Monday, September 25, 2006

Royal Treatment

A Sermon for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, September 24, 2006
Proper 20-B~RCL
Wayne Sherrer

Mark 9:30-37

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

Many have said that Jesus was a great teacher. If we were to look only at the performance of his students, we could easily question that. Instead of friends and apprentices of Jesus, the disciples seem more like apprentices of Donald Trump. Jesus reveals to them that he will be killed and their response is to play king of the mountain.

Who's going to take Jesus' place? Who will be the new leader--the new number one? I will. No you won't. I will. For several hours they carried on about it--all the way to Capernaum. They behaved like a bunch of children, not grown men. It wasn't what Jesus expected and certainly wasn't what he had taught them. So the great teacher patiently sat down to teach it one more time.

The lesson was one that the disciples and later the church had difficulty in grasping, because it asked them to look at ambition and status in a totally different way. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” To illustrate his point Jesus brought a little child into their midst. He said that by welcoming such a child, a disciple would also be welcoming Jesus and his heavenly father.

The contrast between the child and God could hardly be greater. Children in Jesus' day had no status or power and were little better than slaves or other property. Welcoming children and others who are equally powerless—the poor, the stranger, the handicapped—in the same way we would welcome God is a mindboggling idea.

Has anyone here ever been visited in their home by Queen Elizabeth? Don't be bashful. Raise your hands so we can see them. What? None of you? Well then, how about her son Prince Charles? Still nobody? I'm not surprised. We aren't accustomed to royalty here in Easton and we share an American belief proclaimed in the declaration of independence that "all men are created equal".

Throughout history in most of the world it has been considered a great honor and privilege to welcome a reigning monarch into one's home.

The home would be the focus of elaborate preparation--cleaning, decoration and the use of one's finest dinnerware and the serving of the best food one could offer. If the king or queen could not personally appear, their personal representative would be welcomed with the “royal treatment”.

Today Jesus is telling the disciples and us that the people on society's bottom rung are personal representatives of him and of God the creator. If we believe Jesus, then our welcome of the poor and powerless is not an act of charity on our part. By welcoming his representatives, we acknowledge God as our lord, and he in turn honors us with his presence. If, like the disciples, we are ambitious to be number one in the kingdom of God, the path to that status is a path of service to those on the edges of society.

But our attitude is as important as the service that we render. We do not act out of pity for them. “O look how little they have. What can I do to help?” Rather we need to approach each of them with the respect and dignity due God's representative and to remember their very presence is a gift from God to us.

How might this gospel affect our ministry here at Trinity? I think that the people of Trinity have been extremely generous in their gifts of money to the appeals for charity. The responses to the various missions of the month and to special appeals like Katrina relief and Kajo-Keji have been spectacular. I think that today's gospel might renew our sense of welcome. Let me give a few examples.

First, has anyone noticed the fading of our coffee hours after Sunday services? When I looked over the signup sheets last Sunday, I saw they were virtually blank. I don't know why that is. I do know that visitors—strangers to our community—are frequently present. Fr. Andy extends them an invitation almost every Sunday to come over to Conine Hall for fellowship and refreshment so we might get acquainted.

When no refreshments are seen, parishioners walk through Conine Hall without stopping and there is no fellowship possible for the stranger who wanders in. Imagine for a moment how we might host coffee hour differently if we expected to entertain a royal visitor that week. Imagine if we expected Jesus to attend our worship and we wanted him to linger awhile so we could get to know one another a little better. I am not saying that lace tablecloths, bone china and professional catering are the standard we should seek. I am suggesting we understand coffee hour as a ministry of welcome to God's representative. She could go anywhere, but she is coming here and we are honored by her presence. Hosting coffee hour is then not a burden, but a privilege.

A second existing ministry is our Ark Soup Kitchen. This afternoon begins a project of replacing the carpeted floor in Conine Hall with a new tile one. I think this could be a first step in the transformation of that space into one that is both inviting and “fit for a queen”. And I am not proposing that we gild the chandeliers. I think we have people far more creative than I who can design that kind of transformation and accomplish it inexpensively. Beyond the transformation of the physical space is the transformation of our worldview. How many of us look at the soup kitchen guests as members of God's Board of Trustees for the world? How many of us welcome them as movers and shakers of society? Can we see the Ark soup kitchen as God's Pomfret Club or his country club? Whenever we serve in the soup kitchen, we are rubbing elbows with God himself. How is that for high-level networking. What possibilities await us.

A third ministry here that could be affected by today's gospel is our welcome of children. They were explicitly named by Jesus as representatives of the Father and of himself. Yet, a close look at our ministries to children and youth reveals that our church school staff has shrunken from eleven to five, that we have no nursery, no Vacation Bible School, no youth group and no longer have Children's Chapel. Imagine for a moment that Mary and Joseph show up at our doors next Sunday with baby Jesus in their arms and there is nowhere for Mary to lay him and no one to watch him so his parents can devote their complete attention to God for a brief hour. Imagine that a ten year old Jesus shows up for Church School, but his questions go unasked and unanswered because he sees the teacher is busy enough. Our current Church School staff has some exciting ideas for this year and several opportunities for other adults to be involved in ways other than teaching. Of course, they would welcome volunteers to teach, as well. I invite each of you to prayerfully consider how God might be calling you to take part in Trinity's welcome of God's pint-size representatives.

Once upon a time each of us was a child, each of us was a stranger, each of us was welcomed by the community and ultimately received into this family we call Trinity Episcopal Church. We may not have received the “royal treatment”, but that is what Jesus calls us to extend to those he sends to us. When we serve them, we serve Jesus. When we welcome them, we welcome the one who sent Jesus, the God and Father of all humanity. And He graciously honors us with his presence.


Wayne Sherrer is a licensed lay preacher at Trinity, Easton.

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