To the Little Ones

 

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Matthew 11:25-30 / Proper 09A / 03 July 2011 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA

“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” Matthew 11:25-26

We’ve caught Jesus in one of “those moments” in this morning’s Gospel. Driven by frustration over His own generation, His own people, folks who should have known better. He had just engaged some disciples of John, who was in Herod’s prison, who asked whether He was actually the Christ or if they should look for someone else.

He compares His own generation to a bunch of spoiled religious brats. “We played a flute, and you didn’t dance. We sang a dirge, and you didn’t mourn.” You never join the game, you just sit there on the sidelines with your arms folded and complain like bratty kids – it’s too hard, it’s too easy, I don’t like it. John came as a religious ascetic, a holy man who neither ate nor drank, and they concluded “He has a demon.” And then Jesus came, never missing a party, eating and drinking, and they concluded, “He’s a glutton and a drunkard, not to mention a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” I wonder where we’d fit in? The whiners or the complainers?

Jesus then chews out the cities He’d visited and done all sorts of miracles, saying that the cursed city of Sodom, the city that went up in flames at the time of Lot, would fare better in the judgment than the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and even Capernaum, His base of operations. All those miracles, all that preaching, all those mighty works, and not an ounce of faith to show for it. Even the Gentiles of Tyre and Sidon on the coast have more faith sense than the insiders of Capernaum and would have repented long ago.

I wonder what Jesus would say to us? Especially us “lifer-Lutherans.” I”m one of them. Baptized and raised in the Lutheran church. We’re sometimes like the grandchildren in a wealthy family. Grandpa and Grandma worked their fingers to the bone coming from the old country with nothing but change in their pocket. Mom and Dad worked to build on what Grandma and Grandpa built. And then the grandkids don’t have clue as to the value of a dollar. We’re the Paris Hilton’s of the religious world, surrounded by the richest Gospel treasure there is in this world, and we’re bored with it. You play a flute, we don’t dance; you play a dirge, we don’t mourn. The tune’s too hard. We’re not being fed. It’s all our parent’s fault. Anything but repentance.

It drives Jesus to prayer. Our text is Jesus’ outburst of prayer to His Father. “Father, Lord of heaven, thank you. Thank you for hiding the treasures of your kingdom from the wise and understanding who are so smart they think they don’t have anything to learn. Thank you for hiding your goodness and mercy from those who think they have you figured out. Thank you for hiding your wisdom under foolishness, your strength under weakness, your victory under defeat. Thank you for revealing these things to the little ones, to little children.”

Little children. Unless you become one of them, you can’t enter the kingdom. Not because God won’t have you, but because you won’t have Him.

Little children – receivable, giveable to, trusting, dependent. All those things you’ve grown out of. I saw a couple of videos this week that perfectly illustrate what Jesus is saying. The first video was of a little girl who liked to paint, or at least play with paint. Her parents were artists and she exhibited an interest in paints at a very young age, around 2. They gave her a corner in their studio, a bunch of huge canvasses, and all the paint she could brush, pour, or splatter. Literally thousands of dollars of acrylic paint.

The video showed her squirting paint out of plastic bottles, filling her little hands and clapping them together to see what happened, applying it with various kinds of brushes, pouring it straight out of the can in huge amoeba-like puddles. The look on that 4 year old’s face was quite unforgettable. It was the face of pure creativity, unadulterated by wise and prudent adult concerns. It was moving to watch her and amazing to see what she did with all that paint and canvass. There was intentionality to what she was doing in terms of color and form and texture. And joy. And fun. And play. And intensity. And oh, by the way, her canvasses sold for $10K.

The second video was of a little two year-old girl sitting on the floor singing the Sanctus from Divine Service 4 along with her father who is a Lutheran pastor. There is the same look of joy and absorption and discovery as she sings, “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of Sabaoth adored….” She didn’t realize that many adults think it’s too hard to sing. She didn’t understand all the words, but that didn’t take away one bit of joy from her face or her voice.

“I thank you Father, that you have hidden these things from the wise and the understanding, the practical and the pragmatic, the sophisticated and the opinionated, and have revealed them to little children.”

That’s how faith is with the kingdom of God. It’s a little child with buckets of paint and a big canvass and not worry about the cost of materials. It’s a little girl singing the Liturgy with her Dad. It’s dancing when the flute plays and weeping when the funeral dirge comes on, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep. Being open to the world. Letting your defenses drop. Having your heart and mind and eyes open to the world and to God.

If you want to experience that as an adult, the best way is to teach a little child the faith. Teach them the ten commandments, the Creed, the Our Father. Teach them the Bible stories about Jesus. Teach them the Sanctus from Divine Service 4, as well as 1, 2, and 3. They soak these things up like little sponges. They haven’t yet learned the cynicism of this world. They haven’t become bored in the presence of Mystery. I’m not saying they aren’t sinful, they are as infected by it as we are. But Sin hasn’t yet corrupted their curiosity and wonder. Little children are great theologians. Spend some time talking the faith to our day camp kids. They’ll pepper you with questions. A lot of them begin with “why?” Why is a theological question. Spend time with the little ones and you will understand why Jesus says the kingdom of God belongs to those who are like them.

God hides the mysteries of the kingdom from the worldly wise and understanding. He reveals them to the little ones of faith. He uses the foolish to shame the wise. He uses the weak to shame the strong. He uses the losers of this world (and little children were considered losers in Jesus’ day – can’t raise them fast enough) to shame the “winners” of this world. He tucks the Mystery of salvation under the deceptive simplicity of baptismal water, pastoral words, eucharistic bread and wine.

The fact is that we sinners don’t really improve with age. The apostle Paul was probably in his fifties when he wrote his epistle to the Romans. He had been a Christian for over a decade. In chapter 7, which you heard as the this morning’s epistle, Paul speaks of the reality of being a believer in the flesh of Adam, what it means to have the mind of Christ and the flesh of Adam, or as Luther termed it, to be simultaneously a sinner and a saint. The good he want to do with his mind, he does not do. The evil he tries to avoid, that he does. When he wants to do good, evil lies close at hand. And this isn’t some newbie Christian here. And certainly not any run of the mill Christian. And yet at the end, Paul must say, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” And the only answer there is: “Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Christ came to us. The Father sent the Son to be humbled under the Law for us, to put Sin to death in our flesh, to deal with this fatal and blinding spiritual disease that robs us of our innocence, our blessedness, our holiness. Jesus became the little one in our midst – lowly, despised, rejected. He embraced the little ones as pictures of faith not because they were innocent and sinless, but because they trusted, they received, they were open and teachable.

He comes to and says, “Come to me. Come to me, you weary and burdened, broken and miserable, anxious and despairing. Come to me, laboring under the Law, weighed down by the burden of your sin, Come to me where I have come to you. Come to me in Baptism where I make you an infant again. Come to m, in my Word, in the bread that is My Body, in the wine that is My Blood. Come to me, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke, the yoke of childlike faith and trust in me. I bore your burden on the cross so that you don’t have to. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and I will be there with you.”

The Christian life is like that of a little child walking with his or her big brother, carrying a heavy load. But we know who is carrying it, don’t we? Luther said it’s like a mule puling a cart with a flea on its nose and the flea pulling with all its might. Jesus bears the heavy oad and lets us walk with Him. His yoke is easy, His burden is light because He bears the weight, not you. He does the heavy lifting, and in Him you will find the rest you seek. Come to Jesus.

To come to Jesus you must become little again. You must be born again, from above, by water and Spirit. We baptize infants and adults alike, but in Baptism all become infants, little ones of faith in Christ, children of God to whom the mysteries of the kingdom, the hidden things are revealed.

For thus it is the Father’s gracious will.

In the name of Jesus,
Amen

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