18th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20, Year B)
Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Jesus and his disciples passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
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.”
Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors: Willie and Raven
Although Willie and Raven have both been interviewers with Faith from the Margins before, this was the first time they sat down together. Willie read the Gospel lesson, and Raven began their sharing by asking what stood out for Willie.
“Well, um…Jesus seems to be saying something really simple” began Willie, “he’s telling them ‘this is what is going to happen to me’ but that information must have been too powerful because the disciples didn’t even try to make anything out of it. They just didn’t want to have anything to do with it. And then, when the went to Capurnum, they had some sort of dissension among the disciples. And Jesus, he set them all straight with a little child! “Whoever welcomes me welcomes not me, but the one who sent me. And there they are, his disciples, arguing among themselves about who is greater and Jesus has to interrupt them to say, “um, you know, there’s someone greater than all of you and that is God!”
“I really love the way Jesus humbles the disciples throughout” said Raven. “It’s really beautiful the way we are shown just how human the disciples were, that they weren’t some saint-like, ordained by God perfect people. I mean, these were young guys, 20’s and maybe 30’s for the older ones. But like, if you were to picture them it would be like I see walking around campus: those guys are like the disciples ages. And so, it’s always so interesting and beautiful that we can see this play out between them, like they were brothers and just people of that age fighting over who’s the best and “no, Jesus loves ME more.” The way I grew up, the faith I was taught is that we are all disciples now. We are all supposed to go out and talk, to spread the Good News. So, it’s reassuring to know even the original disciples were human, and had flaws, and that Jesus got mad at them sometimes, too. It’s sobering and real!”
“That’s true, that’s true” said Willie. “I always wondered about that, you know, even the number twelve. Well, I hope I’m not getting too far off the rails here, but I think sometimes that according to what we read in the bible it was like they were twelve intentionally different people, like our personality types or something. I mean, sometimes you hear Thomas and he’s automatically the one that takes the other side, the one first to say, ‘oh no, I’ve got another opinion…’ and of course, you know, I’m still learning. I just have to grab me the patience to stay with it, you know, turn everything else off and then I can read and I start to really get in deep with the stories and the characters. And you know…this is embarrassing…but that’s why I think my favorite reading room is the bathroom!”
They both laughed, and Raven agreed, “That makes sense to me!”
Willie continued on, “You know, it’s like we were talking about earlier. There really isn’t a wrong answer to interpreting the bible. It speaks to us in different ways. You know, I wouldn’t have thought of it the way that you did but I got so much out of that. It’s what you see every day and it made that stand out to me. That’s the thing about it, the Word always finds its way to speak.”
“You know” explained Raven, “I think about those disciples more when I’m on campus, trying to work on things and even fewer of us…we can’t agree on anything…and here are Jesus and his disciples: 13 people all trying to move together and get things done. It makes me appreciate what that must have been like, and I think it’s probably a pretty good description of Christians in all of our different walks, too: Baptists or Catholics or Pentecostals and yet we are all followers of Christ.”
“Well, let me tell you something” said Willie, “I’ve been thinking about that phrase that keeps being used, ‘the Advocate’ which I know came up in the sermon today, that we all need an advocate for us, for all the things we are going through. I have this health situation, you see, I’m a renal patient and I am going to have to have a real big surgical procedure and I will need an advocate. I really want to have something that I can touch, someone who can speak for me on my behalf. Some people say they will be there, but I definitely need to know that someone IS there. In the hospital, if they don’t see someone there to advocate with you, people get gruff. Their whole way of talking will change, because they don’t see that you have an advocate. So, when Jesus talks about being an Advocate, I talk about that for real!
“Whoever welcomes such a child in my name welcomes not me, but the one who sent me” said Willie. “If you are a true Christian, it will be those fruits of the spirit: the love, the joy, the peace that are what we are all supposed to be. As Jesus says, live into these and you will know me…and you know who can teach you that? A child.”
“I think you hit the nail on the head” said Raven. “I think that is something other people need to hear. Life isn’t all ‘what’s in it for me?” or how can I make more money, or how can I advance my reputation. LIfe shouldn’t be able self-service, life should be about service to others. We get so caught up in thinking about what life is like for us, if we have everything we need that we stop thinking about others. Humans are social creatures; we are meant to be in community with others. Once we stop doing that…once we take our eyes off of God and stop thinking about loving others and serving others, that’s when we start looking only at ourselves. And, once we start only looking at our own selves, what we can do, what are our own limitations, that’s when you start to have all the fear and all the anxiety. You’re no longer looking at the solutions; all you’re seeing is the problems. The way I was always taught to get out of a bad day, or a bad mood, was to take my eyes off of me and just do something for someone else.
“That’s true, that’s true” said Willie, “You know, well, I’ve been doing that. You know, I’m a renal patient and I go to the center three days a week. And that is a different battlefield all together. The newbies, they come in there and some of them try to put this brave face on, but some of them you can just see it on their face, how scared they are. And I’ve seen them turn around and run away! The environment in these centers not on the hospital grounds, they sometimes look at you like you are a dollar and not a person. It’s money going in their pockets, and it’s the way that they look at you. Maybe one or two people care, but most of ‘em are just in their to get their paycheck and when you don’t come in, they lose out. It turns into a business sort of thing. So, I try to be someone who can care. But, I also need an advocate who can stand up for me.”
“It seems like the health care system is getting more and more that way, and you DO need an advocate” said Raven.
Willie’s own need for an advocate was real and palpable; at the same time, his faith in God gave him a sense of God’s advocacy with him.
“You know, I also play music for my Church” said Willie, “And ever since this has been happening, I’ve had a song in my mind: Blessed Assurance. No matter what we are doing, it is a Blessed Assurance to have people who can advocate and use their skills for the knowledge and skills of someone else.
Raven echoed this “You know, we should have our own TV show! We could fix the world!!”
They closed by reading the Collect again together, with the words ringing a truth about the Blessed Assurance that comes when, in spite of all the changes and chances of this life, we know that God is near.