Sunday’s sermon: Wriggling Faith

like a child

Texts used – Isaiah 40:27-31 and Mark 10:13-16

  • Last week, a pastor at Grace Lutheran Church, an ELCA Lutheran Church up in Apple Valley, posted a photo album on Facebook. This album contained 19 pictures, all celebrating the 1-year anniversary of a new initiative in their congregation: The Pray-Ground.[1]
    • Describe Pray-Ground
      • Roughly size of a large area rug
      • Lots of small tables and chairs and other furniture necessary for tiny tots – Bumbo seats, bouncy chairs, etc.
      • Also lots of toys and art supplies (chalkboard easels, foam blocks, play food made out of felt, infant playmats) for young children
    • Post included a number of pictures of lots of different kids taking full advantage of everything the Pray-Ground has to offer with their parents watching in background
    • Also included in post – pics of laminated cards that introduce first-time visitors to the purpose of the Pray-Ground: “This space in the front of the Sanctuary is intended especially for families with infants and toddlers, recognizing that small kids are often more engaged when they can see what’s going on. Small tables and chairs, baby bouncers and seats, and soft toys help keep our littlest ones occupied.” → Yes … you heard me right. This wonderful play space designed so deliberately and so lovingly is located in the sanctuary. Right up front. Just to the left of the pulpit. Visible from almost every seat in the sanctuary. The children. And not just the perfect, older, well-behaved children. The littlest. The squirrliest. The often-challenging-and-headstrong. Infants. Two year olds. Three year olds. Lord, have mercy!
    • Response to this post = VIRAL!! → In the short amount of time since this album was posted, it’s garnered more than 600 comments … more than 3600 likes (which, if you aren’t familiar with social media, is A LOT!). Thousands of people around the country have shared these pictures and this idea. It’s garnered so much attention that national ABC News did a story on the church and their Pray-Ground.
    • Why am I bringing this up this week?
      • Has nothing to do with my own children
      • Not a pitch – not me saying “this is what I think we have to do”
      • I’m bringing it up this week because last week was Pentecost – the birthday of the church, the great in-breaking of the Holy Spirit, the scattering of the gospel message to lands and nations and cultures and tongues who may never have heard it if our God was a God who was content to sit still and quiet.
        • Divine Disturber
        • Holy Hellraiser
        • Spirit of Light and Fire
        • Spirit of Rushing Wind and Sacred Water
        • Spirit of Lifting Up and Sending Out
    • In the creation of this Pray-Ground, Grace Lutheran Church in Apple Valley not only recognized the reality of the wiggle and the squirminess of children but validated that as something that can be worshipful, something that can be sacred, something that can offer us a glimpse of God that we may have forgotten how to look for in the hustle and bustle and seriousness of our day-to-day lives. Friends, our faith was never meant to be a faith that was seen and not heard, that sat still and pretty and prim and proper. Our faith was never meant to be a faith that doesn’t make waves, doesn’t rock the boat, doesn’t challenge or disturb or upset the balance. We are only a week removed from Pentecost – the day in which God came down in tongues of fire and the rush of holy wind and settled on the people and loosed their tongues and SENT. THEM. OUT. !!! Our faith is meant to look a lot less like the perfectly quiet child sitting in the pews and a lot more like the child who is bouncing and wriggling, eager and impatient to get out into the world and explore … experience … do … and be!
  • That’s why I love this story out of gospel of Mark
    • Passage: People were bringing children to Jesus so that he would bless them. But the disciples scolded them. When Jesus saw this, he grew angry and said to them, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.” Then he hugged the children and blessed them.[2] → I love to picture this scene in my head. Maybe I’m just projecting here, but something tells me it looked a lot less like a picturesque scene out of a Normal Rockwell painting and a lot more like the chaotic exuberance you find in the “pictures with Santa” line at the mall at Christmas time.
      • Parents holding children ⟷ children not wanting to be held
        • Lots of movement
        • Lots of noise
        • Lots of laughter and tears
        • Lots of stressed out parents just trying to get their kids to sit still for 30 seconds so they could get their blessing from this Jesus guy that everyone kept talking about
          • (As a mom with two 3-yr-olds at home, this sounds like any given moment in our lives. Like I said … maybe I’m projecting here … I don’t know!)
      • FLIP SIDE: not hard to imagine the disciples’ response either: People were bringing children to Jesus so that he would bless them. But the disciples scolded them.[3]
        • Contextual background: role of disciples in Mark’s gospel = a little bit stooge-like → completely oblivious
          • Always giving the answer wrong
          • Always missing the point
          • Always misunderstanding what Jesus was trying to tell them
          • Today’s story = no different
        • Disciples scolded these parents seeking blessings
          • “The Teacher is too busy.”
          • “The Teacher is too important.”
          • “The Teacher is too tired.”
          • “The Teacher doesn’t have time for the likes of you.”
            • A little more contextual background: role of children in society = non-existent → Today, we recognize and value the importance of childhood experiences. We understand how our childhood shapes who we are and who we become, and we place great value on nurturing things like individuality, creativity, self-worth, and so on. But this was not the case in any society during Jesus’ time. Children were non-entities. They held zero importance. None whatsoever. They weren’t despised or intentionally neglected (not on the whole, anyway). They simply weren’t considered … at all. So for people to be bringing their children to Jesus for a blessing was, in the eyes of the disciples, a ludicrous waste of Jesus’ precious time and energy.
    • AND YET!! What does Jesus tell the disciples?: “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children.” … Then he hugged the children and blessed them.[4] → “God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children.” People like these children … people who love with the unabashed and uninhibited love of a child … people who seek out the wonder and the beauty and the joy in the world just like a child … people who are open and willing to learn and grow and change and transform just like a child … people who aren’t afraid to trust and hope and dream and believe … people who find movement – running and wriggling and dancing and skipping – an essential way of being in this world. “God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children.”
  • “But,” you may say to me, “we are tired. We are older and grayer and slower than we used to be. We have done this and tried that. We cannot see that future. We cannot hold that dream in our hands. We can’t … we can’t … we can’t.”
    • Words from Is again: The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. [God] doesn’t grow tired or weary. [God’s] understanding is beyond human reach, giving power to the tired and reviving the exhausted. Youths will become tired and weary, young men will certainly stumble; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength; they will rise up on wings like eagles; they will run and not be tired; they will walk and not be weary.[5] → I want to share another part of the Pray-Ground story with you. There were a lot of positive responses to this idea – hundreds and hundreds (if not thousands) of people applauding this church and expressing excitement about doing something similar in their own worship settings. But … there were plenty of negative comments, too. One person went so far as to declare that having children in church was “the devil’s work” because they provided a distraction from the worship.
      • As adults, we often forget …
        • Forget to look for the sparkle that the world has to offer
        • Forget the true magic of possibilities – endless and unbounded
        • Forget that life is not all about “no”s and “not yet”s and “maybe”s and hedged bets and roadblocks and hurdles and blind corners
        • Part of growing up and becoming an adult is understanding serious things like consequences and risk assessments and data analysis and all those grown up-type things. But too often, in our own lives and especially in the life of the church, we let the weight and gravitas of those parts of life overshadow the wonder, the joy, the possibilities, the spark and the sparkle. We have become so used to being responsible – being in charge – that we forget that ultimately, we are not We are not in charge. → The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. [God] doesn’t grow tired or weary. [God’s] understanding is beyond human reach, giving power to the tired and reviving the exhausted. Youths will become tired and weary, young men will certainly stumble; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength; they will rise up on wings like eagles; they will run and not be tired; they will walk and not be weary.[6]
    • Theological and liturgical confession: today is Trinity Sunday = Sunday that is supposed to be devoted to celebrating the doctrine of the Trinity
      • God in three persons: Father, Son, Holy Spirit; Mother, Child, Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer … whatever language you choose for the three persons of Almighty God
      • Traditionally a Sunday of serious theological pondering and pithy word-smithing (plethora of scholarly work devoted to how to adequately and inclusively name the three persons of the Trinity without diminishing theology) and frankly dizzying doctrinal acrobatics
      • And while the importance of the Doctrine of the Trinity certainly has its place within the grand scheme of our faith and the Church universal, Jesus didn’t say, “God’s kingdom belongs to those who can work out this humdinger of a theological puzzle”! Jesus said, “God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children.” Jesus didn’t say, “God’s kingdom belongs to those who can sit perfectly still and silently in church because only the person up front is allowed to make a peep.” Jesus said, “God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. With all their messiness; with all their giggles and skinned knees; with all their exuberance and joy; in their grass-stained jeans and baseball hats, in their chalk-smeared leggings and smudged princess dresses; with all their color and brightness and sparkle and confidence. Allow the children – all the children, just as they are – to come to me.” Thank you, Jesus! Amen.

 

[1] “Grace Lutheran Pray-Ground, year 1” album on Facebook from Grace Lutheran Church of Apple Valley, https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1042935625753136.1073741834.101782736535101&type=3. Last updated May 14, 2016, accessed May 20, 2016.

[2] Mk 10:13-16.

[3] Mk 10:13.

[4] Mk 10:14, 16 (emphasis added).

[5] Is 40:28-31.

[6] Is 40:28-31 (emphasis added).

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