Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Like a little child. . .

Sermon preached on Pentecost 14, Proper 18A, on Sunday, September 6, 2020.

     When I was a child in my parents’ home, I heard it over and over again.  “Grow up.”  It was usually accompanied by the admonition to stop acting like a baby or a little child.  Parents are forever telling their children to grow up and stop acting like a child. Sometimes we say it so often, we forget how it sounds.  What we mean, of course, is that we want our children to accept responsibility, to become accountable, and to be mature.  At the same time we tell them to grow up and stop acting like a baby, however, we warm them not to get too big for their britches.  We also remind them all the time that they are still children and not yet adults.  Is it no wonder our children are confused?

    Who wades into this whole thing but Jesus.  He calls a child to Himself and says “Become like this child or you will never enter the Kingdom of God.”  Then Jesus ups the ante a bit and says that a humble child is the greatest in the Kingdom of God.  Then Jesus hits the jackpot by saying that whoever causes one of these little children to sin would be better off drowning himself in the depths of the sea.  What does this mean?  Surely Jesus wants us to grow up and not be a child, right?

    To become like a little child is not to be childish.  St. Paul is clear here.  He was a child and when he grew up he put away his childish ways.  St. Peter urges us not to be infants in our thinking but to grow up into Christ who is our head.  No, the point of Jesus is not to be childish.  The Lord is not glorifying immaturity or suggesting that we should avoid becoming Christian men and women.  But when it comes to faith, there is no better example than that of the child.  Here is the point that we struggle with all the time.  We think faith means understanding God but it really means trusting Him – trusting Him when the mind cannot comprehend His ways and the eyes cannot see Him at work.  That is the realm of the child and this is where the child teaches the adult.

    A childlike faith is implicitly believes the Lord, is captive to the Word and promises of God, and depends not upon understanding but trusting God’s gracious will and ways.  To be a child of God and to live as a child of God means to live by faith, trusting in the Lord at all times but especially when tempted to systematize God or organize Him or define Him or understand Him.  As a child is utterly dependent upon the words and promises of the parent, so are we, as children of God, utterly dependent upon God’s Word and promises.  Children are not consulted nor must they give their consent for the ways of the family and neither does God consult with us nor does He await our approval or agreement.  Such faith may sound easy but if it were easy, we would still be in Eden’s garden.  Few of us are content to be childlike and most of us desire to be known and treated as equals.  It is the path of humanity and it is the way sinful humanity has addressed God.

    Our first and greatest temptation has always been to pull ourselves up to God, to become His equals, and to presume that God is somehow as dependent upon us as we are dependent upon Him.  This is the most childish thing of all.  The path of faith is to be childlike, to be content to live in utter dependence upon God’s grace and mercy and to live this out trusting in the Lord at all times and for all things.  The childlike lives by his daily instruction in the Word of God.  But we are tempted to treat the Word of God like the instructions that come with something we must assemble.  We only look at the directions when we run into problems and we only turn to God when our own efforts fail.  We continue to act childish when God has called us to be childlike.

    The cross was not given to us so that we might comprehend the unfathomable love of God but so that we might see that love displayed in unmistakable terms, and, by the Holy Spirit, trust that in this cross all our redemption is made.  The Law was not given to us so that we might learn its wisdom and agree to its holiness but to protect us in the chaos of a world at odds with God our Creator, to direct us to God our Redeemer when the bite of sin and the stain of its guilt leave us wounded, and to show us how then those who belong to the Lord should live.  

    Being a child of God is not something we do but what God does.  He does not ask of us great intellect or solemn consent but a childlike heart of faith, trusting in the Lord to do what He has said and promised.  In this way maturity is not independence or presumption but humility and faith, trusting in what Jesus has done to make us His own and to keep His own in His kingdom forevermore.  This is not a path of our decision but of His work, the Holy Spirit cutting through our childish arrogance to teach us this humility of faith and leading us from our old childish haunts of sin and evil into the light of life in Christ.

    In the days when Jesus was born of Mary and walked upon the earth, children were not that highly valued.  Rather, the aged were esteemed as the wise and gray hair was a mark of glory.  That is not how it is today.  In our culture we glorify youth and not just youth but childishness.  We hide behind the door of our own willfulness and we think that we can impress God by our great knowledge or amuse God with our wit or awe God with our accomplishments.  Yet God, in His mercy, is not offended but loves us still and in His mercy, and saves us before we even want Him to be our Savior.  Christ carries the burden of all our sins upon His shoulders, dies in our place the death we should have died, and rose to bestow upon us the new and everlasting life we do not deserve.  This He does not so we might get Him or understand Him but in love, waiting for hearts that would trust what He has accomplished.

    To live out this childlike faith is to learn to rejoice in what God has done for us, to learn to love others as He has loved us, to forgive others as we have been forgiven, and to speak of His salvation so that those who have not heard might hear and believe.  To live out this childlike faith is to live so that we may learn to hate our sin and love what is good and right and revealed in God’s Law.  To live out this childlike faith is to live not in the gray areas where darkness and death hide but in the light of Christ where life and hope reside.

    To live this childlike life is to acknowledge our sin and our great need and to respond to what God has done with gratitude and thanksgiving.  To live this childlike life out is to struggle to abandon the ways of sin and to mark that which tempts and deceives us so that we may be God’s own children and live always under Him in His kingdom here on earth in the Church and in heaven where the righteous shine like stars.

    Within this childlike life, there is no competition for greatness, no disdain for those who are weaker, no abandonment of those slow to know of God’s ways, and no callous treatment of those who cannot repay us for our kindness.  Children are valued not for their innocence or for their potential or for their love.  They are valued simply because they are children.  God values us not for our innocence or what we might become or even for our great love.  Instead, He loves us in spite of all that is lacking in us and delivers us from sin and its death through His Son.  Because He did not despise the childish or foolish, we love and protect and teach our children well to know the Lord and to walk in His ways.  As a child imitates His parents on earth, so do we imitate our heavenly Father as we grow up into Christ, our head.

    We live in a culture of sin in which the childish are lauded and the holy are ridiculed.  We live in a culture of sin in which the life of a child is considered cheap enough to kill with the whim and the fragility of old age is considered a burden too great for us to love and care for.  We live in a culture of sin in which children are considered toys or accessories to be purchased when we desire them and to be ignored when we have tired of them.  But thankfully God is not us.  He loves and forgives us, whom He has fearfully and wonderfully made, and rescues us from ourselves to be His forever.  He does not count the cost of our redemption too great or the cost of loving us to much but willingly becomes our Savior.  He treats us not as toys or distractions but as His greatest treasures and yet we can do nothing for Him.  No, indeed.  Unless you become like a little child in faith, you will never enter the Kingdom of God and unless you confess in humility the great limitations of your sinfulness, you will never know the greatness of the Lord’s love for you.  Because you know both, see that you do not despise the little ones but love them as He has loved you.  Amen.

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