Losers Win

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20) / 23 September 2018 / Deacon Rex Watt

Texts:  Jeremiah 11: 18-20 / James 3:13-4:10 / Mark 9:30-37


+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen+

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Dear Saints of Redeemer, Jesus’ ministry is changing direction.  For the first 7 ½ chapters of Mark’s gospel we see Jesus going about His public ministry preaching, teaching, healing, feeding the hungry and performing miracles over nature.  The disciples witness all this activity, and when Jesus asks them what do they hear the people saying about Him, they tell Jesus that the people think that He’s either John the Baptist come back to life, or Elijah, or maybe one of the prophets.  Then when Jesus asks them what they think, Peter answers, “You are the Christ.”  Finally!  Someone gets it!  Or do they?

When Jesus then begins to teach them what it means to be the Christ; that the Christ must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed; but will rise again after three days; Peter, who made this great confession says in effect, “No way Jesus, we’re not going to let this happen to you!”  You’ve heard the story before.  You remember how it goes.  Jesus responds to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  Peter was certainly having his ups and downs.

Shortly after Peter’s downer, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain by themselves, and there Jesus is transfigured before them, and when they had come down from the mountain they came upon the scene which was the gospel lesson for last week.  A man had brought his son to Jesus for healing, and since Jesus wasn’t around (He had been up on the mountain) the man asked the disciples to cast out the evil spirit.  They couldn’t do it.  So, Jesus steps in, and does what Jesus does; he saves the day.

Our gospel lesson for today picks up after that event.  Jesus again takes His disciples on a road trip, off by themselves.  He wanted to be alone with them because He wanted to teach more about His future, His plans.  “What do you think boys?  Peter, James and John heard Me speaking with Moses and Elijah about my departure.  They heard My Father’s voice.  Suffering, death and resurrection is going to be the way I go; and the way you will eventually go too.  Sound like a plan?”

Well, no, it didn’t sound like a plan.  It sounded like a crazy man talking.  They didn’t understand and they were afraid to ask Him; probably remembering the last time Jesus brought this up and how Peter spoke up and Jesus ‘put him in his place.’  Besides, they had other things to talk about rather than all this dying business.  You know…like who among them was the greatest.  You can almost hear their discussion; Peter says, “I’m greater because Jesus chose me first!”  John says, “I’m greater because I’m the disciple whom Jesus loves the most!”  Judas says, “I’m greater because Jesus trusted me with the finances.”  James says, “Wait a minute fellas, I was up on the mountain also!”  They all had their arguments.  Can you just see it?  Here is Jesus talking about the cross and His disciples are preoccupied with glory.  Jesus is looking to lose His life for the world, and His disciples are angling for power positions in the kingdom.

Isn’t this how it always is?  Even among us?  The Apostle Paul resolved to know nothing in his preaching and teaching except Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and we want to hear anything but this death and resurrection talk.  We want to hear 10 steps to a better marriage; 9 ways to be a better parent; 8 steps to a more abundant life; 7 steps to financial security; 6 steps to spiritual growth; 5 things you can do to improve your prayer life; 4 ways to improve our sex life (really!); 3 easy steps to be a better witness; 2 things you can do to support your church; but the one thing we don’t want to hear is all this talk about us being sinners and that Jesus suffered on our behalf, died our death, and was raised for our life.  We don’t want a dead and risen Jesus, we want a power Jesus, a Jesus who will make us great and successful, a Jesus who will make us winners.

Isn’t that how we think?  We want to be first.  First in line, first to be the one who gets to go at a 4 way stop, first to be chosen on a team.  We want the gold medal, not the silver or bronze.  And heaven forbid we should settle for a participation ribbon.  We admire winners and look down on losers, and if God can help us become winners, then that’s the kind of God we will follow.  Failure is not an option.

We want our kids to be winners too.  We want to give them the best opportunities, the best education, the best of everything so they will turn out great.  It’s a competitive world out there.  We’ll do whatever we need to give them the edge.

But Jesus has an entirely different plan.  Not power, but weakness.  Not glory, but a cross.  Not the greatness of winning but the greatness of losing, losing His life for you, laying down His life as our ransom from Sin, Death and the Devil.

To make His point, Jesus takes a little child and puts him in their midst, and says, “You want to be great in the kingdom?  Then bend down and receive this little child, because when you do, you will be receiving Me, and not just Me, but My Father who sent Me.”

The impact of what Jesus is saying may be lost on us a bit.  We idolize childhood, glamorize it, coddle it, and even prolong it.  Children have become the most important persons in our modern society, assuming of course that they make it past abortion.  It’s all about the children.  But it wasn’t that way in Jesus’ day.  Children were considered among the least of society.  Dependent, helpless, time and energy consuming.  You couldn’t wait for them to grow up, to become productive members of society; to marry off your daughters or put your sons to work.

Yet Jesus places Himself precisely in the position of a little child.  To bend down and receive this child is to receive God’s Child, the Child born of a virgin and found in a manger in Bethlehem, the Child who will become the man of sorrows, the Child who hung on a cross for you, the Child who is the servant who suffers for the salvation of His enemies, which include you and me.

Do you, like the disciples in our text want to be great in the kingdom?  Then don’t be like the disciples!  You must become small and insignificant.  Do you want to become a winner in God’s eyes?  Then you must become a loser in this world of “winners.”  God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Isn’t it interesting that we often end our lives much the same way they began?  We become as children again – dependent on others, not terribly useful.  Some today even suggest that those lives have no value.  They want to remove those lives in much the same way they remove the lives of the unborn.  No matter how great we once were in life, no matter how much wealth we had, how many degrees we earned, houses we owned, people we supervised; in the end we become as helpless as children.  And finally, in our death, we become the least of all, which brings us right back to where Jesus was going all along – to death and the grave; to resurrection and life.

Billionaire Ted Turner, the media mogul, who admitted that juggling four girlfriends was “easier than being married” (and he ought to know, he’s been married three times), once said, “Christianity is for losers.”  While he was making it plain what he thought of Christianity, he could not have been more correct!  To be baptized dear Saints of Redeemer, to be a Christian, is to be a child of God.  Did you get that?  A Child of God!  Like that little helpless child in the midst of the disciples, utterly helpless, totally dependent on Jesus who has His arms wrapped around him, Jesus wrapped His arms around you at your baptism.  He gave you faith, and you have come to believe.  To be a child of God, baptized and believing, is to lose your life in order to save it, to become nothing so that Christ can be everything, to die in order to rise, to be joined to Jesus in His death, burial and resurrection.  You, dear Saints of Redeemer, losers in the eyes of the world, have already won.

Faith doesn’t ask who is the greatest.  Faith looks to Jesus up on the cross and says, “There!  That’s greatness!  That’s what it means to be great.”  And through the cross of Jesus, faith looks out into the world and sees Jesus precisely where the world would not look: in the least, in the lost, in the little, in the child.  May God grant us this kind of faith.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

This sermon is based off a sermon delivered by Rev. William Cwirla at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Hacienda Heights, CA on September 23, 2012, and modified by Deacon Rex E. Watt.

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