September 20, 2015
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
On Rally Sunday, we celebrate the beginning of a new year for Sunday School and Christian Education. Having infants and children baptized this morning is a glimpse at the beginnings of Christian Education. Not necessarily the sacrament itself, but infants and children in their parents’ arms. That is where we as infants first learn about God: that we are loved, and what it means to be dependent upon another for our very existence. And holding an infant for whom we are totally responsible is where many parents first learn what it means to be knocked to your knees and needing to pray.
What we learn from our parents and families – the good, the bad and everything in between – is a huge piece of our default setting for how we see the world. Our family relationships as children become the standard against which all our later relationships get measured.
The good news about this is that all the good stuff that we get from our parents stays with us. The other good news about this is the not so good stuff we get from our parents (and the only problem with parents is that they had parents), we can grow through and discover new ways of doing it. This is part of what Christian education is: letting God have all of our lives, measuring life by the Gospel, nurturing and feeding what is good and loving and faithful, and letting the Holy Spirit transform what is not. Christian Education, in whatever form, is really servant training.
But what about when we don’t get it? Well, that’s where the disciples come in. For the third time, Jesus is explaining what is going to happen to him, and the disciples still have no clue what he is talking about. And, in a scene that every parent has played out at some point, “You didn’t know? Then why didn’t you ask?!”
They don’t get it, and they are afraid to ask, perhaps each one fearing they are the only one who does not get it, so instead, they drop back to their default. “So, which one of us is greatest? Which one of us really has it going on? Who is the teacher’s favorite?”
Jesus figures it out pretty easily. Not unlike the teacher who posted on the classroom board “I know when you are texting in class. Seriously, no one looks at their crotch and smiles.” It is fairly easy to see they have dropped back into default mode.
Jesus figures it is time for another lesson. And maybe they, and by “they,” I also mean “we,” might get it.
If you want to be great, serve. Jesus tells us and shows us that greatness in God’s eyes is not found in strength or military might, in success or piles of money, in status or being the best liked. Greatness in God’s way of doing things is found in serving others. You want to be the head of the class? Serve everyone else. You want to be a mighty Christian? Minister to those in need.
To emphasize the point, he puts the child in the midst of the disciples and says,
Whoever welcomes one such child
in my name welcomes me,
and whoever welcomes me
welcomes not me but the one who sent me.
Why a child? This is not his “we must become like a child to enter the kingdom” sermon. This is not the one about being cute and curious and unafraid to ask incessant questions. That is another of Jesus’ lessons. This one is about who gets welcomed. David Juel writes:
“In ancient culture, children had no status. They were subject to the authority of their fathers, viewed as little more than property. Membership within the community of the faithful will involve giving status to those who have none. Accepting such an unimportant member of society in Jesus’ name is equivalent to accepting Jesus. And accepting Jesus is equivalent to accepting God. Hospitality, a major aspect of life in the ancient world, is to be extended to the most unlikely, thus challenging traditional notions of status.
Hospitality to the unimportant will be a hallmark of the circle of Jesus’ followers, as it was in Jesus’ own ministry. And this has everything to do with faithfulness to the one whose rejection and death mark the way to glory.”
— (Mark, Augsburg Commentary, pp.133-4)
Jesus stands in the prophetic tradition that cries out from the wilderness that God’s people will be faithful when they faithfully take care of the widows and orphans. Aside from the rare exception, women and children in those days found their social security in their family connections. So widows and orphans, already at risk and seen as “less than,” having lost the family connections, are at the far edge of society. It is precisely on behalf of these edgeward people that the prophets call out for justice and mercy to be given.
Jesus takes it a step further: welcoming one of these – the least, the edgeward, the marginalized – in his name is like unto welcoming him, and welcoming him is like unto welcoming God.
Recently, Bob Miller reminded me that time alone does not heal grief. Time plus work heals grief. You have to deal with it, preferably with the help of those who know the path.
The same is true of changing our default settings. It is easy to fall back into the default of comparing us and them, this with that, insider and outsider. It takes time – time plus servant training– to come to a new way of seeing one another and the world. And we need the help of one who knows the path, one whom we welcome when we welcome the widow, the orphan, the outcast, the unloved and the unlovely.
For when we welcome one of these, we welcome Jesus. And when we welcome Jesus, we welcome God.
Thanks be to God.