It was the Lord who made it known to me, and I knew;
then you showed me their evil deeds.
But I was like a gentle lamb
led to the slaughter.
And I did not know it was against me
that they devised schemes, saying,
“Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
so that his name will no longer be remembered!”
But you, O Lord of hosts, who judge righteously,
who try the heart and the mind,
let me see your retribution upon them,
for to you I have committed my cause.
The Word of the Lord
Save me, O God, by your name;
in your might, defend my cause.
Hear my prayer, O God;
give ear to the words of my mouth.
For strangers have risen up against me, and the ruthless have sought my life,
those who have no regard for God.
Behold, God is my helper;
it is the Lord who sustains my life.
Render evil to those who spy on me;
in your faithfulness, destroy them.
I will offer you a freewill sacrifice
and praise your name, O Lord, for it is good.
For you have rescued me from every trouble,
and my eye looks down on my enemies.
James 3:13–4:3, 7-8a
Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
The Word of the Lord.
[Jesus and the disciples went on] and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “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.”
The Gospel of our Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I have heard that actual families exist in the universe where the siblings don’t fight – argue – bicker and fight some more. I hear there are families in which everyone keeps their hands to themselves ALL of the time. That there are families where sibling rivalry doesn’t even exist. And the children actually manage get along with each other – even when they are in the same room for longer than 30 seconds in a row.
And while I don’t deny these families may actually exist – a huge part of me believes these families are as rare as unicorns and mermaids.
And just like unicorns and mermaids – these families sound beautiful and lovely and gloriously amazing – but I haven’t had the honor of meeting any of them personally.
My own sons are nifty people – but they delight in messing with each other and in pushing each others’ buttons. And I most certainly didn’t grow up in a family like this. My brother and I fought – argued and bickered daily. In fact – we could get into an argument about anything. And we did – over and over and over again!
If I liked something – Matt hated it. If I thought something was fun – Matt thought it was stupid. If I thought something was interesting – Matt thought it was boring.
Almost all of our arguments were petty and ridiculous. But if we could think of a way to turn something into an argument – we did! It was a sad super-power to possess but it was ours . . .
In our Gospel reading for today the disciples are bickering with each other just like my brother and I used to do. The disciples are arguing about which one of them is the most important. About which one of them is Jesus’ favorite. About which one of them – Jesus loves the most.
And they are having a hard time settling their disagreement. Because – they all believe themselves to be incredibly important. After all – they were ALL called by Jesus to be his disciples. They are ALL part of an elite group of 12. They are ALL insiders. They are Jesus’ closest companions and his dearest friends. They ALL believe themselves to be very special . . .
Clearly – the disciples have gotten pretty puffed up and full of themselves.
But when Jesus asks the disciples what they have been arguing about during their walk to Capernaum – they are silent. They are too embarrassed to tell Jesus. Because they know – their conversation had been completely and utterly inappropriate.
But they don’t have to tell Jesus what they have been wasting their time arguing about. Jesus already knows what they have been up to.
Jesus knows they have been arguing about which one of them is the most important. Jesus knows they have gotten too puffed up for their own good . . . So Jesus decides to answer the question they aren’t brave enough to admit to debating.
Jesus sits the disciples down for what you might call a “come to Jesus moment.” And he declares – “If anyone wants to be first – he must be the very last – and servant of all.”
This was NOT what the disciples wanted to hear Jesus say!
Then Jesus illustrates his point by gathering a child into his arms and telling the disciples – “Whoever welcomes a child in my name welcomes me and whoever welcomes me – welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
With those simple words – Jesus really disappointed the disciples and he turned their world upside down and inside out. Jesus’ statement was shocking. Seriously – welcoming a kid – is like welcoming God? Really? Come on?
That wouldn’t have made any sense to the disciples. But it makes a lot of sense to us. Because we live in a world where even the bibs we put on our babies declare them to be royalty.
You have all seen and likely purchased those t-shirts for kids that say things like – “Princess” – “I Rule Daddy’s Heart” – “Super Star” – “Awesome and I Know It” – “The Next Big Thing” – “Super Hero” – “Check Me Out” – “The Boss” and on and on and on.
We make a really big deal out of our kids. We hover and dote and pamper. We treat our kids like royalty. We quite literally put crowns on our kids and not just at Halloween. Just this week I saw a little princess marching around Target in a crown while also carrying her very own scepter. And she was quite clearly the boss of her mom if the temper tantrum she was throwing was any sign of their relationship . . .
But the world Jesus and the disciples lived in was very different. In Jesus’ world children were nobodies. Kids weren’t just second-class citizens – they were property.
And yet – here Jesus is – telling the disciples if they welcome a complete and utter nobody – they are welcoming both Jesus and God the Father.
So what was Jesus’ point? Why did Jesus tell his disciples that – if anyone wants to welcome God – they must welcome – a bunch of insignificant nobodies?
Well – once again Jesus wanted his disciples to change their way of looking at the world. Jesus wanted his disciples to know everyone is important to God. Yes – God loves kings and queens and faithful disciples. God loves presidents and presiding bishops and prophets – but God also loves children and poor people and folks who the world thinks of as insignificant and unimportant.
To God all people are important and all people are valuable. We are all children of God and we are all equally valuable in God’s eyes. We all matter to God.
No one is insignificant. All people are the beloved children of God – no matter what their social status is or their life circumstances are.
God loves and values the homeless person sleeping rough as much as he loves the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA – Elizabeth Eaton.
God loves and values the drug addict as much as he loves the church deacon.
God loves and values the person who is making decisions we just don’t understand as much as God loves and values us.
God loves and values the person who is in prison as much as he values Pope Francis.
And so should we.
God wants us to show all people the same respect and kindness we show God. God calls us to open our lives and our hearts to the people our society is far too quick to reject. God wants us to love society’s outcasts as much as we love folks we see as loveable.
And God tells us that when we do this we are expressing our love for him. Truly this is Good News – AMEN.