Sermon: Mark 9:30-37

September 19, 2015 — 1 Comment
jesus mafa welcomes the children

artwork from

The trouble with posting the text of a sermon is two-fold. First, sermons are intended to be heard rather than read and second, the Holy Spirit is at work in all aspects of the sermon–preparation, practice, and delivery and sometimes the text is changed or mystically transformed in the speaking of it with the gathered congregation. Nevertheless, here’s my manuscript from this week’s sermon!

I’ve blogged about the incident I use as an illustration at the beginning. Here it is.


About six months ago, we celebrated Maundy Thursday here in this sanctuary, remembering the Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples, and ending our Lenten celebration together. That night, Rich was leading worship and he and I were serving communion together. I sat right *there* (the front pew) so that I would be near the front to assist when it was time to serve the holy meal. A small child from our after school ministry sat with me. From the moment she entered the sanctuary and took her seat, she aware of the communion table. “Bread!” she exclaimed when she sat down. She kept her eye on it nearly the whole time. As the first hymn was sung, she leaned forward and studied it. As the Scripture for the night was read, she pointed to the table as it was mentioned. Occasionally she would look at me, then look at the table with an inquisitive look on her face, and I would take my finger and indicate to her where we were and then slide my finger down to the word “Communion” so she could see how much longer it would be. When Rich preached and spoke about the Bread and the Cup, she waved her arms grandly toward the table. In response to my own questioning look, she whispered, “I just want to make sure everyone knows what he is talking about.” My favorite part, though, came when Rich moved to the table and stood behind it. My little friend knew that it was showtime. She stood to her feet, even though the entire congregation remained seated, and all but took a starter’s position. When Rich finally said those long awaited words, “Come to the table, all is ready,” she was standing toe to toe with him before he could even finish the sentence, looking up at him through glasses perched on her nose and anxiously holding out her hands.

This child, small for her age, the youngest of a large number of children in her family, a member of the backpack club (at her school, this means that she gets to take a special backpack full of meal and snack food home on weekends), is “least” in a lot of ways, at least by how we would qualify it. And I imagine it was exactly a child like her that Jesus holds onto in our Scripture passage for today:

Mark 9:30-37

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘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.’ But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.

Mark does not usually provide us with a very kind snapshot of Jesus’ disciples. Here, he features their failure to understand his teaching once again, and a petty argument that happens between them as they traveled together through the Galilean countryside. Truly, the disciples are just like us. They are our heroes because they left all that they knew and followed Jesus, and after Jesus’ resurrection, they helped people become disciples, they baptized thousands, and most of them were martyred for their faith. But here in the middle, they seem kind of…well, they don’t seem to be all that great at being disciples.

Jesus asks the disciples about their argument, and they are ashamed for they know that what they had been talking about has no place in the Kingdom of God. They’ve been with Jesus long enough to know how his whole disciple thing works, but probably they couldn’t help themselves. The weeks and months of walking with Jesus, watching him heal the blind, the infirm, the demon-possessed…sitting in the boat while he walked to them on water…the lunchbox of loaves and fish that became a feast for 5000—they are following the real deal. Here is the Messiah, and they are ones who comprise his closest circle. I think they just couldn’t stop themselves from speculating about what Jesus will appoint each of them to do when he comes to power.

Really, what they’ve misunderstood, though, is what kind of Kingdom Jesus is going to rule. Why do they not understand Jesus when he talks about suffering and death and resurrection? Because it does not fit into their understanding of Kingdom. Why would a promised King—a Messiah, the anointed one of God—suffer and die? Why wouldn’t the advent of his Kingdom usher in a time of victory for a people who were waiting in dark oppression under the Roman government…or at least for the nobodies that had left their lives and livelihoods to follow him?

Yet, Jesus took a child in his arms, the Scriptures say. This is not a cute, warm fuzzy story about Jesus and children. In this passage, Jesus is making a statement about power. In Jesus’ day, a child was important for the sake of the future—parents needed to have children so that they would be cared for in old age, for the sake of their family name, and because they needed someone to inherit any wealth or property. But while a child was a still a child, he or she was a liability, prone to illness, helpless, weak, and not a big contributor to the family economy. A small child is about as powerless as a human being can be. With small children, it is easy to actually overlook them.

Jesus is making a stark statement about the values of his Kingdom—his upside down, turn anything conventional on its head, Kingdom. “When you welcome this child, you welcome me,” Jesus suggests. I can almost see the disciples squirming—no, Lord, you are powerful. You’re the Messiah. You do great things. You’re so much more than a child! Oh, but in this Kingdom, greatness is not measured in power or import. Greatness is measured in humility, hospitality, and servanthood. If the greatness we seek is measured in power, money, success, or the goods we own, we are not walking the same path as the Lord we claim with our lips.

Think about any of the many overwhelming or terrible or heartbreaking situations in our nation or in world right now—there are so many to choose from.

I’m not here to debate or affirm or even to inform your politics this morning—I don’t have a degree in politics. But I can tell you about Jesus and I can tell you this: Jesus holds close, stands with, and elevates the ones who are least. The single mom working two or three jobs and still not making enough money to make all the ends meet to put food on the table, pay the rent, keep the lights on, and provide extracurricular opportunities for her children? She matters to Jesus and she should matter to Jesus’ Church. The tiny child tossed around in the sea until the waves overwhelm him and his lifeless body is washed up on the shore of the country his family was desperately trying to reach? Jesus welcomes and embraces him, his family, and his fellow travelers, and the Church should be on the front line of welcoming and resourcing that situation. The fourteen year old girl kidnapped and sold into the sex trade, abused, used, forgotten? Jesus has not forgotten her and neither should Jesus’ Church. Christian pastors, missionaries, and believers imprisoned, executed publicly—martyred for their faith? Jesus has been there too and the Church cannot turn her back to the horror of that situation. Insert whatever overwhelming or terrible situation you have thought about in the past moment and think about who in that situation is weak, terrorized, powerless, disregarded, rejected, scared, small, or abandoned. That’s where you’ll find Jesus’ heart and that’s where ours should be too.

In many ways, this teaching provides the easy yoke of Jesus. His words are hard, but being last is not hard. Everyone else is clamoring to be first, elbowing and pushing to be at the head of the line or seated in a prominent place at the table. There’s a lot less competition to be at the end of the line. Welcoming others is a lot easier than passing judgment to determine worth and assessing whether or not someone matters. There’s a freedom that comes when one stops working so hard to convince others that one is good enough or talented enough or pretty enough and simply accepts the favor of God and allows the Holy Spirit to be at work.

Jesus’ words in Mark 9 caused a bit of a stir among the disciples, no doubt, as they continued on a journey of misunderstanding. They certainly stir up my heart as I think about the values of the Kingdom of God and consider what it means for my own human pursuits. Jesus’ words are a challenge to consider the things and the people we value. We can simply dismiss them today because they are hard to understand and live into, or we can accept the challenge of the Holy Spirit to consider the ways we welcome those who have no power or no status—whether they come to us in the form of tired refugees seeking safety across our borders or a small, hungry girl eager for the communion part of the service to start.

Lord, may the things that break your heart break ours too, and may we never fail to welcome and serve the least and the last.

This has been an exciting week.

I completed my first year of seminary, which I cannot believe since it seems like I just began. Someone asked me last night if it was harder than I thought it would be, and honestly it was not. The work was rigorous and challenging, but I decided to tackle one thing at a time and do the work when I could and it turned out that when I needed to do something, I had enough of whatever resource I needed to get it done. There were stressful moments and weeks that required a lot more time at my desk than others, but thanks be to God, it all came together. This year, I took classes in Old and New Testaments, Presbyterian History, Confessions, and Polity, Missions and Evangelism, Worship, and Spiritual Formation. The coming year holds new challenges, as I will tackle Greek, Church History, Christian Education, and learn a little bit more about what it means to be a Pastor.

On Friday, May 15, I celebrated (very quietly) fifteen years in my current career and my current job. I honestly cannot believe fifteen years have come and gone.

On Tuesday, May 12, I became a CRE. According to the Book of Order, here are the functions of a Commissioned Ruling Elder:

“…the presbytery may authorize a ruling elder to be commissioned to limited pastoral service as assigned by the presbytery…Presbytery, in its commission, may authorize the ruling elder to moderate the session of the congregation to which he or she is commissioned, to administer the sacraments, and to officiate at marriages where permitted by state law (G-2.1001).”

So that’s completely clear to you non-Presbyterians, right? Ha–probably not even 100% clear to most Presbyterians.


Photo Credit: David Muffett

Basically, here’s the timeline. In 1995, I was ordained as a ruling elder (one who is ordained to service and leadership) in the Presbyterian Church (USA), filling a 1 year youth term on the session (or church board) of the First Presbyterian Church of Merrillville, Indiana.  in 2006, I completed a course of training for what we then called our Certified Lay Pastor program. Last week, I met with our Presbytery’s (Regional council of Presbyterian Churches) Committee on Ministry (the committee that oversees the work of pastors and pastors-to-be at our Presbytery’s 30 churches). They examined me at the meeting and determined I was ready to be examined by the Presbytery at the quarterly meeting on May 12. On Tuesday, I went to Presbytery for examination. In the packet received by all participants was a copy of my Statement of Faith. Teaching Elders (Pastors) and Elder Commissioners (ruling elders representing churches in the Presbytery) could ask me questions on the topics of polity, worship, and theology. At some point, the very first pastor I served with at the Presbyterian Church of Henderson, Doug Blair, moved to sustain the examination and the vote was called. The “ayes” had it, and now I am a CRE for the Presbyterian Church of Henderson, Kentucky.

On May 24 at 8:30 a.m. at the church I serve, I will be installed at a service in which I will answer these questions:

(a) Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledging him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

(b) Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church Universal, and God’s Word to you?

(c) Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?

(d) Will you fulfill your ministry in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and be continually guided by our confessions?

(e) Will you be governed by our church’s polity, and will you abide by its discipline? Will you be a friend among your colleagues in ministry, working with them, subject to the ordering of God’s Word and Spirit?

(f) Will you in your own life seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love your neighbors, and work for the reconciliation of the world?

(g) Do you promise to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church?

(h) Will you pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?

(the questions above are all the standard ordination questions asked of every ordained office in the PCUSA. I’ve answered them before, in 1995, and I will answer them again, God willing, when I am ordained as a Teaching Elder. The last question is specific to the office I’m being installed to.)

(i) Will you be a faithful ruling elder in this commission, serving the people by proclaiming the good news, teaching faith and caring for the people, and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ?

I am so very grateful for the love, support, and accountability provided by my family, my church and all of the churches I have been a part of, my colleagues in ministry of all denominations, my presbytery, and my incredible circle of friends–all of whom have helped me become a person who can joyfully and hope-fully answer all of the questions above.

It has been an exciting week. Now the journey continues!

*or maybe you do know what that is, but I’ve had to explain it about 732 times this week, so I feel like if you know, you’re in a minority and also you should give yourself a high five.

This photo (from four years ago) features the very first year Young Lives girls. We threw an art party that gave girls and leaders the opportunity to experiment with their creative sides!

This photo (from four years ago) features the very first year Young Lives girls. We threw an art party that gave girls and leaders the opportunity to experiment with their creative sides!

When I moved to Henderson, KY fifteen years ago, the first person also in youth ministry to contact me to take me to lunch was one of the Young Life leaders here in town. She and I went to the high school together, spent an hour or so in the cafeteria, took a brief tour of the high school, and then went and ate lunch at Arbys. There was a church connection who suggested she contact me, and I was grateful because I was having a hard time figuring out my new job, and the prospect of ever talking to anyone outside of the church seemed kind of remote at that point. I appreciated the effort she made and that she took me to the high school for the first time (ice I was having trouble breaking on my own).

When she and her husband moved away, the new YL leader was a friend from college, someone I already admired and liked, and someone who valued the network of youth ministers that by this time I was meeting with on a monthly basis. Before his tenure was over, he was someone who regularly stopped by my office, someone who was not afraid to question my motives or ask hard questions of me, and someone who prayed for and with me on a weekly basis as we gathered with other Youth Ministers in town each Tuesday.

Currently, Henderson Young Life is being directed by another friend of mine, someone who is humble and kind and who cares deeply about middle and high school kids. When I met Steve, he regularly hosted cookouts at our local skate park, feeding students who spent their afternoons there, skateboarding or hanging out. He’s recently accepted this new position directing Henderson’s Young Life programming, but his commitment to kids that others might forget about or write off has not wavered since I met him. He now oversees the ministries of Young Life (high school), Wyldlife (Middle School) and Young Lives (see below), and Henderson Young Life is poised for greatness under his leadership.

Our church is the site for the monthly Young Lives meetings. Young Lives is a ministry to teenage moms and moms-to-be. Monthly, leaders (many women who have children themselves) gather with a group of young ladies for a meal, games, and worship, all while their babies are cared for by additional volunteers in our church nursery. Every summer, these young ladies and their babies have an opportunity to go to Young Lives camp for a week. Here’s a brave video that tells the story of one of our Young Lives participants:

Pregnant teenagers and teenage moms will always be welcome to come to the youth group activities I lead for the Presbyterian Church…but I understand why they usually do not. Whether it’s that they feel uncomfortable being in such a different place than the other students who attend regularly, or because they feel ashamed or are scared that they will be rejected, or simply because they do not have time to attend or childcare available, I understand.

I’m so grateful that the ministry of Young Lives exists for this reason. I’m glad that young moms have this resource and this community available.

I am a regular supporter of Young Life ministries in our community. Young Life is not a competitor of the church I serve, but rather, Young Life makes our community stronger. I hope you’ll consider supporting the work of this organization in Henderson! To give a one time gift or become a regular supporter, click here!

Holy Hunger

April 2, 2015 — 1 Comment

IMG_3986Today is Maundy Thursday. In my congregation, we worship together on this night and read the passage from John 13 where Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. We sing hymns and share the Lord’s Supper.

Tonight, I sat in the front row of the sanctuary because I was the liturgist for the worship service. A little girl who comes to our after school program and often shares meals and worships with us sat next to me.

There was something about sitting next to her in a communion service that may forever alter the way I take communion.

She walked into the sanctuary and was constantly aware that there was bread on the table. She gestured at it with exclamation when she sat down.

During the first hymn, she leaned forward and studied it.

While the pastor read from the Bible, she followed along with me in my Bible, pointing at the table as the table was mentioned in Scripture.

Throughout the service she would look at me pointedly and then indicate the bread on the table, with a questioning look on her face. I would show her where we currently were in the bulletin and then point to the word “communion.”

As the pastor preached, he talked about the Bread and the Cup and she made a fanfare gesture with her arms. It was my turn to look at her inquisitively. “I just want to make sure everyone knows what he’s talking about,” she assured me.

As the pastor moved to the table, she stood to her feet and all but took a starter’s position, ready to race to the table as soon as she got the go ahead. She shifted anxiously on her feet as Rich read and prayed and broke and elevated the elements.

When he invited people forward, she was standing toe to toe with him before he even finished the sentence, looking up at him, waiting for him to share the bread with her.

Some in the sanctuary tonight might think that my young friend does not have the proper regard or understanding of the Lord’s Supper.

I think she might understand it better than the rest of us do.

Photo-a-Day: #Live

April 2, 2015 — Leave a comment


“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” 2 Corinthians 5:17


I have no idea where these maracas came from, but they sure livened up the afternoon!

It’s Holy Week. I never really know what my attitude should be during Holy Week.

I suppose you could make a good case for somber solemnity, but I can’t help it that I’m one of the Easter people who knows how this week ends! Easter is coming and I’m grateful, once again, that its coming is not dependent on my faithfulness throughout Lent.


Photo-a-Day: #See

March 29, 2015 — Leave a comment


For a brief moment, “Palm Sword” Sunday was filled with wonder for this little boy.


Well, this one speaks for itself!

A young learner made an Easter card for a friend during Sunday’s Intergenerational Sunday School. She used her thumb prints for the bunnies.

Photo-a-Day: #Place

March 26, 2015 — Leave a comment


Jason and I have not been secretive about our current plan to move wherever I am called in three or so years when I graduate from UDTS with my Masters of Divinity Degree and am a candidate for ministry, but our reason has nothing to do with a dislike for where we currently live. I love living in Henderson, KY and this place will be hard to leave. I took this photo from one of my favorite vantage points in Henderson, the Third Street boat ramp.

Photo-a-Day: #Light

March 26, 2015 — Leave a comment


Of course, don’t let my last post fool you. On sunny days, I’m still figuring out how to lie in the sunshine for a bit. Glad to have hammock days and the sunlight back.