak.
goals right away.”
“Well, we‟ve got twelve hedgehogs in our garden!”
Now, here‟s another one from the same source:
“You might as well expect a footballer, planning the A little later in Mark‟s Gospel there‟s another story:
biggest game of the season, to explain to his friends that
he was going to play with his legs tied together!!” “People were bringing little children to Jesus in order that
he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to
The disciples were understandably stunned and them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said
incredulous. to them, „Let the little children come to me; do not stop
them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God
Our sympathy with the disciples might well extend, too, to belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the
their argument about who is the greatest. It seems that kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it‟.”
the obsession with status and prestige, which is so deeply
ingrained in our own culture today, was just as strong in It‟s true that in the ancient world, although much loved
the culture of Jesus‟ time. And it‟s an obsession which, as within their own families, children had little social value
much then as today, is totally inappropriate for followers and no legal status at all. So, at the simplest level, Jesus is
of Jesus. demonstrating that there is no place for worldly greatness
or material ambition in the kingdom of God. Instead,
As he so often does, Jesus turns the popular thinking, the there‟s a welcome for the lowly and the humble.
received view of this world, on its head. In God‟s new
kingdom, status and prestige are irrelevant. The more Children, who by nature are small and unassuming, have a
important attributes are humility and a readiness to serve special value in the eyes of God.
But I think there‟s more to it than that.
Jesus chooses to use a child to illustrate his point.
Young children are by nature open and malleable. They
It‟s worth taking a closer look at the occasions in the are eager to learn and to explore the world around them.
gospels when Jesus uses children to make a point about As followers of Jesus are we ready to be open-minded, to
the kingdom of God. On this occasion, we‟re told that listen when God speaks to us, and to adopt new ways of
Jesus „took a little child and put it among them; and taking understanding? To seek „the wisdom from above‟?
it 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
Young children are by nature trusting and loving in their
relationships with others. As followers of Jesus are we I came across a short poem recently in which the
ready to be trusting and loving in our relationship with unknown writer expresses his love for God in these words:
God and in our relationships with other people. To
relinquish „bitter envy and selfish ambition‟ and replace
them with peace, gentleness and mercy? “Give me to be thy child and learn for ever at thy knee.
Give me to grow weak and grey-headed, since thou willst
Young children are by nature weak and vulnerable. As it so.
followers of Jesus are we ready to acknowledge that we Bid me lay aside
are weak and vulnerable too? Are we ready to submit All the pleasures of my youth and pride,
ourselves to God‟s protection, love and tenderness? Gladness as well,
“Draw near to God” writes James in today‟s New Sweet ardours and bright hopes – I‟ll not rebel.
Testament reading, “and he will draw near to you.”
Only, I pray, keep me beside thee all the night and day,
Writing in the first century AD, not many years after the Only, for all thou takest, give thyself, and past recall!
death of Jesus, James understands all too well that the And when youth‟s gone,
selfish cravings and desires of the human heart create As men count going, twixt us two alone
conflict and disorder in the community. Today, in the 21 st Still let me be
century AD, not much has changed! Except, perhaps, that Thy little child, left learning at thy knee.”
modern technological advances, ease of communication,
and the growing influence of the media, encourage us all
the more to participate in a culture of celebrity, success,
fame and fortune. Our society is fiercely competitive,
greedy and acquisitive.

But those who want to follow Jesus, those who seek a

place in the kingdom of God, must be prepared to leave
the rat-race behind. If we become like children –
unassuming, open-minded, trusting and submissive – not
jostling for position but making way for others - then we,
too can have a special value in the eyes of God.

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