Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Monday, September 24, 2012

Sermon From September 23

Grace and peace to you from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
It’s hard to be a kid these days. First you arrive fresh from the warm safe space of your mother’s womb into a cold and blinding world full of strangers. And it just goes downhill from there. Then it’s learning to walk and learning the word “no,” getting bumps and scrapes and growing pains, and pretty soon you’re begging your folks to get you an iphone 5 and to borrow the keys to the car. And then, it’s time to look for colleges. Which one has the best programs? How much is it going to cost? And so on and so forth.

But all the worries that I just mentioned would seem like a walk in the park to my Three-year-old nephew whose has Prader Willie, (pictured on left) where his brain can never tell him he is full. Or my cousin’s daughter who was born with Cri-Du-Chat (right) and has already endured multiple surgeries. Or the little boy with cancer whose picture I saw in a store at the mall who is donating money to support his medical car.  Or the transgender kid in your son’s school. The child down the street with severe autism. For many of these kids, getting out of bed in the morning has become a miracle.

Jesus really loves kids. Just read the Gospel of Mark – it seems that every other story involves a child, whether Jesus is healing them or welcoming them. And it’s not just the cute and cuddly ones that he likes. Jesus is always healing the sick ones, the ones that no one but their parents care about, who are deathly ill or possessed by demons. He loves the docile ones and the wild ones, the ones that throw tantrums, and I think he has a special place in his heart for the ones who are always asking questions.

Is it not true that our kids seem blessed with curiosity and creativity that we somehow lose once we reach adulthood? One day it is nothing but “what’s that?” and “why?” and the next day it’s not ok to ask questions. An adult who asks questions are seen as not smart enough to be an adult yet. And an adult who asks questions of authority figures are labeled as rebellious and disloyal. And an adult who asks a question about God is judged as having no faith. It is little wonder that Jesus disciples were silent when they were actually bursting with questions at this puzzling teaching of Jesus. Put yourselves in their sandals for a moment: this is only the second time that ANYONE has EVER heard anything like this before. This is a message that WE as twenty-first century Christians hear again and again every Sunday – it is the very reason WHY we gather in the first place. But to Peter, James, John, and there rest, this was unlike ANYTHING they have ever heard before.

But if a kid had been with the disciples, he or she would not have been afraid to ask Jesus for some clarification: Just who is the son of man? Who will betray him? Why will he be killed? And perhaps most importantly: how can someone come back alive after they have died?

But alas, no child was present, and the disciples feared looking stupid or being accused of being without faith. So they lost out. And decided to talk about something that they COULD wrap their heads around – who will be the greatest once Jesus’ “Messiah show” fully gets underway? How will the rankings look – Peter then James then John, then the rest? Who’s gonna be stuck with twelfth place?

How embarrassing – to be caught haggling about the seating chart at the victory banquet instead of trying to figure out what in the world Jesus was talking about. And then having to eat the biggest slice of humble pie in the history of creation: Jesus brings in a child, whose worth to society at the time was even less than that of a slave, and he equates welcoming such a one to welcoming the very Creator of the Universe.

Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all. Who could have seen THAT one coming?

Just about any kid can tell you what it’s like to be last at something – last one picked for the game, last one to turn their test in, last one to be asked what they think about anything. And I bet, if you reach back into your memory banks, you can think of a few examples of your own from your past. But to say that the last-picked are going to be first? That’s like asking the math nerd to go to bat at the bottom of the ninth with bases loaded. Who does that? Who would send an messenger to hand-deliver a message of love to the world in an age without phones, internet, electricity, or running water? Who would think that some annoyingly self-righteous monk named Martin Luther would remind the world about God’s grace? Who would send a young girl from a poor Albanian family to make such a difference in the lives of some lepers in India? And who in a million years would ask two hicks from the Midwest to go to the wild suburban jungles of New Jersey?

God would …and God does. Every single day.

A very wise and very tattooed pastor once said it like this, to about thirty three thousand Lutheran youth: “That’s the God we’re dealing with, people. This God will use all of you, and not just your strengths, but your failures and your failings. Because God’s strength is perfected in human weakness.”

Our God does not always make sense. The priorities of the kingdom of God have things backwards in the eyes of the world. It is the most lowly, the most vulnerable, the most unseen who are first in the kingdom of God.

God can take a humble child, and exalt her as the standard for discipleship. God can choose a rag-tag bunch of fishermen and make them into passionate preachers and teachers of the message of Jesus. God can use a tool of cruel and unusual punishment and refashion it into a symbol of life and hope for millions. And God can use YOU, with all your strengths and all your weaknesses and with all your questions, as a vehicle to bring in the Kingdom of God.

When you ask a young person a question and truly care about their answer, or when ask your child to pray at a meal, you are welcoming Jesus into your midst. When you stop and help a mother with an armful of groceries struggling to unfold her child’s stroller, you are welcoming Jesus. When you buy an extra can of your favorite soup to give to the food pantry or cook a meal for your recently widowed neighbor, you are welcoming Jesus. 

It’s not about looking like we know what we’re doing, because most of the time, we don’t. We don’t necessarily know what God will be calling us to do in the next moment, next week, or even next year. But we’re not in this alone. We have one another, of course, but we can always cling to the trust we have in Jesus, who welcomes into his arms even the least of us, even on our worst of days.  AMEN.

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