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09.23.18

“OF RUG RATS, THUMB SUCKING AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD”

“OF RUG RATS, THUMB SUCKING AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD”

Category: Sunday Morning Sermon

Speaker: Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin

“OF RUG RATS, THUMB SUCKING AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD”

Mark 9:30-37

Pentecost 18 B  Lectionary 25  B

September 23, 2018

 

Christ Lutheran Church

Zionsville, Indiana

Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin

 

 

            The darling little bundle of joy . . . or the screaming child who will not give us a moment’s rest? 

 

Our society has an ambivalent attitude toward children. On the one hand, we sentimentalize them. They are tender creatures of innocence, pure, pristine and unspoiled by the grimy adults of the world around them. On the other hand, they are demanding and inconvenient. They are rug rats crawling around the house tasting everything they can find on the floor and sticking it in their mouths destroying anything that they can get their hands on. Comedian W.C. Fields, well known for his disgust with children, once said, “Any man who hates dogs and children . . . can’t be all bad.”

           

            We may be appalled with Fields’ attitude, but there was little ambivalence in Jesus’ day toward children. They were not highly regarded. As helpless, dependent, nonproductive burdens, children were second-class citizens. One day these the children might grow up to be productive adults and protective of their parents. But until then, they remained far down the social ladder.

 

            Therefore, when Jesus’ says in today’s Gospel, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name, receives me,” he must have stunned his disciples.

 

            This hard saying follows right on the heels of another hard saying disciples did not want to hear. Jesus had predicted that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. The disciples were not thrilled about following such a Messiah. Jesus can car-pool with someone else. Instead they preferred to argue about who among them would have the greatest power and prestige in Jesus’ kingdom. When Jesus questioned them about their conversation, they refused to answer. They were ashamed of their blatant selfishness.

 

            However, Jesus knew the subject of their conversation. Therefore, he puts a child, a thumb sucking rugrat, in the midst of them and says, “My kingdom is like this!”

 

            Like those disciples, we live in a world that is hungry for greatness. We admire the successful, self-made and self-sufficient who have left behind thumb sucking and other such forms of childishness. We easily become impatient with the little ones who cannot grow up and get up off the floor.

 

            He had an important announcement for me.  “I’m leaving my wife. I can’t take it any longer.”

 

            “Why?” I asked.

 

            “She’s hooked on these pills—can’t make it through the day without them. She’s dependent on them.”

 

            “Dependent?” I said, “Like sucking your thumb when you are afraid?”

 

            “Yes,” he said. “She’s like a child. She makes a fool of herself at parties. Worse, yet, she’s holding me back in my career.”

 

            What could I say to him? Perhaps I could have quoted Jesus from today’s Gospel: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.” However, the frustrated husband like Jesus’ disciples would never have understood. Both were hot in the pursuit of greatness and had no time for thumb sucking rug rats.

 

            One afternoon the social worker went to visit a woman who lived with her two children in a two-room tenement apartment. The woman was in the process of moving in the few belongings of her 84-year-old mother who had just had a stroke, could not speak and had become incontinent.

 

            “Listen,” the social worker told the woman, “you can’t be moving your mother in here with you. You’ve got all you can handle with your two children and all of your other problems. You’re going to have to feed your mother, change her diapers and wash her bed linens. Nobody expects you to do that for your mother.”

 

            The woman listened politely. Then, in a low, determined voice, she said, “Well, she done all that for me when I was little, so I reckon I can do it for her now that she needs somebody.”

 

            On the way back to the car, the social worker mumbled to her colleague, “Sometimes I don’t know if there’s any hope for these people.”

 

            The social worker, the frustrated husband and the ambitious disciples of Jesus did not understand the meaning of Jesus’ words: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name receives me.”

 

When Jesus questioned his disciples, he knew all about their dirty little secret. We have the same dirty little secret. Jesus knows all about our ambition. So does the Book of James in today’s Second Reading. He rails against the “bitter envy and selfish ambition” lurking in our hearts. Like Jesus’ disciples, we are afraid that Jesus knows what we are doing. Fearing exposure, we hide in a conspiracy of silence. We distrust a Messiah who can only talk of betrayal and death. When questioned, we “plead the 5th.”

 

But silence is no excuse. Jesus knows what we have been hiding. He knows what are up to. Therefore, when he puts that child into our midst, he exposes our shameless ambition and the dirty little secret we wanted no one to see.

 

We got caught with our fingers in the cookie jar! We are no better than the thumb sucking rug rats and selfish brats we despise. We deserve a “time out” or worse yet, sent to bed without supper.  

 

However, Jesus has us just where he wants us. Ashamed, sucking our thumbs, noses running, tears cascading across our face, wanting to run and hide, Jesus utterly surprises us. He does not send us to bed early without supper. Instead, he sets us on his lap and gives us . . .  a big hug.

 

Jesus is not the kind of Messiah we thought he was. Like the disciples, we expect a Jesus who will show us how to grow up and make something out of ourselves. When we fail, we expect to suffer the consequences, to be given a time out and to be sent to bed without supper. However, when Jesus defies not only our expectations but also God’s expectation that we grow up and stop being so childish, . . .  someone has got to pay! How can Jesus get away with this?

 

 

The good news is that Jesus did. No wonder in today’s Gospel Jesus has spoken so openly of going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. He knew the risks involved. Yet he trusted that his “Father” wanted it this way. Therefore, he went to the cross to suffer not just a time out or going to bed without supper but rejection and death. Jesus’ was willing to do this . . . even for thumb-sucking rug rats like us. His commitment to love us was not wasted. Just as he had predicted, on the third day he was raised from the dead.   

 

This is love that the world cannot understand. This is God loving a world that does not deserve to be loved.  We may be infatuated with ambition and status. We may be no better than selfish rugrats, sucking our thumbs, deserving of criticism and being sent not only to bed . . . but to the grave.

 

But now we are sitting on Jesus’ lap and wrapped in his arms. Safe and secure we no longer need to stand there sucking our thumbs and afraid to speak. We get to come clean and confess our dirty little secret. We can face the shameless and selfish ambition that has justified our willingness to step on anyone who gets in our way, as we make our way up the ladder. We can face our sins and name them because we know that Jesus has us safely in his lap.  

 

When Jesus takes us off his lap and puts us back on our feet, we get to live life differently from the way kids usually conduct themselves on the playground. All are welcome. We compete and strive to do our best so that all benefit. Life is more than just about us. As James in our Second Reading describes, we no longer need to engage in “disputes and conflicts.” Our lives are more than a scramble to the top. We get to be gracious and generous pursuing the common good. Best of all, we get to return the favor to the One who rescued us in the first place. As we welcome other thumb sucking rug rats, wiping one another’s noses and bandaging one another’s skinned knees, we discover that we have been doing it to Jesus . . . and the One who sent him. Can there be any better playmates than these?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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