Our text this week follows closely on our passage from last week. Like last week’s passage, this text is also a two-parter, with Jesus once more teaching about what it means to be the messiah, followed by a teaching about what it means to follow Jesus. And, very fitting for our Welcome Sunday, the text ends with words of welcome: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
So what I’d like to do today is to reflect with you about what it means to welcome; what it means to welcome like Jesus, and in so doing, to welcome Jesus and the one who sent Jesus, God. What does it mean for us to do that? What does it look like for us to do that? How would it change us to do that? Or, how do we need to change in order to welcome like Jesus?
But let’s start with the text.
It begins with a repeat of what we heard last week: Jesus predicting that he will be handed over—arrested—and be killed, and three days after being killed, that he will rise from the dead. This is Jesus’ second prediction of what we call his passion—his suffering and death—and there will be one more in the next chapter of Mark’s gospel. This is Jesus’ way of teaching his disciples what it means for him to be the messiah.
We heard last week that Peter correctly identified Jesus as the messiah, but that Jesus had to correct Peter and the disciples about what the term meant. They thought in terms of a heroic leader marching at the head of a victory parade, and Jesus told them about the Suffering Servant, and the way of dying and rising, and taking up the cross, and losing one’s life. And he repeats that teaching today. He repeats it because it is so hard for them—and for us—to hear.
In today’s passage we find that the disciples are arguing over who is the greatest. This is meant to show us that the disciples don’t get it: they’re still scrambling for the top spot, wanting to succeed, craving status.
And in response, Jesus teaches them to aim for the bottom: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking 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 me.”
Jesus is teaching them—and us—that our salvation comes not from scrambling for the top, but by reaching down to the lowly. That is what will save our lives, what will give our lives meaning. In drawing close to the lowly, we will meet Jesus. In drawing close to the lowly, we will be drawn close to God, because that’s where God is. God lives in places where mercy is shown, where compassion is expressed, where care is offered.
We keep wanting to go in the other direction, in the direction of our security and comfort. We want to build our nest eggs, and secure ourselves against uncertainty. It’s a natural impulse for us; it’s what we’ve learned: to take care of ourselves, to rely on ourselves, to make something of ourselves.
Ourselves, ourselves, ourselves. We’re so focused on ourselves. And when we are, we build communities in which we are fenced off from one another in our own little private fortresses. Cut off from one another, and the possibilities of community; our whole notion of community is compromised. And for those who don’t have the means to hole themselves up in their own fortresses, where are they, and what are they left with? That’s a vision of broken community.
That’s a vision of community that Jesus fought against. The stories of healings, and feedings, and teachings, it seems to me, always come down to this—this notion of welcome, of dissolving boundaries, whether those of wealth and status, or of gender, or of race. As the Apostle Paul says, in Christ there is no slave or free, no male or female, no Jew or Gentile, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus: this is the heart of the Gospel. Rather than always thinking about ourselves, we are called to be self-forgetful, and to be servants of one another.
In our culture we don’t like the idea of being servants; it offends us, just as it offended the disciples.
But we are followers of the foot-washer, Jesus, who washed his disciples’ feet and instructed them to do the same for one another. It was another reminder that we find our life, that we save our life, when we are able to be self-forgetful; when we forget—for even just a moment—about hanging on to our stuff, and protecting and defending ourselves, and give our focus and our attention to others. That’s where we discover the true riches of life.
You know that. You know that. Every act of love—for a partner, for a child, for a stranger—has shown you that. That’s the part of life that Jesus invites us to invest in; and to disinvest in some of that self-protective behavior.
So, welcoming like Jesus, on this Welcome Sunday. This is where I want to hear from you. I’ve given you some questions to ponder, and I want us to hear as a community some of your responses.
- The first question: What does welcome mean to you?
- Question two: Who do we need to welcome to Trinity? Or, who is missing from our community?
- Question three: How would it change us to welcome new people to Trinity?
- Question four: How do we need to change to welcome like Jesus?
One of the ways we have been talking at Trinity about welcome is in the conversation we began last week about refugees. I saw that about twenty people signed up on the list to join in a conversation about a Trinity response to the refugee crisis. I also want to say that in this past week, I received three or four emails from people who—I hope I am expressing this correctly—wanted to share some concern about this topic.
Those notes expressed some of the economic and political complexities of the issues surrounding refugees. And of course there are political and economic complexities around refugees—after all, that’s why they are refugees: because of politics and economics and wars.
Politicians have the job of figuring out those issues, and I don’t envy them. But for Christians, the response is much simpler; we do as Jesus invites us to do: we welcome the stranger, the child, the one left out, the one who has no place to go.
I know that might not be good politics or good economics. But I am not running for office! I am trying to live as a Christian. And for me—and for you, too—being a Christian means that all our wishes, wants, aspirations, desires, and goals get filtered through the teachings of Jesus. We may not want to do certain things, but as Christians we are called to do them. And we need to trust that, as we do so, we’re going to be okay; and more than that, our lives will be profoundly enriched by our willingness to be of service to others.
In the words of my colleague David Lose, Christians are called
to imagine that abundant life comes not through gathering power but through displaying vulnerability, not through accomplishments but through service, and not by collecting powerful friends but by welcoming children.
These are small things when you think about it. Serving others, opening yourself to another’s need, being honest about your own needs and fears, showing kindness to a child, welcoming a stranger. But they are available to each and all of us every single day. And each time we make even the smallest of these gestures in faith – that is, find the strength and courage to reach out to another in compassion even when we are afraid – we will find our fear lessened, replaced by an increasingly resolute confidence that fear and death do not have the last word.
Those are the words of David Lose.
And this is what welcoming like Jesus is ultimately about. It’s about trusting in something greater than ourselves, our self-reliance. It’s about daring to trust—even in a small way at first—in the God we meet when we reach down to the lowly, the face of Christ that greets us when we reach out to one another. May God bless our every effort at welcome. Amen.
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