Sunday 19th September 2021 – Rev Arnold Dixon

Jostling for position

Mark 9.30-37

In the passage, there is both literal and metaphorical movement: the physical journey towards Jerusalem and the dawning understanding by Jesus' followers. Jesus disturbs his disciples by predicting his suffering and death. However, the disciples whether through misunderstanding, or to avoid thinking about it argue and jostle for position: which of them is the greatest? Calling them to order, Jesus explains that to be the greatest is to serve others.

After Jesus again predicted his death and resurrection, the disciples – not understanding argued about who was the greatest. Jesus responded with talk about the first being last and the last, first. He drew a little child into the middle of the group, saying that welcoming a child was an example of welcoming him. How might this relate to us?

 

This week we explore what it means to be the greatest.

 

Call to worship

At this time, in this place, let us worship God –
with open ears ready to listen
and hearts ready to receive,
minds willing to be challenged
and attitudes given to God.
Come, we worship God as one.

 

A gathering prayer

Loving, gracious God,
who does not put us in order greatest to least,
best to worst, loved most to loved least,
or any other order:
be with us as we spend time
with one another and with you.
Help us to listen to you as you speak to us
and challenge us, love us and encourage us.
Amen

 

Breathe on me, breath of God:  Sing/ Read /pray /proclaim the words or listen to this version

Click on the Link:  https://youtu.be/M5keJHZdWYM

 

A prayer of approach

Lord God, you call us to live our best lives
for you, with you, in you.
We may sometimes pause to smell the coffee or the roses,
but we are often too busy to take time to be aware of you
that you are with us, in us, and in those around us.
Quieten our hearts now to recognise you in this place today.
Help us to reach out to one another with love,
care and compassion,
so that we can all live our best life for you.
Amen

 

A prayer of adoration

God, who loves little children, we adore you.
We drink in the wonder of your presence,
the specialness of our relationship with you.
You are far beyond our understanding,
your love is greater than our greatest dreams.
We worship you, our Lord and our God.
Amen

 

A prayer of confession and an Assurance of forgiveness

The response after each petition is:
Lord, please forgive me,
and teach me my rightful place in you.

(Take a moment to think about what jostling for position
means to you. Where do you see yourself in relation to others?)

Jesus said: ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be last.' Lord,
for the times I've put myself first, or argued with people,
because I think I know better than them or that I am better
than them…

For the times when I don't want to be a servant because I think
I'm capable of greater things…

When I don't recognise Christ in those around me because I'm
too busy looking out for myself…

When I don't understand what people mean, perhaps not
understanding their feelings of fear or inadequacy…

When I jostle for position, rather than being happy where you
put me…


Assurance of forgiveness

You challenge us, Lord, when we do wrong.
You get us to focus by using questions,
even though you know the answers.
Your image is present in each one of us.
When we confess our sins,
you are always there to forgive us.
We stand now, humbly in your presence. Forgiven.
Acknowledging that you are the greatest (keep silence).
Amen

 

A prayer of thanksgiving

Thank you, Lord, that we can always find our place in you.
Thank you that we belong to you,
and no one can take that away from us.
We are secure in your loving arms.
We need never be afraid to ask you anything.
Thank you for the people who give us a cup of water,
and much more, because we belong to you.
Thank you for the times we can meet blessing with blessing.
Amen

 

Lord Jesus Christ, you have come to us:   Sing/ Read / pray /proclaim the words or listen to this version

Click on the Link: https://youtu.be/oe8J5NK39D0

 

Reading: Mark 9.30-37

Jesus Predicts His Death a Second Time

30  They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were,  31  because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”  32  But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. 33  They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?”  34  But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. 35  Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” 36  He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them,  37  “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Brother Let me be your servant:   Sing/ Read /pray /proclaim the words or listen to this version

Click on the Link:  https://youtu.be/kdmgpMfnjdU

 

Sermon:  What it means to be the greatest

Is Muhammad Ali the most famous boxer ever? Probably. In interviews or pre-fight publicity events, he would often speak about how much better he was than his opponent because, he would say, ‘I am the greatest!' At the height of his powers, Ali was called to serve the US army in Vietnam. He refused to be drafted, was tried, imprisoned and lost his world title. Was he still the greatest? Can human greatness appear to knock out God's greatness? How might our worldly success (whatever that might be) knock out how we serve God? Why does greatness matter so much for people?

Did you like sport at school? Were you the first or the last to be chosen when teams were picked? If you were last, you probably remember it vividly! The Gospel reading presents a clear contrast between James and John, who want to be important, and the child sat on Jesus' knee, who is ‘just' a child. We are told neither the name nor the gender. In the Old Testament reading, Jeremiah 11.18-20 is caught in a struggle between God's plans and those of human leaders. In James' letter, 3.13-4.3, 7-8a we see how we can be pulled in different directions in the tension between what we want and what God asks. How do we know when we are being pulled in different directions? Can we give examples of when we have felt overlooked and perhaps felt left out? Do we have to be the greatest to serve God? Can we give examples of serving God in simple ways?

Children in the playground. Contestants on TV's  The Apprentice . They all vie to be the best, the greatest. This desire is of course not limited to children or participants in reality TV shows. We find it in most walks of life. Maybe adults are a little more subtle in their efforts, but only to a point! A broader question is: How do we measure ‘greatness'? There seem often to be links to wealth, influence and status. Those who have the most are at the top of society and are considered (by some, at least) as the greatest. Those with the least are at the bottom. And it was as true in Jesus' society as it is in ours. The disciples' conversation about who was the greatest could be what, in today's world, we might call a desire for upward mobility. But is this how it should be? Jesus seems to turn it all upside down: to welcome the least (an unnamed child) is to welcome God! So, who is really the greatest?

Our first response to the disciples' bickering might be ‘How silly' – especially after Jesus had just said something so profound. They didn't understand what Jesus had said and were too afraid to ask. So, side-stepping into this argument about who was the greatest was perhaps their way of avoiding not thinking about what Jesus had said about his death and resurrection.

Later, when Jesus asked the disciples what they were talking about, they seemed to be embarrassed by what they were doing. Was it the subject matter of their discussion that embarrassed them, or because they had ignored or avoided Jesus' statement? Perhaps it was a bit of both.

It is interesting to wonder about the criteria the disciples intended to use in talking about ‘greatness'. Did they mean best? If so, best at what? Or perhaps they meant ‘most trusted', or ‘been with Jesus the longest', or ‘most important' (whatever that might mean)? Although the language is about ‘the greatest' one person! Were they perhaps each trying to find or assert some kind of self-worth or value? There are lots of questions we could ask. But the picture is of the disciples competing with one another in very normal, very human ways that are just as familiar to us today.

And Jesus' response? Maybe he thought to himself ‘Here we go again! Will they never learn?' He calls them over and joins in their conversation or rather, he takes it in a new direction. If the disciples seemed confused by Jesus' statement about his death and resurrection, this next statement has not made the confusion any less. He speaks of the first being last and the last first. Is Jesus telling his friends that, in the bigger picture, their argument about greatness was redundant? Jesus' own way of life showed humility and servanthood. Those who declared themselves the greatest had clearly not understood the message he brought. To Jesus in the kingdom of God the greatest are those who regard themselves as the least, and act accordingly.

What might this say to us today? We probably cannot avoid an element of competition and comparison between people, between ourselves and others, in a whole range of everyday things. But are we clear that this has no place in God's kingdom, no place in church life? Are we ever tempted to see ourselves as better than others, or at least not as bad as some? Because if we are, we like the disciples have not yet understood. Maybe reflecting on these things again on the life of Christ, on his humility, his walking and talking with those no-one else wanted to be with, his serving others and more can help us find our greatness…not in ourselves but in him and his life.

 

From heaven you came, helpless babe:   Sing/ Read /pray /proclaim the words or listen to this version

Click on the Link:  https://youtu.be/7VeQrWmvCms

 

Prayers of intercession

Loving Father, sometimes the world is hard to understand. There is so much happening around our globe. Many complex and difficult situations: The ongoing wars in Syria and Yemen, the rapid fall of Afghanistan and unrest in Haiti. There is the continual problem of Coronavirus in particular the impact it is having in much poorer parts of the world and the complex issues connected to the environment and climate change. As we survey the world this week we ask that you give us hope. We are reminded in the Gospel reading today of your death and resurrection. Thank you that we know the transforming power your Spirit can bring. Help us to live in the reality of that hope while we pray for the very real situations around the world.

Lord, thank you that you are in control.
Help us to put our trust in you.

Gracious God, help us to learn to see the world as you do.  The first will be last and the last first. Thank you for today's reminder to pay attention to the weak and not just the strong. We pray for those in our communities who are struggling at the moment. We pray for those who are on the margins or feel disenfranchised. Help us, as your church, to notice and respond to the needs we see. We also pray for the powerful, for those who lead and govern. May they see the world as you do, may they work to bring equality and restore dignity.

Lord, thank you that you see the people our society often disregards as unimportant.
Help us to put our trust in you.

God of all, teach us how to welcome others. We are all welcome in your kingdom. Thank you that you see us and know us and that your welcome is deep and personal. During this week help us to be particularly aware of the welcome we offer others. May this church be a place of real welcome, a place where people feel they are seen and known and feel loved and secure. Thank you for the challenge in today's reading to welcome the very least in society, help us to work out what this looks like for us.
Lord, thank you that you are a God of welcome to all.
Help us to put our trust in you.

Heavenly Father, help us to keep learning about your kingdom. Thank you that you took time to teach your disciples. Thank you that you showed them a new way to live. Thank you that you turned the wisdom of their world upside down and showed the disciples a new way to think and behave. Help us to allow your words to transform us and to change the way we think and behave.

Lord, thank you for the wisdom we find in the Bible.
Help us to put our trust in you.

 

The Lord's Prayer

Our Father,

Who art in Heaven

Hallowed be thy name

Thy kingdom come,

Thy will be done in earth,

As it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

As we forgive them that trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,

The power, and the glory,

For ever and ever.

Amen

 

O Breath of Life Come Sweeping through us:  Sing/ Read /pray /proclaim the words or listen to this version Click on the Link:  https://youtu.be/5QHZB_v0ZaY

 

A sending out prayer

Lord, Jesus,
may we go out into the world to shine with your love,
listen with your ears
and speak words of kindness and hope
to everyone we meet – in your name.
Amen