Tuesday, October 6, 2009

“GO Bees, Sting ‘em”

World Communion Sunday, Oct 4, 2009. Westminster Presbyterian Church, Santa Fe, NM
Scripture: John 3:16 (read in various languages); Isaiah 2:1-5; Mark 10:13-16
For it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs….how cute…The kingdom of God belongs to the little children. After a week hiatus from talking about kids…they’re back. And in this scene, Jesus is doing his best santa clause impersonation…like he’s in a huge mall, ho ho ho. And his disciples are like body guards, tired of the kids runnin’ around all over the place…don’t touch that, slow down! I love it, Jesus is indignant, strong language.—angry, in a huff, annoyed—at his disciples’ actions, and turns the tables on them. He welcomes the children, picks them up and blesses them and says, “See these kids:
‘It is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs…and let me add to that, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’
Children at play becomes quite serious talk...

What is it about little children? What characteristics do they possess that would be kingdom like? What was Jesus talking about? What do we adults, we disciples need to emulate…or else? Innocence, Trust? Dependence of children and in that way we adults must realize our need and dependence on God, on the kingdom of God. We mentioned last time that little children were like second-class citizens, so maybe it was their marginalized condition that inherently made them recipients of God’s kingdom.
Having Ruby, our 8 month old, in our life has given me new perspective on this passage. Let me tell you, even if Ruby was up crying in the middle of the night—we think she had a sore throat—I’ve loved having her in my life, to see her grow.
She is getting into everything, and giving me new perspective on life and on the bible. Poor kid, may show up in a lot of sermons over the course of her and my life—I’m not sure if I got her permission to share this or not. (dada dada). A small box in our home is bursting with toys she has acquired over the course of her life-time. all kinds of different shapes and sizes and textures. IN the morning, I set her down in front of the box. She stares. She crawls, she handles them and shakes htem, and stares at them, and puts them in her mouth. Wonder and curiosity. It seems there is no judgment as she plays.
I see this wonder and curiosity at a program offered at the library once a week called Books and Babies. For thirty minutes, children, mommies, and me, get together to sing songs and read stories… And I see all of these little children engage their world around them with genuine acute curiosity and wonder. There seems to be no judgment. They don’t judge the stories, even the ones I think are kind of dumb. They don’t judge others around them.
Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child….
Is this what it means to receive the kingdom of God as a little child, that we receive the world without Judgment. And you know I’m not talking about decision making here. I’m talking about the kind of judgment that would lead to separation, the kind of judgment motivated by power, judging others and their actions to put people down, in order to feel better about yourself. ‘Judge ye not, lest ye be judged (Surely Jesus spoke KJV). Believe me, I know what kind of judgment Jesus is talking about. It is one of my more refined qualities. I like to be judge. I know when people aren’t doing what they are supposed to be doing It’s easy for me to point out the speck in other people’s eyes.
Maybe it would be good to learn a few lessons from Ruby about how to be less judgmental. She, unfortunately, is going to have little choice but to learn from me. An article that appeared in the Sept 15 edition of Newsweek entitled, “See Baby Discriminate,” shared research in which children are able to distinguish differences in people based on a number of factors, and the easiest is color. When parents talk about people of different skin colors in negative ways, their children in most cases will have negative feelings those “different” people.
This you would expect. But interestingly, when parents who are trying to be politically correct, say nothing about color difference, only, things like, “we are all equal,” or “skin color doesn’t matter,” they don’t really teach their kids what values to associate with the difference that these kids clearly see; and so the children place their own values on this difference, and are very susceptible to allowing those with negative views of the difference influence their own judgment.[1]
As many of you may know, I am coaching an under 6 soccer team. These kids are a trip! 5 five year olds, 4 four year olds, 4 children who are deaf. They run around, chase after the ball, laugh, cry when they fall or get kicked hard.
They notice differences, but I can’t see any judgmental attitude. They just play, while Parents yell, “run, kick it, no that way that way. Say you’re sorry.”
But, it is competition, and while the little children don’t really know who wins or loses—we don’t even keep score—they know that they are wearing yellow shirts, and the other teams wear different colored shirts. They are trying to do what the adults encourage them to do. And, it was during our first game, that one of the youngest players on our team, four, said just before the second half kick-off,
“I hate the blue team.” I was shocked. What motivated him to say this?
What had he learned from me, from other adults about this “game” we were playing?
So often we teach our little children about life, rather than learning from them what it means to run around and play and no one really cares at the end who wins, just so long as there are good snacks. And they grow up with the values they are taught. And at some point their understanding of the world—their curiosity and wonder—eventually becomes one of fear and judgment.
They learn to judge, to defend what is believed to be rightfully theirs, and to an extreme, they learn to make war; domestic war, gang war, war between nations.
Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.
Sometimes I feel like war between nations is so distant—so removed from my experience. Yet, our nation is constantly at war. Daily we hear reports of our troops in combat. It may be far from our home, yet, those fighting are from around here, those fighting have made distinctions between the colors of flags and creeds and determined that one side is right and another side is wrong. This is what Chris Hedges, long time war correspondent for the New York Times, says of war:
“I learned early on that war forms its own culture. The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug. It is peddled by mythmakers—historians, war correspondents, filmmakers, novelists, and the state—all of whom endow it with qualities it often does possess: excitement, exoticism, power, chances to rise above our small stations in life, and a bizarre and fantastic universe that has a grotesque and dark beauty…. Fundamental questions about the meaning, or meaninglessness, of our place on the planet are laid bare when we watch those around us sink to the lowest depths. War exposes the capacity for evil that lurks not far below the surface within all of us….
The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life.
It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living….”[2]
We change from being little children—to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs; to people who may find our meaning, our purpose, our reason for living, by making war, not only around the world, but in our own communities. Who can we trust? Who can make the right decisions? And for us adults, the challenge this morning on world communion Sunday is: How can we become child-like again so as to inherit the kingdom of God? To contemplate a world with curiosity and wonder, and not fear and judgment.
The passage from Isaiah chapter 2 is one of my favorites, appropriate for this world communion Sunday. In poetic language, the prophet sees God’s house established on the highest mountains. All nations make their way and gather there. And there everyone learns of the law of the Lord. There God sits on the throne, and it is when they see that God is judge—a just and righteous judge—what do they do? They beat their swords into plowshares. When they recognize God as judge, they find their spears will be more useful as pruning hooks. This beautiful portrait is one that according to Isaiah we are to anticipate happening in the latter days. But, can we begin to live in anticipation of this event, live as if it is happening now. I love this big view of all nations gathering at the mountain.
And there we are able to accept others “made in God's very image, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental ability, nationality, or economic class.”[3] others who will be summoned there as well, and learn how to work with each other rather than fight each other.
The role of judge belongs to God and to God alone. Instead like little children, on this world communion Sunday, we gather around Jesus and others, and may we be filled with wonder and curiosity. Gather around Jesus and be blessed.
I wanted to go back to the little guy on my soccer team who made the strong statement, “I hate the blue team.” He was out there yesterday, and since our team is the bumblebees, he was trying to sting the other players who happened to be wearing blue. At one point during the game, as he was running around trying to figure out which way to go, a blue player was getting ready to make a kick.
He went up to the blue player, and instead of trying to sting him, he unexpectedly hugged him. Wait a second, this was the blue team. And there you are giving a hug.
For it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it. And he took them up in his arms, laid his hand on them, and blessed them.

[1] http://www.newsweek.com/id/214989
[2] ” (Chris Hedges, War is the Force That Gives Us Meaning, p. 3)”

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