James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9: 30 -37
Nadia Bolz-Weber’s 2012 National Youth Gathering Speech (timestamp 05:43 – 08:43)
I love Nadia’s image of the Lutheran unicorn.
Last Sunday, we participated in a Church-wide focused, National Day of Lutheran Service. We held a brief service in and cleaned Rotary Park, assembled care-packages for local homeless, and then prepared and served dinner to the individuals and families at the Community House.
We, however, further lucked out for it was the weekend of the Highlander festival and parade. The parade theme was “Proud to Serve”. If you look around our sanctuary this morning, you will note the signs we carried in the parade, minus one. These signify how we serve and support our community. [I tried to plead the fifth about the missing sign, but members would not let me. When returning from the parade, we noticed where someone painted “Isis” on the Highway underpass. I, encouraged by members of the congregation, hung one of our signs over it].
This service and support, our “good works”, remind me of our James reading. [Pause] I was waiting for the cringe, for Lutherans are not typically supporters of James. Martin Luther, himself, considered removing it entirely from the Bible due to its focus on “good works”. However, this morning it is reflective of our understanding that these “good works”, those not done from selfish ambition, comes from God and flows directly from the grace received.
Further, I see a connection with the gospel.
Jesus and his disciples are traveling, while walking a couple disciples are having an argument rooted in selfish ambition. They are arguing about who is the greatest, perhaps who will be or should be Jesus’ successor. Later, Jesus asks these disciples ‘what were you arguing about’. They were silent, maybe ashamed to admit the subject matter, but Jesus already knew.
He calls the disciples together. He shares with them that the greatest, will be the last and the servant of all. Then he welcomes a child among them, who the text refers to as an ‘it’. This reflects the time and the culture of the scriptures; a time when women and children were not considered to be fully human with honor and dignity. They were considered property without honor. In our time and culture, this notion is strange and foreign. We tend to hold children with a greater respect, honor, and dignity.
But, Jesus’ message remains timeless. The message is “that in order to be the greatest, you must welcome and serve those who society considers to be the least, the ones without honor (or dignity).” In our time and culture, it may not be children but it might be the homeless. It might be those serving a sentence in the prison system.
And returning to our signs, you can note that these people who society may disregard are represented in our “good works”: the care packages for the homeless, the Community House, Love Over-Whelming, and Living Stones (prison ministry). When engaging these “good works”, we are embodying our Christian call to love and serve our neighbors.
Now, we have reached the point in this sermon when a “Call to Action” is expected seeking to motivate you to leave here and serve the community. But, this morning I want to pause and acknowledge the “good works” we have done, we are doing, and we will do. For I pray that the Holy Spirit continues to work among and through us in our community and pulls us into a future, whatever future that is, for I believe it is better than we can imagine. Amen.
Message was preached on Sunday, September 20, 2015.