First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Greg Briggs,
Interim Pastor

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720

“How Do We Welcome One of These”

Sermon ~ September 23, 2018 ~ Pastor Greg Briggs

James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a

Mark 9:30-37

  1. Prayer and Introduction
    1. “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our rock and redeemer. Amen”
    2. How do we “welcome one of these?”
  2. Introduction – building relationships
    1. Having been here a whole, whopping, 19days, I’ve been reminded in many different ways, of the importance of building relationships, and the power, for good or for ill, in first impressions
      1. We are, by and large, still on our best behavior. It’s the true, trusted friends, that see us at our lowest, our dirtiest. The ones we don’t put on airs for, or clean up the house before they come over.
      2. We aren’t there yet, and that’s ok. We are getting there
    2. Gracious welcome, but it’s more than just saying “you are welcome”
      1. Real welcome comes from demonstrating that you see the other person as a person, not as an “other”
      2. Meet their needs, address their concerns, or at least show that you are willing to try.
    3. False equivalence from last Sunday
      1. I said “Intelligent or uneducated.” Intelligence and education are not the same things.
      2. Saying this because I was wrong, and it’s important to admit that I was mistaken. It wasn’t a conscious choice of words, and it felt wrong as it was coming out of my mouth.
  • Thanks to those who brought their concerns to my attention. That’s part of being a loving and welcoming community
  1. This sermon would benefit from all of us knowing each other a bit better, having a bit more trust.
  2. Today’s sermon is going to go into a hard place, but one that is important to talk about. How to welcome the victimized.
  3. If, at the end of this sermon, you need to talk, please know that I’m here for you
    1. If you need to talk because you object, I’m here to talk too, but you might not have first priority for my time
  4. If, during this sermon, you need to step outside and take a break, that’s ok too.
  1. Gospel
    1. And, the same is true as today’s gospel story begins.
      1. Jesus and his followers were passing through Galilee, Jesus’ home area
      2. But “he didn’t want anyone to know this”
    2. Alone – to do more in depth teaching – having more serious conversations
      1. Need the trust and the confidentiality that aren’t possible in public settings
      2. Little chance to ask questions when in a crowd
  • Yet, in all of this, the disciples didn’t understand and were afraid to ask
  1. The bravery of speaking up
  2. When they get to Capernum, or home base, Jesus asks them what they were talking about
    1. Arguments over status and greatness
  3. God bless the disciples. I’m glad we get the reminder, over and over again, of how much the disciples missed, so we won’t feel so bad about ourselves missing the same things
  4. Jesus “whoever wants to be first must be least, and the servant of all.”
    1. Points out a child
    2. Servant of all, in opposition to their thinking, being and serving the powerful
      1. Child is the least powerful person in society
    3. Why a child as a model of faith?
      1. Opposite of the disciples
        1. Open, willing to learn, ask questions
        2. No power, no status at all. So unlike what the apostles were discussing, who had the most status and importance
      2. Focus on the least. The ones that need support, protection, uplift.
        1. Use of power until they are empowered themselves
      3. How does this apply in today’s world?
        1. Advance words – faith and politics
        2. “do theology with the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other.” Karl Barth
        3. “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.” MLK
        4. Preach on principals, not partisanship
      4. How does this apply in today’s world?
        1. Seeing a lot of needing to care for the least of these in the news this week
        2. Continuing stories of sexual assault and cover up in the news
          1. The ongoing revealing of the pandemic of sexual assaults in this country done by people in power against the powerless
          2. Reminded again this week by the sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavenaugh by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford
  • Roman Catholic systemic and systematic sexual abuse coverup
  1. Ongoing ripples in society and other Christian groups
    1. Stories of evangelical leaders making victims apologize to their attackers
  2. Attempts by the powerful, those interested in maintaining the status quo, at looking at these as isolated incidents –
    1. Why’d she take so long, weren’t they just kids, could ruin his career
      1. All focused on the powerful, all focused on the influential
      2. Not asking what is it like for the victims, what has it done to their lives, what has it damaged and ruined
    2. #metoo
  • #Whyididnotreport
  1. Bravery of admitting ignorance and confusion
    1. Sign of a truly wise person, admitting that they don’t know everything
    2. The pain of speaking a horrible truth, and not being believed by those you confide in
  2. How is this related to Jesus teachings?
    1. Using just this week’s scripture
    2. “whoever wants to be first must be least of all and servant of all.”
    3. “Are any of you wise and understanding?” “ Show that your actions are good, with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom.”
    4. Recognize the times and need for quiet retreat, the times of building trust and confidence, the need to be sensitive and caring to speak of hard, hard things.
    5. Know that there will be fear, and misunderstanding, and work to alleviate it
  3. How do we do that here and now?
    1. As clergy
      1. Part of getting to know me
      2. Mandated reporter
        1. Required to report child abuse or neglect, as are medical professionals, law enforcement, social workers, teachers, and therapists
        2. Not the separation of church and state, just the opposite – and good!
        3. Required to believe and act if what we are being told or see is true
  • Background checked
  1. Safe church policy
  2. Change agent
  1. As a congregation
    1. Part of getting to know you
    2. This is part of the interim time, seeking the answers to these questions, and seeing if the congregation is aware of the answers to these questions
  • Not just relying on blind trust, but putting the effort in to make sure
  1. Background checks
  2. Safe church policy
    1. Youth and vulnerable of all ages “the least of these”
  3. Protect the vulnerable
  1. Community
    1. Joppa House
    2. Third Day Fellowship – emergency shelter
  2. As a denomination
    1. Ordination process for clergy
      1. Includes psych exam, and ongoing background checks and regular boundary training
      2. Too often, boundary training is not taken seriously enough
    2. Removing possibility of doubt
      1. No one on one
      2. Windows on doors
      3. Mandated reporting
    3. As people of faith
      1. Be the church
      2. Earn trust, be transparent, don’t just rely on perceptions of others
        1. May be wrong
  • Listen, don’t speak out of one’s ignorance
    1. Work on informing yourself, before you put the burden on others
      1. Google, find informed sources
      2. Not just one vs. one,
      3. Why didn’t she come forward?
    2. As today’s letter from James says “if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, then stop bragging and living in ways that deny the truth.”
      1. Admit your own selfish desires. Admit that you want your side to win. It’s ok to have them, but not to be controlled by them
      2. I want to be winning side and I want to be right, but to actually be correct, not just on the more dominant side. not at the expense of truth, and compassion
      3. Behave honorably, so that, win or lose, you can be proud of yourself, in your own eyes, in the eyes of those who matter to you, and in the eyes of the divine, the ultimate arbiter of truth, justice, and mercy.
    3. Call to account and repent those who claim to be of our faith, yet scoff in the face of these same practices
  1. Conclusion
    1. This has been a hard thing to speak of, in public no less. I imagine some of you wish I’d have talked about something else. I also imagine there are some of you who think this was necessary.
    2. Can you better sympathize with the apostles in today’s reading, who wanted to avoid what Jesus was telling them was to come? Can you understand how they wanted to talk about literally anything else?
    3. Yet, Jesus found ways to care for them and bring them back to a hard and uncomfortable truth.
    4. I wish we wouldn’t have to hear about these stories of sexual assault.
      1. But I wish that only when there are no more assaults, and not before
    5. The Gospel truth is, there are hard times. There is pain, and yes, Jesus will be put to death. And yet, if we deny that it’s coming, or only focus on the immediate pain, we miss the truth of resurrection.
    6. Firecracker Foundation – a survivor of childhood sexual assault started a foundation to care for others, adults or children, and provide the resources to heal and to advocate for change, so that this wouldn’t happen again. Faith based or not, that is the church.

Listen to the Audio version of this Sermon below: