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09.20.09 The Wise Path to Peace Mark 9:30-37, Psa1, Jam3:13-4:8 Sermon Summary

by on September 22, 2009

For followers of Jesus, the path to peace, wisdom, faithfulness, and greatness is one and the same. Recall the universal formula for the attainment of wisdom. The book of James is preoccupied with the application of wisdom. So in James, wisdom is evidenced by someone’s good life and deeds. Or in the image of Psalm 1, people of wisdom are trees which bear fruit.

This is “heavenly wisdom” according to James, and as he further describes it, we note that it is an active wisdom of peacemaking. Wisdom in James, among Christ’s disciples, is other-oriented. How could it be otherwise? Jesus was an other-oriented, reconciling individual. His disciples, if they’re wise, should be also.

But we the church are often poor examples of what it means to have heavenly wisdom active in our lives, to be a disciple of Jesus. We often argue about things we think are great. We argue about who has the greatest theology, or music, or social witness. We are disciples arguing amongst ourselves about what is great instead of living great lives.

In this, we are not unlike Jesus’ original disciples. In Mark, the disciples are caught arguing among themselves about which of them is the greatest. The reason for this argument, Mark suggests, is because the disciples don’t understand the Passion prediction Jesus just gave them. Rather than reflect upon the Messiah’s suffering and trying to understand what it means for them, they react with a psychological defense of self-aggrandizement. They argue about their own greatness. This is a temptation for all of us when we feel insecure about ourselves.

Ironically, while the disciples, and we, argue about “great” things to cover our insecurities, the wisdom of Christ is that our self-identity is found in a greatness defined by our service to others. Peace, both personal and interpersonal, is found here, in serving others. And not just any other, but the most unlikely other we can imagine.

To make the point, Jesus places a child before the disciples. The child is the perfect symbol of otherness. In an agricultural society with high infant mortality, children weren’t valuable until they survived childhood and could be productive. The disciples were scandalized when Jesus says that when you welcome a worthless child, you welcome Jesus, and in welcoming Jesus, you welcome God. In other words, children are the doorway to discipleship, to wisdom, to faithfulness, to greatness, to peace, even to God.

In the church, we will continue to fail as Jesus’ disciples. We will continue to argue over great things which really aren’t. But, just as in Mark’s gospel, Jesus never gives up on his disciples; he never gives up on us. We can grow in our child-welcoming attitude. And we must if we’re going to grow as Christ’s disciples. We have to welcome the children, and in welcoming them, welcome Christ. And in welcoming Christ, encounter God.

But think also about your own life. Who are the “children” in your life, the people you dismiss as worthless? If you will serve them this week, you will grow in heavenly wisdom and as Christ’s disciple. And according to the promise of Jesus, in serving the “children” in your life, you will find God.

Questions for Reflection 

  • Are you bearing the fruit of heavenly wisdom? Are you reflecting upon your experiences and applying the lessons you learn?
  • What are the “great” things you like to argue about? Are they really great, or are you using them to avoid following the path of Christ towards the discipleship life of service to others?
  • Who are the “children” in your life, the people you dismiss as worthless?
  • What is one concrete way you can serve the “children” in your life?
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