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Winning the Argument

Mark 9: 30-37; James 3: 13- 4:7, 7-8a
“What are you three arguing about up there?” my Mom would shout from the foot of the stairs to my cousins and me. Maybe you’ve even heard it or said it yourselves with your kids in the back seat. This is a lot like what Jesus asks Peter, James and John on the road to Capernaum.
Today we tackle what is probably one of the most common activities of our daily lives: having arguments. According our dictionary, the word “argue” has an positive and a negative side to it. While it can mean “to accuse, to contend, to dispute,” it can also mean “to reason, to make clear, to give evidence for.
There can be two kinds of arguments – those that are worthwhile and those that are worthless. From our Bible today, we hear the latter. Jesus might have been disappointed when he discovered that his disciples were engaged in a worthless argument. Particularly so, because he had just finished telling them for the first time about how he would be handed over to evil men and would be killed, and how he would rise again on the third day.
But Peter, James and John seem to have brushed all that aside.. Instead, we are told, “they began arguing among themselves about who was the greatest!” (v. 34).
Now I don’t think that Jesus was trying to stifle their right to talk and dialogue, or even to disagree with one another. But what he does seem to he telling them here is, “If you’re going to argue, at least make sure it’s a worthwhile argument.”
Each one of us needs that same reminder. And that’s what Jesus is telling us today. He is encouraging us to have worthwhile arguments.The kind of arguments a person pursues can tell us something about that person.   Some of the arguments in which you and I willingly participate in are, quite frankly, embarrassing. After Jesus asks his disciples, “What were you arguing about on the road?” Then we read, “But they would not answer him or they kept quiet because they had been arguing which one of themselves was the greatest.”

They knew they had been caught discussing a subject that revealed their own proud, self-centered concerns.
They were carrying on this worthless argument in the presence of the one who was the greatest, of the one who lived the greatest story ever told as he laid down his life for us at the cross; who in the greatest victory this world has ever known rose triumphantly on Easter. In the presence of Christ their arguments were petty and worthless. And so are many of ours.
“What were you arguing about on the road?” What do we argue about? It’s a little embarrassing too when we get right down to it. The other day my wife, Andrea, came home from the grocery store with some “mini” aluminum cans of tomato juice, each enough for one serving for lunches. I thought the wiser, more economical purchase would have been a single, large economy-size can that could be poured into a jar that we had already recycled. We “discussed” the issue to the point where I wasn’t worth the energy or the expense. Why we’ve even had the argument about the right way to put the TP in the holder: “hang over or under,” would you believe? “What were you arguing about on the road or your lives?”
Last Sunday while waiting to take the elevator up to the second floor at Rockville Hospital, an older couple stood waiting with me. During our wait and the entire ride they were arguing about whether the person they were going to visit had entered the hospital on Monday or Tuesday! I thought to myself, “What a worthless argument!” What does it matter? “What were you arguing about on the road?”
There’s an awful truth that emerges from this. Much of our arguing is to prove us as “winners” and them as “losers.” And that’s what the disciples were doing here. It was un-Christ-like, and it displeased Jesus as well.  Here is Jesus, the suffering servant, trying to sensitize his closest friends about the gathering clouds in his ministry. They prefer to carry on their own discussions of self-interest. How disillusioning after three years with them and so close to the end of his ministry. 
So we must be very careful about win-or-lose type arguments. In worthless arguments we become so ego-centered, so intent upon winning, that we can wound another person’s feelings quite deeply.
How many words have we spoken that we wish we do anything to take back.  
If you’re going to argue with your wife about whether to paint the bedroom blue or yellow, realize what else is at stake in the argument. Flip the coin and have it over with, before someone gets hurt on the inside.
Jesus didn’t become indignant with his disciples. He didn’t blast them with words. He didn’t chastise them. He didn’t overtly claim to be the greatest himself. He used the gentle approach. He asked,” What were you arguing about on the road?” And then, with his typical pastoral patience, we read that “Jesus sat down, called the twelve disciples, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must place himself last of all and be the servant of all. “This worthless argument was thus made good.
He used the situation creatively. It became a teachable moment.
If there must be arguments, let’s at least make them good ones. Remember that the word “argue” can also mean “to reason, to make clear of to give evidence of.” Another word is debate. Those are good things to do whenever we talk with someone. Too often the answer between arguing individuals people is to distance themselves from one another—physically or emotionally. But the answer is precisely the opposite. To talk – to communicate, to reason, to make clear, to indicate (that is, to give direction and guidance).
Silence can be a powerful form of argument, especially in church conflict.
Persons in positions of leadership often complain about the loneliness and disorientation that this kind of silence can bring them. They don’t know what something has happened; it just has.  
Leaders often feel loneliness in their efforts because often constituents don’t talk, with them about their feelings and views on urgent issues. But they talk more about them behind their back.  In our meetings here at church, we discuss operational aspects of our faith, but it is often expense of sharing what’s possibly more important.  Feelings are so important are meant to be shared. It’s obvious that much of what we do here at BBCC together is worthwhile; it is as it should be, borders on the eternal. The work of the church is something worth talking about and sharing.
Let us resolve that whenever we gather as disciples of Christ we imagine that Jesus places a child in our midst as a model for our behavior. May we welcome Jesus and one another like children with the humility and courage to speak what is worth saying. 
Enjoy this.  Rev. Mike