A reflection for the 19th September 2021
Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity 2021
from the Revd. Stephen French
Offered for Sunday 19th September 2021
or from Bishop Donald (Peterborough)
Sermon 12th September - Trinity 15 Mark 8. 27-38
'Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity 2021'
Compiled 18th September 2021
Leonard Bernstein, composer of the music for West Side Story and other musicals,
will perhaps be best remembered as a conductor of international renown.
He worked in many famous orchestras, including the London Symphony Orchestra
and the Berlin Philharmonic.
On one occasion he was asked what he thought was the most difficult instrument
to play. "Second fiddle," he replied. "I can get plenty of first violinists, but I have a
hard time getting someone to play second fiddle. Yet if no one plays second fiddle,
we have no harmony."
For most of us, our natural instincts urge us to want to play "first fiddle"; to do
something that commands the maximum prestige, status and earning capacity.
Who in their right mind would want to come second in any contest or,
even worse, come last?
Let us Pray
you made the heaven,
the earth and the sea,
and everything in them;
you spoke by the Holy Spirit
through the mouth of
your servants of old:
enable your servants today
to speak your word with great boldness;
stretch out your hand to heal
and perform miraculous signs and wonders
through the name of your
holy servant Jesus.
We live in the age of the celebrity; people who have made names for
themselves in sport, TV, fashion, films, music.
Celebrity status is such that it has grades, A, B or C, each grade commanding
its own commercial value.
Jesus had no commercial value, but in his own time and place, Jesus was
certainly a celebrity. He was known and welcomed by the people who had
high hopes of him.
He was equally hated and feared by the religious authorities
who wanted to get rid of him.
Aware of the conflict surrounding him and the pressures upon him,
Jesus often sought space for himself and the disciples.
He also needed the opportunity to?
teach them, so, as we see in Mark 9as Jesus passed through Galilee,
"he did not want anyone to know it".
His message this time was especially important.
Jesus wanted the disciples to know his ministry would end in his death,
but after his death resurrection would follow.
They failed to understand; not only that, they were afraid to ask him.
It was not what the disciples expected. They'd thought that he was a celebrity,
and some of his celebrity status would rub off on them.
So as they walked along, they argued as to who would be the most important,
though none of them would admit to it when Jesus asked them.
They were like a group of guilty children, knowing they were at fault,
but no one willing to own up.
So Jesus confronts them on this same level:
"He took a little child and put it among them."
There is nothing sentimental in this gesture. Jesus takes the child as a dramatic
attempt to get through to the disciples. If he can get through to the disciples,
he can get through to us.
However we need to exercise caution as to how we approach this gesture of Jesus.
Too many of our children are damaged by their experience of life.
At best, as Jesus wanted to convey to the disciples, children can
point to essential elements in our lives as Christians.
The first of these is openness.
Children have the ability to receive and to respond openly to what they see,
hear and observe. The ability develops at an early age, and often remains.
The disciples, as we see, were far from being open in their response
to Jesus' message.
Our willingness to be open, or our refusal to be open, and our
recognition of the choices we are making, form the building blocks
of our Christian faith and our response to God in Christ.
The second "child-like" quality is simplicity, in the best sense
of that word. Our lives and our relationships are often so complicated,
in contrast to those of our children. The disciples were no exception.
They were called to follow Jesus and live a simple life, but they were
distracted by side issues: they wanted to know who would be the most
important among them.
The question complicated the disciples' relationships with each other
and with Jesus. Similar complications emerge in our relationship with God.
It is said that a nun, after many years of discipline, had reduced
her prayers to just four words: "God, what a mess."
Perhaps she speaks; and prays; for many of us in those words.
It can be good to revisit and reclaim hopes, ideals and qualities
from our childhood years, but simplicity and openness do not come
without a cost; as?
sadly many of our children have discovered.
This was what Jesus was trying to teach his disciples as they travelled
through Galilee. The cost of his own simplicity and openness was his
impending death and resurrection.
The whole episode serves as a parable for our lives as Christians.
Jesus in taking a child in his arms reminds us of qualities we left
behind us in our childhood. We see the importance of simplicity and
openness in our faith and witness but, like the disciples, we are
not willing to bear the cost.
We are taken up with the more immediate concerns of our lives.
Jesus does not condemn or reprimand us,
any more than he did his disciples, but in the final words of Mark 9,
Jesus sets out the full meaning of taking a child in his arms:
"Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me,
and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."
This child is no celebrity, but represents something
much more essential and lasting.
We live in the age of the celebrity.
Jesus was a celebrity in his own time, welcomed by the crowds,
hated by the authorities.
Jesus needed space both for himself, and to teach the disciples;
hence his quiet passage through Galilee.
His message was crucial:
his inevitable death and ultimate resurrection.
The disciples had other concerns and did not understand.
By taking a child in his arms,
Jesus pointed to simplicity and openness
as building blocks of faith.
But they come at a cost.
The whole episode serves as a parable for
our own Christian commitment and
our response to God in Christ.
May the simplicity of the carpenter's son
shape our lives today;
may the trust of a child shape our lives today;
may the call of the Spirit shape our lives today.
And the blessing of God almighty.....