Mark 9_30-37 Freed for service not idolatry
When you or I leave for a journey, the first few days are always the best, aren’t they. The excitement of seeing and experiencing new things, meeting new people and the anticipation of reaching our destination, keeps us focused on the road; the journey. All of us travel on a journey at some point in our lives.
In today’s gospel, Mark records how Jesus and his disciples were on a journey. They had been travelling around Caesarea Phillippi and had just arrived in Capernaum. Jesus and the disciples often journeyed together. Walking the dusty roads from one town to the next, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those they met about repentance and faith in the Messiah. In fact, God’s ministry and the mission of God’s kingdom, is by nature travel, is by definition a journey; a journey to go and announce the good news.
To ‘announce good news’ in the original Greek is the word ‘angello’, from which we get angel…the angels were sent on a journey from heaven to earth to announce the good news concerning the birth of Jesus ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’ In keeping with this word, ‘angel’, to go and spread the good news of Jesus, we get ‘evangelise’ and those on the journey with the good news of Jesus are ‘evangelists’. The disciples were evangelists on a journey with Jesus…who was and is still today, the content and embodiment of the good news.
Yet, have you noticed that while journeying, before reaching our destination, about in the middle, the excitement diminishes with the stresses and tiredness that comes with travel, and arguments start? The kids in the back of the car ‘are we there yet!’, or to give a good example, a caravan park manager once told me that he could always tell when a newly retired couple were halfway through their first trip together. When arriving at the park, both the husband and wife would jump out of the car, red faced and not talking. The husband would have white knuckles from tightly hanging onto the steering wheel, and the wife would refuse to even book the van in; both knowing they still had many for miles to journey together.
All of us have stories to tell about arguments that occurred while journeying, all of which took our focus off of the joy of travel, our focus off the purpose for the journey and off the anticipation of reaching our destination. It was just one of these occasions when Jesus arrived at in destination. ‘They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, Jesus asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?”
Somewhere along the journey between Caesarea and Capernaum, somewhere between the call to follow Jesus and the desire to fulfill the call, the disciples argued.
Perhaps it was the heat of the journey, the difficult walk, exhaustion or perhaps the length of the journey, whatever the cause, the result was arguing among them selves. Mark writes, ‘They kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.’ The evangelicals no longer journeyed as ‘evangelists’ of good news, announcing the kingdom of God everywhere they went. Rather, they proclaimed the importance of themselves. They were no longer ‘evangelists’, in the true sense of the word, but had become announcers of ‘idolatry’, believing themselves to be more important than the message they proclaimed.
Somewhere on their journey between Caesarea Phillippi and Capernaum, the disciples lost sight of Jesus and got caught up in an argument, boasting about being the greatest. Sound familiar? Sounds like something we do? Good Christian ‘evangelists’ on Sunday, but as our week goes on, as our daily journey continues, we, like the disciples, change from evangelists into idolaters.
Perhaps in your weekly journey you are confronted by a situation that requires a choice between your best interests or the interests of another person, even someone we don’t like; what would you do, demand to be the greatest? Or there is an opportunity to show yourself to hold the high moral ground, showing up someone who has failed; would you be an evangelist or idolater?
Would you be one to confess yourself to be a sinner before God on Sunday, then, during the week claim to be sinless and demand everyone else live a faultless life; would you act as a servant in compassion or as a ruler who is the greatest?
It is clear by Jesus question ‘What were you arguing about on the road?” that Jesus didn’t hang around to listen to and debate who was the greatest. Even though he indeed is the greatest, as scripture declares ‘God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name’. Jesus refused to engage in such an argument and promote himself as the greatest. Rather his evangelistic mission journey was to be a servant, as the prophet Isaiah foretold ‘He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.’
And I am sure Jesus still refuses to listen to our arguments about our right to be the greatest in his kingdom. Self-righteousness, or idolatry is the enemy of Jesus mission to save. Jesus often argued against the self-righteous who claimed they were the greatest saying ‘For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’ Luther used to say ‘since Jesus came to save sinners, we had better be found among the sinners, rather than the righteous’
While the disciples argued, Jesus continued with vigor, his journeying as an evangelical, a preacher announcing the good news, as he said in Luke’s gospel ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus knew his journey would be one that leads to the cross; He needed to be a servant who must serve the world so that all people would be freed from the tyranny of the devil. This is the journey that love takes, as Paul writes ‘love is not rude, it is not self-seeking’, and this is the message Jesus installs on his disciples “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Why? Because God in Christ Jesus first served and loved us…and what is love? John writes ‘This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.’
Jesus continues his evangelical mission journey from heaven to earth for us still today. He is present with us in worship as a servant in service to us, announcing his good news of forgiveness and pardon through his word and in and through his body and blood; giving us the benefits of his earthly mission, the good news that ‘he was pierced for our transgressions, and was crushed for our iniquities.’
This is why we come to church. Not because we want to show that we are greatest Christians, but precisely because we are not the greatest. We come because Jesus is here to serve us and bring us the evangelical message ‘it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.’ This is why we should still call our worship ‘the divine service’, because this is in keeping with Jesus’ mission to serve us.
Our journey in life began at the cross of Jesus. In baptism, we are born again into a life of servant hood, not glory, just as Christ served us. We are served by God each Sunday and in turn we go out as evangelists in our weekly journey, not to argue over who is the greatest, but to serve each other.
Listen to the words of St Paul, and may his words be yours this week. ‘as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses;… in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left;…dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.’