Readings: James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a, Mark 9:30-37
Let us pray:
O God, may your word be spoken and received with open hearts and minds, that we may find your truth, your purpose in them for us. Amen.
Last week we explored with fairly broad brush strokes the need to trust in the faithfulness and love of God, we talked of drawing on the wisdom of the cloud of witnesses that have gone before as well as remembering to take strength from who we are in Christ as this time. All this so that we might have the hope and courage to step out into the somewhat unknown future that Christ invites us into.
Perhaps we can put add some detail to those brush strokes today as we explore particularly the reading from the Gospel of Mark.
I want you to put yourselves into that moment in time, into Jesus shoes in fact and to do that effectively we need to look at what was happening in the biblical story in the days before. At the beginning of Chapter 9 in Mark we have the transfiguration – a profoundly spiritual encounter with God, a time of glorious and spectacular affirmation of Christ as the Beloved. And then it was back down to the valley – down to earth really – walking straight in to the failure of the remaining disciples to cast out the Spirit from the young boy. Straight into a seemingly volatile crowd whose anger may have been encouraged by the scribes but mostly seemed to be fuelled by the inability of the disciples to practice what they preached. Jesus had to pick up the pieces, heal the boy, placate the crowd. And from there we move to today’s passage where Jesus, having dealt to the evil spirit and the angst of the crowd, moves on to Galilee and tries to spend some quality teaching time with the disciples – to talk to them of what was to come – his betrayal, his death, his rising again. And their response? “They did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.” Instead they appear to have been arguing as to who was the greatest amongst them! Surely, if ever, that was a time for Jesus to throw his toys out of the cot in despair. From a moment of sublime encounter with God to dealing with angry crowds and the low spirits of the failed disciples to speaking of the difficult and painful journey ahead – and they can only argue over which of them is the greatest? Honestly!
Yet do we too not do this with regularity too? Not argue who is the greatest necessarily but exhaust ourselves in similarly unproductive debate when in fact Christ is standing there in from of us trying to teach us the truth of the love of God. I cannot help but think of the passion, energy and focus that has been the leadership debate in PCANZ for the last, what, 15 years when Christ is begging us to get out there and reconcile, minister to this aching world.
What might be some of the debates we have that distract our attention from Christ, the things that prevent us listening to and understanding what it is that Christ is saying to us at Opoho? To identify those is a discussion yet to be had, and will involve a heap of perspectives (in my previous church there was huge passion about whether we should have pews or chairs, hymnbook or OHP, shared ecumenical services or not but little left over for mission in the community) – but whatever they are there is no doubt that the ‘who is the greatest’ type conversations can prevent us from following Christ’s dynamic and radical teachings to be Church.
Why do we embrace these distractions, whatever they might be for us, so enthusiastically –we can find some clues to that in the reading today. “The disciples did not understand and were afraid to ask.” Is fear one of the major factors in our inability to respond to Christ’s challenge for us? That speaks to me for certain, fear of rejection, of challenge, of opening up the vulnerable in me to others. Fear of the unknown, fear of the future, fear of failure, fear of where Christ might lead us can be stultifying, can easily turn our energies to the selfish, the safe, the inward looking - leaving little room for listening to and acting on the teachings of Christ.
There is another clue in the reading about how we need to equip ourselves to be effective ministers of the gospel message. We need to pray. We cannot do it alone – just as the disciples failed to cure the boy on their own merits, so we too cannot make a difference in the world just by ourselves – they needed to pray, said Jesus, we need to pray and listen to what the Spirit is saying to us. Actually this is an invidious little trap isn’t it? If I just go out and be kind and just and caring, then I will be doing my bit. It’s all very logical and well meaning - nothing wrong with that – but when we try to do things purely by our own effort we are not only limited but also like to be distracted. In the power of prayer and therefore in the grace of an ever present God how much more can we and this world be transformed, how much more can we actually hear and understand and live those words of hope that the disciples missed – “and in three days he will rise again!”
And the third clue I believe as to how we might stop being exhausted by debates that are making us deaf to the word of God is found towards the end of the Gospel reading – and actually, because Jesus rarely let an opportunity for teaching go by, it’s also a bit of a pointer as to how we might actually be ‘great’ for God. He picked up a child and said “whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me”.  Too often we interpret this statement as thinking we need to be innocent, simple in the sense of a child’s trust and clarity of thought, but I would encourage you to hear the words rather as telling us that we need to be focussing not on ourselves but on others – those beyond our circle who have need of us – the weak and the vulnerable – those who need a welcome rather than being shut out – and in the serving of those who are calling to us, we too will be opened up and make whole as a people of God.
So as we share together today in our Annual Meeting, as we begin to discuss how Opoho is looking to be Church over the next few years I wonder what our priority question here needs to be, where our passion will be directed.
Is it “How can we survive?” or is it “How can we live out the mission of Christ in this community? I believe that it is only when we have sorted that out that we can say ‘We are listening Christ, we hear you, send us and we will go for you into your future, whatever that might be!” Thanks be to God