Toorak Uniting Church

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Who is the greatest?

Mark 9: 30 – 37
Tina Lyndon
20 September 2009

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Who is the greatest?

I’ve been pondering on that during the week.

I remember how fifteen years ago Tim Costello established a café in the basement of the Collins Street Baptist Church and welcomed those who were homeless or lived in boarding houses.

It was never meant to be a soup kitchen or drop in. It was meant to be an open table where everyone sat down for lunch together.

At first a dozen or so people came and sat around the table with people from the church community and interns.

As the years went by the group became larger and the table was expanded.

People would enter the café from the back lane and there was a rule that the police were not allowed to come into the building to arrest anyone, especially during lunchtimes, so it became a place of refuge.

During the 1990’s when Georges was operating Georges would donate gourmet sandwiches and salads for lunch and everyone would sit around the table eating them with hot soup. Solicitors would also come during lunchtime and offer free legal advice.

Most days about fifty people would be sitting around the table. People with drug problems, involved in prostitution, people with mental illnesses, solicitors, the homeless and people from boarding houses, people from the church community and interns, aboriginals, Tim Costello was often there, officer workers and whoever else wanted some good company.

Last year I decided to visit the café again and entered by way the laneway at the back of the church. It’s decorated with colourful murals where one seems to have been painted by aboriginals and has a rainbow serpent story and another has a story about heroin and death.

Volunteers had made some chilli con carne and rice and served it up in colourful bowls that had been made by people off the streets and the volunteers.

The bowls were similar to this bowl, except that they were twice the size. This bowl was made by disabled people and purchased from the café at Centre for Theology and Ministry.

It was good food and company at café Credo. I had a chat with the volunteers before lunch and during lunch chatted with a man who said he was an itinerant preacher who had spent time living amongst the poorest people in Brazil.

Who is the greatest in this community?

Everyone seemed equal to me and no one seemed to be claiming to be the greatest.

Café Credo and the Manna Café have something in common. They are both gathering places for community where hospitality and companionship is offered.

Today’s gospel is about how people belong to community.

Both James and Jesus are teaching their communities about the values they need to embrace, when they gather together.

We often admire people for the kind of values they have and how they live their lives within community.

We admire people who embrace values that witness to God’s love in the world.

Some of us remember people such as Nelson Mandala, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King or Brother Roger of Taize, who in many ways put themselves last, welcomed those who had little status and worked for justice and love within their communities. Some people admire Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma and consider her a good servant of the people.

We tend to remember people because of their great love for humanity, humility and willingness to serve their community.

James in his letter invites us to embrace certain values that build up community. He teaches people to show by their good life that their works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. Wisdom that is from above which is pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.

These are values found within our hearts and lived out in our relationships with each other. They help us build up communities, where everyone is treated with respect.

In today’s gospel Jesus is addressing his disciples who he knows will one day be important leaders in the early Christian community.

He tries to tell them about what kind of Messiah he is and that he will be betrayed, killed and then rise from the dead, but the disciples don’t understand and are afraid to ask what he means.

Yet, in some way they do seem to understand, for they begin arguing about who is the greatest amongst them.

Jesus confronts them and says: Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.

He turns their notions of who is the greatest – upside down.

In today’s gospel Jesus teaches the disciples that in order to be great they need to be the servant of others and not dominate others in order to be served by them.

Servants were of low status – they were slaves. How could the disciples be both leaders and last like a servant at the same time?

Jesus knew about servant leadership when he washed the disciple’s feet and laid down his life for us.

He embodied and modelled what he taught.

But for the disciples they only came to understand what Jesus teachings meant after Jesus death and resurrection.

It took time for them to grow into leaders who were true servants of Christ and witnesses to his love in the world.

Jesus also tried to teach them about the importance of welcoming others in his name and showing no favouritism.

He wanted them to put him at the centre of their lives and community and allow him to mediate their relationships with each other.

That is why he spoke of welcoming a child in his name.

Now children didn’t have much status in his time.

Jesus took a child and brought the child before his disciples and held the little child in his arms.

He taught his disciples that when they welcome someone of low status in his name, like a little child, they welcome him.

This means community is not about individuals having status.

Community is created when we can put aside our notions of wanting to be important and like Jesus lovingly embrace a small vulnerable child.

When we can see the child in each other and welcome each other with the same love and respect that Jesus showed to the little child.

When we can put aside our notions of who is the greatest and welcome each other in Jesus name we will find God in Jesus.

We will discover God as the one who considers each one of us as precious and equal and loves our childlike nature and vulnerability, more than all of our achievements.

So who is the greatest?

It is Jesus, who is at the heart of our community, who is the mediator between us in all our relationships with each other.

It is Jesus who calls us to be servants and witnesses to his love in the world. To be Christ centred in our relationships with each other, welcoming all people in his name.

I’d like to pray the prayer of St Francis because it embraces some of the values that Jesus and James are teaching us today that help create community.

Let us pray

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
Where there is sadness, joy

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood and to understand
To be loved as to love

For it is in giving that we receive
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

The Lord be with you
And also with you

© Tina Lyndon, 2009

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