Disciple or in Greek, μαθητὰς, means a follower or student of a teacher, leader, or philosopher. I almost think the word has been mistranslated or misdefined. I think a better definition, at least as far as the students or followers of Jesus are concerned, would be “a follower who spectacularly misses the point repeatedly, but keeps on following.” The Gospel for today features what has come to be known as an Epic Fail. The disciples are traveling and discussing who is the greatest among them in, what they think is out of the earshot of Jesus. Oops, not quite. He then asks, “So, what are y’all talkin’ about? They obviously know that they are in the wrong. It’s just like being four and getting caught painting the car with house paint that’s doing “Nothing”. Jesus has pointed toward servanthood and humbleness, love, sacrifice and lifting up the lowly and putting others first and they’re arguing over who’s better than who. I’m just sure that Jesus did a facepalm right before he went and asked them what they were talking about. But let’s not be too hard on them, because let’s face it , on average, I don’t think we do much better. But, you know there is some really good news here if you think about it. People generally don’t stick around when they keep getting told they are doing it wrong, yet the disciples stick around and keep trying, over and over, fail after fail, and Jesus doesn’t give up. Facepalm after facepalm, Jesus loves them and sends them out, trusting them and keeps on working on them, not giving up on them. I don’t think we understand the social pressures and norms that the disciples lived with in that culture. David F. Watson points out that Jesus was calling them to something that was, in Watson’s words, “deeply countercultural, perhaps even shocking to its original audience. Ancient Mediterranean people (and especially males) were very concerned with reputation and status, concepts that came under the umbrella of honor. In the modern West we tend to think of honor in terms of ethical integrity. A person can do the honorable thing even if everyone else is against him or her. This was not the case in the ancient world. Honor was a socially acknowledged claim to worth. Regardless of the ethical nature of one’s actions, without acknowledgment by other people one did not have honor. There were numerous ways to increase one’s honor, from displays of valor to oratorical brilliance. One could gain honor through the giving of gifts or by being a well-known and respected teacher. Conversely, one could lose honor by being insulted, associating with the wrong sorts of people, being physically beaten, and in many other ways. Crucifixion represented an extreme loss of honor. In fact, the complete disgrace of the victim was a major part of its intent.” End quote. So Jesus takes children in his arms. Children who had no status or honor at all. They were essentially a non-entity. This verse provoked a deeply emotional response in me this time. I thought, Wow, the arms of Jesus. How safe would that feel? I feel like I can feel it. The one that was OK with you screwing up over and over. Shaking his head, but welcoming you back, holding on, squeezing tighter and you can feel he doesn’t want to lose you. We can look at our own hearts or actions and draw the conclusion that we are worthless or unlovable. We can evaluate our failures and label ourselves irredeemable. Let’s face it and let’s not kid ourselves, how often are we judged by others or do we judge others and seek relief in a “Wow, at least I’m not that person mentality”. We build that honor hierarchy and ride it up and down. My friend Victor shared something he found out about an idiom in Jesus’ culture. When Jesus mentioned them welcoming the little ones, that is those thought of as being without honor or importance, the castaways, outsiders, the struggling, the hurting, the suffering, the poor, the naked, the imprisoned, the bingers, the cutters, different ethnicities, the differently abled, genders, ages, sexual identities, social outcasts, the annoying, the abused, the addicted, the ashamed and the hopeless, all the people, in his name, that was saying “doing it like I do it, that is Jesus, and in turn like God does it”. And we saw Jesus over and over opening his arms and extending love, belonging, healing and acceptance to all, especially the marginalized. When I thought about Jesus’ arms, I’ll admit it, I could hear that Sarah McLachan song in my head. You know the one that plays behind the abused and unwanted animals on the ASPCA commercials. I was curious about the actual words, so I Googled and then wondered what the song was really about. The song is called Angel and its lyrics, omitting one repeated chorus, are, “Spend all your time waiting For that second chance For a break that would make it okay. There’s always some reason To feel not good enough. And it’s hard at the end of the day I need some distraction Oh a beautiful release Memories seep from my veins Let me be empty Oh and weightless and maybe I’ll find some peace tonight. So tired of the straight line And everywhere you turn There’s vultures and thieves at your back And the storm keeps on twisting You keep on building the lies That you make up for all that you lack. It don’t make no difference. Escaping one last time, It’s easier to believe In this sweet madness, Oh this glorious sadness That brings me to my knees. In the arms of the angel. Fly away from here From this dark cold hotel room And the endlessness that you fear You are pulled from the wreckage Of your silent reverie You’re in the arms of the angel May you find some comfort here.” Sarah McLachlan spoke about her inspiration, “Jonathan Melvoin was the keyboardist for the Smashing Pumpkins before his death after a heroin overdose in 1996. “I wrote “Angel” after being on the road for almost two years straight and was both mentally and physically drained,” McLachlan wrote. “I went to a cottage north of Montreal to relax and write and read an article in Rolling Stone about the Smashing Pumpkins keyboard player who had OD’d in a hotel room.” She continued, “the story shook me because though I have never done hard drugs like that, I felt a flood of empathy for him and that feeling of being lost and lonely and desperately searching for some kind of release.” I hear it in the song. The comfort that the lost, another fellow human being, will find rest and peace at last. The saddest thing is that we are commissioned by Jesus to be those arms right here. I feel her empathy and the song takes flight with deep meaning. There are so many that are hurting like this. I think this deep painful longing resonates with so many in our world. Our calling is clear. How do we frame our Christian mission? How do we accomplish it? I want to share again a story that I have shared a part of previously. It has been with me for many years and I think is one of the most accurate and truthful things ever written. Robert Fulghum, minister and writer was listening to a guest lecturer. The man, Alexandros K. Papaderos was born in Crete in 1933, to a rural family. During the German occupation, this region had been a center of resistance, and he was trained as a messenger. When his village was destroyed in 1943, his participation in the resistance resulted in him being interned in a Concentration Camp. His painful experiences, which frequently had brought him face to face with death, propelled him to the dedication to struggle for peace, forgiveness, reconciliation and the illumination of darkness in human life. At the conclusion of the lecture, Dr. Papaderos asked for questions and Fulghum asked, “Dr. Papaderos, what is the meaning of life?” The usual laughter followed, and people stirred to go. Our teacher held up his hand and stilled the room and looked at me for a long time, asking with his eyes if I was serious and seeing from my eyes that I was. “I will answer your question.” Taking his wallet out of his hip pocket, he fished into a leather billfold and brought out a very small round mirror, about the size of a quarter. And what he said went like this: “When I was a small child, during the war, we were very poor and we lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place. I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the largest piece. This one, and, by scratching it on a stone, I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine—in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. “As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of light. But light—truth, understanding, knowledge—is there, and it will shine in many dark places only if I reflect it. “I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world—into the black places in the hearts of men—and try to change some things. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.” End quote. We are Broken Mirrors, retrieved from the dirt, shaped and smoothed by the one that refuses to give up on us in spite of our brokenness. Let’s go from here and find our way into the dark cold hotel rooms of life where people suffer in feelings of isolation and reflect the light through our welcome and embrace in the loving and safe arms of Jesus.