In the Name of Jesus
October 3, 2021 Rev. Drew Stockstill
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.” John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
Jesus and his disciples were on a journey. They had been together for some time, visiting towns and villages, farms and coastlines. The disciples followed Jesus as he healed people, cast out demons, told stories that were teachings on grace, on living life in a new way, the way he lived. Their journey was nearing a point of departure where Jesus would go one way and the disciples another. Jesus had told them the way he was going was to his death and to his resurrection. The way the disciples would have to go would be to live out the rest of their lives in the way he taught them, carrying on his mission, but without him. They were nearing the end of their time together. They were nearing Jerusalem and the cross.
In these final days together, Jesus returns over and over to the major themes of his ministry, and for the next few weeks we are going to look at these themes in a series called, “Speaking of Heaven.” As Jesus prepares the disciples not only for his death, but for their work of carrying forward his mission, he speaks often of what is to come, for him, for them, and for us. He teaches about living within the Kingdom of God. What Jesus most often talks about in Mark is not the place called heaven, because he says, there will come a time when the earth and heaven will pass away. What we often think of as heaven, Jesus calls the Kingdom of God. The kingdom of God reaches into our own time, our own lives today where Jesus’ words are still very much alive to us, and the kingdom of God stretches into eternity.
The Kingdom of God, Daniel Bonnell
Today we begin with what lies at the very heart of Jesus’ mission and his desire for us to carry on and that is WELCOME. In the stories we just heard, over and over Jesus speaks of welcome. A spirit of welcome permeates all Jesus is about. How many times have we heard him invite everyone to follow him? For the disciples to carry on his ministry they must embrace Jesus’ spirit of welcome. And here, nearing the end of their time together, they aren’t doing such a good job.
I’m sure they are under all sorts of stress. They are still confused about exactly what Jesus is up to and what this trip to Jerusalem is really all about, even though he’s told them over and over that it is the place where he will be killed, and also that he will rise again.
You can kind of understand how this would be hard to take in. So, in their confusion they are experiencing some stress. And maybe they aren’t so good at saying goodbye. For some it’s easier to leave a group of people you are angry at than to experience the sadness of the loss of those people and the time you had. Anger is just sadness or fear in disguise anyway. But often people choose to be angry rather than deal with their sadness or fear. Maybe some of the disciples
are feeling sad about their time together with Jesus coming to an end. Maybe some are afraid of what lies ahead, maybe some are getting angry.
Jesus Teaching His Disciples, 17th century Ethiopian art,
Walters art Museum, Baltimore, MD
They were arguing a lot along the way. When they came to Capernaum Jesus asked them, “What were you arguing about this time?” What they were arguing about was silly and they knew it. When Jesus called them out nobody wanted to say it out loud. “They were silent, for on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.” In the back seat, on a car trip to see our extend family, my sister and I argued about which of us was our cool cousin’s favorite. We were five and seven. I was the favorite, by the way. But it was childish.
Jesus wanted to know, “What were you arguing about?” They were silent. Then Peter thought his mother was calling him, and Thomas was suddenly very interested in the designs on the wall behind Jesus, and James and his brother John elbowed each other, and the others just stared at their feet. So, Jesus called an actual child over, took her in his arms and said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Here, in the stress, and the fear, and the sadness, and the confusion, and the arguing, Jesus takes the opportunity to speak to his beloved disciples about the importance of maintaining his spirit of welcome.
When groups of people get afraid or sad, one of the first things to go is their spirit of welcome. Jack was one of the most outgoing, funny, and friendliest guys I ever met. People were drawn to him and that’s how he liked it. He didn’t know a stranger. He radiated a spirit of welcome. But Jack was also very, very competitive—not with other people, as much as with himself. When Jack ran a race and he fell behind in the goal he set for himself, he would get upset. Some of the folks who had come to love him came to cheer him up but to their shock, Jack lashed out at them. Once, after he’d given his all in an event, Jack was off to the side of the group, doubled over in exhaustion. A teammate came to check on him, and placed a hand on his back. “Don’t touch me,” Jack sneered, but then quickly recovered and apologized. He always apologized. It wasn’t that he was angry at others, but he didn’t have a good way to deal with his exhaustion and disappointment at himself and the first thing to go was his beautiful spirit of welcome and joy.
Jesus knew the stress the disciples were facing would be nothing compared to the challenges that lay ahead of them, but keeping that spirit of welcome through all the difficulties and darkness is one of the unique gifts Jesus, and his followers offer the world. We can come to Jesus at our worst, knowing that he will always welcome us. We know we can count on his unconditional, loving embrace when we need him most. Soon, Jesus would no longer be with the disciples to do for them what they cannot do for themselves. What if someone came to them in need of love and they were too busy arguing with each other about who was the greatest to recognize the one that God had sent them? Would that person ever turn to a follower of Jesus again in their time of need?
It’s a similar scene when the disciples see a man who is not in their tribe doing the good work of Jesus, casting a demon out of some tormented soul. They are so detached from the core of everything they’ve learned from Jesus that rather than celebrate the power of Jesus working in someone else, they rush to put a stop to it. Someone was helping a suffering person in the name of Jesus and all they could see is that he was not one of them. Jesus says to them and to all his followers across the centuries, “DO NOT STOP HIM!” Why would you stop him? The disciples could have welcomed the goodness of this healer and encouraged him to carry on his ministry of bringing relief to the suffering, but they do not have Jesus’ spirit of welcome.
It takes a child in their midst to shake the disciples and bring them to their scenes. Jesus, like a loving mother or father takes a vulnerable child in his arms. I imagine her giggling as he lifts her, eyes bright, no fear of this man who radiates a spirit welcome. She is certain she is in the safest most loving place in the whole world. Jesus needs his followers to know there is nearly nothing he takes as seriously as his church providing this same experience for the world. And how is the church doing? I think we all have some room for improvement. And I’d say there is precious little the world needs more right now that the church to be like Jesus is here, to take the course correction Jesus provides his disciples. There is nothing our nation is in need of more than to be shaken out of our fear, our sadness, which is changing the character of our nation into something bitter, divided, mean, and resentful. But Jesus knew he had taught his disciples better, and I believe that if we look to Jesus today, we too will see that he is trying to shake us to our senses and bring us back to the spirit of welcome to which he calls us all. And likely as he did many times in the past, he draws our attention to children to show us the way.
This weekend I was on a military base in NJ where I am a chaplain with the Marines. There are currently around 9,000 Afghan refugees living in tents on that base. Men and women spend the day in long lines waiting for food, waiting to be processed, waiting for whatever comes next. A huge military tent set up in the parking lot of the army chapel serves as a makeshift mosque.
Photo by Tech. Sgt. J.D. Strong II
I watched hundreds gather for prayer on a beautiful afternoon after having survived literal war and a daring escape. All around US military members and Non-Governmental Organizations provide aid, security, and organize the huge mission. Frazzled UN workers in blue vests rush around trying to make sure everyone has what they need. I talked to one UN worker who when I asked how it was going, he just let out a long sign and then got pulled away back to work. And what struck me is how understanding everyone seemed, and relieved. Running around the whole tent village were so, so many beautiful children. Fathers carried daughters on their shoulders. Big sisters pushed little siblings in strollers and little boys and girls ran up and down the streets and around the building and tents. While I was talking to a sailor a little boy ran up and grabbed my hand, and began swinging from it with a huge smile and beaming eyes. He told me his name was Muhammed, then he caught sight of a friend and ran off one such child in my name welcomes me.”
Beloved, the spirit of welcome is not only for the good of those who come to us expecting, hoping, and even fearing a bit our welcome. Heaven is found in our ability to hold on to our welcoming spirit even amidst our own fears or sadness or chaos. For when we maintain Jesus’ spirit of welcome we just may find God himself running up to us, taking hold of our hand, beaming with joy, wrapped in the momentary embrace of safety and love, and our own lives are miraculously touch by the light of Kingdom of God and God welcomes us back, because God showed up to me as little Muhammed and reminded me, of the hope for us all to experience such joy and to share such love.