Colours

Mark 9:33-37

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 about 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 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.”

Mark 10: 35-45

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “we are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

An object lesson on power

It’s ironic to me how much this story seems like the relationship between children and their parent. As they are walking, Jesus knows that something is up. Perhaps he’s walking a little bit ahead of them and he can hear them whispering in the back. But Jesus lets them do their thing thinking, “I’ll deal with it later,” and continues to walk along.

When they arrive at the house Jesus casually asks them, “So… what were you talking about back there?” And, again like children who are in trouble, they are silent. They know that what they have been talking about is not something that they should admit to Jesus. Despite their silence Jesus, like a parent, knows exactly what they are doing. He’s given them the chance to admit to their wrongdoing but they won’t admit it so without addressing their conversation directly, Jesus instead gathers them into a circle.

As Jesus gathers them all around, he finds a child (from… somewhere?) and puts the kid in the middle of the circle and says, “whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

The disciples are pleased that they didn’t get yelled at but perhaps once they understand the lesson behind what Jesus was saying, a “yelling at” would seem like the easier choice.

We are a circle

There are two lessons that Jesus teaches with the child who represents someone who is weak and vulnerable. First, do not have conversation only amongst yourselves. Last Sunday, we spoke about traditions and welcoming all who are in our midst to hear their voices and help us broaden the kingdom of God. Jesus calls for the disciples to broaden who they are including in their congregation. Do not talk ABOUT the child, talk TO the child. Do not talk about the weak and the vulnerable, talk to the weak and the vulnerable. Jesus’ second lesson is that the disciples’ conversation should be about “receiving one such as this.’ We need to welcome those that the child represents, those that we reflected on last week. We bring them into the middle of our circle, surround them, talk to them, be with them, learn from them.

So, who is in the middle of our circle? Who is on the outside of our circle? In every congregation, the idea of ‘power’ is something that people don’t often want to talk about. But, it is present. There are voices that people will tend to listen to more than others. There are voices that people will tend to tune out once they begin speaking. There are opinions that will tend to hold more power than others. We are human and these personalities and powers are present.

I like to think about the circle as a combination of colours and fabrics. Each scarf unique in its pattern and colours. Maybe even some of them are different materials. Some of the colours alone with another really clash together. But as you look at the messiness of the whole community of scarves, it’s quite beautiful. Altogether they make a beautiful, colourful, messy centrepiece for our worship today.

The scarves, if you haven’t guessed by now, represent our congregation. How do we equal the power in our congregation? How can we each come with our unique colour and fabrics, personalities and flaws, to make a circle of ministry? How do we minister together as a collection of scarves in a messy bundle? How do we put the weak, the vulnerable in the centre of the circle?

Jesus calls us to redefine power.

How do we become like a circle?

The second Scripture that we read today is another argument of power. Seeing as James and John clearly didn’t understand the whole child in the centre of the circle thing, they trying to weasel their way into being a part of Jesus’ glory.

“Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

Jesus, who is thinking about is imminent death, perhaps chuckles to himself, “You don’t know what it is you are asking.” James and John are sure that they can handle what Jesus is talking about but Jesus responds to the whole group of disciples (after the other disciples get mad at James and John for approaching Jesus sneakily) saying, “But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus flips the disciples’ idea of power on its head. Even after journeying with Jesus this far, they are STILL convinced that Jesus has come with conquering power. They are convinced that Jesus will have so much glory and they want to be a part of that. To the disciples, power equals fame, fortune and glory. But Jesus’ whole life has been (hopefully) teaching the disciples otherwise. Teaching them that the true power comes from being a servant.

The truth is, we are servants always, it just depends what we are servants too. Our culture likes to tell us that we are free, independent, autonomous beings who don’t need any help but the truth is, we are in service to something- even if it is being in service to the idea that we don’t need to serve anyone.

James and John think that greatness comes from status and power. In response, Jesus points out that there is no escaping service. Either, you can willingly, perhaps even joyfully, serve others, or you will become a slave to your own illusions that you can be free and secure in your future through status and power.

Through Servanthood

When I think of a servant, I think of someone who is strong in the ways that they manage to be a servant to all WHILE being independent. Being a servant is not just doing nice things for people. It’s not just giving money. Being a servant means that you are DEPENDENT. Servants are dependent on their masters for food, for clothing, for money, for means to raise their own families. Jesus has come to rescue us from our delusion that we are somehow self-sufficient, independent and self-made people. He has come to rescue us from the idea that we can handle this all on our own. He has come to rescue us from the idea that we don’t need help.

As we gather in our circle of ministry around the child in the centre, being a servant to the child means being dependent on the child. Our welcoming statement welcomes all to our congregation. It is not a statement that gives us the power over those that we are welcoming. Just because we are gathered together in a circle, that does not give us the power over the person inside. It shows us how to welcome others so that we may be a servant to them.

I think, often, that when we envision a circle welcoming someone in the centre, we believe that it is up to us to help the weak and the vulnerable in the circle as much as we can. It’s not so much about how you can help them but how can they help you? Children were weak and vulnerable, yes. But, particularly in the society of Jesus and his disciples, children were the people that you became independent on as you age. You needed children to provide for you. As we put the weak and the vulnerable in the middle of our circles, how can we be servants to them? How can they teach you about what it means to broaden the Kingdom of God? What can they teach you about what it means to be a disciple? Where can they show you where the church is at work?

Conclusion

The disciples didn’t get it. Mark makes that clear.

Jesus calls us to equal the power in our congregation by forming a circle around the weak and the vulnerable. But instead of us providing for the weak and the vulnerable. Instead of having a sort of master/servant relationship over them, we are to be a servant to them.

We aren’t meant to be independent people. We aren’t meant to survive on our own. Jesus calls us to a life of servanthood. A life of depending on others. A life that shows a willingness to let others help you and teach you about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, about what it means to broaden the kingdom of God.

Amen.