First Congregational Church
October 4, 2015
19th Sunday after Pentecost, World Communion
“Receiving the Kingdom Like a Little Child”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
This past Friday, while listening to the radio, I heard about a contest about scary two sentence stories. While I was looking up the information about the show, I discovered a website called twosentencestories.com. I kid you not! Naturally, I couldn’t resist sharing this one: “On some nights I loved hearing my cat purr as it slept on my shoulder. And on other nights I remember I don’t own one.” Perhaps not as erie, but certainly uncomfortable was this one: “Unfortunately, I have never known my mother. She had already died long before my birth.”
That website lead to another, thoughtcatalog.com, which had this one: “My wife woke me up last night to tell me there was an intruder in our house. She was murdered by an intruder 2 years ago.” The last one this morning is like a great opening for a movie: “The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock at the door.”
The purpose of including these cheery little delights is not to decorate the stage of this fall season, but to give examples of how much just one or two sentences can say. But before we get there….
I love this day. It began last night - as we were going to bed—World Communion Sunday. Asian Christians shared the bread and the wine. Churches in China met in secret so that they would not be arrested. Christians in the Middle East met under the watchful eye of the government as they celebrated the Eucharist. Just hours ago, in Europe, Christians gathered in churches that used to be much fuller and celebrated the Lord’s Supper. In Africa the sacrament was celebrated by a growing number of Christians, many of whom bare scars of persecution as they commune together.
Those celebrating today include Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Baptists, Congregationalists, thousands of other denominations, and even those without denominations. Some take the sacrament today with organ music, others with simple singing, and still others in quiet so as not to be arrested.
In wealthy churches and in desperate poverty the sacrament is observed. In churches, homes, huts, and in God’s creation this seal of the covenant is experienced. The bread is given to people that could overeat all day and to people who had no idea what they would eat or where they would get it today. The one thing in common - we all come to the same table of our Lord.
The bread is wildly varied in types and colors and from many places. Some created primarily from wheat, others from rice or other kinds of grain. Some will have bread left over. Some with very small pieces that could barely give every Christian there a morsel. Still - it represents the body of Christ broken and the sustained body of Christ around the world today.
The juice around the world will be different. For many it will be wine, some will have juice, some will celebrate with water that had to be carried from a dirty well some miles away. Some will use individual cups, others fancy goblets, still others have been passing around whatever cup was in the home where they were meeting. Still - it represents the blood of the covenant in their place and in their communities, just as it does in ours.
A number of weeks ago, I stashed this poem by Steve Garnaas-Holmes. The poison ivy in the woods this morning was lovely. The fall colors sparkled after last night's bath, the rocks and trees glistened, everything shone. Especially the poison ivy. At the divine wedding banquet, the feast of love and faithfulness, everyone is invited.
The Creator knows each one's sacred worth and beauty, the venomous snake, the innocent mosquito. Even the hurtful ones belong. At the feast, one who isn't dressed to celebrate, not ready to dine with “those people,” or feeling unworthy to wear your finest, will miss out. Wear a party dress, not a judge's robe. In the lovely woods of human society everyone shines, everyone belongs, both good and bad. Come to the table.
So against all this background, we have this morning’s scripture passage. It follows those of the last two weeks: Jesus predicting his death and resurrection, the disciples not understanding that proclamation, discussion over first and last, and finally, salt and fire.
13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
Thank you, Mary. Any time we come across this passage, I think it’s important to do so differentiating between “like a child” and “childish.” Jesus doesn’t say anything about childish here, but child-like.
I’m sure a good many of us can bring a childish adult to mind. There are even some sad situations were there are child-like adults. But if you think about a child, any of those here on a Sunday morning, and those moments when they are all engaged in whatever it is that is being said, you see their eagerness to soak up that which is new, fun, delightful and joyous. It is that wonder behind their eyes, that pureness of heart that stymies you with their innocence of character. I think that’s what Jesus is asking of us - to be that open and ready to what God has for us. The irony is that this sort of “stance” is so far removed from those moments when we even unknowingly cross our arms and shake our head “no” to God.
I came across a little story from a woman named Jane Hunt, from her book, “Some (Not So) Random Thoughts on Bread,” a story told to her by her Uncle Harold. “I could not have been more than nine or ten years old and I certainly cannot remember the context or the reason for him sharing this, but this is what he offered. Apparently at some time, hundreds of years ago, the only staple in the diet of a particular people was potatoes. The grown ups would scrape out the meat of the potatoes, leaving the potato skins for the children. The children survived. Their elders did not.
As I said, I have no recollection of why this was shared. I only know that I remember it now these more than forty years later. It speaks of 'reversals.' What we think is good for us, may not be. And in the end, it may turn out that those receiving the 'worst' are actually receiving the very best: the best which leads to life. I think of this when I think of the bread that is Jesus - of how in Jesus things are always getting turned upside down. And that you and I eat the bread: the body of the Unlikely One who was shamed - crucified, even, on a cross. And this leads to life.
So what is your two sentence story or statement about God? What words will you make sure are a part of your two sentences? What have you “found” in this thing called faith that changes you, that causes you to pay attention to your stance with God? How do you “receive Go ahead and play with that thought this week, of actually writing a two sentence statement of your faith. It won’t necessarily be the same the next day or next year. But when we can write something about our faith, it becomes, greater than just a thought, and perhaps you will surprise yourself in that little exercise.
But for these next moments, I encourage you to mentally put down any burden you might be carrying; just let it sit on the floor at your feet. (If you forget to pick it up on your way home today, that’s fine, too.) But with your hands in your lap, turned up, ready to receive that which God has for you, let us prepare our hearts and minds for a little time with Christ.
Let us pray. God of every sort and all kinds, thank you for this day that reminds us that you welcome all of us, no matter what. Thank you for your mercy, forgiveness, grace, and especially those moments that take our breath away. Help us to realize the depth of our faith, that we may own it at deeper and more relevant levels. Show us how we can help others in the maturation of faith that would bring your peace of passing all understanding. And thank you, too, good God, for giving each of us the relationship we have with you, as all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.