Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 20, Year B
September 23, 2018
Lessons: Jeremiah 11:18-20; Psalm 54; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people take hospitality seriously, welcoming all whom God places in their paths.
Key Scripture: Then [Jesus] 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.” Mark 9:36-37
What does it mean to welcome God? This question is at the heart of our gospel lesson this week. Jesus attempts to illustrate the answer by setting a small child among the gathered disciples. Holding the youngster in his arms, Jesus says “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me” (Mark 9:37).
Welcoming children sounds like an easy and happy thing to do, especially in our North American culture where children (well, at least some of them) are doted on and held in high esteem. Even so, all children are vulnerable. They need adults who will provide the basics of shelter, food, and clothing. They need elders who will nurture and educate them. Children need appropriate touch, guidance, and security. Above all, children need love and care.
If Jesus is truly presenting us with an image of a God who stands in solidarity with the weak, vulnerable, and marginalized, how does that square with our western ideal of power? We follow a Savior who humbled himself to an awful and scandalous death. Jesus willingly laid aside his power to show us another way to real life, a way of radical service and dying to self.
But back to children and the God who tells us that to welcome them is to welcome God. When I look at how our nation has separated families at the border, putting the beloved children of others into conditions that are worse than many Americans provide for their dogs, I do not sense a spirit of welcome. When I see photos of children dying in Syria and other countries in conflict and read that there are about 28 million child refugees, I do not feel a wide embrace of welcome. When statistics tell us that in the United States one in six children may not know where they will get their next meal, 4.2 million children experience homelessness each year, and about one in every 100 children is the victim of abuse, I am certain that welcome is for some but not all. And my heart is broken with the enormity of the problem, and the knowledge that the God I worship and claim to love with all of my heart, mind, soul, and body is present in every single child. I believe that Jesus weeps, too.
Yes, welcoming the vulnerable God in the faces of our neighbors near and far is not a far-removed dream but an ever-present and pressing reality. Greatness is not found in the world’s definition of the word but rather in aligning ourselves with those for whom a welcome is not always found. We are to feed, love, and seek out those the world overlooks. Our communion tables must be places of radical welcome, and our houses of worship a sanctuary for the battered and bruised. Greatness is serving our Lord God in the faces of the vulnerable, the stranger, and the odd ones.
My friends, when your heart is broken from the enormity of the problem of suffering, brokenness, and pain, don’t turn away. Instead, open your eyes to the child God places before you. Take her in your arms. Set him in a place of privilege. Care for the vulnerable God one dear child at a time. Do something. Do all that you can. After all, we are all God’s beloved children.
Consider including “The Welcome Table” as one of your hymn selections in worship this week. This African-American spiritual, with roots in slavery, speaks from the perspective of one who has not been invited to the table. For those of us who sit in places of privilege and whose welcome is assured and usually taken for granted, this hymn is cause for lament that so many have not been included. There are many versions of the lyrics, so choose with care and be sure to place carefully in context—perhaps as an aspirational call for this to be so. You might have someone on your worship team put together a PowerPoint with images of those who have not been welcomed—people of color, refugees, migrants, the poor, members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Pray that your congregation’s table will indeed be and become that welcome table for all God’s children.
This week’s epistle lesson provides a wonderful opportunity to talk about the value of peacemaking and how aligning ourselves with God enables us to be that wise and peaceful presence that our world so dearly needs. Invite the youth to contemplate the counter-cultural nature of this message. How can they see this working in their own lives and contexts? What is difficult? What is the cost of such a counter-cultural approach? What are the benefits?
This week’s focus verse is Mark 9:35b: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
Ask the children whether it is better to win or to lose? Is it more fun to come in first place or last place? If you have time, show them part of this video clip about famous runners helping other runners to win while jeopardizing their own success. (If not, simply tell one of the stories like the one about John Landy losing his own chance to break the four minute mile in 1956 when he stopped to help a fallen runner named Ron Clarke, whose shoulder he had grazed with the spikes on his running shoes.).
Remind the children that some things are much better than winning—AND will lead to a better result in the long run. Invite them to give some examples. Finish with a short prayer.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Serving and welcoming are important stewardship issues that reflect how well we care for one another, for all of God’s children, and for the good creation. According to Jesus in this week’s gospel, our greatness is found in our ability to serve others, for in doing so we welcome God.
Stewardship at Home
This week ponder simple ways that you can create a more welcome table in your own home, in your neighborhood, in your work environment, and in the world. Identify one way that you can serve others who may not be welcome. Is there a refugee agency that might need your help? Can you help returning citizens from the criminal justice system? Is there a way you can provide encouragement to those struggling with addiction disorders? Might you write to your elected representatives about legislation that would benefit refugees or migrants? Take one action this week, and commit to daily prayer about it and the people you seek to welcome through your actions.
Here’s a look back at our 2015 Lectionary Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2015/09/missing-the-point/
And here’s the 2012 Lectionary Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2012/09/a-righteous-harvest/
Photos: Alex Eflon, Jenny Downing, and John Christian Hjellestad, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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