Sermon manuscript for Green Lake Church
For Sabbath, May 23, 2015
Texts: 1 King 17:8-16, Luke 9:46-50
[Luk 9:46-50 NLT] 46 Then his disciples began arguing about which of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus knew their thoughts, so he brought a little child to his side. 48 Then he said to them, "Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me also welcomes my Father who sent me. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest."
49 John said to Jesus, "Master, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he isn't in our group." 50 But Jesus said, "Don't stop him! Anyone who is not against you is for you."
Many of you have already heard the news: In May of 2012, scientists from UW were checking out ammonite fossils on Sucia Island in the San Juans. Someone came across a chunk of fossilized bone. It was interesting, but not exactly front page news. It was interesting enough that the scientists got a permit to cut the bone out of the native rock and haul it off to the lab at the Burke Museum for further examination.
When the bone had been completely separated from the surrounding matrix, things got really exciting. It was a dinosaur! More specifically, it was in the group of dinosaurs called therapods. Finally, it was newsworthy and made the front page of the Seattle Times on Thursday.
Finding a dinosaur bone in Washington was so unlikely that when the scientists first saw the bone, they didn't even think “dinosaur.” They just thought big bone. A big bone is interesting, but it's not exactly front page news. Then two years of tedious work revealed that the big bone was, in fact, a genuine dinosaur bone, the very first dinosaur fossil ever found in Washington state.
Other recent items from the news. One of our TV stations posted a series of photos in connection with the 35th anniversary of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. In one of those photos who should show up front and center but Marlene Land and one of her granddaughters.
Twice in the last six months or so, Scott Callender has been quoted in the business section of the Seattle Times.
Last week, Marlan Kay filled an eight-minute segment on King TV as part of their Stroke Awareness programming.
We have famous people sitting here with us. Fame is a quirky thing. It's easy to equate fame and greatness. Famous people are great and great people are famous. But we know that's an artificial connection. Marleen was laughing about her “fifteen minutes of fame” which resulted from standing on the deck at the Johnson Volcano Observatory at just the right moment when a photographer was snapping pictures. And this weekend dramatically reminds us that tens of thousands of American veterans of offered great service while remaining unknown and unrecognized.
Fame is an accident. Greatness is not.
In our New Testament reading today (Luke 9:46-48), the disciples of Jesus were arguing about which of them was “the greatest.”
In Luke 9, Jesus over hears his disciples—the twelve men who served as his inner circle—arguing about which of them was the greatest. It was probably inevitable that in a group of twelve guys who made up the inner circle of a rabbi who is drawing crowds of thousands, there would be some jockeying for position. More than one of them would imagine he would make the best prime minister, the smartest senior vice president, the most reliable senior adviser.
On this particular occasion the subtle maneuvering had come into the open.
Can you get inside the story? Can you imagine what it would be like to be one of the twelve disciples? Part of the reason they were disciples, part of the inner circle, was their strong drive to be involved in ministry. They admired Jesus and they wanted to play a major role in advancing his cause. Most of them were sure they would do the best job.
Imagine they did the modern thing and called in a consultant to help them figure out which of them was the greatest. Imagine you are the consultant. They ask you, as the wise, outside consultant to evaluate the team and make recommendations for ranking the twelve. Who should be in first place, who in second and third?
If you were given this assignment, what kind of criteria would you use to assess the disciples and their relative greatness?
Of course, in real life they did not call in an outside consultant. Jesus, himself, stuck his nose into their argument.
First, he gets their attention by calling a kid over. “Hey young man, come over here for a minute, okay?” (It could have been a young woman, but given the culture of the time, I'm guessing it was a boy.)
The kid comes over, smiling. Jesus has him (or her) stand in the center of the group. That certainly gets the attention of the group. They don't do kids. They are important people, involved in an important mission.
Besides, in that society, kids in general did not have the kind of status they do in our society. They were truly nobodies. But here, the disciples have been debating who was the greatest among them, and Jesus calls a kid into the center of the conversation.
“See this kid? He's a nobody, right? But listen, if you receive this kid in my name—as a representative of me—then when you receive the kid you are receiving me. And if you receive me, you are also receiving God who sent me. Do you get that?”
The disciples were arguing about which of them had the highest qualifications. Jesus turns their questions of greatness upside down. Instead of measuring your greatness, let me ask you a different question: How good are you at detecting greatness? If a great person came into your neighborhood, would realize it?
It remains one of the most challenging questions. Can you detect greatness?
Especially, are you sensitive to the greatness that comes from human connections rather than human accomplishment?
When you receive this kid, Jesus said, you are receiving God. If you invite this kid to your house, God will show up in your kitchen. If you take this kid to the playground, God will be sitting in the adjacent swing. Do you realize THAT? Can you see that?
What does it mean to “receive” a kid? Does it mean to pay attention? To listen? To support with a scholarship? To believe in? To see their potential? When you receive a kid, you receive God. You enter into contact with greatness, superlative greatness, supreme greatness.
The disciple, John, hearing immediately, gets what Jesus is saying and asks about a particular practical application of this truth.
“We saw someone working in your name, but he wasn't part of our group. We ordered him to stop. Was that the right thing to do?”
This person we saw, he wasn't authorized. He didn't have permission. We weren't monitoring his work so we figured that was not a good idea, but now I'm wondering.
It's pretty easy to see that this applies to the world of religion. Every denomination imagines it is the authorized representative of God. We don't trust people who speak for God but are not part of our system, not under our control. Jesus blithely dismisses such concerns. It the person is not against us, he must be for us. Trust God to manage his people. You don't have to do that.
Now, back to dinosaurs.
I was running along the Hop Valley Trail in the Kolob Terrace section of Zion National Park. The first few miles of the trail ran across a broad, flat valley. Then the trail dropped steeply into a narrow valley where a bit of moisture occasionally showed above the sand and rock in a creek bed. On both sides of the creek bed, the ground sloped steeply upward toward impressive cliffs of red rock.
I left the trail and clambered up to check out the rocks along the base of the cliff. The cliffs were formed of sandstone and all along the cliff face were the beautiful, regular lines of crossbedded sandstone. I admired the lines and shapes then began working my way back down the slope toward the trail on the floor of the canyon. Just before I got down to creek bed I climbed around a huge, pickup-truck size rock that had tumbled down from the cliff. And there on the west facing side of the rock I saw a curious distortion in the regular patterns of the sandstone. I moved closer to the rock for a better look. Sure enough, I spotted other distortions in the regularity, wrinkles and wiggles where there should have been smooth straight, parallel lines.
Could it be? Had I found dinosaur tracks? I took pictures and when got back to St. George a couple of days later, I showed the pictures to Dr. Bryant, who is an expert on that area. He immediately confirmed my find. Yes, those were dinosaur tracks.
Naturally, I posted pictures of my find on Facebook. A bunch of people looked at the pictures and then commented, “Those don't look like tracks to me. How did you know those were dinosaur tracks?”
It's true, they don't look like animal tracks to me. But Dr. Bryant had taught me last year how to see tracks in those curious squiggles and wiggles in the sandstone. Under Dr. Bryant's tutelage I had acquired “new eyes.” His teaching was good enough, that when I came across the characteristic marks in that remote canyon in the Kolob region of the park, I thought dinosaur tracks instead of wiggles and squiggles.
Jesus is our teacher. He is training us to see greatness. He is training us to see every person in light of their connection with God.