Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost  /  September 24, 2006

Message by Rev. Carol Kniseley  /  Resurrection Lutheran Church

Text:  Mark 9: 30 – 37   /  Title:  The Least of These


Any way we look at it, one thing is for sure.   Jesus had a thing for children.   While other people tended to ignore anyone shorter than their own kneecaps, Jesus tended to do just the opposite.     He seemed to like them just the way they were, which was unusual for a man, and especially for a bachelor in his day.  Although he had none of his own, Jesus was not afraid of babies.   He often took them in his arms and blessed them.  


He knew how to put his hand behind their wobbly heads and pass them to their mothers without dropping them.   Even the two-year-olds did not scare him.  In fact, when his disciples scolded people for bringing their children to church, Jesus was indignant.    The kingdom of God belongs to such as these, he said.   They are full-fledged citizens of God’s kingdom…not later, but right now.


And yet, notice what Jesus didn’t say.    When he took the children in his arms and blessed them, he did not say we should imitate them, after all.    Yes, children can be innocent, playful, vulnerable, honest, and loving, especially if you are only around them for about 15 minutes a day.   


Yet every parent I know will attest…that if you spend more time with them than that, you will soon discover that children can also be noisy, clinging, destructive, me-centered, and surprisingly cruel, especially to one another.     The best of them will knock other children down for trying to play with their toys.    Which is why I personally don’t believe that Jesus was holding them up as morale examples for us to follow.


He simply said that ‘when we welcome them in his name…we welcome him’.   And that when we welcomed him we were also welcoming God into our midst. 


If there is one thing I have discovered about children…it is the fact, that they are not adults.    Whereas adults can be depended upon as references on job applications or as quick fixes whenever we need a necessary loan…a child can do neither.     A child is not good for anything like that.    In society’s eye’s, she has no real status, no real influence, no real income…which, by the way, makes her great in the eyes of God.  


And…she is just what you and I need.     She allows us, the so-called adults, to work on our own greatness.    How?    By understanding that it is what you do…when you think no one is looking…with someone who ‘does not count’…for no reward or recognition of any kind…that ushers you into the kingdom of God.


Do you see what Jesus is up to here?     Once again, he is about this business of trying to explain to us the “economy” of God’s kingdom, as pointed out by Pastor Jim in last week’s sermon.    Where the first shall be last and the last shall be first…and everyone who thinks he or she is on the top of the ladder is in for a HUGE surprise.    And the thing is, he isn’t talking just about children either.   He is talking about all the ‘little ones’ in the world with no status, no income, and no influence.


The whole lesson came about because Jesus caught the disciples playing “Who’s the Greatest” when they should have been paying attention to what Jesus was saying.    If you’ve ever been caught passing a note in class, then you know how the disciples must have felt.    “What were you arguing about on the way?” he asked them and no one said a word, because they had been fighting about who was the best, the most faithful, the most-likely-to-succeed disciple.


Peter thought he had the nomination all sewed up, since he was the first to call Jesus the Messiah, but, then the others reminded him that he was the one whom Jesus had called Satan for refusing to accept Jesus’ forecast about his death.    And that…was the heart of the entire problem.


They were arguing over whom was the greatest because they could not stand what Jesus had said about being killed.    They did not understand and they were afraid to ask…so they got as far away from the subject as they could.     Actually, when we think about it, it was a pretty natural response.   We’ve all done it.   When we don’t want to face something that scares us…we stop asking questions and begin to act like nothing is wrong.    


Change the subject and start talking about something that makes us feel good…makes us feel strong and important.    That is what the disciples were doing, which was why Jesus had to sit them down and give them a leadership seminar right then and there.


“Whoever wants to be first must be last and servant of all,” he said.    And then, being the excellent teacher that he was, he showed them what he meant by taking a little child in his arms.    They wanted to know who was the greatest, so he showed them: 26 inches tall, limited vocabulary, unemployed, zero net worth, in the eyes of society…a noboby.  God’s agent.   The last…the least of all.     


I remember the first funeral I was asked to preside over.  When I answered the phone, I was surprised to hear the voice of not an adult…but a child.   His name was Rico…and I knew him and his grandmother very well.    Rico was calling because his pet rabbit had died…and being a Christian, he just knew that he couldn’t bury his pet without having a word from God.   


At first I didn’t quite know what to say.   I was flattered to be asked…but wasn’t quite sure if it was ‘the right thing to do’.   After all, we were talking about Rico’s pet rabbit, and thank God…not his grandmother.  


When I arrived for the service, Rico had his best Sunday suit on…and his grandmother was dressed up as well.    A resting place had been chosen up near some rose bushes…and it was Rico himself who said the final prayers.   And when all was said and done…I will tell you that it has become one of the most cherished moments, so far, in my ministry.  


To be asked…by a child, one of the least of these, to try and bring some sense out of death…is no light matter.    The pain was real…and so was Rico’s faith in God.   It was a teaching moment for both of us as I have no doubt that Rico will remember that day for the rest of his life.   And so will I.  Thanks be to God…Jesus had a thing for children, and still…moves us…to do the same.    Amen