Is it sprinkling or raining outside? This is the serious question that three toddlers are arguing over in a youtube video reported on in 2014 by the Huffington post. In this video one little blonde haired boy, probably around 3-4 years old, debates one of the defining issues of our time, that being the size of rain drops, with what appears to be two blonde, identical twin, 3-4 year old girls. The video begins with the little boy declaring rather of factly, “it’s sprinkling.” One of the little girls disagrees and politely replies, “no it’s raining.” The little boy, taken aback that anyone would disagree with him, moves toward the girl who disagreed with him, getting right up in her face and loudly declares, “no it’s sprinkling.” They debate a couple of times whether it is sprinkling or raining. The boy, wanting to win the argument pulls out the trump card by saying, “my mom told me that it was sprinkling.” The little girl replies that in fact her mom had told her it was raining . Now it has become a debate about who’s mom has the most authority. The little girl takes it a step further by lightly poking the little boy in the eye. “Oww, you poked me!” the little boy declares. The other little girl, asks her sister to apologize. But the debate only escalates. The little boy says. “You’re not real I am real.” The sister suggests that they go outside and see if it is sprinkling or raining. The boy refuses saying that it was just raining, seemingly defeating his argument that it is in fact sprinkling. The little girl seems to pick up on the fact that the little boy said it is raining and replies, “because it is raining” as she extends her hand, perhaps pointing to the door or somewhere outside. Again the little boy says no it is not, refusing to admit that he has lost the argument even though he has just contradicted himself. “It is raining!” the little girl declares as she reaches out and pokes the little boy directly in the chess. “Oww! You poked my heart!” the little boy declares with a pouting expression as he retreats to nurse his imaginary wound.
While we may debate more important issues as adults than whether it is sprinkling or raining, the dynamic expressed in this children’s debate is the same. At a very basic level we as human beings want to be proven right. We want to be first. We want to be the greatest. And whatever the facts or merits of the case may be the end of our arguments the results are the same. We end up poking each other in the heart. Except, as adults, the wounds to our hearts, even though others can’t see them, are not imaginary. To us they are very real.
In our passage today Jesus is dealing with at least two of his disciples, perhaps three, fighting over who is the greatest. Mark suggests that the seeds of this debate were planted at the transfiguration. The scriptures tell us that Jesus had a large group of followers. From those he chose the twelve disciples or Apostles as Mark calls them. Of these 12 Jesus chose Peter, James, and John to go with him onto a high mountain, where his glory is revealed in dazzling light, a dark cloud, and a voice from heaven that says, “this is my beloved Son; listen to him.” After a divine experience of seeing Moses, Elijah, a glorified Jesus, and the audible voice of God, it is understandable that Peter, James, and John might think that they are somehow greater than the other disciples. The question however is who is the greatest among the three of them? Yet, each time the idea of greatness comes up Jesus challenges his disciple’s notion of greatness by talking about his death and resurrection. But the disciples couldn’t understand it. At Jesus’ home base of Capernum, in a house that is probably Peter’s house, with a child that might be Peter’s child, the beginning of the Gospel of Mark suggests this, Jesus teaches his disciples about greatness. At his home base of Capernaum Jesus tells them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Then ,” he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he sad to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” (Mark 9:35-37)
My friends the good news today is this. When the children of God arise the world shall see greatness. Today’s passage teaches us two things about the children of God.
- They are helpless
- They are servants of all
First, we see that the children of God are helpless. We see this expectation play out in the story of the father who brings his demon possessed son to the disciples. In this story we see two competing truths in the Christian life. The first is that the world can’t see Christ, they can only see Christians. The second, is that Christians are helpless like everyone else.
The disciples had an expectation that they could be like Jesus. We know this because in Mark chapter 6 Jesus sends out the twelve to heal and cast out demons, and they do so with great success. But in chapter 9 they find themselves unable to help this child who is in desperate need. And this is a great challenge to the father’s faith because he too expected Christians to be like Christ. When the disciples asked Jesus why they could not cast out this particular demon Jesus replied, “ This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (Mark 9:28). There are endless commentaries debating about what Jesus meant here. My take on it is that the disciples thought there success in ministry was based on doing certain things, or saying certain words. They had become overconfident in their own greatness. They had not gone to God in prayer beforehand to ask Him how He wanted them to handle the situation with this boy. They did not ask for power to cast the demon out. They assumed that because they were Jesus disciples they had it already, and that it would be available to them whenever they wished. While scripture does teach that there is power in the name of Jesus that power is not just about saying his name. It is about being in relationship with him. It is about recognizing that Jesus has all the power and we are helpless. And a life of prayer is a recognition that one is helpless. If we feel like we have life under control then we will give up on a life of prayer. Ole Hallesbury, a Lutheran theologian once said this about prayer, “ Helplessness is the real secret and impelling power of prayer.” Yet, I think it good that we distinguish between helplessness and hopelessness. Recogninzing that we are helpless but God is not and he cares about our situation.
The image Jesus gives us of how we should be is a child held in his arms. A baby isn’t worried when it is in its parent’s arm. The baby knows nothing of the parents fears. They only know their parents love backed up by the power of their arms. In the Kingdom of God we are the babies and God is the parent. But unlike us God is Love and perfect love cast out fear. God is perfect power and perfect love. To be used by him we need only to rest in his arms. We rest in the Lord’s arms by taking our anxieties to him in prayer. The world is in desperate need of the power of helpless saints who are resting in the arms of their Father.
Second, our passage today shows us that the children of God are servants of all not just servants of some. Our prime example is Jesus of course. Every time Jesus describes greatness from God’s perspective the disciples respond in inappropriate ways. In Mark Chapter 10 Jesus predicts for a third time that he must suffer, die, and rise again. James and John, apparently not having fully understood the first lesson on greatness in God’s eyes, come to Jesus and ask that they may sit at his right and left hand in Jesus’ glory. The rest of the disciples were rather indignant at James and John’s request. Jesus gathered them together and told them and us that we are not to use his power and authority to get our way as the world does. Instead, whoever would be first must become a servant and whoever would be greatest must become a slave. For even the Son of Man, the title Jesus used for himself, came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many ( Mark 10:35-45). Jesus suggests that the true moment of his glory is when he suffered and died on the cross. His Father had to transfigure Jesus in brilliant light because the disciples refused to see suffering for others as greatness. But God’s ideas of greatness is different than ours.
As I was thinking about a modern story of someone who is a servant of all I came across the story of Juan Pablo of Monclova Mexico. Friday, March 18, 2018 was the date of Good Friday this year. In Mexico, Catholics celebrate Good Friday with the procession of the cross. Many Mexican towns have a massive procession through town. Usually a man dresses up as Jesus Christ, crown of thorns and all. In this particular town a crowd was following this man who was dressed as Jesus with his crown of thorns. The man, understandably, looked sad and downtrodden, because he is about to be crucified. Juan Pablo is a boy in that town with Down Syndrome. He followed behind the man playing Jesus. And seeing that he was distressed, he came up along side him and hugged him to comfort him. The video’s Spanish captions roughly says that Juan Pablo, ““Remind us of the most sublime love, that of caring for others with mercy! His innocence, his overflowing love, and his down syndrome challenge us today. Juan Pablo is his name, which should be synonymous with good hope. Let’s teach our children to be more compassionate.”
As many of you know one of our members, Amy , has Downs Syndrome. And every Sunday we are blessed by the greatness she gives to us. Through her service in the nursery, her greeting us and giving us hugs in Sunday school, and yes even pastor’s need hugs, we need them desperately so. Most of you who have been at Calvin for a while know that several years ago there was a fire during worship that nearly burned down the building. I am told during that fire Amy was working in the nursery. I am told she took a baby in each arm and rushed them to safety, not worried about the fire, not worried about herself . Her love is the definition of greatness and what we should aspire to.
Who’s the greatest? Well if you’re the greatest you don’t have to tell people you are the greatest. People figure it out. And Jesus showed us with his life Who was left after Moses and Elijah disappeared after the transfiguration, Jesus. Who will be left when everyone else is gone and we have to stand before our maker? Jesus. And Jesus alone. And he shows us the true meaning of greatness that we may be helpless servants of all. So Lord would you show us the true meaning of greatness today. That though the fires of fear may rage within us and around us, for we all have things to be afraid of, may the fires of your love burn brighter. May your glory descend upon us, that we may behold your glory, even in our suffering, that we may behold your greatness.