Welcome the "Child"
2009-09-16 by Kim Justice
Dislocated Exegesis. That’s what seminary professors call it when you take your text out of the comforts of your cozy office, and out into the “real” world. The idea is that your encounter with...well, whatever it is that you encounter, changes how you see the text.
When I was supply preaching, and had weeks with which to wrestle with an upcoming sermon, I faithfully wrote my text out by hand and carried it to as many places as I could. But now that preaching comes every Sunday, and I have all the other things to do that come with being a pastor, all the things I “should do” don’t always get done. But today, I had the opportunity to do some dislocated exegesis as I sat with a church member undergoing her first chemo treatment.
As I looked around at the people there, in their various stages of treatment-- some really sick and some just worn out, some talking with friends or family and some sitting quietly-- I tried to think about Mark’s Jesus, and greatness, and servanthood, and welcoming the child. The immediately obvious servants were those nurses and doctors who were so kind and gentle and diligent. What impressed me about them wasn’t how well they were doing their respective jobs, but rather, the ways that they just added such a dignity to something that isn’t dignified at all. They treated each patient in such a way made it obvious that they weren’t working with fragile sicklings. Instead the people who were there were real people who have lived real lives filled with real joys and hurts. The cancer center wasn’t the morose, somber place I envisioned it to be, and I really think that might be a direct result of the staff attitudes. I guess in some ways, these folks are servants just by virtue of occupation. But in other ways, these folks reminded that servanthood is about much more than what one does. The attitude with which these folks approached what could’ve been just a job made them true servants.
Another thing that struck me during the time I was in the cancer center is that these might be the “children” Jesus talks about welcoming. I don’t think Jesus was being metaphorical by choosing a child, but I do think that child was representative of all those whom society considers powerless, the ones who don’t have a lot of “market value”. In my world, days are marked off by meetings and the things I’ve accomplished. One of my shortcomings is that I place a lot more value on “doing” than I ever will on “being”. Not to be Captain Obvious, but cancer patients aren’t the most “productive” people out there. What I noticed was an absence of date books, cell phones, laptops, and leather portfolios. No one was frantically checking a watch, wondering if that all-important meeting was about to be missed. Some folks, I learned, would spend the greater part of a day in that same chair. And I saw no one who seemed to care two cents about impressing the other people. By virtue of the cancer, these folks have, at least for a while, been knocked out of the rat race. What their bodies will allow them to do mostly fully and consistently is rest.
Children, as far as I can tell, don’t much get the whole rat race thing. They think about the things they like doing, and order their worlds around those things. But adults feel those pressures to be “great”, and work and work and work to that end. We roll out the red carpet for those who are like us, the ones who have accomplished things similar to what we have accomplished. (But not the ones who might have accomplished more, because that would make us feel inferior.) When, though, was the last time you rolled out the proverbial red carpet for a homeless person, or someone who had done jail time, or that teenager who checks you out in the grocery line? I know I’ve driven past my share of the “Will work for food” signs.
What Jesus is getting at when he tells folks to welcome the child is in essence, “Get off your high horse--adjust your values because this child is as precious in my sight as you are. This child, who doesn’t “add” to society, who hasn’t yet earned his way is beloved. Treat him as royally as you would treat me.”
I thought about what my life would be like if I couldn’t measure my worth in units of productivity--what if something knocked me out of the rat race, and the only thing I had enough strength for was to rest in someone’s arms. Unfortunately, I think that might be as great a grief to me as anything else. Jesus doesn’t say it, but I wonder if I hear an unspoken sort of challenge in Jesus’ words about welcoming the child: welcome yourself as a child. Maybe as much as Jesus challenges us to welcome and love the one who is weak and powerless in society, maybe Jesus also asks us to welcome and love ourselves and simply rest in his arms. Maybe we’re being asked to quit floundering about, trying to earn our way.
For some, the task of loving the one who isn’t “earning” his way is really tough. But for some others, perhaps that part will be the easy part. For them, the hardest task will be allowing themselves to sit playing at Jesus feet, and believing that it is enough.
Silence Interrupting the Argument
2009-09-15 by Stephen Schuette
I’m fascinated with what the disciples (and we) want to talk about and don’t want to talk about – the engagement with each other about things we are anxious to express, and then on the other hand this strange silence and loss for words, even remoteness.
They’re interested in who is the greatest. They’re interested in position. They’re interested in how the order is established. They’re interested in getting “ahead” – ahead always implying that someone is behind you trying to overtake you while still others are in front of you who need to be overtaken. We can be obsessed by the competition and can discuss the game endlessly. I know I can get pulled into such discussions, since “right” and “wrong” and “winning” the debate begins to generate its own energy – never mind that the point is meaningless. Anyone who’s ever had a brother or sister or spouse must know about the unregulated energy of such discussions. My how the words can fly while the listening fails! “Is too.” “Is not!” “Is too!” “Is not!”…
So who wants to be called out to see things from a larger perspective when they’re right in the middle of the game? Who wants to give up their point when you think you are so close to winning?
After all that energy the silence must have been deafening. The silence arises from what they don’t want to talk about. It’s that uneasy silence when there are really meaningful things to be said but everyone avoids saying them. Jesus’ question pulls them into that silence. With his words everything that they had been invested in falls away. Suddenly they are speechless.
Looking ahead real speech, meaningful speech from the disciples doesn’t catch fire until Pentecost, following the fulfillment of what Jesus taught in vs. 31.
Reminds me of the old church school song: “O be careful little mouth what you say…O be careful little ears what you hear.”
What is a servant, anyway?
2009-09-15 by Kim Justice
If Jesus was talking to people today, would he think of people like doctors, nurses, firefighters as servants or does he think only of servants as those who are promoting the kingdom of God? Preachers could help us understand "servanthood" in their sermons this weekend. (From the Pastor, Talk to me about... board)
Good question, friend.
I'd sure like a little more definition, too. I like things that are neatly set up with "If you _____, then ______ ". Jesus, to my great dismay doesn't seem to be too terribly interested in giving me formulas to follow. So I flounder around, and wonder if I'm headed in the right direction, or if I'm missing the mark completely.
But what strikes me as the Grace of God on this particular morning, is that Christ's definition of servanthood isn't nearly as limited as mine might be.
What does "promoting the kingdom of God" look like, anyway? If you asked most people, they'd probably say, "preaching!" or "teaching Sunday school", or "living into the great commission." But the feeling I've always gotten from Jesus is that service is more about having your heart in the right place than it is about the actual job one is doing. I think our definition of "promoting the kingdom of God" might just be too narrow. Maybe it looks like not rushing the elderly lady with the 18 billion coupons at the grocery store. Maybe it means noticing the other people around us, and really appreciating the fact that they are beloved children of God just like we are. Maybe it means letting someone else have the good parking space.
I’m getting ready to start a study of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline at my church. Foster has a marvelous chapter on service (that I’m hoping to be able to reread before I do this week’s sermon). In this same chapter, he has a section on “Self-Righteous Service versus True Service”, which has been rather helpful to me. Foster writes, “True service finds it almost impossible to distinguish the small from the large service... True service ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need.” He also makes a good point about the difference between choosing to serve and choosing to be a servant. He says, “If we choose to be taken advantage of, then we cannot be manipulated. When we choose to be a servant, we surrender the right to decide who and when we will serve. We become available and vulnerable.”
The question was raised about firefighters and nurses and similiar professions, and if Jesus would consider those people as servants. I think that Jesus would absolutely consider these folks to be servants, so long as it wasn’t about their own glory. The scripture that comes to my mind that seems to speak of servanthood is “Whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it all to the glory of God in Christ Jesus your Lord.” Service, as far as I can tell, is as much about the One who is served, as it is about the work that we do.
That's just great...
2009-09-15 by Kim Justice
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2009-09-14 by David Howell
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