Friday, July 8, 2011
Like a little child. . .
America's Funniest showed a video of a Pastor baptizing a toddler. While the Pastor was talking the child reached down into the water and applied it to his head three times. The kid had no idea of what the Pastor was saying but he knew what baptism was. I only wish that you could see the faces of children at the altar rail from my perspective. They watch, mouth the words I say, and are clearly clued in to what is going on in Holy Communion. Children get it but in a way different from their parents. Parents try to get it by reason or understanding, children get it by simple trust and confidence.
As parents we often mess up our relationship with our children by treating them as little adults. We try to win them over to our point of view and our way of thinking, believing that if they just understood why we said "no" they would agree with us. We falsely believe that having our children agree with us is the goal of parenting. But our kids do not need to agree with us or understand us – just listen to us and, as Scripture says, obey us.
That sounds so awful doesn't it – obey. It sounds so awful to us and yet obedience is not simply matter of doing what we are told. In the Old Testament the obedience of faith meant keeping faith or trust in God, believing in His Word. When it comes to God we would prefer to believe that God wants to reason with us rather than to get us to obey Him. We have the false idea that God wants us to understand Him and agree with Him. But what God wants is for us to trust in Him and follow Him – or, to put it another way -- to obey Him.
God's wisdom is not accessible to us. In fact, God is confusing to us. He confounds us. His ways are a mystery to us. God is not looking for intellectual agreement from us but rather the faith that acknowledges that He is God and we are not, and the trust to have confidence in His Word and to follow where He leads the way. We heard that loud and clear in Jesus' words in the Gospel lesson for today. Who gets God is the one who trust Him.
Jesus said that these things, the things of salvation and His Kingdom, have been hidden from the wise and the understanding. Faith is not reason and theology is not philosophy. God refuses to be reasonable, rational, or predictable. He does not ask us to figure Him out or to agree with His choices or to understand His ways. He is no riddle to be solved. God is not looking for our consent or our agreement but rather it is our trust and confidence in Him and His good and gracious will that is what He seeks.
The things that the wise and understanding of this world have so much trouble with, are the things that children get right away – not because they understand Him but because they trust in Him, they believe His Word is truth. The little children Jesus refers to here are not youth but the smallest of children – infants and toddlers. Their trust is unmarred by the suspicion, doubt, fear, and cynicism that grows up in to us with age and maturity.
God bids us trust in Him, in what we do not see or understand. This is a wisdom which is clear only by faith. This faith is not our achievement but the gift of the Spirit whose work is to break through our fear, suspicion, doubt, and cynicism. This hardness of heart is not what we are born with but it is what we end up with over time. This is why Jesus tells us that we must become like little children in order to enter the kingdom of God. The Spirit must undo what the world and our own sinful nature have done to us so that we might believe or trust.
God meets us in Christ, who gives us the Spirit that we may believe that He is who He claims to be, that He bestows the gifts He promises, and that we can trust this for now and for all eternity. Faith is not some aha! moment but the work of the Spirit turning back what years of disappointment and fear and suspicion have done to us. This is a constant tension within us – the heart torn by the desire of the flesh to judge by what you see. And the work of the Spirit who leads us to see by faith, trusting in what we cannot see or even understand. The claims of Christianity are not truth propositions which we need to be convinced by but the wisdom, grace, and mercy of God which is accessible to us only by faith.
Long ago Thomas said, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” This was not a moment of revelation in which suddenly God and His wisdom became clear to Thomas but the moment when Thomas surrendered his losing battle to understand God and simply trusted in who God is, what God has done, and how God makes this known to us. We come every Sunday with the foolish idea that one day the Pastor will say something that will finally help us to get God. That will never happen. That is not because I am a poor preacher (although this is probably true) but because there is nothing to get – only the manger, cross, and empty tomb to believe in and the Word that tells us of this and imparts the very things of which it speaks.
God cares little of our acceptance and everything of faith and trust. Like infants and toddlers who understand little and trust much, so we come to God always as His children, content to let God be God and to trust in God only. We never grow up except into Christ by trust and faith, by the means of grace, week after week laying bare our doubts and fears and raising us up in trust.
This is a pretty important weekend for us as Americans. Polls tell us that we care less about politicians who promise us a fix and more about people we can trust. What our people value in our nation is not a brilliant mind that understands everything but the character of trust and integrity whom we can follow. I suspect that what we seek in national leaders is not far off from the parameters of our relationship with God. He values not the wisdom that seeks to understand Him nor the consent that agrees with Him but the trust that will follow Him to the places where He has made Himself known. So we come today for exactly that reason. To meet God where He has promise to be, to receive what gifts He has promised there, and to trust in that grace and mercy and follow wherever it leads us. Like the child who holds the hand of mom or dad, so we come today to grasp the hand of Jesus by faith, to receive what He promises in forgiveness, life, and salvation, and to walk in this way of life all our days. This is the wisest and most understanding way. The way of trust. Amen.