A sermon on Mark 9:30-37
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
September 19, 2021
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our
Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

When he [i.e. Jesus] was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about along the way?”
But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.
–Mark 9:33-34

I confess that I am an incorrigible reader of bumper stickers. Not only do I find it entertaining,
but it seems to me that you can learn things about people from reading whatever bumper stickers that
they put on their car. Sometimes maybe more than you may want to know about them…
Some bumper stickers have a definite purpose behind them. During every election cycle, a lot of
people will plaster bumper stickers on their cars as a show of support for a particular candidate. Just out
of curiosity, earlier this week I Googled how much money is spent by both political parties on bumper
stickers during an average election cycle. Now wouldn’t that be interesting to know?! Judging by the
sheer number that one sees, I am sure that the amount spent would be staggering. Unfortunately I did
not find an answer. However, I did come up with this fun fact: The first election to widely use bumper
stickers as a campaign tool was the presidential election of 1952. I had no idea that they went back that
far. And I imagine that the use of political bumper stickers has only grown steadily more popular with
each passing election…
Other kinds of bumper stickers celebrate sports teams…Actually, I think it is kind of amusing to
see so many Washington Redskins stickers still being proudly displayed nowadays…especially since the
team officially changed its name more than a year ago. Maybe those stickers are a protest against the
name change since it was so controversial when it was introduced. I do not know…One of my favorite
sports bumper stickers that I’ve seen proclaims “It ain’t over until the BIG PAPI swings.” Obviously the
owner of that car is a big Boston Red Sox fan…and of the great slugger David Ortiz…
And some bumper stickers contain a measure of truth to them. For example, one that I’ve
noticed plastered on the back of several cars around town says, “Well-behaved women seldom make
history.” From my observation, it would be difficult to argue with that one…
And some bumper stickers are more whimsical…One I’ve seen locally reads, “Don’t annoy
dragons…for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.” Or here’s another one: a yellow sticker with
black script and a crosshairs superimposed on the words “Zombie Apocalypse Response Team.”
Hmmm… I’m honestly not sure what to make of that one…
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In a previous church where I served as music and youth minister, one of the high school
students had a sticker on the back of her car that made us all chuckle. This sticker had big bold white
letters on a red background. And it read, “Jesus loves you—but I’m his favorite!”
It seems to me that the disciples were arguing among themselves about something similar in
today’s text. Only, while the sticker on the back of that student’s car was a light-hearted joke and we all
understood it as such, the disciples were in earnest about who was the greatest among them…They all
wanted to be known as “Jesus’ favorite”…
Isn’t that interesting? In the first half of today’s passage, we are told that Jesus taught his
disciples that he would be betrayed…and that he would be murdered…and that he would rise again on
the third day. This is the second time that he has explicitly told them what would happen once they
reached Jerusalem.1
But verse 32 tells us that the disciples did not understand what he was saying.
Moreover, we are told that they were afraid to ask him to further explain it to them. (To be honest, I’m
not sure how much more plain Jesus could have made it…It seems to me that he was pretty
straightforward and clear…)
The words that Jesus spoke to the disciples in verse 31 clearly reveal Jesus’ mission on this
earth. This is why he came and the reason for his being among them. And yet, after he had spoken those
words, there is no indication that the disciples spent any time pondering Jesus’ startling words in order
to gain some understanding as to what he meant. Nor did the disciples apparently discuss it among
themselves to see if they could figure out together what Jesus was talking about. No—the words of our
Lord rolled right off of them just like water off a duck’s back. It is as if he had not said anything. And
instead of considering what those words of Jesus might mean, the disciples turned their attention to
other, more pressing, more important issues—such as settling on who was the greatest among them—
of which among them was Jesus’ favorite. And that is what they spent their time discussing while on the
If the disciples would have stuck to trying to understand what Jesus had just told them, they
would have been much better off…But they apparently didn’t do that…One takeaway to be gained from
this part of the story is that it is never a good idea to ignore the words of Christ while chasing some
other topic of discussion or debating some other course of action…What Jesus says to us is of prime
importance in the life of the Spirit. To ignore that or to set it aside is to set oneself up for
disappointment, if not outright failure. That was certainly the case with the disciples in this instance…
When Jesus and his disciples arrived at their destination, Jesus turned to them and asked, “What
were you arguing about on the way?” I imagine that he asked it as innocently as he could, in order to
test the disciples and see how they would respond. In Luke’s version of this same story, Luke tells us that
Jesus was well aware of their inner thoughts.2
So he knew quite well what they were arguing about and

First is Mark 8:31.
Luke 9:47.
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maybe he was trying to give them the opportunity to “’fess up” without being prodded. Of course, true
to the disciples’ character, they didn’t say a word. Mark tells us that our Lord’s question was met with
stony silence.
Jesus seized the opportunity, as he saw it was a teachable moment. He told them, “Whoever
wants to be first must be last and the servant of all.” (My guess is that the disciples were just as
confused by these words as they had been about what Jesus told them about his impending betrayal,
death and resurrection earlier in the passage…) But to illustrate his point, he brought a child into the
group and said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes
me welcomes not me but the One who sent me…” Along with his comment about the last being first and
the servant of all, Jesus really did not address their concerns directly. But they got the point…
Jesus was not afraid to bring children into the conversation when he was teaching. For example,
In the story of the feeding of the five thousand in John 6, we are told that Jesus used the lunch of a
boy—five loaves and two fish—to work a miracle in feeding the entire crowd—and with leftovers to
boot. And in Mark 10, the disciples attempt to restrain parents from bringing their children to Jesus to
bless them. But when Jesus saw what was going on, the scripture says that he was indignant. He told the
disciples, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to
such as these.” Once again, I am sure that the disciples felt chastened by Jesus’ words…
Through the centuries since Jesus first spoke those words, preachers and theologians have
discussed what Jesus meant when he likened coming into the kingdom of heaven to being like a child.
Like you, I have heard plenty of sermons extolling the virtues of children—innocence, dependence on
parents, honesty to a fault, and the like. Having worked with children in children’s choirs and preschool
choirs for much of my 40 year ministry—and being the father of two boys myself—those overly
sentimental, syrupy-sweet images of children did not always ring true to my experiences. I imagine that
you would probably say the same thing of your experiences as well—especially those of you who have
had children and grandchildren…Let me suggest another way of looking at these words of Jesus
concerning children…and perhaps we can get closer to the meaning of what Jesus meant…
In 1986, a Unitarian minister named Robert Fulghum gave a short talk at a primary school
graduation. Not long afterward, his talk was published as a little book titled All I Really Needed to Know I
Learned in Kindergarten. It caused something of a sensation when it was first published. (How many of
you remember reading it or hearing about it?) Amazingly, it stayed on the New York Times best-seller list
for almost two years. It was even read in its entirety on the floor of the United States Senate. (Would
that our senators would have listened and taken it to heart…)
In reacquainting myself with the book earlier this week, it seems to me that it contains some of
what Jesus might have meant when using children as examples for what life in the kingdom of God
should look like. I am not going to read the whole thing to you, but I am going to take a couple of
minutes to read a few of his observations that seem to me to get to the heart of what our Lord was
talking about when it comes to children being examples of what life in the kingdom of God looks like:
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All I really needed to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten.
Wisdom was not gained at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday
School. These are the things I learned:
Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Wash your hands.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody…
Live a balanced life—learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and
work some every day…
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.
The biggest word of all is LOOK.3
Taking those concepts and applying them to our adult lives would help us to live much of the
essence of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. For example, some of those words reflect Jesus’
teaching in “The Golden Rule”—you know, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke
Or the teaching in Ephesians 4:32, where the Apostle Paul writes that we are to “Be kind and
compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ in God forgave you.” Or the Apostle
John’s words in 1 John3:17-19, “If anyone has materials possessions and sees his brother in need but has
no pity on him, how can the love of God dwell in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or
tongue, but with actions and truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we
set our hearts at rest in his presence.”
Or the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 8:3-5, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your
fingers, the moon and stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the
son of man that you care for him? You have made him a little lower than the angels and crowned him
with glory and honor.” There is the very definition of wonder. That totally demonstrates “the biggest
word of all”: LOOK. Childlike qualities…childlike faith…childlike wonder at the world around them…these
are important ingredients of kingdom living…Let us pray:

Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (New York: Villard Books, 1990), 6-7.
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Our Heavenly Father,
In every age, you have revealed your wisdom to the humble and insignificant, to the powerless and to
those who reach out to you in childlike faith. Help us, O Lord in our day and age, to reflect those same
qualities as we endeavor to live our lives worthy of your call. Aid us to exhibit the qualities of your
kingdom with actions born of your wisdom, born of the simplicity which Jesus taught, and born of the
fruitfulness that can only come from the life created by your indwelling Holy Spirit. Enlighten us, O Lord,
as we serve others and you in spirit and in truth.
And to God alone be the glory! Amen