< back to Sermon archive

Sermon for Sunday 23 September 2018

FIRST READING Jeremiah 11:18-20

18The Lord made it known to me and I knew; then you showed me their deeds. 19But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. I did not know it was against me they devised schemes, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.” 20But, O Lord of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.


PSALM Psalm 54

1Save me, O God, by your Name; in your might, defend my cause. 2Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth. 3For the arrogant have risen up against me, and the ruthless have sought my life, those who have no regard for God. 4Behold, God is my helper; it is the Lord who sustains my life. 5Render evil to those who spy on me; in your faithfulness, destroy them. 6I will offer you a freewill sacrifice and praise your name, O Lord, for it is good. 7For you have rescued me from every trouble, and my eye has seen the ruin of my foes.


SECOND READING James 3:13–4:10

13Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
41What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.


GOSPEL Mark 9:30-37

30{Jesus and the disciples} went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him. 33And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”



I’ll bet a good many of you have heard the following statement as children; “kids are to be seen and not heard.” Now in all fairness, I think mom and dad used to tell my brothers and me that to keep us in check when we were away from home. I remember the look of humor on my dad’s face when my little brother asked, but dad, what happens if I get hurt and am crying? How will you know if I have to cry quietly? Kids are smarter than we give them credit for.
Years ago, Roman Catholic Bishop Fulton J. Sheen was one of television’s brightest stars. For those who don’t recognize the name, Sheen would give televised talks that were so well received that he twice won an Emmy for Most Outstanding Television Personality and was featured on the cover of Time magazine. Because of his celebrity status, he also received thousands of letters from his viewers.
One mother wrote that her son was under her feet while she was working in the kitchen. So, she tells him: “Go into the parlor, turn on the television and listen to Bishop Sheen. He’s smart. You’ll learn something.” The boy did as he was told. And as the TV came on, Sheen was writing the word “sex” on the blackboard. Obviously, that was the theme of the broadcast that day. The boy ran back to his mother and said: “Bishop Sheen isn’t so smart. He doesn’t know how to spell six.” Kids do say the darndest things don’t they?
Another woman wrote to Reader’s Digest recently to tell about an incident involving one of her five children. She said they had just finished tucking the kids into bed when three-year-old Billy began to wail. Turns out, he had accidentally swallowed a penny and was sure he was going to die. Desperate to calm him, she said her husband palmed a penny that he had in his pocket and pretended to pull it from Billy’s ear. Billy was delighted. In a flash, he snatched it from his father’s hand, swallowed it, and demanded, “Do it again!” Kids will keep us on our toes won’t they. But, the truth is, if you pay attention to them, there’s a lot we can learn from our children.
The story is told on Albert Einstein. One of his neighbors, the mother of a ten-year-old girl, noticed that the child often visited Einstein’s house. The woman wondered at this, and the child explained: “I had trouble with my homework in arithmetic. People said that at No. 112 lives a very big mathematician, who is also a very good man. I asked him to help me. He was very willing and explained everything very well. He said I should return whenever I find a problem too difficult.”
Alarmed at the child’s boldness, the girl’s mother went to Einstein to apologize. Einstein said, “You don’t have to excuse yourself. I have learned more from the conversations with the child than she has from me.” I think Jesus would have understood what Dr. Einstein was saying. One day Jesus and His disciples were traveling through Galilee. They returned to Capernaum. When they got settled in from their journey, Jesus asked His disciples, “What were you arguing about on the road?” Our gospel reading then goes on to tell us the disciples were embarrassed and didn’t say anything. Why? What did they have to be embarrassed about?
First of all, they had just failed in being able to cast out a demon, something Jesus had given them the authority to do. Second, they got caught arguing about which of them was the greatest. Now think about that for a moment. Here they’re walking on the road with the One who Simon Peter, not long before, admitted was the Son of God, the One who cast out the demon they couldn’t. And now, they have the audacity to argue about which one of them is the greatest. What’s wrong with this picture? So, Jesus sits down and, as if they were children, called His disciples to gather around Him. Then he said, “Anyone who wants to be first, must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
Then as if to drive the point home, Jesus gave the disciples an object lesson. He took a child and placed it among them. Taking the child into His arms he said, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” I love this passage. It’s a great reminder that Jesus has a high regard for children.
What make this passage so interesting is that children were not viewed favorably in ancient Israel. Generally speaking, children were viewed in much the same way as property; they were considered one of the lowest elements in society. The only exception was the first-born son, they were viewed slightly better. Children as a rule, along with women, old men, and slaves, were viewed as physically weak, as burdens on society who had little value to the wider life of the community. In Greece and Rome, it was an accepted practice to abandon unwanted children along the roadsides to die. Thank goodness this view has changed for the better. It’s obvious that Jesus’ attitude toward children was the complete opposite. He warned His followers not to despise children nor to cause them to stumble.
Interestingly, this passage isn’t the only place in Scripture where we find Jesus using children as examples. He enjoyed the presence of children. You remember that wonderful scene where the disciples were keeping the children away from Jesus, afraid that they might bother the Master. And Jesus said, as translated in the King James Version, “Suffer the little children to come to me.” (Mt. 19:14) Some of us smile at that particular archaic translation: “Suffer the little children . . .” We can remember “suffering” through Sunday school and worship as children ourselves. The modern translation “Let the children to come unto me . . .” is far more accurate.
Jesus even elevated children higher than this when he said, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17) I’m not sure we fully appreciate what Jesus is saying here, but it does remind us of how precious the children of our church are, and the children of our community, and all the children of the world. Today’s lesson reminds us that children are great teachers.
An anonymous author has made a list of some things you don’t know until you have kids. For example, without kids you wouldn’t know: Who John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt is. You wouldn’t know how to change a diaper in the dark, in a parked car, on a standing child, and all of the above simultaneously . . . You wouldn’t know which lines of “The Cat in the Hat” and “If I Ran the Circus” can be skipped over without a child noticing. Or the locations of every rest area between here and Raleigh. Or, how little sleep a human body truly needs to function. You wouldn’t know almost every Disney lyric ever penned. Or why they call them Happy Meals. Or the blessedness of naps. And finally, without children you wouldn’t know how much you can love one human being; that is until you have grandkids of course!
These are all well and good, but there are a good many more things we can learn from our children. For one, we wouldn’t know what unrestrained joy is. Watch a child at play and you will usually hear the wonderful sound of laughter. According to experts in the field, children laugh four hundred times per day on average, whereas adults laugh only seventeen times per day. As we grow older, we lose the exuberant happiness of childhood. If it gets to you that your children are too exuberant at times, remind yourself to thank God for that exuberance. It’s a sign that they’re happy and healthy.
Rodger Nishioka, a professor at Columbia Seminary, had something to say on this subject when he returned from a trip to Africa. He was speaking to his students who would one day be pastors. He said that he never wanted to hear of any pastor complaining about a crying baby in worship. One Sunday on his trip, he had been in a rural, remote village assisting with a baptism.
Hundreds of people had come to the open air ceremony. In the middle of the baptism, Rodger was surprised to find that the congregation was totally quiet. All he could hear was the buzzing sound of the flies all around, but not a peep out of any of the parishioners or their many children. Then he looked around into the vacant face of one child, then another, then another–they were silent from sickness and hunger. Please keep this in mind, every time you hear a child laugh, give thanks to God. We adults need to learn not to allow our responsibilities to rob us of the gift of laughter. I know life can be stressful, but we can learn from our children to laugh a little more.
Bill Vamos tells about a cartoon that he saw of a mother driving home with her four small children, the family dog, and several bags of groceries. On her face you can see a combination of tension, frustration, anger, and near hysteria, as the steering wheel begins to vibrate under her ever-tightening grip. Behind her all four small children are talking at the same time.
As part of the cartoon, you can see the children’s conversation behind her: “Tell Billy to stop waving at the car behind us.” “Daddy’s good hat is back here and Dolly’s standing on it.” “Which bags are the lollipops in?” “Blow your horn and make that police car get out of the way, Mom.” “Janie just dropped the ketchup bottle on top of the prune juice, and the bag’s leaking.” “Drive faster, we’re missing my favorite program on TV.” “Stop bouncing the car, I can’t read the message on the cereal box.” “It’s cold back here, sitting on the frozen food.” “Who put the fingerprints on the back window?” “Why’d you turn the radio off?” “Jimmy’s opening the cookie bag.” And finally, this one revealing comment: “You don’t smile very much when you drive, do you Mommy?”
We all understand. Life is stressful, and so is life as a parent. However, we need our children and grandchildren to remind us what unrestrained joy is all about. Number two, Children also teach us about unrestrained love. Most of us have encountered that love at some time in our lives and it brought us indescribable joy. Children know how to express love in the most beautiful ways. And their love moves beyond the boundaries we adults put on our love. For example, they don’t reserve their love for people who are like them.
Business writer Ann Crittenden tells about a friend who found a three and a half year old boy sitting and staring at a little box containing wooden figures around a table, depict¬ing the Last Supper. She asked him what he was thinking. The young boy looked up and said, “You know, if Jesus could give a friend a party, he’d invite the whole world.” What an amazingly true statement! That’s exactly what Jesus has done in the Holy Eucharist. I believe children, at times, understand the heart of Jesus better than we do as adults. Maybe this is just one of the points Jesus was trying to get across. Our Children not only teach us about unrestrained joy and unrestrained love, they also teach us about unrestrained faith.
Author and business consultant Ken Blanchard tells the wonderful story of a little girl named Schia. When Schia was 4 years old, her baby brother was born. Says Blanchard, “Little Schia began to ask her parents to leave her alone with the new baby. They worried that, like most 4-year-olds, she might want to hit or shake him, so they said no. “Over time, though, since Schia wasn’t showing any signs of jealousy, they changed their minds and decided to let Schia have her private conference with the baby.
“Elated, Schia went into the baby’s room and shut the door, but it opened a crack–enough for her curious parents to peek in and listen. They saw little Schia walk quietly up to her baby brother, put her face close to his, and say, ‘Baby, tell me what God feels like. I’m starting to forget.’” What an amazing story. Faith is the natural state of a child. Robert Coles is an author, child psychiatrist, and professor emeritus at Harvard University. Years ago, he wrote an important book titled, The Spiritual Life of Children. Coles spent three decades meeting and interviewing children in many parts of the world to find out what they thought about life and God.
He discovered that children can be quite insightful in their thinking about faith and life. For example, he cited Mary, only ten years old, who said she wants to put her time on earth to good use. “The Lord wants you to do something,” she said. “If you don’t know what, then you’ve got to try hard to find out what. It may take time. You may make mistakes. But you must pray. [God will] lead you to your direction. He won’t hand you a piece of paper with a map on it, no, sir. He’ll whisper something, and at first you may not even hear, but if you trust in Him and you keep turning to Him, it will be all right.” That’s some pretty good advice at any age.
We need to listen more to our children. God gave them to us so that we can guide them as they grow and mature. But God also gave them to us so that they can teach us about what’s really important in life, like unrestrained joy, love and faith. What would we do without children–children to teach in Sunday school, and children to run through the church on the way to worship? As we minister to them, we grow. They keep us in touch with what really matters.
Anytime we begin to think that life is a matter of accumulation, domination and accommodation, the sound of a baby’s cry can bring us back to earth. A child’s laughter can brighten our entire world. A child’s love can give us something to live for, and a child’s faith can help keep all of us on the right track. “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me,” Jesus reminds us. “And whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Children do say the darndest things; maybe we need to pay more attention to what they say and do!

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.

< back to Sermon archive