On Thursday over 500 clergy of the Diocese of London gathered for a days study summit in Church House Westminster. The Archbishop of Canterbury gave the opening key note address and in the afternoon Tim Keller spoke about his experience as a church leader. He is an extraordinary person who took the job of leading the Redeemer church in New York city and growing the church from 50 to over 5,000 in a few years.
He spoke about the nature of church being a community that should be identifiable as “contrasting, serving, unifying, lay launching, suffering and prophetic.”
In this mornings gospel we observe Jesus with his disciples and in the few verses we see these “marks” of the church as identified by Tim Keller.
Jesus is of course trying to get the disciples to understand that as they journey towards Jerusalem what awaits him, and of course those who will ultimately follow him, is suffering. The reality of this suffering is of course contrasting to the popular held ideas current in first century Jewish messianic hope and expectation. Jesus is having this conversation as part of his teaching and training of those whom he has called and will soon send out into the world to continue his work. This need and desire to teach his disciples is required as part of “lay launching”, and of course what he is suggesting to the disciples is prophetic for his suffering will come to shape all that follows in the life of the church.
And what is the reaction of the disciples? they cannot bear to hear these words of Jesus. They exhibit the all to familiar behavior of those who have followed in their footsteps up to the present day, division rather than unity, an attitude of self-serving and self absorbed behaviour. They get themselves into a bother about who is the greatest amongst themselves. It is threatening the unity of Christ’s followers, that most important mark of the church referred to by Tim Keller and prayed for by Jesus himself. The arguments within the church today over issues of gender and sexuality are a sign of a church more interested in serving itself than the world in which it is called share the Good News.
We are living during a time of a passionate and fearful argument in the life of our own church. Some have left the church, others are talking about schism, and many fear that those watching our behaviour are shaking their heads in bewilderment. But what we don't recognize is that most of us argue the way the disciples did. We are so certain we are right that we stand ready to condemn those who disagree with us. We want to be "the greatest." In this kind of argument, love rarely enters, no matter what words we use to the contrary.
Sex has become the predominant verbal occupation of the day. Whether in discussion of sin or in the context of sanctioned blessing, sex has become the central issue of not just the world but of the church. This episode in Mark cries out for us to notice a bitter irony, to see that while Jesus is telling us about his death and suffering, we are arguing like the disciples amongst ourselves.
What Jesus does next is to take a child and remind us in our own time of the need to welcome those around us as we would a child. “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Verse 37
We cannot of course welcome anyone, let alone a precious child, if we are only concerned with our own selves and being right in all we say and do within the church.