A sermon in which I didn’t have to say Washington after Tacoma

Hi friends. I promise I’m not trying to ignore you. My pastoral internship started a few weeks ago. If you were to ask me “How’s it going?” I would stumble over a response that tries to express my stubborn gratitude, fear, and my terrifying optimism that I don’t even recognize.

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P.S. These tealight holders? Shoot. I’m so glad I don’t shop online… often. For now, pretty holders, you will look pretty and live on my laptop.

Back to the sermon: The first time I preached at my internship site, Messiah Lutheran Church (in the same state where I’m from) was two days ago. It felt familiar since I’ve done pulpit supply over the last few years, and it felt different — scratch that, it felt new. There’s a whole other blog post! But for now, this is what I said. It’s based on Mark 9:30-37 (NRSV), with Allison commentary:

“They went on from there and passed through Galilee [a metaphor for home, Mark 1:16-20, fishing becomes adventures with Jesus]. 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.’ [say that again?] But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. [they’re afraid] 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 who was the greatest. [they’re still afraid] He sat down, called the twelve, [come to Jesus meeting] 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.'”

Here’s what I said:

Grace & peace to you from our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Hi, I’m Allison your pastoral intern this year. I just want to take a moment and thank you for all the ways you have welcomed Timothy and me. It’s such a blessing to be back in the Northwest. Some of you have already had us over for dinner and shared your stories with us, and even given us some of your amazing barbecue (Jim I’m looking at you) – we just can’t thank you enough, after our road trip out from Minnesota last month to here. Which reminds me…

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Did anyone take a road trip this summer? Does anyone wish the had taken a road trip? Have you ever been on a road trip, and there’s that one guy? Kicking the back of your seat or humming the same song over and over again? Now, in all of my road trips I’m not going to say which people I’m thinking of (I’m probably one myself)! But they’re the ones that you have to turn around and say, “Don’t make me come back there.”

I think Jesus was at a point like that in this gospel passage. I mean, we’re nine chapters in, and they’ve put some miles on together. His disciples were arguing and it was driving Jesus crazy.

Truthfully though, I think it’s more than bickering. I think the disciples are afraid because these are high stakes and they’re far from home, and they’ve put their lives on hold to follow this man.

And just before this, Jesus says something big: “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.” Woah. We just met you and now you’re going to die? Holy moly what is going on. The disciples are probably sad, confused. This is all turning into defensiveness and anger as they want to know who is the greatest disciple. So Jesus shows him a child and in the face of their fear says, “Welcome this child in my name and you’ll welcome me. Whoever welcomes me, doesn’t welcome me but the one who sent me.” (paraphrasing) Who knows where the child goes, but in whatever happens next, Jesus has made his point. The big joys and tears of a child, are no match for your arguing and fear. Don’t welcome your fear – welcome this child.

Welcome this child. This squealing, constantly moving, laughing, crying, loving, snuggling child.

I have to tell you, when I read this passage I imagined my God-son whose back in MN just climbing up a storm around one of his parents, mouth wide open, giggling like crazy, swarming around him that makes it hard to keep up with him.

Jesus says, “Welcome him.”

The child in this gospel story is meant to invite the reader to think of other vulnerable people we are called to welcome, like our neighbors or friends or family members who are sick, in tough situations, or people in trouble. But I think this story is just as much about the child within us as the child next to us.

Jesus says, “Welcome him” or “Welcome her,” as if to say “Welcome you.”

[editor’s note: this is heavily influenced by Brene Brown here, here, and here, so, Brene THANK YOU and I am terrible for not mentioning you in my sermon]

Because — we see the disciples are arguing about who is the best. They’re one-up-ing each other because they don’t think they’re enough. They keep their confusion and questions to themselves because they’re afraid of what will happen to them and to their leader Jesus; and let’s face it, they’re afraid of life in general at this point.

They’re afraid. They don’t think their enough. They can’t see past themselves.

Then Jesus plops a kid in front of them, as if to say “LOOK.” Life is greater than worrying about if you’re enough or worrying about what tomorrow brings. Love is this child. Welcome yourself so you can welcome her.

Now, this sermon could easily turn into: Get a better attitude! Don’t worry, be happy! Stop thinking silly things like you’re not good enough or pretty enough or smarter enough; just change your thinking and love yourself!

If only it was that easy. Thankfully, Jesus gets that this is complicated. Vulnerability is complicated.

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Two words: College applications. Talk about vulnerability. We even had a class in high school where we to write an essay about ourselves to practice writing college essays. To me, it felt like “Here is me, please judge me, measure me, and rip me to shreds, just please don’t tell me about the room you all adults sat in together to do this.” I felt so open, so vulnerable: me, on paper, for strangers to see, to correct my grammar, to critique my argument about why I’m the best and I should go to your college.

So to battle this feeling of not feeling enough – I tried to hide. I didn’t apply to any colleges, until my confirmation mentor suggest her alma mater – Pacific Lutheran University In Tacoma, Washington [to which the congregation and I laughed at how I didn’t have to say “Washington” for the first time in five years]. She said, just try it out, visit campus, I loved it, maybe you will too. So I did. I don’t think it had anything to do with the college itself, but the fact that it felt like someone could advocate for me if my application was as terrible as I thought it was going to be.

So during dinner a few months after I applied I got a phone call & it was my admissions counselor at PLU. She said, “We think you have gifts for this community and we want you to come here.” I asked her a few times if she was kidding, and she kept saying she was for real. I dropped to the ground in tears. I felt enough, and them some. Someone believed in me. And I knew my family and my parents believed in me, but it’s something about hearing it from someone who’s not your family that takes a lot of courage to hear, and to believe. So I took a chance and believed her. Someone wanted me. And not only wanted me, but articulated that I was needed there – that that place would be different if I wasn’t there.

I wonder – Isn’t that the beauty of the body of Christ? This group, this church, is different when you’re not here. Your gifts are needed in this community – the community of Messiah, of Vancouver, of this world. This place is different when you show up.

I think that is what Jesus is trying to tell us today. That child that he holds up? She is vibrant, and full of energy, and cries loud, and laughs so hard her body can barely take it. She knows nothing else but to show up as completely herself. She has yet to learn by watching adults around her that you escape to the bathroom to cry, you laugh appropriately even when something isn’t that funny, you keep their thoughts at bay so as to not risk others thinking you’re stupid or out of touch with reality.

But here’s the funny thing, your age isn’t even the whole story. On Friday we were at Chuck’s Produce, and “Stayin’ Alive” came on intercom. A woman starts dancing her way out the store, while the clerk has the face of, “Oh my goodness.” But this kind of unabashed openness to whatever comes your way is what Jesus asks of us.

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I mean, look at this small human’s face.

Jesus says stop vying for worthiness and competing for value and for joy; because your value can not be filled like a jar weighed down with change at the end of the day; your value and your worth come from me – your savior and redeemer shines brightest when you open yourself up to failures, to judgement, to risk, but also to belly-clutching laughter, to radical ideas that no one else has thought of, to vulnerability that helps you say what you need and what you want.

God says that God is the root of all of that.

We can’t pick and choose the ups and the downs. In the unknowns that are always with us Jesus doesn’t say, “Welcome your fear,” or “Welcome defensiveness.” Jesus says “Welcome her” and Jesus says “Welcome yourself–all of yourself.”

Because if you miss the risk to be yourself, you might just miss the chance to see the fullness of God working in you.

Jesus sits down and holds you, and says, “Welcome this child.” Amen.

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