17th Sunday after Pentecost
September 20, 2015
Mark 9: 30-37 You can click on this link to read the text in Oremus Bible Browser
“Every time I sit down to pray, my mind seems to wander,” she said. A friend was talking about her attempts at setting aside contemplative time to pray. “I show up with my list, I quiet my heart, and the next thing I know, I’m thinking about school, or our packing for our camping trip, or our budget.” I’m so there. It happens to me too. Starting out with good intentions, planning to bring my petitions and then to sit in silence with God, letting my heart fill up with God’s presence. But I always get distracted.
Something similar is going on in today’s reading. Jesus is avoiding towns and cities, taking his disciples out on the road so that he can teach them. If you remember last week’s reading, he told them that the mission of the Messiah was not to create the political change everyone was waiting for, but to suffer and die and be raised again. Peter wanted to argue, but Jesus made it clear that the Son of God was choosing the path of vulnerability to bring in God’s Kingdom. If you are going to cling to the benefits of the material world, he told them, you’ll lose everything. You only gain your life by what you give, just as God gives.
So Jesus is taking the time to go deeper, to talk more about how God shows power through vulnerability, not through violence. But they are afraid of asking questions and distracted by their own concerns. As it turns out, when they get to the house at the end of the day, they have to admit that while Jesus has been sharing his heart and plans with them, they’ve been arguing about who is the best of the group.
These knuckleheads just don’t get it at all. They’ve left their work and their families, and they want to have something to show for it. They don’t want to learn more, and they don’t want to have to face what’s coming. Jesus still has a lot of teaching to do. And so, like any good teacher, he gives them an illustration. A little kid. Jesus lifts a kid onto his lap and says, “this is how I come to you.”
Children were not doted upon or revered for their preciousness in Jesus’ day. They were a burden and an expense and so they were put to work as soon as possible. They were the end of the line for food, for comfort, for benefits, and at the beck and call of parents and older siblings. So this the ultimate in vulnerability, God coming like a child. “Whoever wants to be first, must be last, and the servant of all.”
This is not how they expected to see themselves, anymore than we expect to see ourselves this way. We are so trained to see our Christian life through our comforts and our own habits, that we never think to set them aside to accept another understanding of faith. We become so sure of the correctness of our own tradition and experience that we write off as wrong anything that doesn’t agree with us. We get so caught up in the media frenzy about prayer in schools and same-sex marriage that we end up arguing with each other, forgetting about a world waiting for safety, shelter, and a word of peace. Sometimes I think we are so busy arguing about Jesus that we forget to share the love of Jesus with a world that needs it now more than ever. What has happened to our vulnerability, and finding God in the least and welcoming Jesus there?
Sometimes we forget that we have been welcomed with all our flaws and failures, simply because God loves. Sometimes we forget that the love that has been poured out for us is meant to flow out of us and change the world. Just like those disciples, sometimes we get so caught up in our distractions that we forget that we have a mission, and that we are invited here for a purpose.
At the advice of a prayer warrior friend, I quit thinking of the crazy jags of my mind as distractions. Pray them, is what she suggested. Is there anxiety in them that’s dogging you because that’s how you were raised, loss you need to recognize that’s making your heart hurt? Lift those distractions up and let God know what’s taking you away from the place you’d like to be. Let those distractions be the entry into the prayer you’d like to experience. Let your heart open to hear your belovedness in the midst of your fears, so that you don’t lose the love that makes you able to listen to the hurts and fears of others. That is where God works, in the quiet vulnerability of our inability, bringing restoration and hope even in the midst of our weakness.
So pray with me:
Jesus, I am so easily distracted that I’m not always sure I hear you. I want to be more loving and thoughtful, at the same time that I want to be right. Ease my need to have my own way, so that I can be the servant you have invited me to be. Amen.