Scripture: Mark 9:30-37
There are many confused people all around us. They are searching for something, anything really that might make them feel accepted, loved, wanted, and needed. The songs we just listened to were released by a band a couple of years ago, Mumford and Sons, they speak of the hunger and the emptiness found in the world. They recognize a darkness that seems to be enveloping their communities, and the world around them. A darkness that seems to have many faces: poverty, war, and environmental decline.
This is an emptiness that has been around since man first walked out of the God’s Garden. Yet there is something that keeps urging them to look back and search for something that they may have known but forgotten, even generations back. This void of the soul is spoken of throughout scriptures in many terms, things like the hardening of the heart. Theologians speak of it in other terms, one spoke of it as being the God shaped vacuum. Mystics spoke of it in more imaginative terms like the cloud of unknowing or the dark night’s journey.
There is darkness in the world that seeks to consume every aspect of humanity. No one is truly safe from its effects. It seeks to shade the light in its shadow sucking life into its black hole of despair.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
This passage from the first chapter of John speaks of this war between the darkness and the light. It alludes to the darkness corrupting and sucking life out of the world but the light holding its ground. John wrote this gospel after several years of walking with and remembering his life with his Lord. But even he as a great saint, an apostle sent out by Jesus Himself to carry on the ministry He started did not always or even fully understands what life with God meant.
He as a young man walked with Jesus during Jesus’ ministry. He was with Jesus during this trip mentioned by John Mark in his Gospel called Mark. Jesus was teaching them as they traveled through Galilee to Capernaum. I can imagine it would be like a discussion in the car that many of us have had with our friends, coworkers, and children. There was a spontaneous conversation about the deeper things of life. During this particular discussion Jesus tried to explain how the light would over come the darkness.
“The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” Just imagine for a moment if you were there during that discussion. You were walking along the dusty road with rocks slipping into your sandals. You had hopes that finally the king had come and would drive away the Orc-ish Romans, the darkness plaguing the nation set apart to be the light of nations. Now the one that you thought was king was telling you straight up that he was going to be killed. What does that mean? How would that affect your future? Would it happen before or after he rose to power and delivered the nation?
They were asking questions in their minds that each of us would have asked. You yourself probably wondered about a few more that you would have asked. Then he spoke about rising again? Was this whole discussion metaphorical or was Jesus speaking of literal death and resurrection?
Mark goes on to say that they did not understand what Jesus was saying and they were afraid to ask him about it. Fear is darkness. Darkness was right there among the disciples trying to corrupt the closet friends to the light.
Well they walked on and the disciples probably fell back a bit because they did not know what to talk to the teacher about, and they picked up a different subject matter. I imagine that this second private discussion was spun off of the discussion of Jesus’ pending death, so they were trying to determine where in the line of succession they would fall. Corruption is seeping deeper into the lives of the disciples as they begin to plot their alliances and playing their political clout.
They arrive at their destination, and Jesus asks them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” Again there was silence. How could they tell the king that they were arguing about who would take His place, because in nearly every revolutionary order plotting the overthrow of an empire that would be an act of treason against the cause. It shows weakness and they knew it.
Jesus does not push the issue instead He looks out among those in the camp and He sees a child among the followers. So he calls the disciples over to Him and they go to this child. Jesus takes the kid into His arms and begins to teach using whatever is around to illustrate the point. And He says, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
A child, a common child one of probably a few dozen that was hanging around that camp taught these respectable adults what it meant to be a true follower of the king. We can learn much from this illustration about what it means to be a leader. A child is in the process of learning about the world around them. Their eyes are wide open looking at every aspect of their environment. They see things differently. A child observes a mother getting pleasure from receiving a gift of flowers, so the child runs out to pick every dandelion in the yard so that they can bring her joy. They may even include other weeds that most of us adults would dig up or spay with an herbicide. A child asks questions and they are full of wonder. They will walk all day exploring if we would let them, just to find out what is over beyond what they can see from the door. Many of the greatest scientists of the world had child like abilities to wonder and desire to explore.
Jesus is saying that if you want to be first in the kingdom, the number one thing is to welcome the children. What that means is not only having a church full of kids, but to interact with the kids. To walk with them as they explore, to invest our time and energy teaching them and assisting them as they learn the boundaries of their own abilities. If we want to be true effective citizens of the kingdom we need to bring the sense of wonder back into our culture. And to be effective leaders we should be willing to do what ever we can to walk with people as they learn and explore aspects of life.
To bring back the sense of wonder is a difficult thing. With the corruption darkness brings, there is also a squelching of wonder. Poverty kills a child before they have a chance in many ways. A hungry child sits because they lack the energy to explore. Many children live in a poverty of affection; their parents are so busy trying to feed them that the child fails to develop senses of love and belonging. These children are starved for attention in any way possible and seek it out in the darkness that begins to suck the life out of them. We are seeing the product of the attention starved generations.
Those attention-starved people of the western world are the ones that have the greatest spiritual hunger, but they do not realize it. They fill their lives with so much junk they look like their lives are perfect but reality is that they are malnourished. Their lives are filled with spiritual junk food. Their empty soul is being filled with quick empty calories, which turns into apathy and obesity.
Our culture is a picture of unhealthy spirituality. We must change the direction, and to do that means that all followers of Christ must begin to interact with the world. Our greatest need is not money but time. If the followers of Christ would take the time to teach people to manage their money and time so that they could then invest love in their families we can begin to change our communities. If we as followers of Christ would change our lifestyles just a bit and invite someone else to eat with them when they go out they can possibly spark a spontaneous conversation that may change the direction of someone’s life.
If we were to examine our own lives we could see where the darkness is creeping into our lives, and into our communities. The interesting thing about darkness is that it leaves when light is present. As we enter this time of open worship let us shine the light of Christ into our own lives. Let us allow Him to show us ever so gently where our own arguments and politicking has allowed the darkness of our adversary to gain a foothold and cause our testimonies to fail and cause spiritual malnutrition in our lives. We cannot share what we do not have.
James the brother of Jesus says that we do not have because we do not ask, or we ask for the wrong reason. And if we draw closer to God that He will come closer to us. We do not need to fear God, he is the source of light and life. He is the vine that feeds the branches of our lives. And He is the friend that walks with us down our own dusty roads. Let us now seek Christ and let Him lead us down that road.