Materials for Worship on the Third Sunday of the Season of Creation

Rachael writes: Have you ever walked into a room full of people and they’ve all fallen silent? Silent like you can hear them holding their breath, their hearts racing a little, the cogs of their minds turning as everyone waits to see who will break the quiet and how. For they must decide without words, by sideways glances, with racing hearts, and awkward shifting in seats, whether they’re going to let you in on their conversation. What did the room feel like in that moment? How did you feel?

I imagine that it was that kind of silence that greeted Jesus in our Gospel passage – Mark 9.30-37 – when he’d got into the house at Capernaum, taken his sandals off, reclined on the cushions, and casually asked the disciples, “What were guys arguing about on the way here?”

Nobody answers: Mark writes that they stay silent, we can assume because their conversation was not one they expected Jesus to approve of. The thing is, Jesus already knew the topic of their discussion and now had something to say about it.

The disciples’ question of “Who is the greatest?” seems to me to be the quintessential human conundrum. Even in our origin stories, like that of Adam and Eve, it’s what gets us into trouble in the first place: “Could we be greater than we are? Greatest even? Equal to God? Maybe just one small bite of the forbidden fruit and it will all be within our grasp?”. Human beings are creatures who strive. Who reach. Who, as James puts it in our New Testament reading, James 3.13-4.3, 7-8, crave, want, and covet. We expound, develop, spread, control. We seek to dominate our world and each other, in order to be greatest.

James writes in verse 14 that where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. We see that in our created world at the moment: selfish human ambition has led to the disordering of our planet and our strivings have polluted waters, depleted habitat, and destroyed eco-systems.

Christ’s response to the disciples is to take a child into his arms.

Whenever this scene is depicted in art it’s always sickeningly sweet: a neat, tidy, and serene, scene. Can you picture something quite the opposite? The muddiest, stickiest, wildest child you can remember?

There was no sentimentality about childhood in the first century – their only real value was as replacement adults, though making it to adulthood was by no means guaranteed. And until adulthood they often weren’t so much beloved members of the family, as they were like dogs: barely housebroken, roaming free, scrounging what they could.

So, to teach his disciples about greatness, Jesus puts this kind of child, in their midst, folding them into his arms and saying, “When you welcome the likes of this child, you welcome me”.

I think that that child is each of us. Jesus welcomes not just our put-together, happy, smiley exteriors but the parts of us that are like this dirt covered, bruised, snot and tear smeared child. The very parts of us that have no ability to make us worthy, Jesus folds into his arms and says “welcome”.

What a difference it would make to our world if we really believed that! If we could let go of selfish ambition, of striving and greed, of the expectation that the material things of this world will give us satisfaction and wholeness. What a difference it would make if we drew nearer to God in the assurance that God draws near to us; indeed has done so in Christ’s incarnation and the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

What if we trusted that peaceful, gentle, merciful welcome? Then, there might just be a harvest of righteousness.

Loving God,
may we know and accept your love for us,
so that we need no longer strive for the fleeting satisfactions of this earthly life,
which bring damage and destruction to your creation.
Instead, let us draw near to you, as you draw near to us,
and hear the fullness of your “Welcome!”,
that we might serve you in the care of all the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.