Taking up responsibility
Dear congregation, I have chosen the text from the Gospel of Mark for today's sermon because it addresses a topic that concerns me very much - and that is taking up responsibility. This may sound a bit contradictory to the text but I will try to explain it as good as possible. And I would like to go into why Jesus places a child in the middle, in the midst of the disciples, who takes Jesus in his arms before their eyes.
After reading this text several times, one of my first counter-questions was "How do you actually finish last?" I mean, if you imagine a race, that is, a situation where victory or medals or places are at stake, then I already know how one becomes last.
But then why did you compete? That makes no sense at all.
And if I now transfer it to a Christian community and not to a competition, how should it work there to want to be last? If I actively want to be last, isn't that just like wanting to be first? How can that work if everyone suddenly wants to be a servant, because Jesus said so?
You probably know the following movie scene, where soldiers line up in a row and when the commander asks them to "volunteer" they all take a step back, except for the jerk who stays in front. How is that supposed to work if everyone takes a step back when it comes to taking up responsibility?
So that can't be it.
To present oneself as humble and low because one wants to follow this word of Jesus here. In my opinion, that is just as wrong as the opposite. To present oneself intentionally humble in order to be especially pious. It is also false, because it tries to camouflage one's own motivation with a supposedly Christian attitude.
So what is meant, how can we understand it?
I think what Jesus wants to tell us here is that we should not attach importance to outward appearances. That we should not blind ourselves and not be blinded by others.
And that is not as easy as you think.
We live in a world that looks at appearances and this world rubs off on us. Clothes make the man (or woman) and beauty beguiles. If you don't keep this in mind self-critically, then you will constantly fall into this trap, just like many of our fellow human beings. The same sentence coming from the mouth of a beautiful person or from the mouth of an ugly person then unfolds a completely different effect.
It is terrible how stupid we humans are.
Not for nothing do many people worry about their body, run to the gym and steel their body instead of their mind. And you should not close your eyes to this effect, Jesus says, but other values should be important to you. A basic respect towards every human being - no matter if he or she is beautiful or ugly, poor or rich.
This is one of the possible explanations that came to my mind about this sentence "If anyone wants to be first, let him be last and servant of all." I have kept this explanation because it picks up on an important aspect of the James' letter that I did not elaborate on in my last sermon.
But there is another explanation that I like almost better, and it can be found between the lines. How about this: You are simply not supposed to want to be first. Stop it.
If you want to be first, you should actually consider starting last. By turning around in this way, which is actually impossible, as I explained earlier, the whole system is called into question. No one is the greatest, because the greatest is the last and the servant of all.
Now, once again, in a specifically Christian context, that is, with regard to our congregation, I believe that we would be well advised not to make any judgments between the various ministries.
This is exactly what the covenant renewal service deals with, and for me this is always well illustrated in the image of the body and the many limbs. If one limb suffers, then the whole body suffers.
At least that is the biblical word and this is the reality we are to strive for.
Because there are differences among us, we have different tasks and different gifts.
So it is always Peter, James and John that Jesus chooses and takes with him. Whether it is the transfiguration of Jesus or the time in the Garden of Gethsemane. But this does not mean to me that Jesus loved these three disciples more than the others. These three were perhaps more gifted or suited to take up responsibility than the others.
This brings me back to the main topic:
To be the last or the servant of all cannot mean to refuse responsibility out of - false - modesty. People who take up responsibility are needed more than ever.
They have always been needed, and they are needed today.
And this brings me to the second part of the sermon, how it should look like, after I have explained for a long time how it should not be.
And now, right now, we are with the child that Jesus puts in the center.
And for this one should know that children were at the very bottom of the ranking of ancient society. The quantity of children, here especially the quantity of sons was important, but the individual child did not have the same status as we are used to here in Austria and today in 2021.
Walter Klaiber even writes: "Greeks and Romans abandoned or killed newborn children. This was their form of family planning and shows how little the life of a child mattered."
Let's just leave it as an impression please, I am not historically versed enough to fully affirm or reject this statement as false. What is important to me is that it gives us a sense of the status of a child in Jesus' day. This makes what Jesus is doing more visible to us.
So Jesus takes a very lowly member of the society of that time and not only places it in the center of attention, namely in the midst of the disciples, but he shows his affection by taking the child in his arms.
And he says: "Whoever receives such a child for my sake receives me. And he that receiveth me receiveth not me, but him that sent me."
That is, at the center of our attention should be the weakest.
Those who are in the process of developing.
Those who need our help and - above all other - our love.
If there is one thing that can be seen very clearly in children even today, it is their need for love.
Take away this love and an unimaginable misery breaks over such a child that it cannot be more heartbreaking.
The parallel passage in Matthew's Gospel is therefore also apt: "Amen, I say to you: Unless you repent and become like children, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven."
Hence the child in the middle - so that the disciples and we can see what is important.
This need for love, we can copy it from the children or strive for it, because this need for love nourishes our longing.
The longing for God.
The longing for God is lost on many adults. They think they are grown up, independent and strong. And they say or think: Who needs God? That's kids' stuff.
Yes, that's it - kids' stuff. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
If you don't become like children, you will lose the longing and the need for love that can draw you close to God.
If God becomes less important in your life, then you can go back to fooling around and thinking who is the greatest among you.
For my part, I would rather stick to Jesus and leave such a superfluous question behind myself.
Let others think about who is the greatest, I want to do my part and take up responsibility where I am needed.
And I want to orient myself to the children. To be and remain in need of love.
So that the longing for God remains alive in me.
And I set out to search for this longing myself, which makes me love.