“’The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three day after being killed, he will rise again.’ But the disciples did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.”
So, instead of risking sounding clueless by asking Jesus what he means when he says the Son of Man will be betrayed, killed, and resurrected on the third day, the disciples try to compensate for their ignorance by arguing over who is the important disciple. Their feelings of inadequacy lead the disciples to puff themselves up by comparing resumes. Jesus is not, however, the chair of a calling committee for a new Rector.
Jesus could care less about their resumes. If he did care about their resumes, these twelve would never have made it out of their fishing villages. These disciples flunked out of Rabbi school and were destined to a life in the family trade. They forget that only by grace are they called to follow Jesus.
Jesus does not care about their resumes, their accomplishments, their awards. Rather, Jesus wants to know where their heart is. Are these disciples following Jesus because they think they can make a name for themselves? Or are they following Jesus because they believe Jesus can make a name for those whom society gives no name?
In order to illustrate his point, Jesus puts a child in front of the disciples and says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” In other words, Jesus puts in front of the disciples someone who is most likely to be forgotten by society. Jesus is telling the disciples that the kingdom of God gives priority to the least, the last, and the lost. These the most important voices in God’s kingdom.
While the disciples might be afraid to ask Jesus questions about the kingdom of God, I can assure you the child Jesus puts in front of them is not afraid to speak up and give voice to her questions. I know this because I have a 5-year-old. I also know this because I read on the internet (because everything on the internet is true) that the average 4-year-old asks over 400 questions a day!
A child isn’t afraid to ask questions because they still believe the realm of possibilities is endless. They still believe that there is nothing in our imaginations that can’t be touched or realized. They aren’t afraid to know all that is possible. But we grown-ups have been disappointed one too many times to believe in all that is possible.
Therefore, we are often too afraid to ask questions that will take us beyond our wildest imaginations. Our dreams have been dashed too many times. Our hearts have grown cold and closed off to a world of possibilities. We forget that life is a mystery to enjoy and take delight in especially when we don’t have all the answers.
Amanda, Mary Beth, and Chris shared some of the questions the children here at Ascension are asking about the kingdom of God. Some of the questions have pretty straight forward answers. Others do not.
Why does fire stand for the Holy Spirit? Did that really happen? Do you really have to forgive everybody? What is a deacon? Do I have to drink the wine? Where is heaven? Can I touch God? Is Jesus a boy or a girl?
The thing I love about questions is that they open our eyes to what was previously unseen. Questions take us on a spiritual journey with God as our teacher. And these questions on our spiritual journey have the potential to open our hearts to new reality, a new way of being, a new way of living, a new way of imagining what the world could be through the love of Jesus.
Questions change our posture from one of arrogance and pride to one of humility and vulnerability. And this is what Jesus hopes the disciples understand when he sets a child in front of them. The only stupid question is the one not asked. As any teacher or professor will say, I hope you leave here on Sunday mornings with more questions than answers.
The biggest question of our faith that begs to be asked, a question that today’s lesson begs us to ask, “Why is the way of the cross none other than the way of life and peace?” In addition to not being on the calling committee for a new Rector, Jesus is also not a Rector. Jesus did not come to run a church. He left that up to Peter.
In the end, the way of the cross leaves Jesus with a congregation of less than five members – the beloved disciple, his mother, and a few Marys. Jesus goes from a congregation of 5,000 to less than five in under a year. By any standard, Jesus would make a terrible Rector. But don’t worry, I’m not Jesus.
But again, Jesus did not come to start a church. Jesus came to start a movement. The Jesus Movement, as our Presiding Bishop would say, includes betrayal, suffering, and death.
The Jesus Movement cuts against every facet of society – political, social, economic, and even religious. And our part in the Jesus Movement is not about our willingness to be successful – at least by the world’s standards – but by our willingness to fail by the world’s standards.
Now, I am right there with you. I have a hard time swallowing this idea. “Whoever wants to be first of all must be last of all.” Like the disciples, I don’t ask Jesus why this is (why we must fail to be first) enough in my own prayers. Why is the way of Jesus none other than the way of life and peace? In all reality, I am afraid to ask because I know the answer.
I know that means there will come a time when I must choose between the kingdom of God – where the least, the last, and the lost are the most valuable and the kingdoms of this world – where the best and brightest are the most valuable.
I know there will come a time when I must choose between the right thing and the popular thing. I know there will come a time when the middle ground erodes away. And I know that choosing the way of the cross might leave me vulnerable and open to ridicule.
But I hope I am not alone in asking these questions. I hope you will join me in asking these questions. What does it mean that in order to be first of all we must become last of all? What questions are the children asking? What are the voices of the least, the last, and the lost saying to the Church? And I also hope you will ask, what is the worst that could happen?
I can answer that last one for you. That’s an easy one. The answer is found in the words of Jesus – and after three days I will rise again. The beauty and wonder and mystery of life in the kingdom of God is there is no end. The more willing we are to die, the more willing we are to fail, the more willing we are to risk sounding ignorant, the more chances we get to grow in resurrection life, the more chances we get to grow in grace, the more chances we get to grow in the way of life and peace.
I spoke with Mary Anne Hornbuckle this week about the Pastoral Care Committee. She told me that their philosophy is to make sure nobody in the parish gets forgotten. When I heard this, I was even more convinced that we made the right decision to come to the Ascension. Friends, at the end of the day, this is what life in the kingdom of God is all about – to make sure no one is forgotten especially the least, the last, and the lost.
So, it seems to me that some of the first things we ought to do together as a congregation is to make sure no one is forgotten. Who are the people you haven’t seen around in a while? Maybe they are sick. Maybe they just decided to stop coming to church. Maybe they have moved to a different church. Maybe they have been hurt by the church. Maybe their life is falling apart.
Whatever the reason, we have the opportunity to show them the power of God’s love. We have the opportunity to meet someone where they feel lonely or afraid or heartbroken or angry over something that is going on at home or work or church or in their own heart. And when we meet them there, we communicate the ultimate truth of God, a truth that say, I will not forget you.
When we reach out in this way, then we will find that our heart is in the right place. For in the end, we all (rich or poor) want to know the answer to the same questions. Am I loved? Am I valued? Am I important? And in case you forgot, Jesus has answered this question for all of us. Our Lord and Savior was willing to be betrayed, endure suffering, and die to communicate God’s deepest desire – for us to know that we are not alone even at our darkest hours. Amen.