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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 9/20

I think the disciples understood more than we sometimes give them credit for.  They’re often criticized for their lack of understanding and you’ve heard plenty of sermons about their failure to “get it” regarding Jesus.  You’ve heard criticism for what seems to be consistent confusion about who Jesus is, but I get the idea that on some things they understood more than we might think.

They didn’t understand everything, mind you; but it’s unreasonable for us to expect that they should have understood everything.  We still have trouble making sense of the need for Jesus to suffer and die, wondering sometimes if there wasn’t another way God could have accomplished what needed to be accomplished.  Did it have to be so unpleasant?  Did it have to involve what seems to be a blood sacrifice?  There are good reasons for the disciples being confused by Jesus’ talk about suffering and death; it didn’t make sense in any way that they could figure. 

          On the other hand, while it’s not exactly clear how long they had been traveling with Jesus, they had been around long enough to know that apart from that strange talk about suffering and death and resurrection, Jesus was talking quite clearly about a different way to live in the world, a way that was in conflict with much of what was widely accepted.  They could understand that.  They knew he was talking about a world where priorities were different, where one’s importance was evaluated differently, an upside down world, where as Luke’s gospel says, “The poor are lifted up and the rich are sent away empty.” 

          They might not have understood all the details, but the disciples had to have had some sense of this different ethic of Jesus so when they arrived at the house in Capernaum, and Jesus said, “What were you guys talking about out there?” they were embarrassed.  They didn’t say anything because they knew that what they were talking about had nothing to do with what Jesus was talking about.

          At which point Jesus didn’t get mad at their failure to get it; he didn’t get mad at their inappropriate conversation about which one of them was the greatest although one wouldn’t have blamed him if he did.  Instead the text says that he sat down.  Now in that culture that’s the position that a teacher would assume so I think it’s safe to say that Jesus was taking advantage of a teachable moment.  It’s in his role as a teacher that he brings the little child into their midst as an example of the kind of welcome he was talking about, an example of the least of these that his disciples were called to serve. 

Remember that this was not a child centered society, children had no rights, there was no United Nations declaration about how they should be treated, the family’s life did not revolve around the activities of the children as it often does now.  Jesus may have loved the little children, I’m sure he did, but this isn’t just “Jesus loves the little children” sentimentality; in this case they primarily represent an example of those who were not highly regarded, those seen as less important.  They are part of the radical ethic Jesus was proposing for his followers. 

The example of the child was a gentle reminder by Jesus to his disciples…but I doubt it represented an “Aha!” moment for them because I think they already had some sense of what Jesus was talking about, they already had a sense of what was important to him…it just wasn’t that important to them yet; they were still locked into the idea of Jesus as their ticket to a position of greater status.  So when Jesus asked them what they had been talking about, they were embarrassed because they knew he wouldn’t be pleased.  This is more of an example of Mark Twain’s statement, “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me; it’s the parts I do understand.”  The disciples were bothered by what did understand.

How pleased would we be to have Jesus ask us what we were talking about…as we leave a church council meeting, as we leave a committee meeting or a WELCA gathering or old men’s coffee?  How much of what we talk about has anything to do with what Jesus thought was important?  Would we be embarrassed and silent like the disciples?  I’m not pointing fingers (the grumpy old men might vote to expel me from their ranks). I’m not pointing fingers, merely suggesting that it’s a good question to keep in mind.  In addition to talking about and doing what Jesus thought was important, there is nuts and bolts business that has to be conducted as part of any organization, there is good reason for relaxation and celebration and fellowship.  It’s all part of the life of any church…

          …but it can’t be the primary reason for existence.  The church is more than a religious social club so the question about what Jesus thought was important should always be in mind, not to keep us from enjoying times of fellowship and celebration, but so that we don’t wind up doing things or talking about things that are contrary to that which Jesus thought was important.  That’s what the disciples were doing in this story.  They weren’t hearing the alternative that Jesus had been talking about, about how whoever wants to be first of all must be servant of all; instead they were continuing to plan their lives according to the power structures of the world contrary to what Jesus said.

          This question about what Jesus thought was important is the guiding question for me in why I come down in favor of the changes that were made in the ministry guidelines at Churchwide assembly.  If Jesus stopped some of the delegates as they were leaving the assembly and said, “What were you talking about in there?” would they have been silently embarrassed after having talked for hours, days, years about whether or not one group of people should be fully included in the church?  I think Jesus might have responded the same way he did with the disciples in this story. 

He might have sat down, assuming the role of a teacher and then brought in a child, a leper, a woman who had been married five times, a Syrophoenician woman, a prostitute, a tax collector, a foreigner, a Pharisee, a widow and he might have said, “Do you remember these people?  Are there any of them that I didn’t welcome? They’re all people who were considered lowly or worthless or unclean by society.  Are there any that I didn’t welcome?” 

If they responded with, “What about what it says in Leviticus?  What about what Paul said? What about what the church has said and taught for 2000 years?” I still think Jesus would look around at those he had gathered and say, “Do you remember these people? Are there any of them that I didn’t welcome?”

I could be wrong about this, but even if I am I also think Jesus would want us, all of us, regardless of how we feel about this issue (because obviously not everyone does agree with me), Jesus would want all of us to get on with the business of what he thought was important.  Like the disciples, I think we know what that is, but like the disciples we don’t want to hear it, or we’re not ready to hear it, because what he says points the finger at each of us.

For example, Jesus says a lot about money and possessions and it doesn’t agree with how most of us view money and possessions and security; it doesn’t agree with consumer capitalism and I think we know that.  He says a lot about power and status (like in today’s text) and it doesn’t agree with how the world views power and status and I think we know that.  He says a lot about religion and religious practice and at least some of the time it doesn’t agree with how we view religion and religious practice and I think we know that.  He says a lot about justice and care for the poor and the outcast and I think we know that.  He says a lot about the equality of all people and we nod our heads in agreement and continue to live in a world where some are more equal than others and we’re OK with it, even though I think we know that Jesus is not OK with it. 

I could go on but you get the idea.  These are the things Jesus talked about so I have to think that these are the things he thought were important.  We however, would sometimes prefer to talk about other things because these things place too much demand on is.  If we focused more on the things Jesus thought were important though, we wouldn’t be reduced to embarrassed silence if he asked, “What have you been talking about?”

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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