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Pentecost 17B

Gospel, two shoes at a time. (Mark 9:30-37)

The Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

It seems most weeks these days, the news on TV, radio, print and online
delivers one relentless list of bad news:
natural and human disasters, random acts of violence,
the politics of nastiness,escalating international, interracial, interreligious tensions, corruption, fraud, you name it.
So how inspiring is it to see the media going viral this week
over a Winnipeg bus driver’s random act of kindness?
In case you missed it, on Tuesday morning, a cold frosty one in Winnipeg,
the driver of the #24 stopped his bus, got out, walked over to a homeless, shoeless man, took off his own shoes and gave them to him,
and then got back on his bus and continued with his route.1

I begin this sermon with this story because it’s Gospel,
in the deepest meaning of the word:
Good News of God in action in the world.
It reminds me too, as a preacher,
that words are in the end, only worth so much.
That it’s action that changes the world, and brings the kingdom,
two shoes at a time.

I also found this story shaping – actually reshaping – my engagement, with the Gospel text. I’m one of the many preachers who bristle when this passage is presented as some saccharine, hallmark moment when Jesus welcomes cute
little Ethans, and Rebekahs, and Finns, and Ana Sophias,
all with the not so veiled implication that if we’re nice to children and their families in church, we’re doing what Jesus wants us to do. While that’s true, it’s much bigger than that.

Trouble is, being a bristler over schmaltzy interpretations like this puts me in danger of the other extreme, of using this text as a battering ram,
a moralizing, pulpit slammer sermon text that’s cajoles you, no, guilts you,
“because you’re not radical enough in your hospitality as a church….”
Let me be clear, I’m not going to do that!!
And I don’t think Jesus did that either, not in this text.

Now, granted, he’s been pretty harsh of late,
remember hygiene fight with the Pharisees?
his distracted but dismissive insult of a foreign woman,
who thankfully became the face of God’s forgiving grace to him?
Or last week’s harsh condemnation of Peter for getting it wrong – again?
We’d be forgiven for bracing for the punch when just after he’s told them yet again, that God’s Dream is about love and service, not power and greatness, the disciples confess to arguing about “being the greatest”

But it’s as if the wind has suddenly died down,
there is a calm to this narrative that is striking in its contrast
to what has gone before over the past three weeks.
But it is not a ‘flat’calm;
it has an intensity of focus to it,
a clear sense of purpose and vision,
and deep compassionate wisdom.

For instead of a stream of invective,
Jesus meets their confession with silence.
I wonder if he’s going to that grounded place we get to as parents,
when after the bickering fights with our teenagers, they come out with an honest confession that is the doorway to one of those holy conversations
where wisdom is shared, reconciliation occurs, and the relationship takes another step towards maturity and deep love.

See what he does?
He sits, (sit) it’s not a position of power, is it?
It’s one of conversation, of communion.
“If you want to be big (in God’s kingdom), become small.
If you want to be first (in God’s Dream), wait to be last.
If you want power(to live the Dream), serve.
If you want to see the world as God sees it, look at it from down here.
If you want to be someone, be like this.”
And then he reaches out and he snuggles a little child on his lap.

Now don’t run ahead of me…. not back to the saccharine schmaltz…
Children had no status in his ancient near eastern culture.
They were mouths to feed, many wouldn’t survive childhood,
and those that did would follow parents’ footsteps to a subsistent livelihood at best. Children were lowly, powerless, vulnerable, so to ask us to welcome
the lowly, the powerless, the vulnerable is at best odd, and certainly not very ‘worldly’.
But as I look at him crouched on the ground, with a grubby barefoot little child in the crook of his arm, I begin to see that he’s trying to show us a glimpse of the Dream of God, the kingdom coming.
The Dream of God where God is love,
where the Messiah is a servant,
where the child
and the nobody, and the outcast,
and the gay teenager, and the alcoholic,
and the homeless guy with bare feet
is cherished
and given shoes by a Winnipeg bus driver.

Without raising his voice,
thumping a pulpit, or pointing a finger,
but by cuddling a child,
the disciples, and we, catch a glimpse, for a moment,
of the world as God sees it:
battered and blessed, broken and beautiful.

This simple, unexpected act of cherishing ,
so stunning that it goes viral on the newsreels.
“Imagine that!” Mark the Gospeller writes on his twitter feed, for us to read.
Here is Good News that energizes us with its possibilities.
And look what it’s done to us already at Cedar Park,
when we’ve sat down with the child on Jesus’ lap,
when we’ve extended the welcome to the least and last,
and discovered ourselves to be in the company of God!

The work we have done to reach a place of affixing the affirming welcome of a rainbow on our sign, and more to the point on our hearts as a community of faith welcomes God into our midst.
Welcoming children who love cough drops, and colouring pages,
and who need safety gates on the stairs,
welcomes a child-like, curious God into our midst.
Planning to renovate bathrooms, so that visitors and infants and seniors can enjoy our facilities with dignity is no less, and no more startling than Jesus’ welcome of that child on his lap!
Welcoming all ages, and all comers into the areas of service that we undertake as a Church, is to welcome God’s new gifts into our midst in ways that enrich and transform us all.
Refining the way we prepare folk for baptisms and weddings and funerals so that they too can experience God’s welcoming, and healing Good News.
Welcoming meals on wheels, AA, Beavers and Scouts, young folk who work to Free the Children, choirs of young and old with voices for hope and worship,…….
the list goes on…!
in all of these, we welcome God in our midst.

And when we do, we are changed,
shoes are shared,
Good News goes viral,
and God’s Dream comes true, again, in us.

God be thanked.

© The Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones September 2012


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