If you have your Bibles with you or a Bible app on your phone, go ahead and turn to Mark 9:33-37. And while you’re turning there, let me give you a little preview of where we’re going with our messages over the next month. Last week Daron Earlewine, the pastor of Pub Theology which is a ministry partner of E91, finished up our series on “Reckless Love” from Luke 15. Today we’re jumping back in to our series on “Rediscovering Jesus: Life Lessons from the Gospel of Mark.” If you’re new to E91, we’re taking a look at the Gospel of Mark with the goal to learn less about “church-ianity” and learn more about “Christ-ianity.” We want to discover or re-discover who Jesus is—the author and perfecter of our faith—not some Americanized version of Jesus, or a feel-good Jesus, but the Jesus who changes our lives and world!
Now, in a couple of weeks, you’re going to be hearing a lot more about our upcoming church-wide initiative called Momentum: Building Hope, Changing Lives. And then Nov. 3 is going to be a big Sunday for us, because it’s Orphan Sunday: November 3, and we’re going to have special guests, about 15-20 resource booths of different agencies and ministries about adoption, foster care, and other related ministries. And we’ll have a special video and even an incredible film that will be shown at 10:45 and 12:15 in The Hall. Lastly, then, is that near the end of November, we’re going to do a special, two-part series called Building Bridges: Finding Common Ground for Catholics and Protestants. This is a HUGE issue in our culture today, and we want to address it with love, grace and truth, and we especially want to reach out to our Catholic brothers and sisters so we can seriously take a look at what we can learn from one another and how can we serve together in our changing culture for the good of Christ’s Kingdom.
OK—hopefully you’ve found Mark 9, and, if you would, let’s stand together as we show honor to God’s Word.
You may be seated. Many of us sitting in this room have this innate desire to be somebody. To be recognized. To be valued. To be loved. To be important. When I was about 10 years old my dream was to be an NBA star. This was back in the days of Julius Erving—Dr. J., Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Larry Bird, just to name a few. The only problem was that my dream didn’t match my physique. So it didn’t take me too many years to figure out that I needed a new dream. But I still had the dream of wanting to be somebody, wanting to be recognized, wanting to be important.
I carried this desire on in to my education, and even into the ministry. When I helped plant Journey CC down in New Orleans, I had to travel quite a bit to raise support, and I would meet with all these “big shot” preachers—or at least that’s the way I perceived them. They had arrived. They weren’t the ones raising support. I was the one raising support, and I was going to them asking for help. I’d see these guys at conventions, and they were serving on national committees and would speak in front of thousands of people. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be one of the “big shots,” until—and I’m just going to be completely honest with you—until I started hanging around some of them. And what I discovered is that they weren’t big shots. They were works of grace just like you and me. They weren’t perfect. They still had their issues and their baggage. And I realized that God had to break me of my earthly desire to be somebody in the eyes of others.
There’s a turning point in our lives when we come to the realization that We don’t have to desire to be somebody, because we already are somebody loved and accepted by Jesus Christ.
One of the things I love about the disciples—those first followers of Jesus—is that they were just like us. And Jesus still hand-picked them! They had their issues and baggage, and they, too, wanted to be somebody. In fact, in Mark 9 it appears that they really wanted to be big shots!
I mean, just picture how amazing this must have been for the disciples to be in the inner circle of Jesus. In the first century in Israel, to be a part of a culture-shifting, revolutionary movement within Judaism that was taking the whole country by storm—that would be absolutely incredible! Just think about it. You watched Jesus cast out demons, heal the sick, raise the dead, put the religious leaders and hypocrites in their place. You saw Jesus walk on water, feed the 5,000 and then the 4,000. And you are in the middle of all that upsurge of popularity! It’s true, isn’t it that…
If you’re around someone important, you feel important. It almost validates your own sense of self-worth. “Yes, I spent some time with Andrew Luck the other day.” But what you didn’t say is, “…along with 60,000 other fans at a Colts game!”
Not only is it that if you’re around someone important, it makes you feel important. It’s also the case many times, that If you’re around someone important, you start to believe you’re important.
And that’s what’s going on in Mark 9 with the disciples. They’re with Jesus. They come to the “house” in Capernaum—which is probably Peter & Andrew’s house that became their ministry hub, so to speak (Mk. 1:29; 2:1). Jesus asks them what they’re discussing, and, notice this, v. 34, they keep silent, because they had been arguing which one of them was the greatest. “So, who’s the big shot here?!?” I want you to notice this: The disciples knew they were in the wrong. That’s why they didn’t want to tell Jesus what they were talking about. But Jesus knew, didn’t He? Because He uses this as a teachable moment. V. 35, Mark says that Jesus “sat down,” which was how rabbis would teach, and He calls the disciples and teaches them, and then He gives them a visual lesson, vv. 36-37. And here’s what Jesus taught them and what He teaches us:
Importance is not measured by externals but by the heart.
Jesus said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” All throughout history, importance has been defined by externals: how much money you have, how much power you have, what kind of job you have, how you look, where you live, what you drive, who your friends are. Right? That is so ingrained in us that it’s become part of our DNA! “A big church is more important than a small church. A wealthy person is more important than a poor person.” And we judge the value of someone based on externals.
But, what happens when those externals change?? You lose than six-digit income, and they take away your car, and you have to sell your home, and now you’re shopping at Goodwill instead of Nordstrom. Or you look in the mirror and that tight skin is now loose and those cute creases have now turned into crevices.
I want you to hear me in this: Your importance, your value, your status is not dependent on externals. It is based in the heart. A “big shot” in the Kingdom of God is not based on who’s leading out front, but who’s serving behind the scenes. Shockley Flick/Aaron Pelsue may be the ones leading up front, but they, and I, are not valued in the Kingdom any more or any less by what we do up here. It’s how we live our lives out there.
Importance is not measured by externals but by the heart. And what does that heart look like? Two things, according to Jesus:
1. Importance is measured by a servant’s heart (Mark 9:35). Jesus said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
Something you probably don’t know about me is that I served as a church custodian for several years through high school. I worked between 20-30 hours a week cleaning up after other people’s messes. And I’ll be honest with you, some Christians can make some pretty big messes! But what I saw as a church custodian that bothered me wasn’t that Christians made messes, but how some Christians treated those who cleaned up those messes. No wonder some people have a hard time with Christianity, because they see what some Christians really act like.
I was eating lunch at a restaurant on a Sunday after church a number of years ago, and I overheard one waitress saying to another, “Oh, I hate working on Sundays, because Christians are the worst tippers ever!”
You see, this is where you and I can really make a difference. Not just with tipping better, although that’s probably true for many of us, but by truly developing—and showing—a servant’s heart! There are enough of us in this church, that if we really start living this way it can change our whole city! Have you seen the movie Pay It Forward? It came out about 12 or 13 years ago, and it’s about a young boy, Trevor, who came up with an idea on how to change the world. Let’s watch this together. [Clip] Now, imagine that happening in the name of Jesus. Imagine that when we reflect a servant’s heart by these acts of kindness how that can change our world. That’s part of our mission as a church! Love God. Follow Jesus. Serve your world.
Back in the late 18th century in England, William Wilberforce not only abolished slavery in England, he also began a cultural movement of moral reform based on the teachings of Jesus that even the cultural elites started to buy into! That movement spread to America and was part of the Great Awakening. Spiritual revival wasn’t just about “getting saved,” it was about serving and changing communities and helping the poor and making a difference. THAT COMES THROUGH A HEART THAT IS TRANSFORMED BY JESUS CHRIST, THE VERY ONE WHO CALLS US TO BECOME A SERVANT OF ALL.
So Importance is not measured by externals but by the heart. And what does that heart look like? It’s a servant’s heart (Mark 9:35). And…
2. Importance is measured by a humble heart (Mark 9:36-37)
V. 36, Jesus takes a child in His arms, which literally means He was “holding him in the crook of His arm,” and He says, “Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me” (v. 37).
Jesus takes the ones who were most vulnerable in society, just as they are today, and He teaches that what’s most important is how we receive them. When we receive the vulnerable, the under-resourced, the hurting, the poor, we’re receiving Jesus and even our heavenly Father. This reflects the heart of the Father who “delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper” (Ps. 72:12).
Now, I’m going to get really direct with you, o.k.? You can have a servant’s heart (that’s the first part of how you measure importance), but not have a humble heart. And you can have a humble heart in theory, but not serve in reality. Let me talk about this on a very personal level for us as a church.
This church has done a lot through the years for church planting and missions, and I pray we continue to grow in those areas in significant ways! 67 church plants as of two weeks ago with a new church planted in Baltimore, MD and millions of dollars that have gone into missions. But folks we have a looooong way to go in how we humble ourselves and serve the vulnerable and hurting and under-resourced in our city. Sure, we have done some good things, and we have people volunteering at Shepherd Community Center and other places. And that’s great. But it’s not enough. We need a church-wide effort where we are seeing that the importance of East 91st Street Christian Church isn’t because we have a big building and a lot of people who show up on Sundays, but because of how we humble our hearts and serve others.
Now, let’s make this real practical. What are we doing in this area and how can you plug in? Because this isn’t about us just as an institution being humble and serving. It’s about us as real people who are connected and connecting with this church family to have humble hearts and serve. So here are some things we’re doing: City Mosaic—we’re partnering with inner-city, mid-city, and suburban churches to make a unified Kingdom Impact in our city. Lawrence Young Life led by Chris Kern and Lawrence Youth for Christ led by Chris Rickleman. We are partnering with both of these ministries in our commitment to our neighborhood, township, and city. We have Randy Davis with National Network of Youth Ministries here with us today. Randy served as our high school pastor a few years back and is now leading this ministry for the entire state of IN. We have people here for our Blood Drive where some of you might be willing to help. And then, Momentum—our church-wide initiative that begins in Jan. includes how we can humble ourselves and serve others. In addition to all of us reaching out through this tool to help us bring hope and change lives, we’ll also be providing Latino classes, classes to reach into our deaf community, and a strong outreach emphasis on Wed. nights for our community including Wed. night meals, child care, and Generation Change for our students. Wednesday nights will be our big community outreach night, and we need your help. All of this will start the week of Jan 19 and go for nine weeks. And catch this: we’ll also be partnering with Mercy Seat, an African-American church on Keystone & 29th. We’re going to be launching Momentum TOGETHER, and people from E91 will have opportunities to register for Financial Peace University classes here on our campus or at Mercy Seat and vice versa. Then as part of our initiative, Eric Whittaker, the pastor of Mercy Seat who has preached here before, will be back, and he and I are going to do a pulpit swap—so I’ll preach at Mercy Seat the Sun. Pastor Whittaker preaches here. And then on Celebration Sunday, March 23, Mercy Seat is going to join us here to celebrate all that God has done and will do through Momentum.
So, how can you plug in? Well, right after our service concludes, you can go right out those back doors, hang a left, and you’ll find tables set up with info on how you can plug in and serve. Remember, this is about developing a heart like Jesus—a servant’s heart and a humble heart.
This year is a year for us to Engage: “to participate, to be involved, to enter in.” And we do so with (1) humble hearts to (2) serve others, which is what Jesus says importance is really all about.
John Wesley, founder of the Methodists and Wesleyans once said, “Give me one hundred men who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergyman or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon the earth.” I challenge you to be that person who fears nothing but sin and desires nothing but God. I pray the Lord fills this church with humble servants who aren’t full of themselves, but of the Holy Spirit, who aren’t perfect, but are empowered by the perfect One, and who don’t go it alone, but are connected to other imperfect, messy people empowered by a holy God who will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on earth! Let’s not just go to church, let’s be the church with humble hearts as we go and serve others! Let’s pray.