Rev. Danielle K Bartz October 3, 2021
Mark 10:13-16 “Like a Child”
Years and years ago, during a Communion worship at my home congregation, my younger cousin, Ross, joined my mom and me. Ross didn’t really grow up in a church – his family having moved on from their Catholic one when he was very young. But, he was a curious and thoughtful child, and would periodically come to our UCC church. As I said, he joined us once on a communion Sunday, and I think it is safe to say that it was the first time he had received communion.
In my home congregation, at that time, the bread and juice for Holy Communion was distributed in the pews. Ushers would first pass plates of cut up bread up and down the aisles and then trays of small cups of juice. As best as my mom and I can remember it, at some point while the plates and trays were being passed that Sunday, Ross asked, in a loud whisper, if there were going to be seconds on the refreshments later. Mom and I had to stifle our laughs at his earnest and honest question, and after that always made it a point to invite Ross to attend worship with us on Communion Sundays – so he could enjoy the ‘refreshments’ during the service once again.
That is one of the cute stories about kids we all love to tell. When children say or do something that delights adults, or – in the case of this story, even pre-pubescent tween cousins – we share them over and over again as reminders of the beautiful simplicity of a child’s learning Spirit. Ross didn’t understand the social and theological complexities of Holy Communion, and he likely didn’t even know about the religious traditions of sacraments. What he experienced was being offered food and drink freely, in the midst of an ordered and formal gathering, and found the experience refreshing and enjoyable – and was therefore eager for more. And in that moment, my little cousin, with very little church experience, understood more about God and worship than most adults do. In that moment, a child drew closer to understanding the Kingdom of God than most of the great theologians throughout all the ages of the church.
The story of Jesus we heard today is one the church universal loves to tell. “Let the little children come to me; for it is to such as these that the Kingdome of God belongs.” It is a beautiful image – Jesus welcoming children to come around him, blessing them, and showing them love. Copious artwork, poetry, vestments, liturgy, and children’s books tell the story. It is one of those feel good moments of scripture that make the rest of it easier to digest. We tell the story for the same reasons we tell the stories of our own children saying and doing something cute – it makes the world feel like a gentler place, if even for only a moment.
But what’s important for us grown-ups to remember is that buried within that lovely image is a vitally important lesson – that for us to truly understand the Kingdom of God we must do so like children. In order for us to fully understand that promise of God, and the lessons that Jesus teach, we must let go of all the barriers to God that we have learned throughout our lives and instead give ourselves over to the childlike traits we have been told to leave behind.
My friend this week referred to this as the ‘Sin of Sophistication’ – the adult habit of getting so wrapped up in the complexity of things that we too often think our way out of a problem, think our way out of responsibility, or, more dangerously, think our way out of hope. I am frequently, daily, guilty of this sin. I consider and debate things from all angles. I doubt and argue with ease. I worry things raw – and end up back where I started, no closer to an answer than when I first began.
This is not always a sin of course – there are complex social and theological issues that require complex and careful thinking. Drawing from multiple sources and perspectives is vital when trying to solve the large and small problems of this world. But, if we are to take Jesus’ lesson seriously, the Kingdom of God can only be known when we approach it with a childlike demeanor. But, what does that mean? So, with great thanks to Steve Garnaas-Holmes for his poetic interpretation of this text, I want to name and consider a few characteristics of children that most adults have intentionally left behind, and which we must once again strive to remember.
By remembering that we are, ultimately, dependent on God we acknowledge, however reluctantly, that we require help. We require the help of God and we require the help of others. I think it is possible that dependance is likely the childlike trait that most adults have the fiercest resistance to, but dependence on God is necessary to fully understand God.
Further, remembering we are weak – that we cannot make anything happen by sheer will, is also vital. This reality is as difficult for children to accept as it is for adults. Nearly every tantrum I have seen a child throw has been because they don’t want to accept that they are not able to change something simply because they want to. And nearly every tantrum I have seen adults throw has been because they don’t want to accept that they are not able to change something simply because they want to. Though, of course, an adult tantrum is far more dangerous than a child’s. We are weak, we are not God, no matter how much we may try to claim otherwise.
But, in that weakness, we must also remember that we are graced. We experience grace without earning it. God extends grace to us in the midst of our dependance and weakness, not in spite of it. All of us, adults and children alike, are not required to do anything to be extended grace. To remember that we are graced, no matter what, allows us to understand the great hope of the Kingdom of God.
Additionally, I think adults must reclaim the capacity to simply wonder. To wonder at something is not the same as trying to understand it. Rather, it is about only delighting in it. The wonderment we see in a child’s face when they consider something new is so beautiful, so pure, so God-like. Earlier this week I watched as a little boy, out for a walk with his mom, stopped in his tracts to wonder, to delight, in watching as city workers patched potholes in the alley by my house. He could have stood there for hours, I am sure. He was quickly ushered along, as his mother, like nearly every adult, grew impatient with that wonderment. But it is with that same earnest wonderment – not understanding, but delighting – that we should consider God. There are times, yes, when we cannot help but try to understand. But we should try to also simply delight in God’s presence in our lives. In the small miracles of creation we see around ourselves. To approach them with childlike delight – simply basking in God’s presence because it is.
There are many other childlike characteristics that I think would be good for us adults to embrace once again – playfulness, humbleness, trust, vulnerability, imagination – but the final one I want to highlight is this: remembering we are cherished. We are the beloved children of a loving parent. God created us in God’s image, each in our uniqueness, as an act of divine love. We are cherished simply because we are. This is so hard for us to remember – we get overwhelmed with doubt, fear, anger at injustices. We look out at this hurting world and want to rage against God – how can you claim to love us if this is the world we live in. But, when we do so, we forget that God is raging at the injustice as well. God cherishes us so completely, so fully, that God gives us the strength, the courage, the drive to make this world what it is meant to be – a place of love and justice and peace and hope.
“Let the little children come to me…for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs.” I don’t believe that Jesus meant that only those young in years can experience the Kingdom of God. I believe we all have it within us to let go of that Sin of Sophistication, to embrace those childlike traits we have left behind, and in so doing understand God and God’s promise. I wonder if, perhaps, this is the great arc of our lives, to learn and grow so much that we become childlike once again. Amen.
God, as we gather around this wonderful meal
everywhere and in every place;
bless us all your children.
As we eat this bread and drink this cup
linking arms around the world,
pour your grace into us all.
Grace us with your presence
as we quietly and loudly pray to you.
May we see in each other
your light, your love and you.
May it not matter our differences,
our names, our languages,
our looks, and our way of doing things.
May what matter today and everyday be that we are one in you.
And as we pray many we call to mind our brothers and sisters
who are unable to be with us today whether in body or spirit.
May you bring comfort to those who are grieving, lonely,
heartbroken, ill or broken of spirit.
May you strengthen those whose lives feel shattered,
don’t make sense, in crisis, and experiencing loss.
May you say the healing word to those who need it.
May you bring the human touch of love
to those who have not been touched.
May you love the unloved through us.
May you shine your light
into those whose world is covered in darkness.
May you use us to feed the hungry,
clothe the ones who need clothes,
give a cup of water to those who are thirsty,
shelter the homeless, visit the sick and those in prison.
May lives be awakened to you
to your love and to your kingdom
whose door is always open to all.
We pray all of this and so much more in the name of Jesus Christ, who taught us to prayer with these familiar words…Our Father…
HOLY COMMUNION STORY-TIME
One evening, Jesus gathered with his friends. He was tired after traveling through a big city, seeing things and people he had never seen before. It was time to rest for a while, so he invited his friends to have dinner with him.
But, it was also a holiday, Passover, when Jesus and all of the Jews celebrated how their ancestors were saved during a time of terrible destruction. So, Jesus and his friends, even though they were in an unfamiliar place, remembered a familiar story and had a familiar meal.
While they ate they talked about all that they had seen and heard while they explored Jerusalem. And because Jesus was not just their friend, but their teacher, they talked about the lessons he had been teaching. What would people say, they wondered? Did they listen while he talked? Did the people feel the same hope? Was everyone just as excited as they were?
They talked and talked throughout dinner and finally Jesus spoke up. He said, “Yes, today was an exciting day. Lots of people heard the Good News we shared. Lots of people are just as hopeful and excited about God as we are. But, some of the people are angry. Some people are afraid of what I am teaching – they are afraid it means that they won’t be in charge anymore. And,” Jesus continued, “some people are so afraid they will do hurtful things to try to stop us. They may even try to kill me.”
Now, Jesus’ friends were afraid to hear this. They were afraid to be without him. They were afraid that all of the hope they had been feeling would go away. And Jesus understood this fear, he understood it better than his friends did, because he knew that even some of them would betray and desert him. But, Jesus knew how much God loved them, that God loved all the people, no matter what – so, Jesus decided to give them a gift.
Jesus held up the bread that was on the table in front of him. “Look at this bread,” he said, “it is just like the bread you have always eaten and will always eat. Bread is always something you will have in your life, just like the love and lessons you have from me. Even if I have to leave you, remember me every time you eat this bread – because when you remember me, then you will remember how much God loves you.
After that, Jesus picked up the cup of wine in front of him. He said, “In the same way, this wine is the same you have always had and will always have. Every time you drink wine, remember the promise I made to you – that God loves you, no matter what.”
So, that is why we eat bread and drink wine – because one night Jesus sat with his friends for a meal, and gave them, and us, a gift of remembrance. When we eat the bread, we remember all of Jesus’ lessons. And when we drink the wine, we remember the promise that Jesus taught, that God loves us, no matter what.
So, may God bless this bread and this cup, and all of those who share in this meal of remembrance.