Home » Sermons Online
September 20, 2009
Pastor Caroline Satre
As a Child
In today's Gospel, Jesus and his disciples are walking along a road and, when they get to where they are going, Jesus asks, "What were you arguing about on the way?" The disciples are silent because they have been debating who was the greatest. In response, Jesus places a child among them 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."
This whole episode is ironic. Here is Jesus, the least, the lowest, the little one; Jesus, who has just announced to his disciples that, "the Son of Man is to be betrayed... and they will kill him..." and his disciples argue over greatness, success, fame, and power. Maybe as a contrast to the not-so-innocent attitude of the disciples... but also to prove a point... Jesus puts a little child in front of them.
On other occasions, when Jesus wanted to teach something, he told a parable, or held up a coin, or pointed to the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. But this time, he took a child and held him in his arms. Why a child?
Today we tend to look at children with a twinkle in our eye and a song in our heart. I've often been told that the young people's message is someone's favorite part of worship. And why not? Children are cute and funny and spontaneous and we get a good message, too. It just goes to show that, by and large, it's good to be a child in today's world.
At the time that Jesus lived, however, being a child wasn't such a wonderful thing. In fact, it wasn't at all pleasant to be a child. Children always suffered first from famine, disease, and dislocation, such that only 40 percent of the population lived beyond the age of 16. Children weren't considered to be cute or innocent; they were thought to be helpless, weak, and vulnerable.
So... when the disciples want to know who will be the greatest... why does Jesus point to a child?
As Jesus is apt to do, he turns everything upside down. The disciples argue over who will be named "most valuable player," but Jesus reminds us that God loves the least, the little, the lowly; God loves those who are empty and open and vulnerable. In other words, Jesus reminds us that God loves US.
We all look good when we arrive here every week. But the truth is that we all have hurts and needs and frustrations. We all need to hear a word of hope, feel a sense of peace, and experience God's love and grace.
For the most part we are all blessed beyond belief, and yet, I know enough to know that some of you are struggling with mighty heavy things. Some of you are dealing with financial stress, some with chronic pain, some with overcoming addiction, some with simply needing to make better choices. Some of you are facing your mortality or the mortality of someone you hold dear. I know enough to know that we begin our lives needing to be fed and cared for by others if we are to survive. As we age, we begin to fear that our lives will end that way, too... and yet they will. In a sense, they already are.
"He was physically large," writes William Willimon, former dean of the chapel at Duke University. "Played Rugby, I think. National Merit Scholar. Climbed El Capitan in high school, a symbol for the way he was always conquering mountains, mastering tough courses, meeting every challenge. But when I happened to meet him in the Chapel, bent over in prayer, tears in his eyes, he didn't look big, competent, in control. He looked like a small boy, a child. He told me, "My roommate just announced to me that he can't stand to live in the same room with me anymore because I'm too self-centered, arrogant, and smug." I assured him that he had come to the right place."
Likewise, I assure you... you have come to the right place. As blessed as we all are and as good as we all look... there is something within each one of us that is a bit empty, open, and vulnerable... there is something within each one of us that needs to hear a word of hope, feel a sense of peace, and experience God's love and grace.
One of the most meaningful parts of worship for me has always been serving Communion. The more I know all of you, the more meaningful it is. Since I generally serve at the kneeling station, I am privileged to see you bent over in prayer... sometimes with tears in your eyes... not looking as big and competent and in control as you usually are... but with hands outstretched... empty... open... almost childlike.
Often times, in that moment... regardless of the week I've had... the doubt I've experienced... the hurts in my own heart... I know that God, our loving parent, is speaking hope, healing hurts, providing tangible reminders of God's love and grace. That's what God does. That's God's work. It is my incredible privilege to be doing a small piece of God's work with my own hands.
As we do nearly every time we gather for worship in this place, in a few moments we will once again celebrate Holy Communion. We will once again gather around this table as a family of faith. As you find your way forward today, allow yourself to be open... and maybe even a bit vulnerable... so that, as you reach out and hold in your hands a piece of the work the Risen Christ is doing in our world, you will know the peace of Christ and the love of God with the joy and contentment of a child.