Saturday, September 26, 2009

Welcome to Your Smallness - A Sermon

Are you ready for some football? Woo hoo! It’s time for the Bears! All right, uh huh, they’re number one!

What? You’re not Bears fans? How can that be? The Bears are like the greatest football team ever! They won eight NFL championships, plus Superbowl XX in 1985! The Bears are Number 1! If only I had a foam finger…

Okay, so maybe the Bears aren’t the greatest. Maybe this looks a little silly. When you think about it, all that screaming and shouting about number one IS silly. And it’s not very helpful to us, either.

One reason is because that whole “We’re number 1” way of thinking carries over into regular life. You know, “Our school is best.” “Our company is preeminent in blah blah,” Or, “Our country is the greatest country on earth.” Baloney! None of these things is “the greatest” -- and we really don’t want them to be either.

Because, no matter what you’re talking about, being the greatest really means making yourself small. True greatness means giving up all the outward trappings of power and pride and making yourself weak and vulnerable -- precisely because you know there’s something stronger inside you, and because you know there’s something bigger than you that needs to be done. Like Jesus.

Jesus had to deal with this in his disciples. Here he is, telling them what he must do -- make himself small, be betrayed and killed. He tells them that only then can he perform the greatest work for all humanity by rising again.

They, in their innate smallness, do not understand and, again as evidence of their small thinking, argue about who’s the best -- like kids yelling “We’re number 1.”

Now, Jesus had an opportunity to put these guys in their place. He had a chance -- and you know he would have had every right to do it -- to puff himself up and start screaming, “You fools. Who do you thing I am? I’m the greatest! You want to do what I’m about to do? Go ahead!”

To give you a little perspective, you should know that this even takes place just a little bit after the transfiguration -- you know when Jesus is shown all bright and shiny standing there with Moses and Elijah, and God speaks from heaven about him -- so you’d think they would have a clue about Jesus’ greatness. And it’s immediately after they had been unable to heal somebody and had to run to Jesus for help, so you’d think they’d have a clue about their own “greatness.”

But Jesus doesn’t do that. He knows his place. He knows who he is and has no need to flaunt it. He can be gentle with them.

So, instead, he brings a child and says “Whoever welcomes the little guy -- even a kid -- welcomes me.”

Now, you know what position a kid had back then, don’t you? Not very big. They were things to avoid stepping on. Maybe not even seen -- especially little ones. It was the woman’s job to keep them out of the men’s way.

So Jesus is saying to them, “Welcome the lowest just as you would me. Because here is where you will find me.”

Welcome to your smallness.

If you want to follow Jesus, make yourself small because the job of following Jesus is not to be Number 1. All you need for that is a foam finger. The job of following Jesus is to see Jesus in others -- and because you see Jesus in others, to love them.

Maybe he brings a child before them because children are thought of as worthless but maybe also because they are ready to love without asking, “What have you done for me lately.” They love because that’s what we’re made to do -- only we forget because we’re told we’re supposed to be the greatest (and we believe it).

This is all very good timing because today you are going to have a child -- two children in fact -- join our community of believers. Today, Breaden and Riley are going to become members of the church in baptism. And although they may not understand all the ins and outs of what Jesus means, they understand love.

In baptism, we remind ourselves -- at least those of us who are baptized -- that we have died to that life of chasing greatness. It just doesn’t matter. And in dying to that old life, we have been born anew into a life where something bigger, more powerful, more important reside inside us.

God’s love -- which is a constant urge inside us, always struggling to come to the surface even when we don’t like it -- to seek the best for everyone around us near and far. It’s not easy, it’s not something we can do on our own even when we think we’re tough enough. God constantly reminds us, we can’t do it by ourselves -- we’re not number 1, and we don’t need to be.

All we need is to that light that is Christ, and we’ll be led right. It will lead us to needing others, to kneeling and seeking forgiveness, to reaching up to God and saying, “In you I have found my meaning.” Being baptized means never having to say, “I’m the greatest.”

It might not even mean saying anything at all because you don’t need words to share God’s love. As St. Francis said, “Preach the Gospel at all times, use words if necessary.”

So, Breaden and Riley, Welcome to YOUR smallness. Amen.