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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 09/20/2015

Last week Jesus was walking to the coast along with his disciples, asking them a question about “who” other people were saying he was. The disciples were venturing guesses: “Jesus, they think maybe you’re John the Baptist returned from the dead; or maybe you’re the prophet Elijah; we’ve been waiting for him because he’s the one who is going to signal the coming Messiah.”

These were the things other people were saying. Then Jesus asked them who they believed Jesus to be, and Peter got it right: “You are the Messiah.”

Well done Peter! . . .  (But the kudos did not last for long.)

Jesus then started teaching what that meant: great suffering – rejection by all the leaders – death – and three days later, resurrection. Peter, however, wanted to hear none of this, and if we had been in his shoes, we’d probably have felt the same way. “Whadda ya mean? Suffer – be rejected – be killed? That doesn’t make any sense for the Messiah.” Jesus was not happy with this response – Peter, in effect, got himself into trouble.

Now today, we’ve got Jesus back in Galilee, and we get to hear his second prediction of what is going to happen – the same strange things about being killed and then rising three days later. This time around, none of the disciples says a word. They don’t understand but no one dares ask a question. Instead, they change the subject and focus on themselves.  Apparently, they get into a bit of a heated discussion about who among them is greatest.

The disciples are diverting attention away from Jesus’ words and focusing on the things of this world. Selfish things. After all, they are part of an important group now. People are flocking around Jesus, a carpenter’s son, who is performing miracles with his feedings, healing the sick and the blind, and driving out demons. It seems natural to want to figure out the pecking order, so to speak. Next to Jesus, who is the greatest? In Jesus’ time, just like our times now, rank and status are important. Such are the very human dreams and ambitions we all have, such is the envy we feel when someone else has what we want.

The disciples didn’t want to do the hard work of learning what Jesus meant by his strange words – it was much easier to tune that out and focus inward, thinking selfishly.

How often do we tune out the difficult things we are learning, or put our hands over our ears to shut out what’s annoying? The news changes every day, and it’s not pleasant, really, to listen. Wildfires. Flooding. Earthquakes. Refugees and migrants. They’re all so far away, and there is so little we can do. Better to simply change the subject and concentrate on our lives, the here and now. Just like the disciples.

We can only imagine Jesus’ frustration with them. Jesus doesn’t ignore what’s going on, though. He knows they are arguing about “ranking,” and he calls them on their behavior. They admit nothing. Picture the moment – busted. Sheepish and embarrassed. They know they’re off base, and it’s likely they’re probably quite ashamed.

The teacher, though, maybe exasperated, but ever patient, gathers them around. “Hold on my friends. So you want to be first . . . let me explain how this might actually work with the new way of thinking . . . to be first, you’re going to need to look at being last.”

And Jesus goes on to teach about welcoming children, even bringing one of them into the midst of the group.

This, to us, may seem like an obvious teaching – one we’ve heard for years and can almost take for granted. It is reflected in some of the most beautiful artwork – the church in which I grew up had a massive stained glass window based on Jesus loving the little children. Right in our own fellowship hall here at Bethany, we see a lovely mural of the Shepherd with children. There are similar art prints in our Sunday School rooms.

Jesus brings a child into the room with them and holds the little one. We can easily feel sentimental, feel our hearts, and heart strings, touched by our awareness of Jesus’ love for little children.

Why wouldn’t they be first?

Well the thing is, back 2000 years ago, children were not first, not by a long shot. Our visualization of youngsters as innocent, trusting, imaginative and delightful, playing at the knee of Jesus isn’t very accurate. Children in Jesus’ time on earth were powerless; it was really a time of fear and dread for them. They were weak and vulnerable, with infant mortality rates at birth, very high. More than half of children who did live, didn’t reach the age of sixteen. They were the first to suffer – from famine which left them starving; from terrifying wars which could leave them orphans, and from diseases that weakened, incapacitated, and disfigured. Life was far from idyllic for the powerless children who had no status in either the community or the family.

So when Jesus says, the last will be first, and he identifies the “new first” as children, he’s going to get the attention of the disciples. It just doesn’t make any sense. Children are powerless – back 2000 years ago, they are slaves and servants, but now you’re saying they will be first, that they are to be given a chance to leave their broken worlds and have new life? And it’s up to me, you want me to be a servant – to – the – powerless?

Jesus is turning upside down the definition of greatness by teaching that the great are to be servants of all. In his time, children are powerless, and it behooves us to ask who are the powerless in our day and age – in the world and within our own community? And how might we respond?

In the spare moments of our busy lives, is there any way to make a difference? During this Pentecost season, as we seek to have a greater understanding of the meaning of Christian discipleship, what can we learn from Jesus’ teachings?

When we don’t tune out the national and world news – from whatever our preferred media choice – we are reminded of the realities of situations like the European crisis with Syrian refugees and immigrants and refugees. Hungary – Croatia – Germany: they’re so far away – what can I do in my small way to be a servant who cares?

Well right here at Bethany, we have participation by those making Mission Quilts and gathering items for Baby Care Kits and Personal Care Kits. Lutheran World Relief is shipping these same types of items on to Syrian refugees and migrants. It’s easy, isn’t it, to tune out requests for fabric and toothbrushes, towels and combs. How can such small things make a difference to those Syrian refugees with so little, if any, power?  

The world’s powerless – beyond our reach?

And when we don’t tune out the local news – from whatever our preferred media choice – we will be reminded of the hungry. They are nearby, right in our neighborhoods. Here at Bethany there are the noisy offerings and the food table and the people who are accepting contributions to the Crop Walk. Spare change. A can of tuna. Walking to raise hunger awareness. Can such little things make a difference to those who are hungry, to those whose clout is so small that they cannot walk through a grocery store and fill a basket?

We can all think of examples of those who lack power, who are defeated and distressed and depressed.

It is human to be concerned about our own situations, and it is human to tune out our opportunities to care for others, but Jesus has taught us otherwise, that the kingdom he envisions on this earth has us serving the least, the last.

In our text today, Jesus starts by trying to teach his disciples what he is facing on the road to the cross: that there will be a betrayal, that he will be killed, and that he will rise again. Unlike the disciples who choose not to even try to understand, we know the rest of the story. We know that Christ conquered death on the cross, and we live knowing that we have forgiveness and eternal life. Thanks to the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can be a people who respond to this incredible news of forgiveness and eternal life. And we respond to what the teacher continues to teach us through the Gospel, when he brings new truths and aha moments, turning things upside down, so that the powerless – in their many shapes and sizes and circumstances – might be remembered and cared for and lifted up.

The Holy Spirit helps us first to remember what Christ has done for us in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and then the Spirit leads us to respond to Christ’s teaching by living out the truth because we are a loved and forgiven people. Amen.

Vicar Terry Frankenstein


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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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”


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