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>Link to Colin Buchanan song "strong and courageous"

Sermon 10th October 2021

Mark 10:17-31

(Have the 10 commandments....Story about the little white dog The fact that the little dog was not THAT white was shown up when it was compared to the brilliant snow in the sunshine! I think of that story when I read those words from Jesus from today's gospel : “No one is good but God alone”. We might think we are good ... we might think other people are good ...but when compared to God and God's standards, we need to think again. The man in today's gospel was concerned about this matter of being “good”.There were 2 tell-tale words in his opening question to Jesus: "Good Teacher", he said .... "good".... "what must I do to inherit eternal life" ...... "do". "Good" ... "do". This man is thinking of the age to come...and he is urgent about it. The story says that he runs up to Jesus. He's desperate to get an answer. . He recognises Jesus as someone who has something to say about that subject, and it is interesting to note that it appears that Our Lord is a bit irritated about being called "Good" right at the start. Was this man hoping that he could be assured that he just had to "do" something "good" to earn Jesus' favour and therefore to enter eternal life when he died ?

What happens next in the gospel passage is also interesting, and a bit puzzling: Jesus immediately starts talking to the man about "the commandments" -- and the man hastily claims that he has led a “good” life ....he says that he has always obeyed the commandments. But actually, Our Lord only mentions the last 6 of the 10 commandments. Why does Jesus leave out the first 4 of the ten commandments ? If you look in your prayer book , and bible, you will see there are 10 commandments. When I have prepared young people for confirmation I have asked them to memorise the 10 commandments. I happen to believe that the world would be a better place if people followed the 10 commandments .

Now ... when you read the 10 commandments ... you will note that the first 4 commandments are specifically about God, and the last 6 commandments are specifically about our relationships with other people. But when Our Lord talks to this man, about "the commandments", He refers only to the last 6 .. to the ones which are about our relationships with other people, and Jesus is assured by that man that , “”Oh yes, I have kept those 6 commandments ever since I was a child. ...In my dealings with other

people, yes, I have has "done the right thing" , I have "lived a moral life"...I have been a “good” person. One might then say, well, this man has lived a moral life, he is respectable, he is earnest in his desire to enter eternal life .. and he because he is rich , would he not be an ideal recruit to join any organisation. So why doesn't Jesus snap him up to become one of the key people in the Christian organisation ?

There is no doubt that Our Lord saw in this man great possibilities. The text says that Jesus looked at him and loved him -- but Jesus noticed that there was something missing. When the man responded about following the commandments, we must note that he didn't go on to say, "not only have I obeyed the last 6 commandments, but I have also obeyed the first 4".

Therein lies the problem. And so it is that in this encounter we see yet another example of Our Lord looking into a person's heart and seeing what is really going on there. The problem was that this man had been diligently following the last 6 commandments, yes, but he had been forgetting about the first 4 of the 10 commandments. Or perhaps ignoring them. The man did not seem to be conscious of his need to put God first in his life. He was doing the right thing regarding other people , yes ... a living a moral life. But where was God ? And maybe the man was forgetting God... or ignoring God ... because , maybe, something was getting in the way . Our Lord identified the problem, and pinned this bloke down, with a personal, pointed, requirement: "one thing YOU lack .... is to... sell all you have, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and then come and follow me".You see, that man was being oblivious to the first 4 commandments -- the ones about our relationship with God. Those first 4 are not commandments that are essentially about "doing" any thing; they are not about morality. Those first 4 commandments are not about us being “Good”. This fellow was oblivious to the first 4 commandments because, as Jesus could perceive, this man had made an idol of his possessions. Something was getting in the way of him and his relationship with God. The word "idol" has been devalued in current language , but it really means something that purports to have the characteristics of a god, something which claims our attention, something which demands that we serve it ... and it is not God. Capital “”G””.

In this encounter with Our Lord, we discern that this man's attitude to his possessions were preventing him from entering through the narrow gate into God's way -- hence the exaggerated illustration of "the camel going through the eye of the needle". Our Lord uses exaggeration and humourquite often, as we have been noticing in our gospel readings each Sunday over the last few weeks and months. What I believe Jesus is saying to that man, and to us, is that it is humanly impossible to enter into God's kingdom if our possessions have become an idol. Our possessions can stop us living the way we should,. They can force us to look at each other with envy and with fear. Our possessions can distort the way we view the world, and they can trick us into thinking that happiness can be found by more and more consumption.

At the end of today's gospel reading we note that Peter is honest enough to see this point -- namely that we are all somewhat in the position of that man. We may not be considered rich, but we can all be very preoccupied with whatever possessions we do have. Our Lord may not ask each one of us to give up everything so as to follow Him -- but He does ask us to look at what we have, and at what we carry, and to see it differently. And He goes on to say that in a true Christian community what we have given up is more than compensated for by Christian fellowship, Christian sharing, Christian loving. It has been said that God can hardly fill our hearts with His good things , and with His love and grace, if our hands are full with our own things.

The Christian way is like travelling through a very narrow gate........ but, let us not despair. Just as we heard that Jesus looked at that man and loved him -- even though that man wasn't prepared to follow -- so we can be assured that Jesus still loves us, whether we follow Him or not.

Sermon 3rd October 2021 Bellarine

Mark 10:2-16

Today's gospel reading has 2 sections to it: the first section contains words from Jesus about marriage and divorce. The 2nd section is about children. Well, on the surface, that's what the reading appears to be about.

I would like to suggest to you this morning that it is really about something deeper than that....deeper than just the "marriage/divorce/children" subject. I believe this reading gives us an important insight into Jesus' attitude to those people who have little power in the situations they find themselves in.

As we read the gospels, we read all sort of things about Jesus. We read stories about His miracles, and each of those miracles is a sign pointing to something more than the event itself. Each miracle is like a signpost pointing to a deeper principle or truth. We can easily get distracted with the details of the miracle, and then fail to "get the point of it". And that comment would apply to all the miracles: Jesus' walking on water ... Jesus' feeding the 5000... Jesus healing this one and that one .... the raising of Lazarus .... and so on ... and, indeed, the resurrection of Christ Himself. Each of the miracles has a deeper meaning than what appears on the surface.

The same applies to the parables. We read these parables which Our Lord gave to the people . They are stories in their own right. But our task is to meditate on them, to seek the deeper meaning, and, in each generation, to grasp what the point of each parable is for us in our current situation.

We trust the Holy Spirit to lead us in to all truth as we ponder the parables, and as we ponder the miracles .... and we trust the Holy Spirit to lead us as we ponder the words which we have from Jesus and which seem, on the surface, to be teaching about one particular subject or another.

So, as we look, firstly this morning, at these words from Jesus about marriage and divorce we need to be asking ourselves "are we simply receiving some instructions, some laws, some injunctions that we are to implement ?" or ..... and/or .... "are we to look into these words and perceive a deeper principle, a deeper truth ? " I think the latter. There are some important deep insights that we need to discover ... to uncover.

The Pharisees came to Jesus with this question: "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?". I suggest that their purpose in coming to Our Lord with that question was not really to find out the answer from God about a tricky subject. No, their intention rather was to "trip Jesus up". That wasn't the first or last time they tried that ploy. How sad that these Pharisees used the subject of the human tragedy of divorce to catch Jesus out.

Well, you heard Our Lord's comments about that subject. Over many generations of church history people have taken those words to mean that divorce is completely forbidden, that Christians should never get divorced, and that therefore men and women should stay in loveless marriages, and that divorced people should never get remarried in churches, and that divorced people should never have positions of responsibility in the church.

Yes, those words have been used to inflict such a harsh atttude to the subject.

The Church of England took that hard line until only recently. Likewise the Anglican Church of Australia. Many of you would know that until only a few decades ago, the remarriage of divorcees in Anglican churches was forbidden -- but clergy would sometimes do it, or, more generally, they would surreptitiously refer the couple "to the Methodist Church down the road", and then the Methodist parson would do it. There was judgmentalism ... there were loopholes ... there was confusion ... there was inconsistency ... there was hypocrisy ... and this had the effect of inflicting even more pain on people who had not had good fortune in their personal relationships.

We would all know of people who have been scarred by this policy. Maybe many of the people who do not come back to church would have said that that was the reason... that they had been scarred, excluded, from the Anglican church because of its attitude to divorce and the remarriage of divorcees.

But , in our liftetime, the Church of England ... and the Anglican Church of Australia ... have changed their minds about all this. It is now possible for the remarriage of divorced people in church. If a couple seeks a church wedding, and one or both of the parties are divorced, an Anglican priest can arrange to conduct that marriage. The personal business of each of those people is not that priest's business. It's the business of the couple ... and it's God's business, yes, but it is not the priest's business -- and it is possible for the bishop to give permission to conduct the wedding ceremony.

This is all an illustration of how I believe the Holy Spirit leads us, from one generation to another, into His truth, and what may appear to be "God's will" in one generation may not necessarily be "God's will" in another generation.

Some people get bothered by this -- particularly those who are "fundamentalists" -- and yet history bears it out. We in the Anglican Church have changed our views about divorce. We, in the Anglican Church, have also changed our views about artificial contraception. Just on that point, I seem to recall that the Lambeth Conference of bishops in the early 20th century condemned artificial contraception -- but then in the 1930's they relaxed their views on the subject. The same thing has happened over the last 100 years with regard to marriage and divorce -- and currently, in the Anglican Church, we are going through a debate about the whole complicated issue of "same-sex" relationships. I can't say that that this issue has been resolved, but people on both sides of the argument are sincerely trying to discern what the Holy Spirit is saying to this generation about that subject . It does seem however that some people have got nothing better to do that to get obsessed with that subject. get back to the first part of today's gospel reading: Our Lord was talking about marriage and divorce as it was in the culture of His day. What we need to remember is that in those days, and in most cultures until fairly recently, marriage -- and divorce -- were very different from what they are for us modern Australians today . In the days when Jesus walked the earth, women were 2nd-class citizens and they had very little power in the whole "marriage" business. Usually, marriages were arranged by the families. Usually, the question of "falling in love" did not come into it. When a woman married she became the husband's "property". That was the way it was in the culture in which Our Lord lived. So for a woman to be divorced by her husband would be a terrible tragedy for her, particularly if she had little independent wealth. She would, in effect, be thrown out onto the street and would have to fend for herself, or go back to her parents in shame. The woman had little power in the situation. She was vulnerable. She was the weaker party, by a long shot.

Jesus' words about marriage and divorce need to be seen and interpreted in that context. By condemning divorce in the way it was practised by men in those days Our Lord was condemning a practice that inflicted great suffering on the weaker members of society. It is our responsibility today, in our generation, to look through the outward words of these verses in today's gospel and to see the deeper principle: that it is Our Lord's will to defend those who are vulnerable, to stand up for the rights of the weak. It is our responsibility, in our generation, to apply that principle to whoever are weak and vulnerable in our society today -- and I am talking here about people who have little power to do anything about the situation they find themselves in.

In discerning what the Holy Spirit is saying to us, today, we also have to put this scripture passage alongside the other words, and actions, of Jesus and we can see that condemnation is never Our Lord's final word. Instead He stands for grace and renewal. We can see that hard-heartedness is not Our Lord's way. Neither, by the way, is soft-heartedness ... but, rather, large-heartedness.

The 2nd half of today's gospel reading in many ways reinforces exactly the same point. On the surface the verses in the 2nd half of today's gospel are simply about Jesus welcoming children ... "Suffer the little children to come unto me".... and that has inspired many children's songs, and adult hymns, and Sunday School pictures. I would suggest that most of that type of thing only came into Christian experience in the 19th century, when children started to be romanticised, and the Victorian era.

This phenomenon -- the romanticising of children – the sentimentalisation of children … has had many beneficial effects, there is no doubt of that, but one unfortunate effect of it might be that, for some people, the effect has been that they then assume that Christianity belongs only to children. "Suffer the little children ... to come to church ... but they will grow out of it". Maybe many people who do not come back to church would not come because they believe Christianity is only for the kids ... that it is an infantile religion ? To come to that conclusion betrays a lack of depth of understanding.

No, as with the first half of today's gospel reading, we need to look deeper into the teaching, past the sentimentality, past the pictorial image we might have of gentle Jesus and the little children. And we need to ask ourselves, what is this part of the gospel reading really about ?

In those days, in the days when Our Lord was incarnate on the earth, children were 3rd-class citizens. Women were 2nd-class citizens; children were 3rd class citizens. The disciples of Jesus were mainly men .. .adult men ... and when people brought children to Jesus, the disciples would have thought that these little creatures were too young and too insignificant to have claimed any of Jesus' time. From the disciples' perspective, children were not important enough to demand being taken seriously ... .....they were not wise enough for "Question and Answer" sessions .. they were unpredictable ... they often would say outrageous things without filtering their comments through social conventions ... and often what they would say might be uncomfortably true ! So, don't pay attention to them ! That was the culture of that day. That's the way people thought.

We can imagine then that the disciples ... in their hardness of heart ... had an anxious concern to protect their image of Jesus, what they wanted Him to be .. they wanted to protect Him from being distracted by insignificant, mere, children.

However, Jesus would have none of that ! -- and, once again, He struck a blow in favour of the weaker members of society. He welcomed the children. Just as He felt for the 2nd-class citizens who were the victims of a divorce … so He felt for the 3rd-class citizens, the children, who were being brought to Him – as they would probably NOT be brought to any other religious teacher of that day . Jesus took them in His arms. He blessed them. And He used them to make the point that one needed to enter the Kingdom of God as a 3rd-class a little child; that one must come into the Kingdom of God without pretension, without claim to achievement, for the Kingdom of God is God's gift, not man's deserving.

Yes, we look at our gospel reading today and we see Our Lord, in effect, reaching out, in 2 instances, to those who would apparently have nothing to add to His reputation: reaching out to women, particularly women in marriages ... and reaching out to children.

We go one step further and say that this reaching out to the weak, the vulnerable, the ones who have little power in the situations they find themselves in ... that this quality is part of the unique nature of God. This is the glory of God that shines out in the face, in the life, of Christ. And we are called to imitate it, and be part of it.

SERMON 26th September 2021 Mark 9:38-50

What a week ! Riots in Melbourne … an earthquake ...and last night a great sporting event. Thousands of people ...not at the MCG yesterday, but watching on TV, all over Australia … and all over the world......engaged in the event , the Grand Final, in many ways. A great festival of organised competitive team sport. Exhilarated, happy people this morning, and disappointed ones as well.

The whole business of organised team sports is an interesting phenomenon. It really got going in a big way at the end of the 19th century, when people in Western societies came to have increased leisure. Big sporting grounds were built. Clubs and teams were organised in local communities. Schools started to incorporate team games in their weekly programs.

In Melbourne, of course, an entirely new brand of football was invented....what was called "Australian Rules"... and it really took off. Commentators have said that AFL (VFL) is like a social "glue" in Victoria. It bonds people together during the dreary winter months, and all classes of society can feel part of it, and it has also had a great success in incorporating migrant groups into its activities.

Aussie Rules football -- and other competitive team sports -- has another important spin-off. It allows people to let off steam, to get worked up, to be aggressive not so much in their actions as in their language & speech. And this happens in Victoria from early childhood onwards.

But it's all in good fun... of course. Violent language has its place, allowing us to vent the spleen, let it all hang out, say what we think, and nobody really gets hurt, but the point is made.

I mention all this today because in the bible we find alot of violent , extreme language. In the Old Testament, not only is there alot of violent language but there is alot of violent action as well. In our first reading today we heard a section from the not-very-well-known book of Esther. The Book of Esther …. have you heard about it ? It's there in the bible....Scholars are not too sure whether that story of Queen Esther was historical, or whether it was a kind of a parable or a legend. It is about Jews being persecuted. It is about the plotting of a major pogrom against a large Jewish community. It is about a ridiculous king and a cruel politician. It is about two bold and astute Jews who outwit the oppressors, who work within the system to a certain extent so that their race can survive. There is alot of violence in the story and Jewish people even today like to look back on the story of Esther to be reminded that victory over their oppressors is always possible. They commemorate this story each year in the Jewish Festival known as Purim, which I believe usually comes some time in February or March.

When we look at the gospels, and the stories about Jesus, we do not read of as much violence as there is in the Old Testament. Yes, to be sure, violence is done to Jesus at the end of His earthly life ... His trial and crucifixion, and so on .... but Jesus Himself never engages in violent behaviour -- except in one instance, when He goes into the Temple courtyard in Jerusalem, and He is angry at the way that Temple precinct is being used, being abused, being degraded, and (you remember) He overturns the tables of the money-changers. That was a prophetic act, making a point, violent and disruptive, yes, but I doubt whether anyone actually got hurt. The pigeons who were waiting there to be sold for sacrifices were probably quite pleased about what Jesus did, as they were able to fly away.

But while we do not associate Jesus with the violence that hurts others, we do associate violent, extreme, almost-hurtful speech with Him, and we heard some examples of that in today's gospel reading. We heard how Our Lord talked about people having a heavy stone wrapped around their neck and thrown into the sea to drown ... we heard how He talked about people being thown into "unquenchable fire". For this He used the word "hell" but what He was referring to specifically was a place called "Gehenna" (translated into English as "hell") and Gehenna was the rubbish dump area outside Jerusalem, an area of foul smells, of rats and other vermin, an area where there would be the burning-off of rubbish ... yes, Our Lord talked about people being violently cast out in to that ugly,desolate, foul place.

And then also, as you heard, Jesus talked about tearing out of peoples' eyes, cutting off their feet. Rather extreme, unattractive, crude and violent language, you would have to agree. But why did He speak like this ? Well, like the football crowds getting worked up and verbally abusing their opponents, what Our Lord was doing was being passionate, being seriously concerned, expressing His deep anger about something ... namely, about certain human habits and behaviours which God would not approve of.

We have to remember that God is quite capable of getting angry, and with good reason. God cannot approve of certain things. It is right to say God hates the sin and loves the sinner -- but that does not mean that He is happy about what the sinner might be doing.

God gets angry at bad behaviour, bad attitudes. Jesus expresses that disapproval in violent, angry, extreme language -- and in today's reading we have 2 examples of the sort of thing God is angry about with us, and we should receive that anger, take on board that admonishment, and be prepared to change our behaviour where necessary.

The first type of thing God is angry about, with us, is exclusiveness ... cliquishness ... the failure to acknowledge, welcome and listen to and learn from the outsider, the failure to acknowledge, welcome, listen to and learn from the person who is new to us, who is different from us.... the person whose heart is in the same place as ours, but who perhaps comes from a different direction. Jesus noticed this with His disciples, with their suspicion of someone who was doing God's work, but not in the way they thought was appropriate.

This is relevant to us in a macro way and in a micro way. As Anglicans of a certain tradition we can become very exclusive, superior, & snobbish, not willing to engage with Christians of other backgrounds. As Christians we can wilfully block our ears to what the Holy Spirit might be saying to us through other religions, or even through non-believers. Truth is always bigger than anyone's perception of it. Are we willing to engage with others, learn from others, be chastised by others, and change our ways.

That is on what I would call the "macro" level .. the Big Picture ..

On the "micro" level, exclusiveness, unwelcoming-ness, cliquishness can always be a problem in a church congregation: people like their comfort zones ... they are shy about reaching out to newcomers & visitors ... they are wary of new ideas, especially if those new ideas come from people they don't know well. This can be a problem in any church. I suggest that we in this parish need to keep that in mind as we welcome a new vicar in a few weeks' time.

Exclusiveness, cliquishness, failure to acknowledge, welcome & listen to and learn from the "other". That is the first behaviour that earns Our Lord's harsh, extreme, violent language. The other behaviour is that of what Jesus calls "putting a stumbling block" in front of a weaker brother or sister. The person who leads others astray. The person who can handle a certain type of situation but who is insensitive to the fact that another person might not be able to handle that situation ... (so therefore don't put them in that situation). The person who brags about something, or flaunts their possessions or their lifestyle and who thereby causes anxiety or resentment or a feeling of inadequacy in another person. It is so easy to do, and yet it can be so destructive.

Putting the stumbling block in front of the weaker brother or sister. The question we have to ask ourselves is, about anything we do, is "will this enhance the other person ? will it encourage them ? will it build them up? ... is our action towards them, our attitude towards them, "good news" to them, or not ? If not, I am sure God is justifiedly angry with us.

It all gets down to how serious we are in being obedient to our God.

So,.. the message for today ...when we listen to the passionate, violent, extreme language of Our Lord we must ask ourselves: "Does the cap fit ?"

SERMON 19th September Bellarine Proverbs 31:1031; James 3:1-12; Mark 9:30-37

Each of our 3 readings today requires something to be said about it. The first was from the last chapter of the Book of Proverbs and it is that passage of the bible which is known as a description of "the ideal wife", and as it was being read I detected a few giggles and a few smirks. It is a reading that comes around once every 3 years and preachers struggle to take it seriously. It is a description of the Hebrew man's "perfect wife" and of course we need to remember that it was written centuries before the feminist era, way back in the patriarchal times -- and I am sure it was written by a man and not a woman. It was about what the "perfect" wife should be doing while her much more important husband is sitting at the city gates .....attending to the business of the town.

We need to see this reading in perspective and not look at it so much from the 21st century point of view. And there are two points to be made about it: First, let us remember that it was written at a time when men were prone to see women either as foolish, unintelligent, insignificant creatures -- or as dangerous temptresses. But this passage of scripture actually points to a third way: it says that a woman, married to man, can have, within the social constraints of those days ... she can have a positive and useful role in the world.

The second point to make about the reading is that what we heard read this morning was originally a kind of a poem, written so that it could be easily memorised. Poetry has rhythm and rhyme which makes it easy to memorise. This passage, "the ideal wife", was written in Hebrew with each successive verse beginning with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet... the first verse begins with "A", the 2nd verse with "B".... and so on ... and this helped people learn it off by heart. The idea of having simple moral teaching in verse- form is something that people used to be familiar with, before education methods changed. . Many of us as children, for example, might have learned some simple rhymes which are basically moral teaching: "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and ...wise" // "If at first you don't succeed, try try again" ..... some of these little moral maxims used to be written on posters around the school room or embroidered into samplers displayed on the walls of your bedroom .... "I keep 6 honest serving men ...." etc etc . Children learned them, and they stood you in good stead for the rest of your life.

So this passage we heard this morning, from Proverbs chapter 31, would have been memorised by young girls, and probably by young boys as well; a patriarchal voice, yes, but praising a woman who was cheerful, who was right-minded and intelligent and shrewd and astute, a woman who was multi-skilled, who cared for her household and who cared for the poor. It was a vision of personal integrity, wholehearted love for others, and of dedication to doing good ... albeit within the social constraints of the time.

The Book of Proverbs is part of what we call in the Old Testament, "Wisdom Literature". Much ofthe O.T. is, of course, history ... the history of the Hebrew people, their kings and prophets, their enemies and their battles, their laws and regulations, the way they obeyed God and disobeyed God -- but there are some books of the O.T. which are not so much about history but which are more about moral behaviour, living wisely and prudently -- and what we heard this morning is that type of literature. Interestingly, you might have noted that that passage about the "Ideal Wife" did not mention God at all, and it did not mention anything about the Hebrews' unique history. It was simply good advice, to a woman, living in a patriarchal world, about how to live a good and useful life. "Wisdom" literature. And in fact lots of different religions would be quite happy to read that passage, not just the Jewish faith.

Then we come to the 2nd reading today, and you remember that it was from the Letter of James, from the New Testament. Now the Letter of James is unique in the N.T. and it has often been considered something of an enigma. Some people have wondered whether the Letter of James should even be included in the bible at all. The great German Reformer, Martin Luther, dismissed the Letter of James as quite unimportant, an "Epistle made of straw", so he said. The reason for this disparagement of the Letter of James is that, unlike every other book in the N.T., it is not really about Jesus Christ. In the Letter of James I think it is true to say that "Jesus" is mentioned only twice, and then only in passing. The word "God" or "The Lord" only appears a handful of times.

So what is the Letter of James about ? Well, like our first reading, it is basically "Wisdom" literature -- it is about living a moral life, it is about living an upright, positive life, irrespective of your religion. And in fact the Letter of James, like the Book of Proverbs, could be accepted by people from many different religions. Did you notice ? The passage we heard this morning did not mention Jesus at all. It was nevertheless a useful passage for us to hear because it was about the danger of uncontrolled language. It was about how we should be careful about what we say.-- and it used the interesting illustration of how the tongue is a very small part of our body and yet the tongue can do so much good and so much evil. The tongue can bless or curse. Our speech can wound or it can soothe. Like the rudder of a ship -- a comparitively small component of the ship's workings -- the tongue can cause us to head in the right direction or the wrong direction... it can be used for praise and edification and encouragement, and it can be used for gossipping & backbiting. This is all good moral teaching, and people need to hear it. If we followed it it would help us to be good upright, moral, solid citizens. Nothing about Jesus or God but why need it be ? If a person follows the teaching of the Wisdom literature of the bible -- for example the Book of Proverbs and the Epistle of James, then that person will end up being a good person, admired and looked up to.

We come then to the 3rd reading, the gospel reading, and it is radically different from the other two. It is not basically about living a good is not basically about how to be an upright citizen who people will admire. It is not about how to succeed in the world. It is not about how to live constructively within the constraints of our society. No, the gospel passage we heard today is about Jesus, and what God wants, and what God wants of us. Today's gospel reading comes from chapter 9 of Mark's gospel. During the 1st 8 chapters of that book we have been reading about how this man Jesus came on to the scene, teaching, healing, performing certain miracles .... (this is what we have been hearing about over the last few months on Sunday mornings) ... we have been reading about how He gathered disciples, followers, around Him and about how they came to have their own opinions as to who He was, and why He had come. They came to see Him as a leader unlike any other. But now in Chapter 9 He tells them that He has destiny which is going to involve Him being betrayed, handed over to powerful opponents, and then killed. The disciples must have been devastated when they heard this, from the lips of Jesus, and so it came naturally to them to wonder what was going to happen after He had left them .. who was going to be in charge? .. who was going to be the one to lead? .. who was going to be the spokesman? ... if Jesus was going to be killed, then who (after Jesus) was to be the one to look up to and follow? Who was going to be the leader ? Their concerns were about status. Their concerns were their own concerns. Our Lord had to nip this thinking in the bud. He had to make the point to them that, in the Kingdom of God, earthly, human values get turned upside down. Life is not to be about being respected & looked up to. Life is not to be about how to succeed in society, how to be admired. Life is not to be about how to live the "good life" so that others will notice and think well of you. No, the reference point should not be the opinions of other people. It is not important what other people might think of you. Your reference point should be about obedience to God. The elements of "greatness" should be humility, and the serving of others, with complete dependence on God. Jesus takes the little child, not so much as an illustration of trustfulness or spontaneity or insight but rather as an example of helplessness, an example of low status...because a little child lives completely by the grace of others. And so this is what our concern should be. Yes, it is a real bonus if we can live lives that are moral, and upright, and constructive, and admired ... even within the constraints of our social situation. Good luck to us if we can achieve that ! But let us not boast about it .Yes, it is a real bonus if we can live lives where we do have absolute control over our tongue. Good luck to us if we can achieve that ! But let us not boast about that.

What is ultimately important is not what others might see or hear about us, or think about us. It is how we relate to God, with greatness in the Kingdom of God not measured by achievement but by our readiness to serve (even if unrecognised), & our readiness to be open to receive God's grace.