If you're a parent of teenagers, then you know that the only time they really talk is when you are taxing them to and fro, from school to activity to home. Almost all my best conversations are held in the 10-20 minutes they are held captive to the confines of my Chevy Traverse.
As a side note, I remember my mom sharing with me once the best piece of parenting advice she received as a young mother was: spend 10 minutes individually with your kids every day. At the time she told me this I remember thinking what a ludicrous statement it was. Of course, I spend ten minutes with each kid. I could hardly get 10 minutes by myself. But, they grew up and I learned what a profound truth that statement was. Or is.
So, back to the car ride - or my 10 minutes alone with my son, Cooper. He is driven when it comes to baseball. Obsessed or fanatical may be more accurate words. And as he's matured, he's learned that much of success or greatness is mental - by altering your thinking you are able to see situations differently. It took me until I was 35 years old to comprehend this reality, so in my book, he's ahead of the game.
Anyway, the other day we are on our way home from practice and he starts telling me about this motivational talk he's been listening to by Matthew McConaughey entitled 13 Truths. Apparently, he had listened to it every day for about two weeks. Cooper suggests I listen to it, because we sorta share that 'driven' gene when it comes to athletics. However, the thing he chooses to focus on is McConaughey's description of joy and happiness and how they differ from one another.
I'm not really going to go into all of it... because as enjoyable as Matthew McConaughey may be, I do have to eventually get to Jesus today. But, Cooper tells me what he's learned about the difference between joy and happiness. I'm stunned and I agree and I'm proud of him, and I'm also... hmmmm... sad. I don't even know if that's the right word. Maybe conflicted.
So, I say to him, "You know, that's the same thing we'd say in church. Joy is a gift and happiness is a momentary creation. We'd say that joy is what you experience when you are most fully you," as if to defend the church and make sure he knows this is a Jesus thing and not a McConaughey thing.
He nods. He knows this - that I've preached on this, that he's heard it in church from the time he was a wee one, that goodness - not greatness - comes from God. But I'm so very struck that he heard the Gospel proclaimed in a YouTube video by a Hollywood actor.
Not a church. Not a pastor.
And that's so good, the world needs more of that, but it certainly gave me pause.
In today's Gospel reading the disciples are arguing about 'greatness.' And we've been at it ever since. Disagreement among Christians is as old as the faith itself, particularly on the topic of what it looks like to follow Jesus faithfully in a given time and place. And sometimes we, as followers of Jesus, have been more intent on doctrine than on Gospel, more intent on being great than being loving, more intent on power than the way of the cross. Too often the Bible has become a moral weapon or the words of Jesus have been used to somehow bolster one's own position.
And so, this week, as if on cue from Jesus, I took the advice from the child who shared with me his wisdom about hearing the Gospel in unexpected places. I'll be honest with you, the reason I took this challenge on is two-fold. First, let's be honest - the church doesn't have the voice it used to. People don't necessarily give a lot of credence to it anymore (which is a whole different conversation). And second, if I'm honest, I've heard a lot of advertisements, slogans, and policies which perpetuate building oneself up on the backs of others.
So, we're going to start here, with a message from the secular world that probably illustrates Jesus's point today way better than I ever could. Because Cooper taught me another little lesson in that 10 minutes also - sometimes the message comes from unexpected sources. As a disclaimer, this is in no way an endorsement of the company that puts out this commercial.
Alibaba didn't invent the concept: the greatness of small. And they aren't the only ones who believes in the power of small.
Jesus invented it.
And He believes in the power of small; knows there's power in weakness; and shows us that love really does change the world. Jesus, on the cross, is the epitome of giving up any kind of greatness He possesses, including His divinity.
Alibaba co-opted the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I wonder why? Now, here's the truth, they did use it to promote themselves, there's no getting around that and that's not so great. But, if you're anything like me, your heart lightens and your soul soars a bit watching that commercial. It reminds you that goodness is more powerful than greatness.
They must know the world needs that message.
Jesus certainly knew it.
There's power in small.
There's power in the child.
There's power in sacrifice.
There's power in solidarity.
There's power in love.
There's power in God.
And I think that's Jesus' whole point when he scoops up that child and places her on His lap and says, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me." Those 10 minutes with that child turned the world in its head.
Make no mistake. This is hard stuff. Alibaba makes it look easy. And maybe even Jesus's reaction to the disciples' absolutely totally missing the point again, indicates we should get it. But, it was hard for the disciples and it's hard for us. Almost instinctively, we look out for ourselves rather than others, trust more in our wealth for security than we do in God, shut others out rather than invite them in, seek our welfare rather than that of those around us.
But here's the thing: the road the disciples are traveling is the road to Jerusalem - the place where everything changes. And it may be a small thing, but it's the small things that change the world. Jesus is on that road with them. Even while His disciples misunderstand, don't believe, or just plain ignore what he is saying, Jesus is continues to walk towards cross, willing to sacrifice everything for them...
And for us. Amen.