Wunderkind

The Rev. Dr. Greg Osterberg

Mark 9:30-37 [New Revised Standard Version]
30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31for 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.’ 32But they did not understand what
he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you
arguing about on the way?’ 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another
about who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be
first must be last of all and servant of all.’ 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking
it in his arms, he said to them, 37‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and
whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

James 3:13-14; 17-18 [New Revised Standard Version]
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with
gentleness born of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be
boastful and false to the truth.
17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and
good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace
for those who make peace.

Last year, Lifetime TV aired an intelligence contest for kids, called Child Genius.
[Projected: ‘Child Genius‘ Show]
First prize is a $100,000 college fund, plus bragging rights as the smartest kid of the year!
The show followed 20 “gifted” kids from around the U.S. preparing for the competition. Each
took 16 rigorous tests (math, geography, etc.). and tests on memorization. Of course, the show
featured a lot of “hovercraft” parenting, sobbing children and high doses of performance
anxiety.
The winner was 13-year-old Vanya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kansas. After winning,
Vanya headed to the Scripps National Spelling Bee — for the fourth straight year!
Kids with high IQs, we call them “child prodigies.” These kids’ intelligence is equal to or better
than most adults.
even rivaling Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking!! ! [Projected: Einstein & Hawking]
Paulius Zabotka, a 14-year-old in the U.K.,! ! [Projected: Boy & ‘Mensa’ Magazine]
bested Einstein & Hawking on IQ test– a brain-bending 162 —
the highest possible for those under age 18!
Sure, some child prodigies stand out in history:
1)
— Blaise Pascal, the 17th-C mathematician, wrote a treatise on vibrating bodies — at age 9!
— Mozart and Beethoven were musical prodigies. Of course!
— Pablo Picasso painted Picador — when he was 8 years old!
We marvel at “Wunderkinds”! And, in our culture, especially in Lake Wobegon, “where all the
children are above average” children are often the center of our attention. We’ve all heard the
term “helicopter” parents, for those who “hover” to make sure everything is perfect hoping to
have a perfect child. Most of us as parents have engaged in at least some of that hovering!
Marketing and selling toys alone to children is $18 billion industry annually in the U.S. but, In
1st-century Jewish culture, children had no status! [Projected: Children & ‘Jesus’]
Mark’s story in Chpt. 9 doesn’t even tell us if this child was boy or girl! Referred to as “it!”
Children didn’t matter much… until they were 13, and then only if boys.
“What were you arguing about on the way?”(vv. 33-34) Jesus asks his disciples.
Like children caught doing something naughty, they keep silent.
But, First-Century adults were striving for status, as much as now!
Social rank was very stratified: peasants couldn’t become presidents (or even middle-class!)
In Mark, Some disciples are seeing Jesus as a status elevator — one who can lift up their own
social status. They figure if Jesus is the Messiah, an emerging king, those closest to him will
certainly rank high too! Maybe at their worst, disciples imagine themselves as insiders to a
Jerusalem throne. James and John soon ask for special status in Mark’s gospel (Ch. 10)
Clearly, even his closest followers have no clue as to the nature of this “kingdom” Jesus is
talking about! They’re arguing about upward mobility, but Jesus says following him is an act of
downward mobility.
“Whoever wants to be first… must be last of all and servant of all,” he says.
That’s why he brings the child into this story. It is tempting for us to sentimentalize this action of
Jesus: Isn’t it a sweet scene… we imagine usually?
Jesus tenderly cuddles a child and, we imagine. He’s softening hearts of those tough peasant
disciple-types, right? But really — that’s not what’s going on in Mark’s story here!
Once again, Jesus is saying something not sentimental, but perplexing, not sweet, but
disconcerting — even provocative!
The child in this story is poverty and weakness personified!
The ‘wunderkinds’ in Jesus’ “new order” aren’t genius kids, and ‘the greatest’ are not power
brokers, or even the well-educated. Jesus’ ‘greatest’ are people who willingly shrug off status,
who volunteer to serve others.
His words, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name,” makes no sense in the minds of
the disciples!
What? They wonder…“Welcome someone powerless? vulnerable? of no value?”
!!!!!!!
Children in the disciples’ culture weren’t the only ones who were devalued. Other people who
“didn’t count” — were the old, handicapped, sick — cast out as “unclean”; the peasants,
farmers, shepherds, widows, slaves, the jobless, prisoners, foreigners, or homeless.
Hmmm… most of this list sounds strangely familiar… doesn’t it?
2
We have these people now!
Jesus tells his followers, “Welcome such as these!” “Treat them like valued friends —
Treat them like you’d treat me!
This had to be disturbing to Jesus’ first followers. If we are honest with ourselves, it’s a little
disturbing even to us!
!!!!
We’d like hold onto that sentimental image, of Jesus being nice to children.
But, Jesus’ followers are called to see each person… as an opportunity to encounter the
Divine.
‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name — welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me
— welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’
“Welcoming?”… OK, sure!
Whoever happens to show up, OK, Jesus — we’ll welcome them!
And we do here!
! ! We love welcoming people to Mountain Rise! That’s good!
Some of us even invite people to be part of what we do together!
That’s even better! The more the merrier!
Still, most “Welcoming” seems kind of passive though.
Back in the 70‘s, I heard one of the first so-called “Christian rockers,” in concert — a guy
named, Larry Norman. During the concert he stopped and said:
“The problem with churches, is that their doors are open… but Jesus’ followers are not going
out those doors, into the world!”
You know, the more we bring Jesus’ radical welcoming, this serving of all, out into the daily
world where you & I live, the more real this Jesus will be to people. Special Bonus: the more
we bring our welcoming and serving to the powerless and the hurting, the more real God will
be to us!
When it comes to people in need, and the war-torn places of this world, the ones on our
screens, and our radios we feel pretty helpless. To some degree we are.
But many of you have found ways to help, to serve, to welcome:
— Welcoming the hungry to a table at Salem Church meal ministry;
— Welcoming the child learning to read in an under-funded city school;
— Serving those who are dying at the hospice home;
— Serving the home-bound with a ride, or a listening ear;
— Welcoming the homeless teen to safety and hope at the Center for Youth.
When you serve and you welcome, in whatever quiet, individual, countless way — then without
knowing it, you are welcoming your Maker, ‘the One who sent me’ (says Jesus) into the core of
your life!
Now to close: Your congregation’s leaders — “Church Council” — started this Fall with a
working retreat day. We started the retreat with a devotion time, and a song.
And, because good leaders are servants, we sang, “Won’t You Let Me Be Your Servant?”
Please rise in body or spirit now, and sing that song together with me!
HYMN: “Won’t You Let Me Be Your Servant?”! ! ! ! ! Amen.