Sunday, October 7, 2012

Pentecost 19 (Proper 22), Series B

Sermon on Mark 10:2-16
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
October 7, 2012 (The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Series B)

Most children are able to trust what you tell them more easily than adults can, because they have not been exposed as much as adults to the effects of sin on people’s relationships with one another.  The word for this is “innocence.”  While it’s true that children are afflicted with original sin just as much as adults are, nevertheless their Old Adam is not sophisticated or mature, for the simple reason that they are not sophisticated or mature.  And just as they are not capable of committing very sophisticated sins, they are not likely to suspect others of sophisticated sins either.  This means that unless they’ve experienced it, children aren’t as likely to suspect that you are lying to them or trying to cheat them in some way.  They are able to believe what is told them without nearly so many doubts or questions arising in their minds.

This is illustrated by our Gospel lesson for today.  There is a huge contrast between the attitude of the Pharisees, who only asked Jesus questions in order to test or to trap Him, and the attitude of the children whose parents brought them to Jesus to have Him bless them.  The Pharisees thought of marriage and the family, intended by God as a gift, as an occasion for more rules and regulations, splitting hairs as to what was or was not permitted, and looking for loopholes in the Law.  The attitude which asks whether divorce is permissible and under what circumstances is not an attitude which shows love for one’s spouse.  Rather, such questions come from a heart that sees the Law, whether it be regarding marriage or property or any other area of life, as something that can be sliced and diced in such a way that one can figure out what is the minimum one must do for God and our neighbor in order not to break it.

As we look at ourselves, we must acknowledge that the same sinful nature that lives in the Pharisee lives in us as well.  Granted, many of you have not cheated on your husband or wife or even considered leaving them, but how many of you find yourselves thinking sometimes that dealing with your husband or wife or raising your kids is a burden which you would escape if you could, rather than an opportunity given to you by God to show His love in your life?  For that matter, how many of you think that way about your jobs?  The stain of original sin in us makes us think of God’s gifts, God’s opportunities to serve Him in our daily lives, our daily work, and our families, as burdens which weigh us down.

How different is the attitude of a small child.  Children have so much more trust in their parents and their teachers, and this gives them so much more joy in life.  Now, to adults, sometimes the expression of that joy, that exuberance can be seen as annoying or distracting.  But even when a child’s excitement and exuberance comes out at an inappropriate time or place it still shows us something of the relatively carefree innocence that belongs to children.  As Jesus points out, children are a model for all of us in our relationship to our heavenly Father.  The trust and the innocence that young children show toward their parents and teachers is a model and good example for us all in our life of faith.  Ultimately faith is simply trust in God’s promises.  Yes, there is a lot of knowledge that is part of faith as well; people spend their whole lives studying Christian doctrine.  But such complexity has only come about because of people like the Pharisees who have been constantly questioning and distorting and improvising on the central truths of Christianity.  The faith that God gives you today through His word and sacrament is simple and pure, that is to say, childlike.

Even the smallest child can have faith.  To believe in Christ doesn’t require any amount of mental ability or reasoning capacity at all.  Faith and trust can be present even in those who are so small and helpless that the only thing they can do is trust.  Infants are the most helpless and weak members of the entire human race.  They cannot do anything for themselves; everything must be done for them.  Everything you do for an infant is pure gift, because they have nothing they can give you in return except to trust you and receive your love.  That is our relationship to our heavenly Father.  There is nothing that we can give to Him that is not corrupted by sin, but He gives us His dearest treasure, His own Son, to forgive that sin and grant us eternal life.  God accepts our praises and our worship, as imperfect and corrupted by sin as they are, and that fact is itself a gift to us, for it is only through the forgiveness that God gives us that anything we do at all is acceptable to Him.  We are His little children, and our relationship to Him is one which simply, humbly, and trustingly receives His gifts to us of forgiveness and eternal life.

As I mentioned before, one of the gifts which God gives us is the family, which is, along with the Church, the most central and important group of people in our lives.  The family is the basic building block of civilization.  While the Pharisees’ questioning and testing attitude treats solid and stable families as just one more law to be pushed and prodded and poked, the institution of the family is vitally important.  You see, the trusting nature of children does have a downside, since we live in a sinful world.  Trust can be taken advantage of and abused.  In order to grow and become strong and healthy, these most helpless members of our society need an atmosphere of love and forgiveness, an atmosphere where God’s Word of law gives structure, but where even more importantly God’s Word of Gospel and forgiveness is there to give the life and the love which keeps that family structure strong and stable throughout the times of trouble and difficulties which come in a sinful world.  This is why Jesus’ seemingly harsh words about divorce were necessary.  The family is simply that important as the place where faith grows and is nourished.

We are all children of the heavenly Father.  As children, we are in a position where we can only receive His gifts, trustingly and lovingly.  He gives us the gifts of salvation and eternal life, even as He gives us the gifts of those things necessary to support this life.  Our praise and thanksgiving to Him will be sinful and imperfect, and sometimes we will act like the Pharisees in our text and look God’s gift horse in the mouth, to see if He is really being straight with us.  But out of the goodness of His fatherly love He forgives even these faults and continues to give us His Son for the forgiveness of our sins and for our continued strengthening and growth in the faith.  He will receive us to Himself at the end of our days, and we will live eternally with Him, our heavenly Father.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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