Mark 9:33-41 Who is the greatest – free written sermon

I have these things that I say in certain situations. You might call them “trademark” verses.  For example, when someone says to me, “hey, do you know… so and so…” I will often say, “Why are you asking, do they owe you money?”

Sometimes when someone walks into a room, no matter what we were talking about, I will often say, “Shhh… there he is…. Or there she is…”

It’s a little awkward when you walk into a room and everything is quiet or goes quiet.  However, the people in the room were usually talking about something completely unrelated to you.

In this case, Mark tells us that when the disciples approach Jesus he asks them what it was that they had been talking about as they were walking and talking along the road – Jesus says, as they were “disputing” along the road.

The disciples are speechless according to Mark.  RC Sproul says, “overcome with shame”.  We have all been there, haven’t we?  What were you talking about? Uhhhhhh…. The weather…. When I was a kid, when I would ask my great aunt Ethel what she was talking about and it was none of my business, I remember she would always say, “The price of eggs in China.”

Jesus says to the disciples… what were you disputing on the road?  They knew they were busted, because if Jesus knew THAT they were disputing, surely he knew WHAT they were disputing.  There is no way Jesus was ignorant of what they were discussing. He caught them in a conversation that still takes place today. “Who is the greatest?”  Michael or Lebron. Gretzgy or Lemieux. Brady or Unitas? Ali or Tyson?

It is one thing to be talking about others, it’s pretty humiliating that the disciples got caught lobbying for themselves. It is no wonder Mark says they were silent. NIBC: While they still did not completely understand Jesus, they certainly knew their selfish ambitions would find no favor with Him. They knew the conversation would not be pleasing to Jesus.  It reminds me of conversations that I have that do not honor Him. I am guessing there are not many of you who never say anything you would not want God to hear.

Speaking of the disciples’ selfish ambition, we have no shortage of selfishness in our own society, He could not have been pleased when everyone went toilet paper crazy. If you can’t say amen, at least say ouch.

So Jesus asks a question, the disciples are embarrassed to answer, and Jesus sits down – this is the position a teacher would take at the time –

And Jesus gives them the recipe for greatness. He says, boys gather round and listen – “If anyone desires to be first (as you have all expressed a desire to do) one must become last of all and servant of all.”

It is something that many preachers struggle with – We stand at the front of the church in what appears to be the spotlight, but acknowledging what the apostle Paul said, when he said he was the “chief sinner” in 1 Timothy 1:5 – This is a true saying, and by all means worthy to be received: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.

When I was before the board of ordained ministry with my fate as a UMC elder hanging in the balance, someone asked, “Why do you feel like you are called to be an elder in the UMC?” I had no answer. I said God kept opening doors and I kept walking and here I am.  And I said I am concerned about becoming an elder because it seems like so many elders believe they are better than others – taking the best places and looking down on local pastors. Mike Estep, now pastor at Suncrest UMC in Morgantown said, “What being an elder means to me is a call to being a servant to all, putting myself last.”  I said, well if that is what being an elder means, I am definitely called to that.  There is no doubt in my mind that Mike Estep saved my ordination that day. And I would have been OK either way. It still makes no sense to me that God called me to be a pastor. And I never want to get to the point where I believe I am worthy of it.

Jesus takes a little child, and says whoever receives one of these little children receives me, and whoever receives me receives not just me, but He who sent me.  Matthew tells the same story and says that Jesus says you must become like one of the children, that humbling yourself as the little child makes you the greatest.

NIBC says it is one of the greatest – see the pun – one of the greatest overturnings in history. If anyone would be first, he will put himself last. It is the world turned upside down. All of our common measurements of importance and greatness are marked as obsolete.  Jesus halts the entire human parade and puts it in reverse. The servants now in the lead and the pompous kings who were leading the procession are suddenly bringing up the rear.

I want to pause here and talk about humility and pride.  I have not been paying a lot of attention to the social media cancel culture, but I do know that Alex Trebek died and they were having guest hosts and they were looking for a permanent replacement. I know they picked a guy, I have no idea who he is, but I saw a headline that he resigned because of something he said about women, those with special needs, short people, and the poor 7-8 years ago. For the sermon, I went back and read the article and it had a PR firm representative who said the public way and the expediency (9 days) between the announcing of his hiring and the publicly disgraced hosts resignation will make it difficult for him to have an on camera job, unless it is a job talking about cancel culture. The PR rep also said, while cancel culture is out in full force, he believes it is just in its infancy.

Cancel culture holds people to a standard that they themselves cannot meet. The question becomes, Who is safe from it?  We are not wrong to call people to do better, but we all have a past.  There is not one of us whom at one time or another would not have been speechless when Jesus asked us to repeat something we said, or asked what we had been doing when doing something we should not have done.

John interrupts and says, We saw someone casting out demons in your name, but we forbid it.

Before we begin lobbing insults at John, we must admit that it likely comes from a sense of loyalty to Jesus. But Jesus says, do not worry about labels, but look for attitudes, teaching, and action. We should salute the allies of Christ in Christian faith. We need not agree with the Baptists about the amount of water at baptism.

Jesus talks about giving a cup of water in His name – NIBC says this is a clear and powerful example of the elementary and basic service done in the Name of Jesus.  It is a reminder that a plate of food at the mission in Jesus’ Name is holy work. Supporting Samaritan’s Purse’s work in the Haitian earthquake is a divine service. Jesus does miracles in meeting common, everyday needs, often through you and me. James 2:16 – “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” It does not honor God.

To close, the moral of the story today would have to be to humbly serve Jesus. It does not mean we do not stand for Christian truth – but we do so with grace and humility. We do not think of ourselves as more precious to the Lord than the least of these.