(sermon note: 02-22 sermon note)
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling-blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling-block comes!
‘If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.’
This evening’s reading reminds me of the one about a drunk man who stumbled along a baptismal service on a Sunday afternoon down by the river. He proceeded to walk down into the water and stand next to the preacher. The minister turned and noticed the drunk man and said, “Mister, are you ready to find Jesus?” The drunk looked back and said, “Yes, preacher…I sure am.” The minister then dunked the fellow under the water and pulled him right back up. “Have you found Jesus?” the preacher asked. “No, I didn’t!” responded the man. The preacher then dunked him under for quite a bit longer, brought him up and asked, “Now, brother, have you found Jesus?” “No, I did not reverend!” The preacher, in disgust, held the man under for at least 30 seconds this time, brought him out of the water and said in a harsh tone, “My Good man, have you found Jesus yet?!” The drunk man wiped his eyes and asked the preacher, “Are you sure this is where he fell in?”
Drunk or not, I think any of us could mistakenly wonder if Jesus was under the water as the preacher had suggested. We know that Jesus can be found figuratively, not literally, through the redemptive waters of baptism. We find Jesus when we lay the burdens on him, not necessarily by looking under the surface of the water. What a silly thought to imagine Jesus hiding just beneath the surface! Silly and immature. Yet at the same time no more silly or immature as the idea of laying our burdens on him. You mean all I have to do to know the love of God is to simply gather up my burdens and lay them on him? What’s the catch? It seems too easy to be real. Surely I have to do something in exchange for laying my burdens on him. No one freely accepts the burdens of another! There’s a price for everything, why wouldn’t there be a price for ridding ourselves of our burdens?
Silly and immature as the thought may seem, it is exactly as it suggests. There is no price for laying our burdens on him! We simply have to trust in him, trust that he can bear our burdens, trust that he WANTS to bear our burdens! Jesus may not simply be beneath the surface but the gift he has to offer is a simple gift. We have to simply receive his gift.
In our reading, Jesus lifts up the importance of the children among us and not necessarily because they are our future. No, Jesus was lifting up the simplicity of children. Children receive gifts quite simply. They neither ask why they are worthy to receive such gifts nor do they wonder what they must do to repay for such gifts. They simply receive! And if they’re good children, they might show a sign of gratitude. A simple “thank-you” or a kiss or a hug is enough. It’s easy to get away from the simplicities of life. We go through life incurring debts we can never repay and becoming more and more complex. Life can be overwhelming at times with all its expectations and responsibilities. Life can put up “stumbling blocks” as Jesus phrased it. I think he’s referring to situations and experiences that pull us away from the simple truths of God. We lose our trust in him and his truth and think we can rely on ourselves and our truths. Children never think they can rely on themselves or their truths! Children know they’re completely dependent on others and their truths. Children are fully trusting of those around them. Jesus wants us to emulate such trusting dependency. God’s truth is the only truth worth relying on. At times, we might consider it too simple to be true but that’s just our pride kicking in. All the great truths ARE simple by nature! All great truths are universal, applying to both the least of us and the greatest of us.
As we head into this season of Lent, let us cling to the simple truths. There is no price for laying our burdens on God. God’s grace is completely free, unearned and for the most part undeserved. Our God is a good and gracious God. Let us cling to these truths in the weeks ahead and give thanks for them. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.