Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 19, 2021

Amandus J. Derr
Interim Senior Pastor

Jeremiah 11:18-20; Psalm 54; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a; Saint Mark 9: 30-37

In nomine Jesu!
Two questions leap out from our experience with Jesus Christ today; two really big questions.  They are as current as our gathering this morning. They are as old as the Bible itself; even older.  They are not uniquely Christian, or even Judeo-Christian; they are universal at least for those who believe there is a reason and purpose for life.  They are related; they are short and simple; and Jesus’ answers to them are also short and simple.  It’s only because we don’t like the answers and find their implications difficult, that we’ve complicated them and made them seem impossible to do.

Here are the questions:  What does God want of us?  What does God want for us?

Here are Jesus’ answers.

What does God want of us:  That we be “last of all and servant of all.”  That’s what God wants of Jeremiah; that’s what God wants of Israel; that’s what God wants of Jesus; and that’s what God wants of us.

What does God want for us:  To be last of all and servant of all of us.  Jesus teaches this to us in this way:  That “the Son of Man must be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”

We’ve never liked those answers, not about God; not about us.

What we want, or at least say we want, is a God in control, on top of everything; invincible, demonstrably superior, demonstrably more powerful than all the other ‘powers and principalities’ in life and that’s exactly the same things for ourselves.  So when Jesus speaks of his dying, and our serving; and when Jesus equates a helpless child with himself and with God and with us, we, like the first disciples, act like we don’t understand.

Poppycock!  We understand just fine!  We’re just pretty sure we can’t live like this.  After all, not wanting to live like that is only natural.  Isn’t it?

Isn’t it only natural: to aspire to greatness?  To want to be the top dog? The leader of the pack? To want to be served, not to serve, to want to be the first, not the last?  “Pick me!  Pick me” is one of the earliest things kids learn on the playground!

It is only natural, at the very least, to want to be on the side of those who are served first; who are winners, who are right.  It is only natural!  And that’s what makes living in relationship with the God of Abraham and Sarah — the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ — so incredibly difficult; so difficult, in fact, that we regularly undermine that relationship and ourselves.

The trouble with all these aspirations that are only natural is that they always result in competition, always devolve into conflict and, as we’ve all seen too many times, always end in violence and war.

It is only natural that Jeremiah’ listeners, Jesus’ disciples, James’ readers, the Church of history, and the Church of today, have divided and competed and sought dominance over others — even over one another, because that is the way of the flora and fauna, the nations and kingdoms and the people of the world.  But the way of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is anything but natural.

Last of all and servant of all:  How would things be different if we, our families, our Nation, Christ’ Church, this church, lived like that?

I can guess what you’re thinking. I can imagine the first thoughts that have sprung into your head.  We’d be losers.  Crushed. Wiped out.  Annihilated. We’d be nothing.  We’d be dead.

A loser, a nothing, annihilated, wiped out, dead: That’s what God became in Jesus; that and one little thing more.

Risen. With death behind him. We were immersed in that — at our baptism.  We are nourished on that — in this Meal.  And because of these, we are no longer just natural.  We are the risen People of God, with nothing left to earn, and nothing left to lose.

Last of all and servant of all:  That’s what God gets from Jesus; that’s what God wants from us; that’s what God is for us and for all the people of the world.

Last of all and servant of all:  The answer, like each question, is simple. The living, however, is hard. It takes faith.  And courage.  And discipline, from self and from others, because its life not the natural way.

For faith? God gives us the Spirit. For courage? The example of Jesus Christ. For discipline?  The saints and one another — we call that “the church” — to challenge and question, to forgive and make bold, to support, to encourage and to strengthen.

Last of all and servant of all:  That’s what God give us in Jesus; that’s what God gives the world in us.  It ain’t natural; but is God’s way to justice, wholeness, and peace.