Psalm 26, Hebrews 1: 1-4; 2: 5-12, Mark 10: 2-16
October 4, 2015
Last time I preached, I gave 2 sermons for the price of one. I could do that again as today has two quite different portions of the gospel. A. the question of divorce put to Jesus to test him. B. People bringing little children to have Jesus bless them. My sermon this morning is on B, but briefly on A, I think we make a mistake if we take this passage to be strictly about marriage and divorce. It is about God's will and how we humans end up distorting it. I believe he could have given much the same advice about the environment and our mistreatment of it or food and our overeating—what God has designed as good we too often abuse and sin against God and one another. We make too much of this passage if we make divorce out to be a greater sin than others because there are two paragraphs about it in Mark's gospel.
Now on to the second part—the people were bringing their children to be blessed
As most of you know, we are quite fond of our grandchildren. I like the verse in Psalms, 17:6 “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged.” We babysat Richard and Heidi's 5 kids for 6 days last week. I picked up a coup;e of examples of childlike qualities. 1. They are very honest. You may have noticed about 2 months ago, I got a new hairstyle. Since the 70's I've tried to keep at least a little hair over my ears...but Julie took the clippers and gave me a buzz job. Grandson William has basically the same haircut. When I rubbed his head and said that to him, he pointed out, “Yeah, but I have hair here.” Kids can be honest to a fault.
2. They tend to take our words very literally. Judy preached last Sunday and for praises, she shared with us all the thank-you cards the Head Start kids made and gave to Shirley and Ann. As Shirley and Ann came forward, Judy joked that the water balloons were about to fly. They got all done and granddaughter Viola looked up at me and said, “I didn't see any water balloons.” I think she was quite disappointed in that fact. 3.They are trusting. I don't know how many times they jump up into my arms without any warning fully trusting that I will catch them. It was the same when our kids were little, and here's a couple examples from our kids. 4. Kids tend to be less self-conscious, up to a certain age. When Richard was 7½, he dressed up as a muscle man for Circus day at school. He wore long underwear stuffed with fake muscles with shorts and a tee shirt. When he got home, he told us, “I was embarrassed for the first time in my life.”
Many of these traits, open, trusting, honest, not self-conscious are part of receiving the free gift of grace that God offers us in Christ. But I believe the greatest attribute of children, the thing that qualifies them is their willingness to accept free gifts. As we grow up, as we develop the characteristics of adulthood, it becomes harder to accept free gifts. We wonder—are there strings attached to this? We think—now I have to return the favor with a gift of my own. We object—no, no, I don’t deserve that, thanks anyways. We've done it, we've witnessed it in others. Receiving a gift, a compliment, a reward, an extra treat in coffee hour—we resist. It is like it shows our humbleness, our meekness to refuse anything that we feel is undeserved. Pride is part of it.
But children receiving gifts...that's another story. “Who wants a treat?” Believe me, we didn't have to ask the grandkids that question twice. From William Lane again, “The comparison 'receive as a little child' draws its force from the nature of the child to take openly and confidently what is given.” Little children are very receptive, they don't ask what is needed in return, they don't shrug off a gift as being too extravagant, they take it, openly and excitedly, no matter what it is. When David was little I brought home an old wagon from school with some wood scraps in it. David looked it over and said, “Wow, a new wagon; wow, new blocks, wow, new sawdust”.
As we age, it becomes harder and harder to accept gifts that freely. And our attitude can be a hindrance to accepting the free gift of grace offered in Christ Jesus. It is clear in the scripture that this gift is given without any strings attached. And yet we may find in our heart of hearts that we feel unworthy; that we want to do something to earn this gift. We can't. Lane again, “the unchildlike piety of achievement must be abandoned in the recognition that to receive the kingdom is to allow oneself to be given it.” -to receive the kingdom is to allow oneself to be given it. We need to accept it as a child accepts a treat or a present or a compliment. (quote)“The kingdom may be entered only by one who knows he is helpless and small without claim or merit.” That 's a big “only” Mr. Lane gives us—do we understand the humility and acceptance needed to enter the kingdom as Christ calls us; helpless and small in light of God's holiness?
We are celebrating World Communion Sunday today. The gift of this sacrament is also a gift that cannot be earned. The church has, at times, set up barriers to receiving the sacrament. Requirements for church attendance, service projects, confession to a priest or elder, giving, requiring baptism and confirmation have all been in place at various times. We are reminded again and again, these are not gifts that we make ourselves worthy of...the kingdom, the Lord's Supper...they are gifts of grace. There was a short prayer we said in the Catholic tradition before taking communion, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” We are never worthy in and of ourselves, but when Jesus says the word—names us his brother or sister in grace by adoption—we are made worthy; healed through the sacrifice and victory of Jesus.
When the bread and the cup come around today, remember that we are to receive this symbol of the kingdom as children, to take openly and confidently what is given. Remember that Jesus is present with us in the sacrament. And know what is given is the reminder that Jesus gave his body and shed his blood that we may have the free gift of life everlasting, he rose again. We don't earn salvation, we don't deserve grace...but in Christ we are made worthy to receive it. And so in humility and thankfulness we accept the gifts given.
The choir sang an old Swedish hymn which included much about the children—God tends and nourishes, God never forsakes His children, bears them/us in his mighty arms, preserves us by his grace. We are about to sing a hymn we normally only sing on Palm Sunday. But notice as we sing the great emphasis on children. The children sing, the Lord Jesus blesses them—close folded to his breast. Child-like faith is what we are called to today. May we let go of the characteristics of adulthood that limit our ability to accept the wonderful gift of grace given to us. Let us be as little children that the Lord may take us in his arms and bless us as he blessed the children so long ago. May we recognize and accept the gifts. Wow, bread, wow, juice, wow, Christ here with us, wow, grace. Amen.
Hymn: Hosanna, Loud Hosanna 89 PH