This week’s scripture is taken from the Book of Mark, Chapter 9, Verses 30-37 (NRSV):
30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 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.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Act your age! Has anyone ever told you that? What does that mean to “act your age?”
That’s what I wanted to tell some people who attended a city council meeting in the community where I was serving as pastor. The city council room was packed because of a controversial issue that was being addressed that night.
The issue was regarding how to respond to the drug problem that was prevalent in the community. People had taken sides on how we should or shouldn’t address the problem.
I attended the meeting with my daughter. We had to stand along the wall because there was no room to sit. One by one, people went to the microphone to share their opinion on what should be done.
Some people were rationale and compassionate when they spoke, while others were abrasive and mean spirited in what they shared. But that’s all well and good.
We are a democracy where people are encouraged to speak their mind on issues such as this. The problem was that people who should have known better were acting childish during the meeting.
For example, in the row of people next to me, was a middle age man who kept saying nasty things just loud enough for the people around him to hear. When one of the speakers at the microphone shared an opinion different from his, he did something that I hadn’t seen since my years in junior high school.
As the person was speaking, this man who was seated just off to my right, pretended to cough really loud, but instead of coughing, he shouted something vulgar about the person who was speaking.
It was one of the most embarrassing things I have ever witnessed by someone who should have known better. The police officer who was standing next to me looked his direction as if to give a non-verbal cue for him to cool it with the immature outburst.
I just felt bad for the poor lady who was sitting in front of him because of the force of his hot air. She turned around, but he acted like nothing had happened.
Just childish. Childish.
Unfortunately, we see childish behavior all around us. If you ever want to get really depressed, just read the comments on any online newspaper article that is even remotely controversial. It’s obvious that many people need to take a course on how to express an opinion without being childish.
The bible cautions us to not be childish. I think of I Corinthians 13, what is commonly referred to as the “love chapter.” The Apostle Paul was writing to the Christians in Corinth who were acting very childish in their “I’m more spiritual than you” contest.
Paul tells them that a time comes when we need to put aside our childish ways. Instead of seeing ourselves in a competition with each other, we are to be humble and show love toward one another. That’s the true mark of spiritual maturity.
While it’s important to not be childish, let’s not get that confused with being child-like in our faith. That’s why our Gospel reading this morning is so important.
The disciples had just been arguing with each other over which one of them was the greatest. I can imagine hearing one of them say, “Well, I was one of the first disciples that Jesus called to follow him.”
Another would then say, “Let’s see. Who did Jesus choose to go up the mountain with him to see him transfigured in a radiant light? Oh, that would be me and not you!”
They probably thought they were being subtle, but evidently Jesus could hear what they were saying. So, he finally asks them, “What were you arguing about back there?” We are told that there was silence because they were arguing about who was the greatest. Nobody wanted to fess up.
And so Jesus called the twelve over to him and he explains to them that they have this discipleship thing all backwards. It’s not about being the greatest. It’s about being a servant.
He then picks up a little child and says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Jesus’ point is clear. Don’t act childish. Act child-like. There’s a very important difference between the two!
To be child-like is to be trusting. It’s to live in the moment. It’s not to stay in the past or to worry about the future. It’s to savor the moment. It’s to be humble.
A friend of mine battles with depression. He sees a counselor on a regular basis. When I saw him, I could tell that he seemed much better than the last time I had spent time with him. So I asked him to share with me what he had been learning as a result of his counseling sessions.
He said that he is rediscovering what it means to live in the present and to appreciate it. He said that when you try to live in the past, it can be frustrating because you can’t change the past.
He said that if you live in the future, that can cause anxiety because you don’t know what the future holds. He then said, “But if you live in the present, you are able to be more at peace in your life. You’ll begin to notice things and appreciate them more.”
It’s interesting that he shared this piece of advice with me because a month or two later, I spoke with someone else who was also seeing a counselor and she shared the same exact thing! That’s when it dawned on me that maybe I need to work on this in my own life.
There are times when I focus on the past. That’s OK, but I can’t stay there. I can’t change the past. It is what it is.
There are other times when I focus on the future too much. For example, I love to plan. If I had it my way, I would plan out my sermons and worship services for the next five years if I could. I love that feeling of planning ahead and being ready for the future.
The problem is that there are no guarantees with the future. Things can change on a dime and all of that tedious planning can go to waste. And so, we need to be flexible when thinking about the future. When we focus on the future too much, it can cause anxiety.
We’ll worry more than we need to worry about whether or not we’ve saved enough money for retirement, or if we’ll land that perfect job after college, or if the Steelers will win the Super Bowl this year. Yes, it’s important to plan, but we can also take it too far, and we end up missing the one thing we do have, the present moment.
By holding a child in his arms, he was helping the disciples to see the importance of having a child-like faith.
A couple of years ago, I was up at Lake Erie for our West Ohio Annual Conference. There are 3,000 United Methodist clergy and lay people who attend those sessions each year.
Sometimes, there are interesting debates where people get to share their opinions at one of the microphones for all to hear. And yes, like my city council meeting example that I shared with you earlier, some of those comments can be less than charitable. Most of the time, I leave our sessions feeling inspired, but there are a few times when I leave feeling really down because of way people expressed their opinions.
After one of those downer sessions, I remember going back to the cottage during the lunch break. My lay delegates had invited me to have lunch with them.
They have two pre-school children who were playing with some action figures and their children invited me to play with them on the floor. Being child-like in that moment was just what I needed. After my lunch play-time, I felt ready to go back and be with the grown-ups!
When do you take time to be child-like? What helps you to live in the moment?
One year, I drove to a clergy meeting at the Columbus Convention Center and I had two other United Methodist pastors with me. It was around 3 in the afternoon when the conference ended and we headed to the parking lot which was located next to the convention center.
Because of the traffic that day and everybody trying to get out of the same parking lot, we ended up waiting in a long line of cars for about an hour.
We got really bored just sitting there in my car. One of the pastors was in the back seat. The other one was next to me in the passenger seat. The one in the back seat said, “Hey, what CDs do you have up there?” I thought to myself, “Now which CD can I pull out that we will all probably like?”
It was a no-brainer. I pulled out my Chicago’s Greatest Hits CD and popped it into my car stereo. For the next thirty minutes, we had all the windows down and the stereo volume cranked up.
The pastor in the backseat was playing a pretty mean air guitar while the pastor beside me played the drums on my dashboard. I was praying that my airbag wouldn’t deploy.
People walking through the parking lot smiled as they strolled past my car. I’m sure that they appreciated the free Chicago concert, courtesy of three crazy United Methodist pastors!
Now, I don’t usually act like that just in case you were wondering. But once in a while, you just have to live in the moment and have some fun! Music has a way of helping us to live in the moment, especially if it’s your favorite song!
Just before coming here to Athens, I conducted a funeral for a woman who had been developmentally challenged all her life. She wasn’t a church member but a friend had served as her guardian the last six years of her life.
I didn’t know this woman who had died, but several of the people who knew her told me how she had brightened their days because she knew how to live in the moment. In the last years of her life, Patti was a resident at a nursing facility.
She would always sit near the front desk and whenever someone would enter the front door, she would happily point you to the direction you should go since she pretended to know who you were there to see. When the pone at the desk would ring, she would shout out, “Phone!” just to make sure everyone heard it.
She also loved going to the county fair and she always tried to win the biggest stuffed animal there. At one of the games where you had to pop all the balloons to win the stuffed animal, it was obvious to her caregivers who had brought her, that she wasn’t going to win.
One of the caregivers slipped the game worker some money so that Patti could win the game. After she popped a few more balloons, a crowd had gathered around her to cheer her on. Finally, after she had popped a few more balloons, the worker had all the lights of the game turn on to indicate that she had won.
Patti screamed out with great joy and the people all gave her a standing ovation. It was a moment those caregivers will never forget.
Patti was also known to dance right there in the entrance of the nursing home. She would get on the floor and spin around. That was her dance.
She also loved to sing “Peter Cottontail,” “Jingle Bells,” and “Happy birthday.” And at the end of every song, she would yell out, “Boo!”
She died just before her 73rd birthday, so we ended up singing “Happy birthday” to her right there in the funeral home, and at the end of the song we yelled out, “Boo!”
As I looked around that room at all the care-givers and nursing home residents, I could see by the tears in their eyes, just how much they all loved Patti. I could sense that what they loved most about Patti was that she knew how to enjoy the moment. She had a child-like faith.
Jesus is teaching us the difference between acting childish and being child-like in our faith.
When I met with our church’s Leadership Team this past January about becoming pastor here at Athens First, it was a time for us to get to know each other and make sure that this was going to be a good match. A member of the committee asked me a very important question toward the end of our meeting that I will never forget.
He asked me the most basic of all questions, but one that needed to be asked. He asked me, “Who are you?” What a great question! Now, I know that there are a lot of different ways we can answer that question.
They already knew my name. They already knew that I was a husband and father. They knew about my pastoral record. They even knew that I was a Penn State fan. No, this question went even deeper than all of those things.
Who are you? That’s a question that Jesus wants us to think about because we can so easily forget. It’s what Jesus was basically asking the disciples in our Gospel reading this morning.
And you know how I responded.
I said, “I am a child of God.”