Following the Leader
Mark 9:30-37

Last Sunday and again this Sunday we’ve heard Jesus tell his disciples that he must suffer, die and rise again.  Yet still we hear that they don’t understand, you could probably be forgiven for thinking that they weren’t very bright.  But when you think about it they had a lot to try and take in.  Here was this guy who had called them from their everyday run of the mill jobs to be fishers of people and now he was telling them that he was going to die and rise again.

They didn’t understand but they were too scared to ask him any questions about it either.

What would that mean for them, would one of them have to take over where he left off, would it all happen and he would just continue on where he left off?  How could they follow this leader if they didn’t understand where he was going, or what he was doing?

Perhaps that’s where the argument about who was the greatest among them came from, maybe they were thinking about succession planning, about who would lead their group if Jesus was gone, who knows.  What we do know is that again they were too scared to tell Jesus what was really going on in their heads and in their discussions.  But you can’t keep a secret from God, so Jesus knew what they’d been saying before he asked them about it.

Don’t you hate it when you are having a bit of a discussion or you’ve just made a comment about someone and they ask you what you’ve said or been arguing about?  You know it has happened to all of you at some stage in your life.  It’s called foot in mouth syndrome.  You know when you say something inappropriate and wish you hadn’t.  In this case I wouldn’t mind betting that the disciples wished they hadn’t argued loud enough for Jesus to hear.
There was no turning back though, and Jesus sat them down for what’s known in our house as “a bit of a Granny talk”.  Out came the wisdom and the admonishment.  “If you want to be first, you must be last of all and servant of all”, you think they didn’t understand before, now it must have been even worse!  So Jesus took a small child and said to them, If you welcome a child like this in my name, you welcome me, and if you welcome me, you also welcome the one who sent me.” 

I don’t know about you but all of this seems like a bunch of riddles to me.  How can you be last if you’re first and first if you’re last.  Not only is this man hard to follow, so are his teachings.  Perhaps this is where the AFL draft rules came from, if you finish last, you get first pick next year!

If we are to follow Jesus as we heard last week, we are to deny ourselves and take up our crosses, now we must be last to be first and first to be last, not one of us is the greatest, and we must serve all people.

None of this makes sense if you think about what some would call the REAL world.  Everyday society says that you have to work hard to get ahead, learn everything you can and apply yourself to every task so that you can be successful.  You need to finish first in every race or every match.

That’s not how the really REAL world works, that is the kingdom of God.  When you’ve already won the victory, you’re already first, get it?

Through his death and resurrection, he has won the victory over death already for us.  He set the pattern; he came with the sole purpose of serving us, through his obedience to his Father, so that we might be saved from the devastation of our sin.  He is the ultimate servant, and in response, he wants us to serve others.  We’ve inherited the victory over death in our baptism.  What about everyone else, how will they hear the Good news?

What about through you and I?  How do you think we would best serve other people?  Yes, social justice is important, we need to care for others, we need to love our neighbours as we love ourselves, but when all is said and done, if you have everything you need for your physical welfare sorted, there may still be a huge gap in the spiritual area. 

As we heard last week, what is the point in gaining the whole world if you lose your life?  Our Christian journey, like it or not is about going to all nations and making disciples.  How?  By baptising them and teaching them everything that God has commanded us.

My challenge is how we do that if we aren’t really disciples ourselves.  We have become a society of consumers, we expect to have everything handed to us on a plate without having to hunt and gather it first.  Let me ask the men in the room, when was the last time you went out and hunted down the food for the table?  In most cases we don’t even go out and gather from the supermarkets anymore, we’d rather send out our wives.

We expect a similar thing of our faith.  We want it all dished up to us in one neat package on Sunday morning, if it fits in between our sleep in, golf, kids sports, recovering from a party or riding the motorbike up the valley.  We expect faith on our terms, in our time frame without any giving on our behalf, apart from the dollars we put on the offering plate.

There’s more to following Jesus than that!

What about praying, when was the last time you said a prayer during the day for someone whose name popped into your mind, or started the day with a prayer, or finished the day with a prayer or both?  I hope you can all answer, today, yesterday or at least this week!

What about reading God’s word, do you read it regularly, every day, every week, or just hear a bit of it read out on a Sunday morning in worship.

We’ve even become irregular worshippers, we average once or twice a month, that’s normal isn’t it?  Well maybe that is the norm these days, but how can we possibly maintain a relationship with our Lord and saviour if we don’t come and worship him and receive his forgiveness and share a time of fellowship with our fellow Christians.  The longer we go between drinks, the harder it is to come back.  It gets easier to stay home or do something else than it is to get up, get dressed up and come to church.

I didn’t use the Psalm for the day during the service because I wanted to use it here, Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that scoffers tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.  They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.  In all that they do they prosper.

If we spend time with God, being his disciples, followers of his Son, we can be truly happy, like trees planted by streams of water.  Sustained, nourished, prepared for whatever might come along, drought, flood, storms.  When we are ‘plugged in’ we are prepared by God for whatever might come our way, and even more so, ready to share the hope that we have in our Lord and Saviour with the rest of the world.

It’s not about being the greatest, Jesus is the greatest.  It’s not about being first, Jesus is the first.  As important as it is to serve our fellow humans, none of us can serve in the complete way, like Jesus did.  The disciples were afraid, they didn’t understand, they argued, they denied him – we’re not really that different are we? 

Guess what, Jesus continues to love the disciples, he continues to love you, he wants a relationship with you, he wants you to talk to him in prayer, to read his words and the words of his Father revealed through the writers of the Scriptures, and he wants us to come to services in his house, so that we can praise and worship him and he can serve us, all the days of our life, until we can rejoice with him in heaven forever.

He wants us to put ourselves last and him first so that we can know and receive his love for us.

Amen.