Saturday, October 27, 2018

Heads Up

Just a heads up.  There won’t be a Bible Study next weekend.  The first weekend of November is when my siblings and spouses and some of the grandkids will gather in Paris, Tennessee to inter the ashes of my father.  Dad has been sitting on our mantel since shortly after his death.  We had him cremated, as he requested, and will bury him next to Mom in the cemetery across the street from the house they lived in for almost forty years.  It will be a celebration of life and family and love, as well as the sadness of the end of an era and the grief of losing the last parent of our generation.  

We chose this weekend because it is the anniversary of his birth.  He would have been 89 on that Saturday, November third.  The church Dad and Mom attended there in Paris is throwing a Birthday Party reception for us after the graveside service.  My siblings and assorted family members are gathering in a cabin in a nearby state park.  Partly because Dad loved camping and the outdoors, partly because it can accommodate us all, and partly because it will be good to be a family again, even if for a short time.  For the last time.  

Who knows whether we will have occasion to all gather together again?  We can say we will do it, but will we?  We might connect in other ways in this technologically rich world in which we live, but will we occupy the same space again, like we did when we sat on the floor in our footie pajamas and blinked our way through a Christmas morning?   We’re losing something next weekend, a father, yes, but also the glue that held us together, the reason we gathered when we did.  We spent the last however many years gathering because we needed to provide care for Mom, or make decisions about Dad.  Before that it was so that Mom and Dad wouldn’t be alone on Christmas.  So, what will bring us together now?  We can make the effort.  We can pledge to stay connected, to stay close, but given what else is going on in all of our disparate lives, will we?  Can we carry this load along with all the other loads we are given to carry?

Matthew 11:28-30  "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." 

Contextually, Jesus was referring to the burdens placed on the people of God by those in leadership who expanded on the law.  When God gave the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai it was a pretty simple thing.  Ten Commandments carved onto two stone tablets - straightforward, clear and concise, just what we expect from laws!  Right?  Uh, no.  Ever read the simplified tax code from the US Government?  

God tried to keep things simple.  There were laws about how to worship and laws about how to live in community - and what else do you need?  Well, heaped on top of these ten laws were literally thousands of interpretations and applications that also must be followed in order to stay right.  It became so onerous that no one could remember them all let alone obey them.  So, every one lived out of sync with God’s law, at least according to those in charge.  Most people wanted to be right, wanted to follow the law, but it was impossible.  So, they lived with the burden of not being right, not being pure enough to worship, not having access to God, except through those in charge who guarded the gates religiously.  

Jesus came along and said “take my yoke.”  One of the concepts we struggle with in this passage is the fact that there is a yoke to take and that there is rest to receive.  Which is it Jesus?  Yoke or rest?  A yoke implies work, and rest implies ... well ... NOT work.  We like the rest thing, aren’t too sure about the yoke thing, to be honest.  Even if it is easy and light.

Someone called this passage the Great Invitation.  That makes four “Greats” that I can identify.  There is the Great Commission - “Go and Make Disciples” (Matthew 28:19); the Great Commandment - “You shall love the Lord” (Matthew 22:37 et al); the Great Requirement “Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8); and now the Great Invitation - “Come to me” (Matthew 11:28).  

But the real question is, to what are we invited?  Is it work or is it rest?  Labor and struggle, or vacation and getting away from it all?  Is this about heaven or about earth?  Yes.  To all that precedes.  Yes.  And no.  The invitation is to a relationship.  “Take MY yoke,” says Jesus, “and learn from me.”  He is inviting us into a partnership, to labor alongside him in the fields of the Lord.  He wants us to take on his spirit, his heart.  He asks of us to be “gentle and humble in heart” as we live and work in this world.  It is not a task so much as a way of living, a way of being alive. 

So, it IS a yoke.  There IS a burden.  But it is a yoke that is easy and burden that is light.  Does that mean that there is no effort here?  That it is something we do without thinking, without straining?  Not necessarily.  “Easy” in this case really means “well-fitting.”  The yoke that Christ offers is a yoke that fits us, it is right for us.  It doesn’t rub in the wrong places and make us sore.  There is effort, there is struggle at times, but it is good effort, it is healthy struggle and we feel the better for it.  The burden of walking in the way of Christ is light because it is right, it is good, it builds us up rather than takes us down.

Christ doesn’t offer us an effortless life, but one that means something.  We don’t get a struggle free life, but one that accomplishes something, and makes a difference in the world.  Those around us are better because we are there.  We are better, happier, more whole.  That is the promise.

Sounds good, but it doesn’t sound like rest to me.  Unless by rest he meant something other than what we first imagine.  Unless he meant something like the antidote to restlessness.  That what he was offering was not so much a sun drenched beach upon which to kick back and nap, but a sense of belonging and of purpose that allows us to know that we are right, we are in sync with our deepest selves and with our loved ones (which is always a bigger crowd than we acknowledge) and with him.  The offer of rest is another way of describing salvation, which has less to do with the gates of heaven and more to with the fields we plow when we are yoked to Christ.   Certainly there is a promise of eternity and an invitation into the presence of God, but that promise and that presence are what make the burden of living so light and what make the yoke of Christ so easy.  We will find, says Jesus, rest for our souls.  Our backs are into the labors of love, our shoulders are bent to the tasks of justice, our hands are busy with the works of kindness, but our souls are at rest.

We conclude our Micah 6:8 series this week.  “Do justice, Love mercy, walk humbly with God.”  This is not, I’ve come believe, a checklist that we can mark off one by one.  Instead it is a formula that only together is it even possible.  Doing justice is a task beyond us, frankly.  It is too big, too intensive, too worldview for our individual minds.  Unless we learn to love through acts of kindness to each and everyone around us.  When we love kindness (and notice it is love kindness, not do kindness.  There is something about the motivation that makes a difference) we begin to do justice.  When we act locally we think globally!  But, then how do we love enough to act kindly to everyone we encounter?  That seems beyond us.  And it is.  Unless we can walk humbly with God.  Not just walk with God.  Many of us want to walk with God, and serve in an advisory capacity, telling God what ought to be done.  But we’re called to walk humbly with God.  Which means first of all acknowledging that God is God and we are not.  Walk humbly with God until hesed, God’s steadfast love, and mispat, God’s desire for justice, begin to rub off on us.  Walking humbly with God is offering yourself to the yoke of Christ.  Walking humbly with God is not about feeling inadequate or shamed, keeping our head down in sorrow.  It is about keeping our heads up that we might see God at work in and through us and then all around us too.  It is to join up in the kingdom building force that does justice and loves kindness because God does that too.  Keep your head up, and see the face of God.

I have walked with my family for my whole life, humbly and not so, I must confess. So, I’ll keep my head up and keep holding on to them as we walk into the future God has in store.  Walk with me. 


Saturday, October 20, 2018

If It'd a Been a Snake

I’m heading north today.  Back to a church I served some years ago.  They contacted me a while back and asked if I could come to share in a special celebration.  They built an addition to their building and finally have it paid off and wondered if I would come back and help them celebrate.  Now it wasn’t there, the addition I mean, when I served as associate pastor for a couple of years.  So, my first inclination was to say I’m honored, but why me?  But instead I just checked to see if Doug, my associate here at Southport would be back from his Disney vacation and able to preach at Southport, and then said yes.  I’ll go.  I’ll be a part of the celebration.  Of generosity.  Because I had been a recipient of that generosity.  See that’s where I was serving when we adopted Rhys, our son who turns 25 next week.  Yikes.  And this church blessed me.  Pass on the kindness, that’s what this is about. /it was right in front of me the whole time.

If it had been a snake it would have bit you!  I don’t know where that cliche first came from, but it fits me.  The truth is we all can ignore what is in front of our faces from time to time.  Sometimes we genuinely don’t see what is so obvious to everyone else.  Maybe we are distracted or occupied by deep thoughts of some kind and we simply miss it.  Other times we don’t want to see what is in front of us, we choose our blindness when what is in front of us is uncomfortable or ugly or seemingly beyond our capacity to affect.  We can only take so much of helpless, before we - out of self-preservation perhaps - turn away and try to convince ourselves we didn’t see what we saw.  Or convince ourselves that what we saw was not our responsibility, not our business.

Our cultural fixation on “live and let live” has driven us to turn blind eyes to all sorts of situations, all sorts of needs because we don’t want to “impose” - we don’t want to get involved.  So, we have learned to not see the snakes that are just waiting to bite us.

At least that is what I think is going on here in our Scripture text for this week.  This is a very familiar passage.  So familiar it has become a part of our language.  So familiar that I think we don’t see the snakes that might bite us in the story that Jesus tells us.  Listen again:

Luke 10:25-37  Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"  26 He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?"  27 He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."  28 And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."  29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"  30 Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.  31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.  34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.'  36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?"  37 He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." 

Of course we know the story.  Everyone, Christian or not, has heard of a “Good Samaritan.”  There is even a “Good Samaritan Law” on the books in Indiana and other states to protect someone who stops to help in a crisis situation.  So, it would seem there is very little that would need to be discussed here.  Everyone agrees on this.  Jesus tells the story in such a way that even a lawyer can see what is right!  Sorry, that was mean too.  Some of my best friends are lawyers.  Anyway...

Well, lets take a look at our friend the lawyer.  Which in this case might better be described as a religious scholar instead of what we think of as a lawyer.  Since there was no distinction between religious and secular law in Israel at that time, a lawyer was someone who knew the scriptures well enough to argue for right and wrong.  He was a scholar who had studied the Torah (which is Hebrew for “law”) and was called upon to settle disputes, or to represent the interests of someone wronged.

It is interesting that Luke’s lawyer asks a subtly different question than the ones in Matthew and Mark.  There the question is “what is the greatest commandment?”  Here it is “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  In the end it is the same question, but the approach is completely different.  The former sounds like a religious scholar/lawyer kind of question.  What is greater...? Or “what commandment is first of all,” in Mark’s version.  They might have meant most important or it might have been which is precedent setting - “which law is above other laws” that sort of thing. 

But Luke’s lawyer asks “what must I do?”  Which is the kind of question Luke would hear more clearly.  There is more than a legal issue here.  There is a participation, there is a connection, there is a life direction kind of issue here.  Some have argued that what he was really asking was “what is the least I can do and still get in?”  I don’t know if that can be inferred, but you couldn’t blame him even if it was.  It is a very human kind of question.  “Is this going to be on the test?”  That is how students ask the question.  “Do we have to know this stuff, or are you just talking?”  

He might have been trying to slide by with minimal effort, but I prefer to think that he really wanted to know.  I know Luke says it was a test.  Maybe it was a test with a hidden hope underneath.  Maybe he was put up to the test, but made it a personal quest on his own.  Whatever it was, Jesus took it seriously and turned it around to the questioner.  This was Jesus’ M.O.  He rarely handed things around on silver platters.  He always wanted us to work a little bit.  Maybe with interpretation, maybe with application, but there was always something left to do when Jesus stopped talking.

In this case it was the question itself that came back.  “What do you think?”  My kids hate that, but I do it all the time.  Here the lawyer answered with the Great Commandment.  Case closed.  Jesus gave him lovely parting gifts and it was all over.  

Except the lawyer wasn’t satisfied.  Luke interprets for us: “But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” It’s that “justify himself” bit that bugs me.  It bugs me because I do it too.  “I’d like to love my neighbor,” goes the thought process, “but I’m just not sure what’s safe.  I’m just not sure what’s needed.  I’m just not sure for whom I am really responsible.  I’ve got kids, I’ve got a wife, I’ve got my hands full.”  There are rules, you know, how to treat certain kinds of people.  Well, if not rules than expectations, standards.  Help your own first, goes one school of thought.  Charity begins at home.  The lawyer’s lawyerness kicked in here.  He decided to try and divert judgement on his behavior by asking a question for which there was no easy answer.  He wanted to tie this verdict up in court and avoid having to act on it.  At the very least he was hoping for a pat on the back and “well, do the best you can” from Jesus.  Instead he got a story.

You know the story.  You know the way Samaritans were viewed, especially compared to priests and Levites.  You know that Jesus was trying to move the debate beyond an academic justification issue into an “open your eyes” kind of issue.  He was trying to move it from a label and an insiders verses outsider kind of thing toward a taking responsibility for the need in front of you kind of attitude.  This isn’t about changing the world, but about healing the hurts.  In Micah’s words this isn’t doing justice, it is loving mercy.  Both are necessary.  But if we spend all of our time out trying to chase windmills, out trying to make the world a better place for everyone someday, we will miss the opportunity to make it better for one close by right now.  In fact we could argue that without acts of mercy, or kindness, there can be no move toward justice.  If we allow needs to go unmet then we are asking for trouble on a larger scale.  There are needs aplenty, just open your eyes.  If it had been a snake, it would have bit you.


Saturday, October 13, 2018

Justice Song

What do you sing about these days?  An odd sort of question, I realize.  My wife, La Donna, often comes home from church with a hymn in her head.  Sometimes she even gets frustrated.  It just sits in there.  She can’t wait for the next week so she can get a new hymn!  You know that feeling.  Maybe you heard a snippet of a song, or something that sounded like a song, something that reminded you of a song.  And now that song keeps playing over and over in your head.  Even when you don’t want it to.  You find yourself humming the tune, you find yourself mumbling the words.  They are just there, rattling around in your skull, driving you crazy.  Or if not you, everyone around you as you keep singing that song over and over.  Because it is stuck in there - and it begins to define you in a way.

I had a friend who thought everyone should have their theme song, like in the movies.  If you look at a movie soundtrack you’ll see titles like “Jack’s Theme” or “Liza’s Song.”  And this music would play whenever that character was central to the scene.  Well, this friend thought that we should all have our theme music to play that would define us, that would announce our presence and point to us when it is our turn to enter into the dialog or to shape the action.  OK, I’ve had some weird friends over the years.  But still it is an intriguing idea.  If you had the ability and the opportunity to write your own theme song, what would it sound like?  What would it say?

We start a three week worship series with the reading for this week.  The whole series is titled “What the Lord Requires” and is based on Micah 6:8: what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?   Each week we will examine one requirement as outlined in this verse.  We are always asking the question, what are we supposed to do?  Who are we supposed to be?  What does God want from me?  This series is designed to help us answer that question.  

So we start where the verse starts, we start with the biggie: do justice.  It’s an overwhelming word in many ways.  A comic book word.  “Truth, Justice and ...”  How does that go?  It isn’t a lived in word.  Is it?  What does justice mean for us today.  What does it have to do with us in our every day lives?  Isn’t justice something for someone else, for the people in charge to deal with?   

Read what Isaiah says in our reading for this weekend.

Isaiah 42:1-9  Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.  2 He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street;  3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.  4 He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.  5 Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it:  6 I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations,  7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.  8 I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols.  9 See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them. 

This is the first of four passages called the Servant Song of the book of Isaiah.  There is some considerable debate about who is the servant referred to in the first verse of chapter forty-two.  On the one hand it seems to be the ideal follower of God.  Maybe there isn’t a particular reference at all, it is just anyone who seeks to follow, this is the kind of life he/she will lead, this is the kind of person she/he will be.  It is an example passage.

Some argue that this was a passage read after the coronation of a new king.  It was a reminder to the king and to the nation that a leader serves not for his/her own benefit, not from his/her own power, but as a servant of the Lord who called and equipped him/her to serve.  It was a celebration of a new administration launched in hope.  Sound familiar?  If only all our leaders saw themselves first as servants, what a difference that might make in governing.

Others, who read a little further in these verses determine that the servant is the whole people of God.  When Isaiah speaks of calling, of being the light on the hill, we know it is whole nation of Israel that was called to that task.  It has echoes in the words of Jesus when he tells us that we are salt and light, the church is the light on the hill, inviting all the world to come and know what we know, to know who we know.  So the servant is the community of faith.

Then, of course, we Christians can’t help but read these words and imagine Christ.  Jesus was the servant of the Lord who showed us what a life of service was like.  Jesus was one who lifted up the fallen, who received the Spirit of the Lord to bring forth justice.  This is a prophetic passage, spoken and written hundreds of years before the one to whom it refers came to be.

Finally, it is hard to read these words and not hear the call upon our own lives.  Each of us (as well as all of us, mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago) is called to serve the Lord, to work for justice.  Each of us, this is a call passage, an invitation to a way of living.

So, you might be asking, which is it?  Which one is the right answer?  Well, all of them.  That is the glory of the Bible, it functions on so many levels all at the same time.  I believe that historically it referred to the king who ascended to the throne of Israel and to the nation that ruler led.  And sometimes they listened and sometimes they didn’t.  I think it also carried the seeds of prophecy, paving the way for the coming of the Christ.  Did Isaiah know he was talking about Jesus of Nazareth?  Probably not, but God knew.  Just as God knows that we have the opportunity to live as servants to God and to the people.  This is indeed a calling, an invitation to live in certain ways, to work for certain ends.

And what might those ends be?  Did you notice that the word “justice” appears three times in the first four verses?  It seems pretty important, don’t you think?  Especially when we read that we or he or someone “will not faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth.”  We can’t rest, the task isn’t finished, Christ’s work isn’t done until justice is established in the earth.

So, what defines justice?  Well, that is more than I can resolve for you in the small space left here.  But a glimpse is given in the passage.  To establish justice is to open the eyes of the blind - whether those blinded by material things or limited education or poverty or prejudice or....  It is the work of the servants of the Lord to help folks see what they overlook.  To establish justice is to release those who are imprisoned in dungeons or darkness - whether those dungeons are human made barriers to freedom and wholeness, to sustenance or beauty; or practices that enslave minds or resources and keep people trapped in a cycle of poverty or on the brink of illness or disease from the lack of sanitary systems we take for granted; or the lack of resources or knowledge that will enable children of God to know how valuable they are to their creator and to this world.  That is the work of establishing justice in the earth - to be in the business of systemic change, lasting change that makes life better for all.  These are the new things that are about to spring forth, the new things that we are to tell about.  These are the songs that we are called to sing into being.

Someone once said that God didn’t say let there be light, like is says in Genesis one.  God sang it.  God sang the world into being.  And we are now called to sing the songs that will bring forth justice.  And to keep singing, and singing, and singing.  Like that song we can’t get out of our heads, we are to fill our vision with justice.  This is our theme song, says Isaiah 42, the music that plays whenever we take the stage is a song of justice.

What songs are you singing these days?


Saturday, October 6, 2018

Receiving the Kingdom

Summer is back.  Autumnal Summer.  Dog days?  No, those are usually in August aren’t they?  The Dog days of summer?  Besides if you ask my dog he’s say these aren’t dog days.  These are hot and steamy days that wear you out every time you go down the street a ways.  Not the crisp cool October we’re used to.  There is a house down the street already decorated for Halloween, orange lights and black cloth and spider’s webs and tombstones with skeletons.  But if this keeps up, kids will Trick or Treat in bathing suits, and ask for a popsicle instead of a candy apple.  

Apparently we aren’t the only ones with odd weather.  Our friends in England told us about an uncomfortably hot summer for that island nation.  Our daughter Maddie was frustrated checking the weather before going to Europe, not being sure how to pack for her two weeks in the mountain villages of Germany and Austria.  Then of course the unusually strong hurricanes and tropical storms dropping a deluge on the south east and other island nations nearby.   Earthquakes in Indonesia, fires in California and Oregon and Colorado, and probably more. Now this isn’t a sign of the end times kind of rant.  Instead I’m heading in the completely different direction.  While I am in no way celebrating tragic circumstances, I do want to point out how these events tend to bring us together.  They also shrink the planet until we feel like neighbors with those in another hemisphere.  “Not in my backyard” gives way to how can we help dig out, dry off, cool down, restock, rehouse those in our world wide suburb?

It’s World Communion Sunday this week.  A date when we remember that when we partake of the sacrament of Holy Communion we don’t do it alone.  This meal we share is not for us alone.  The ritual is performed in more languages than we can count, the bread takes many forms and flavors.  The celebrants come in all colors and answer to a variety of titles.  It’s a World Communion observance in a diverse and divided world.  And yet it’s a world with needs as real as bread, and hungers as deep as the ocean that links us.

Here’s a question – Is communion primarily a spiritual event or a physical one?  Well, a bit of both is the answer of course.  But don’t we lean to the spiritual side?  Sure there is bread and juice, but it is the grace and the remembrance that really make it.  Our task on communion days is to experience the presence of Christ.  Isn’t it?  To transport ourselves onto a spiritual plane and commune with the One who set the table.  We’re to move beyond the mundane, to enjoy the sublime.  Right?

Well, I’m not so sure.  Jesus seemed intent on making things, making faith real.  He was always grounded in the reality of the world in which we live.  His images of the Kingdom, the metaphors he used were of earth - seeds and pearls, light and darkness, sheep and coins, the stuff we live with every day.  I think he sat at the table and took hold of the reality of bread and, here, this, this is my body.  This is me.  I’m here, I’m as real as bread.  And every time you pick up a loaf of bread, you’ll be touching me, holding me, claiming me.  I’m here, right here in this world with you.  He wanted them grounded, not floating around on some heavenly cloud somewhere.  When they tried to turn the talk to the reality of the Kingdom, asking about the seating arrangements, the place cards on His table, He got exasperated with them.  This cup, He said, this cup is my whole life.  I’m as present as the clay it took to make this cup.  I’m as alive as the bouquet of this wine, the fruit of the vine.  I’m that vine, He said.  He was trying to get them to live in the world, to pay attention to what was right in front of them.  

It was a trait of His, the invitation to pay attention. He was always pointing to the most unlikely of things, the most unlikely of people and asking His followers to see them.  To really see them.  Like this ...

Mark 10:13-16  People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.  14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.  15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it."  16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. 

This is the Jesus we know and love best of all, I believe.  But we have to realize what a radical departure this action was from normal behavior.  No one with any authority or power or standing in society in this period of history would even have time for children.  It just wasn’t done.  And yet here is Jesus, not only allowing children to be in His presence, but taking them up in His arms and blessing them.  Almost embarrassing, at least I am sure that some - like the disciples themselves - were scandalized by this behavior.

Yet, Jesus didn’t care.  What He cared about was blessing.  He cared about touching and putting them on His lap, because they were real people, worthy of His attention, His presence.  He cared about welcoming and including.  He cared about making sure that everyone understood the value of those of whom he said “let them come.”  Mark says He was angry, indignant our translation says.  It’s a harsh word in Greek.  It seems Jesus was trying to be concrete.  You’re in the way, He said to His disciples turned bouncers trying to keep the kids away.  You’re in the way, not just of these kids, but of the Kingdom.  This was a “get behind me Satan” moment.  One of many.  The disciples were missing something fundamental.  So Jesus was trying to help His hearers see something of the glory and the wonder of the Kingdom and He grabbed the nearest visual aid He could find.  

Come and see, He could have said.  See through these eyes the wonder of God’s creation.  Come and see the needs and the opportunities to serve.  Come and see how we can live out the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.  And then He gathered them up.  So that we could see that the best way to rid oneself of doubts and fears and suspicions and animosity is by getting outside of yourself long enough to bless a child.  To talk to them, to listen to them, to experience the world through their eyes.

But then, He wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the point here.  That they didn’t miss it and that through them we don’t miss it either.  To such as these belongs the Kingdom of God.  Actually, He didn’t say belongs.  The verb here isn’t belongs.  It is is.  Is.  For it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God is.  Is?  They’ve got it, He says, or they are it.  You want to embrace the Kingdom, embrace a child.  Let them come, He says.  Which means how we treat children, what we allow done to children or not done to children is what we do to the Kingdom of God.  

Wow.  I mean, wow.  Don’t you think?  And then, in case we were still unclear, Jesus drives it home.  Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child, will never enter it.  Which means what exactly?  That’s the question that has driven biblical scholars crazy for over two millennia.  On the one hand are we supposed to receive the Kingdom like a child would receive the Kingdom, or like a child would receive anything?  Or are we supposed to receive the Kingdom like we receive a child.  Or as we receive a child?  In other words is our ability to receive the Kingdom dependent upon how we receive children into our midst?  How we treat children.  Or mistreat them, as individuals and as a society.  When children suffer at the hands of adults, or governments, or religious leaders, or parents, are we in danger of losing our grip on the Kingdom of God?  

Maybe the heaviness of that line of thinking is why most commentators take the other track.  How do children receive things?  And how do we emulate them?  Lots of ink has been spilt trying to answer that.  Words like innocence and purity, or dependence or wonder, are often used to help us grasp the attitude it takes to receive the Kingdom.  But I wonder if it isn’t about an attitude, but an action.  Attitude is important, I don’t mean to suggest that it isn’t.  Yet, Jesus is being concrete here, grounding us in the world of doing.  So maybe His point is more earthy than we tend to think.  More simple.  So, how do children receive anything?  With both hands.  That’s how.  Then, how shall we receive the Kingdom?