My scripture today is from Mark 9:30-37. There is a clergy colleague of mine who has two sons. I have known these two boys since they were babies, and since moving to Roanoke, I have enjoyed playing with them on several occasions. Usually when I encounter the two boys, they have their light sabers in hand and are ready to engage in sword fights like most young boys. Recently, my colleague told me of riding in the car with his youngest son, a five-year old who started kindergarten this year. I always enjoy such stories from my friend, as her boys seem to have interesting thoughts and conversations when they are in the car. Well, on this particular occasion, the youngest made this statement, “Mom, I can’t decide if I want to be a rockstar or a construction worker when I grow up.” This seems to be a common dilemma as we grow up, deciding what we want to be when we get big. And for most kids, it changes daily, or at least weekly or monthly. I remember in my early years aspiring to be a great singer or a mommy. I’m even pretty sure there was a dream of being an archeologist somewhere in there too, along with movie star and tennis great. I remember my best friend announcing with conviction for years that she wanted to be a cash register. Not a retail clerk, but a cash register because the cash register gets the money! As a child I thought that was a pretty cool idea. I’m sure that if we were to take the time today to share with one another all the things we talked about being when we were young and dreaming about growing up; it would probably run the gamut – President, teacher, lawyer, architect, inventor, artist, cook. When we are young, the possibilities are endless. Yet, how many of us when we were young said, “When I grow up, I want to be small.” Now, I’m not talking about being small in stature. I’m talking about being small in power or small in prestige, more like a servant than a master. This is exactly what Jesus was telling his disciples they should aspire after when he pulled the young child into his arms on this occasion and said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me. Today I want to celebrate with you all here at Midway what this church is does to welcome the children and youth of our community. I love the fact that we provide pizza at the end of each grading period to celebrate their success in their classes. We have had 5th quarter. Next weekend we will give scholarships to deserving college students. We do not slack when it comes to lifting up our youth. We are not perfect….and we have a long way to go…..but last weekend….we celebrated a rememberance of a Baptism….and two baptisms….and it all began with a little girl inviting her friend to church. We need to stay busy….busy…doing the work of welcoming the young in the name of Jesus Christ. But let us also remember that Jesus’ lesson to the disciples extended far beyond welcoming the child. To understand exactly what Jesus had in mind when he, shall we say, “redirected” the disciples’ conversation about who was the greatest, we must have an understanding of the role of children in Jesus’ time. In the ancient near East, a child was a non-person. This is difficult for us to fully comprehend now because we have come to place great value on childhood and that privileged time of innocence. Yet, when Jesus was in ministry on this earth, children would have rarely been found among a teacher and his disciples. Children stayed with the women, working and serving in the households. They had no standing or influence in the wider, male-dominated society. Children were inconsequential. They were socially invisible. And yet here, with his disciples before him, Jesus puts forth the child as his own “stand-in.” But the child is also a stand-in for a wider social segment of humanity. Jesus’ words to the disciples were not just about welcoming children, but about welcoming all who are socially invisible, all who are inconsequential or marginalized. Jesus is turning the tables on the definition of greatness. The disciples knew that the conversation they were having was inappropriate, and now Jesus is letting them know why. The Kingdom of God is not about greatness and power; it’s about service to the least. Jesus teaches his disciples that the one who is ready to serve someone who can offer nothing in return will be the greatest. When we get big, our desire should be to be small, to be servant at all. Today, let us roll out our welcome wagon, get out huggers oiled and ready to use…. there is plenty of service to be done in this community. For the most part, people are not going to find their way to Midway on their own. We must invite them. As a general rule, those who walk through our doors will already be believers. I was thinking this week about the fact that probably most of the people who visit in churches already hold at least some belief in God as Lord of their lives. Most unbelievers don’t wake up on a Sunday morning….and say to themselves…”Gee, I think I will go and see what Midway is all about. In this community….in the shadow of this steeple….in this county….there are so many people who have never heard the name Jesus Christ; there are those who do not believe in a creating God whose hand is still at work in his creation? What about those in this community to whom the Gospel is a completely foreign concept? These things will not change, lives will not be transformed, unless we are making intentional efforts to reach out in the name of Christ and welcome those around us who may not have the same belief system as us. Surrounding us in these neighborhoods up and down Highway 431 are people who struggle in the midst of lives that are inconsistent with God’s will for our lives. The message of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial love brings with it the key to looking ahead and shaping lives that are fruitful and blessed. But this Word will not spread itself. We must share with all the good news of Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose again to new life; a new life that is now offered to all in love. Once we have shared that message in the farthest reaches of our lives, we must be prepared to welcome any and all who might come knocking on Midway’s door. We must be prepared to serve in the name of Christ whose love is already at work transforming our lives and who calls us to be at work in response to that transformation. We cannot stop here, rest on our haunches, pat ourselves on the back, and think that “we have built it, so they will come.” We are still called to serve. The more we grow in Christ, the more we serve in his name. Christ beckons us to seek out the socially invisible and to make for them a place in the body of Christ. God’s vision for God’s creation is huge, but to see the reality of God’s Kingdom come to full fruition, we have to start in the places that seem insignificant and inconsequential. If we are to really dream big, we’ve got to think small. If we really want to be great, then we will serve the least. And our greatest aspiration as individuals and as a church community should be this, “When I grow up, I want to be a servant!” How about you?
To Joey, With Love....WINNER!
11 months ago