One Such Child

[special_heading title=”One Such Child” subtitle=”by Dana Hughes” separator=”yes”]Who is this little child that Jesus uses as a visual aid? Is it a boy or a girl?  The scripture doesn’t say.  Who are the parents?  Are they the hosts in the home where Jesus and the disciples continue their conversation?

We know that Capernaum is Jesus’ base camp, but we don’t know if he has his own place or just couch surfs with friends.  Maybe Jesus owns the house, and the child is his.  The scripture doesn’t say.  The scripture does say that she or he is a little child, a paidion in the Greek, which literally means “infant.”

This scene has been painted many times through the years, and the child is usually depicted as being maybe 2 or 3.  But “paidion” means baby.

Raise your hand if you were ever a baby.  Keep it raised if you advanced to the age of 2. What is that period of childhood called?   The Terrible Twos.  That year is followed by the 3’s, a year in which the ego of the child emerges like the creature in the movie ALIEN.  In parenting, no one can hear you scream.

If Jesus had picked a 2 or 3 year old to illustrate his message, the scripture would have been written in all caps, indicating that Jesus had to shout, and it would say, “He took a willful child that shrieked and refused to stand where Jesus placed it among them.”

Of course we all love children, right?  I love them so much that I had 3, and while I think mine are perfect, there were times when 3 cats would have been a saner choice.  My husband, Bill, was the kiddie wrangler on Sunday mornings, while I was in the pulpit.

One Sunday, just as I was getting the sermon off the ground, my 2 year old daughter broke free.  You may not know this, but from the vantage of the pulpit, the preacher can see everything. Oh yes, everything.

I saw my wonderful husband holding each of our sons in a half-nelson, with a desperate look on his face that said “I’m out of hands and can’t stop her.”   She was loose, she wanted her mommy, and she ran straight to me, lifted my robe and skibbled under.  Miraculously, she stood still for 15 minutes, pressed against my legs, while I soldiered on.

But no one in the congregation was listening as they were distracted by the abundance of feet beneath my robe.  Not only that, but they were all preparing their speech on “why the church has a nursery.”

In Jesus’ day, children were cherished members of the family.  They were the assurance of a future, students of their parent’s teaching, successors to the family business, if they were boys, or trained in the domestic arts if they were girls.  Having children was evidence of God’s blessing.  Children were valued and cared for and loved.

But the times being what they were, children were also vulnerable. Galilee in Jesus’ day would look like third world country in our day.  Infant mortality, birth trauma, disease, and accidents were constant threats to the lives of children.  Parents could do only so much to protect their children, which is why being fruitful was so important.  Having a lot of kids increased the possibility that some would live to adulthood.

Jesus said, “Let the children come to me; don’t hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of God.”  He treated children with favor, and parents didn’t hesitate to bring their children to him for blessing or to seek his help when their children were sick. In fact, in the verses that precede today’s reading, a distraught father brings his young son to Jesus to be healed of a demon.

A few chapters before that, Jesus was summoned to help a little girl.  She died before he arrived, yet when he got there, he restored her to life.  Jesus didn’t equivocate when it came to children.  He loved them, and he understood that their vulnerability, their dependence upon others mirrored his own life.  For that matter, they reflected his own humble infancy.

“Whoever welcomes an infant in my name, welcomes me, as well as the one who sent me.”  In other words, to welcome God is not to welcome a politician or a soldier, not a CEO or a king.  Rather it is to welcome the powerless, the helpless, the exposed.

We don’t question the bit about welcoming the powerless.  Here at Central, you’ve practiced that kind of discipleship for years.   But how is Jesus like a defenseless baby? How is he without power?  We know that he is the 2nd Person in the Trinity and fully, completely, 100% GOD.  And our well-developed theology reminds us that he is also fully, completely, 100% human, which means NOT GOD.

It means US-LIKE.  Exactly like us in every way.  This is what we believe, and it’s a doozy of a concept that at the very least provokes a theological migraine.  We might puzzle over this doctrinal bedrock, but not enough to lose our faith.

But it wasn’t a puzzle for the disciples; it was blasphemy.  The bedrock of THEIR faith was “hear O Israel, the Lord our God is ONE LORD.”   They had come to recognize that Jesus was the SON of God, but they hadn’t yet made peace with the SAME as God part.

This struggle is evident when Jesus says, “I’m going to be arrested and killed, but in 3 days, I’ll rise.”  They didn’t understand what he meant.  He’d said this before, back in Chapter 8 of Mark, and they didn’t get it then, either.

At that time, Peter was so upset that he told Jesus not to talk like that.  Do you remember how Jesus reacted?   “Get behind me, Satan!  You’re focusing on human things, not on the things of God!”  Having heard Jesus give Peter down the country, they sure weren’t going to provoke him with their silly questions about dying and rising!

But they did have questions because they didn’t understand what he meant.  They were confused.  And afraid.  Think about it:  they’d walked away from everything they knew to follow this friend who might be the long-awaited savior who they hoped would drive out the Romans and establish a protected and peaceful Jewish kingdom.  They weren’t thinking cosmically.  They weren’t even thinking globally.  They were thinking locally.  They were thinking of their people, their land, and their future.[callout_box title=”Now all we have to do is believe it and let Jesus be with us; the Jesus who is made like us, who suffers with us, who knows us to our marrow.” subtitle=””]If Jesus was going to be killed, where did that leave them?  Would they also be killed?  If so, would they also rise?  Or was Jesus planning to pass the baton to one of them before he died?  If that were the case, to which one?  Who was the smartest, the strongest, the most trusted? Who was his favorite?  Who was the greatest?  And so, as people are want to do when they are confused and afraid, they started a fight.

These knuckleheads sound familiar, don’t they?  They sound like the folks caught up in the vax or no-vax—mask or no mask fight.  They sound like the folks who argue without listening to the person with whom they’re arguing.  They sound like any person on either side of any argument that doesn’t have enough information.  They sound…….like us.

Now I know there’s nothing worse than a guest preacher making assumptions about the character of a congregation.  You and I both know that I don’t know you and it’s rude to act like I do.  But we’re all human here, and humans tend to behave in particular ways under particular circumstances.

Take the circumstances that started in March of 2020.  Pandemic, lockdown, masks, sickness, loss of friends and loved ones, churches closed, schools closed, parents trying to keep their jobs and homeschool their children. It felt like the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse had recruited their cousins and all were saddled up and riding around Denver.

It let up for a little minute this spring, but now we have the Delta variant and breakthrough cases, which fuel the arguments against getting the vaccine, and increase sales of a dewormer made for horses because parasites and viruses are the same thing, right?  Wrong.

Add to that the fact that California is on fire, the seas are rising, public discourse is in the toilet, and as a nation, we are finally engaging the terrible facts of systemic racism, recognizing, at last, who really built this country of ours.

Many of us are up to our nostrils in the swamp of confusion and fear. Every step forward is followed by 40 steps backward.  We should have the fortitude to fight through this malaise, but our reserves of fortitude are seriously low.  If we tell the truth, we’re running on fumes.

You know what we need?  Besides a nap?  We need a superhero.  Superman is a good choice.  He could fly backwards around the earth and turn back time so all the things that we broke don’t get broken.  He could use his super-powers to turn all the world’s weapons into food for the hungry, and all the empty buildings into homes for the homeless.  Maybe he could answer some of our questions without making us feel like we shouldn’t have asked.

It’s too bad that Superman only exists in the DC Comics Universe.  But wait, we have Jesus!  He could be our Superman!  Fix it Lord!  You may not have a cape, but you’ve got the power!   No one on earth has power like you!  You’re faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings at a single bound!  Only you can fix it Lord.  And hurry!  Please and thank you amen.

But guess what?  Jesus isn’t going to fix it.  Jesus isn’t going to turn back time so our mistakes don’t exist.  What Jesus is going to do is what Jesus has always done:  he’s going to be with us.  He is Emmanuel, GOD WITH US.

He’s already repaired the breach we created with our willful behavior.  With his dying breath, he said, “It is finished.”  The work of forgiving our sins is done.  We ARE forgiven.  Are we still willful? Yes.  Do we still sin on a daily basis?  Yes.  Does God forgive us?  Yes, yes, yes.  In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.

Now all we have to do is believe it and let Jesus be with us; the Jesus who is made like us, who suffers with us, who knows us to our marrow.

The next time you see a baby, be it sweet-smelling, or needing a fresh diaper, think of Jesus.  Think of how that baby and Jesus are the same in their vulnerability.  Think of how that baby and Jesus are just like US in our vulnerability.

Then allow yourself the grace to be comforted.  Allow yourself the grace to be like Jesus.  Amen.