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"An Upside Down World"

Mark 9:34-37

Rev. Alan Taylor

Pentecost 17B
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Sep 23, 2012 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

The message this morning is based on the Gospel reading from Mark 9.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Jesus told His disciples that He was going to be delivered into the hands of men.  They would kill Him.  On the third day He would rise again from the dead.  The diciples didn't understand what He was talking about, but they were afraid to ask Him about it.  Maybe they thought they should have known what He meant and they were embarrassed that they didn't.  Or, maybe they just didn't want to have to deal with the thought of Him dying. 

As they walked along Jesus noticed that they were discussing something among themselves.  He asked them what they had been ta lking about.  Mind you, He didn't ask them so they could fill Him in, as if He didn't know.  Rather, He asked them because what they were discussing presented a teachable moment that He would take advantage of.

When He asked what they were discussing, once again they kept silent.  I suspect though this time they were more ashamed than they were embarrassed.  I mean, think about it, even though Jesus had just told them He was going to be killed and that He would rise again from the dead, they were discussing which one of them was the greatest.  No doubt they each made their case for the title, mentioning their best qualities and listing off their accomplishments.  I wonder if one of them claimed humility as his greatest strength?  I'm the greatest because I'm the most humble.

One chapter of C.S. Lewis' book on morality, Christian Behavior, is titled "The Great Sin."  We might imagine the chapter would be about murder or adultery, or, some such sin. Instead it identifies "pride," or, "self-conceit," as the great sin.  Samuel Coleridge, the 19th century poet, a man, by the way who suffered his entire life through bouts of anxiety and depression, once said,"And the devil did grin, for his darling sin is pride that apes humility"

You can't be humble and proud of it.  At the same time you can't be proud and not hear the admonition, and perhaps the condemnation of God.  Humility is the quality most often lauded by Jesus.  Not only does He speak highly of it, He actually demonstrated it in His life and mission.  Paul characterized Jesus' entire life, and most especially His death on the cross in terms of humility.  "He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death even death on a cross."

When you encountered Jesus, or, I should say when He encountered you in the water of your baptism, you set off down a path to put away your sinful pride and to learn humility.  The Apostle Paul described that journey in terms of death and resurrection.  "Do you not know (he says) that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?  Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life."

The question is, what is so new about your life in Christ?  Or, is there anything new about your life in Christ?  Some say, "I know I'm a Christian because I don't drink any more, I don't smoke anymore and I don't curse anymore," as if such trivial things were the essence of what it means to die with Jesus and to be raised with Him to newness of life. 

The effect of your coming to Jesus is much more radical than the taming of vices, or, the curbing of destructive behaviors, although those things are important too.  You, my friends, were bought with price, the lifeblood of the Son of God.  Jesus has laid claim to your life effecting a complete transformation, turning your world upside down, as it were. 

Consequently, those things you thought were the most valuable in your life you find are really nothing compared to the joy of knowing Jesus.  Paul said it this way..."I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish that I may gain Christ."

The suffering you once loathed, even to the point of cursing God, you now see as a touch of the Master's hand, effecting a deeper and a stronger faith in you.  Peter, describing that new perspective on suffering and the crosses we bear put it this way..."If need be you have been grieved by various trials, the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

Surveying the wondrous cross of Jesus, you now know that victory can be found in humiliation and seeming defeat.  C.F.W. Walther, the first president of our Synod, wrote an Easter hymn about the victory that is yours through the resurrection of Jesus.  "The Lord of creation was nailed to the tree.  In Satan's domain did the host shout and jeer.  For Jesus was slain, whom the evil ones fear.  But short was their triumph; the Savior arose, and death, hell, and Satan...He vanquished, His foes.  The conquering Lord lifts His banner on high; He lives, yes, He lives, and will nevermore die."

Jesus says, "to be first, you must be last of all and the servant of all."  In that bastion of cinematic excellence, "Taladega Nights...the Legend of Ricky Bobby," young Ricky is taught by his perpetually absent father, "if you aren't first, you're last."  The statement didn't make anymore sense to Ricky than it makes to us.  I mean, there is second place, third, fourth, fifth and so on.  Still, there is a sense in which we get it.  Our culture lauds the winner and forgets everyone else.  The winner is served by a host of adoring fans.  He is lifted up on a pedastal, as if he were superhuman. 

While there is certainly nothing wrong with competition or with winning, greatness in the kingdom of God is judged by a different standard.  Remember, when you came to Jesus through your baptism He turned your world upside down.  Thus, to be last is to be first. To win, in terms of greater and stronger faith, is to sometimes suffer great indignities and losses.  To find yourself is to deny yourself.  To experience joy is to take up your cross and follow Jesus.  To be the greatest is to be the servant of all. 

Jesus, of course, exemplified that greatness in a way that none of us can.  "He emptied Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross."  "He was rich, and yet, for your sakes He became poor, that you, through His poverty, might be made rich."  Kings are born in palaces.  Jesus was born in a stable.  Important figures in history are lauded.  They are showered with praise and admoration.  Jesus, and those who follow Him, are often ridiculed and mocked. 

Your world, my friends, has been turned upside down.  As much as you may want to serve Jesus and even lay claim to the title of the greatest in the Kingdom, Jesus came to serve you that you might serve others.  It has been said that Jesus does'nt need your good works, but, your neighbor does.  It's true!  Your good works avail nothing in terms of your belovedness before God.  But they avail much in terms of your neighbors well being and joy.

His name was Baron von Welz.  Though a Baron he renounced his title and went as a missionary to Dutch Guiana, where he filled a lonely grave. He said as he gave up his title, "What to me is the title 'well-born' when I am born again in Christ?  What to me is the title 'lord' when I desire to be a servant of Christ?  What is it to me to be called 'Your Grace' when I have need of God's grace and help? All these vanities I will do away with, and all else I will lay at the feet of Jesus, my dearest Lord, that I may have no hindrance in serving Him aright."

Just so all God's children, intent on serving their Lord, have their world turned upside down.  "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all."  In Jesus' name.  Amen. 

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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