The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Have you been to a childproofed home recently? It’s interesting the lengths parents go to – and the unsuspected dangers lurking below knee-level. Childproofing keeps crawlers out of cabinets, tiny fingers out of electrical outlets, and kids generally from mischief and danger. Ever had a problem opening a childproofed bottle? I thought they were to keep kids out, not adults. I guess God gave us pliers for pill bottle caps like these.
Today, Jesus invites you to an “adult-proof” kingdom. Entrance requirements reduce our size – and the way in is unexpected, startling, and gruesome for those who follow Jesus. Admittedly, we’re not actually staring a cross in the face, like the disciples are. But we will suffer for choosing a way that doesn’t exactly add up or make sense.
Jesus has just tutored the disciples again on Messiah’s future. As they shuffle over to Capernaum, they shift from the theology lesson to applied politics. “So what were you discussing back there?” Well, shut their mouths. Not even Peter is willing to speak up this time. They’d been arguing about who’ll be Assistant Messiah, Chief of Staff, or get a Cabinet Post in the coming reign – don’t want to share this.
Jesus responds in a way that reminds me of the kid who runs his fingernails across a chalkboard. “Whoever wants to be first must be last – servant of all.” That’s not where they’ve heading. And then to stick it to them, Jesus holds up a kid and says, “Whoever welcomes a child in my name welcomes me; actually, not just me – but the one who sent me,” meaning the Abba, Father.
Here’s where walking with Jesus gets a bit testy. Do you understand what it means that Jesus makes a child the centerpiece of God’s reign? Welcome the least of all – and you welcome Jesus; no, make that God Almighty. A child‘s place is two steps below the lowest rung on the social ladder. In Jesus’ day children were nothings – didn’t count in a grown-up world. Daughter infants might be put out on the sidewalk to die, and no one became real upset. So, for Jesus to put a child smack in the center of the Kingdom – well, if you are not scandalized by what Jesus has just done, you’re not paying attention.
Our culture extols the powerful, the wealthy, the worthwhile, successful and attractive – movers and shakers, and those who climb their way to the top. Isn’t the point – the one with the most toys wins? How many parents want to hear their cute little darling say, “My goal in life is to put others ahead of me.” You don’t win an Ivy League scholarship for that.
I understand a lot of people have great hopes for our tribal gods this year – the Packers. What do you think would happen if management and coaches took Jesus seriously? “This year we will strive to help other teams feel better about themselves. To do this, we’ll lose more games than we did last year – and even let the Lions beat us. They must feel badly losing all the time.” Can you imagine hearing, “Well, Brett’s getting old and just can’t remember whether he’s retired or not. His esteem needs a boost. When we play him, we won’t sack him or intercept his passes.” You’ve got to be kidding, right? Jesus says, “You want to be in God’s reign, come on down here with me – where the last are first, you win by losing your life – and by the way measure yourself by how you welcome a child.”
Here’s why following Jesus is no stroll through the park. You may not literally die on a cross, but Jesus will turn norms, values, and the story our culture world hands us, upside down. The ones you think are powerful get displaced in God’s reign. Those counted as losers find they are at the front of the line – and people like us help them get there. In God’s reign, we attach ourselves to others, especially those who have been pushed aside. Those in charge, with power and status, who have a staked interest in keeping the status truly quo – resist – no, the gospel says, kills someone who seriously threatens their vital interests. Welcome to the road Jesus takes us on – suffer, die, even for those who kill him – powerless, losers, defeat, and embracing those who don’t count. Who would have ever thought that’s how you get to God – how God gets to you? We follow Jesus not to win God’s affection – but because we know God already loves, heals and forgives us all. We choose a way fraught with suffering and death to our old ways so God can raise us up into a new world – a new creation, and we can help others get there. Having the most toys at the end, according to Jesus, won’t get you where you’ll want to be.
Jesus invites all into God’s reign of love and life, even adults – so get your savior right. Jesus leads us down a harder road – letting go of ideas, things to which we have become attached, dying to ourselves. The least among us – those the world says doesn’t count – our ghetto youth, impoverished school children, those without health care – and you know how Jesus cares for healing and wholeness – spent a lot of time with the sick. I may not be the brightest bulb in the pack – but I figure if we can land on the moon, fund a couple of wars with our taxes, surely we can figure a way that everyone could be happy, and health care covered.
God’s reign kingdom begins at the bottom, with the powerless, lifting up those left out. Maybe it’s our priorities. I hope you are serious about following Jesus – and remember, a child holds the key that unlocks the door to God’s heart.