A Thriving Spiritual Community

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Annisquam
Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Annisquam
Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

A Thriving Spiritual Community

photo of AVC sanctuary
Sermon: Like These Children

Like These Children

October 3, 2021

come-share-in-god's-joy

As parents like Caitlin and Nic know, little ones could never survive on their own.  They are totally dependent upon their parents for everything. And when a newborn is placed in a parent’s arms, there is an overwhelming  sense of love and protectiveness.  In most cases, there is nothing a baby needs to do or say or achieve to be adored by the parent. It just is. Caitlin shared with me “how much her heart has grown and expanded (twice) to be capable of the incomprehensible level of love for both these little creatures and the wonderful partner that she shares this adventure with.” Being a parent is a gateway for growing in love.

On this Baptism day, there is one and only one message to convey:  God wants all of us – and especially these two little ones to know – that we  are  loved – without exception or distinction; that there is nothing we need to do or say or achieve to be loved by God.  When a baby is born, we instinctively feel the pure goodness, the miracle, of new life. Our hearts open.  Our gospel passage reminds us that God’s love overflows for us, too.

Commentators writing on today’s reading point out something that may be difficult for us to comprehend. In ancient times, children were NOT seen as valuable until they could contribute to meeting the physical needs of the family. The children who were brought to Jesus were likely abandoned, perhaps due to disease, which meant they could never grow up to fulfill their role of helping the family.  Unwanted infants and children often would be left on their own in the wilderness to die. Can you imagine?

The gesture that Jesus makes—taking these vulnerable little children up in his arms, laying his hands on them, and blessing them—mirrored the sort of blessing a father would give treasured children; it was meant to teach and show others that even though these children would likely never contribute to securing the physical needs of the family, they were still to be welcomed, loved, accepted, and a part of the community.  Jesus is trying to show the disciples all people ought to be loved and cared for regardless of what we can contribute. We are loved simply as we are.

How often do we look at ourselves or others and think that there is something that separates us, distances us,  from the love of God?  And, yet, it is not because of our gifts or talents or achievements that God loves us.  God’s love for us in not contingent upon anything. It is a given. From the beginning of our lives, to the end, and beyond.

Nadia Bolz Webber writes “It’s hard to accept not just that God welcomes all, But that God welcomes all of me, all of you. Even that within us we wish to hide: The part that cursed at our children this week, or drank alone, or has a problem with lying, or hates our body. That part within us that suffers from depression and can’t admit it, or is too fearful to give our money away, Or is riddled with shame over our sexuality, or cheats on taxes.”

The key to and starting point of the Christian spiritual life is this: We simply need to receive God’s love for us. Like helpless children, we are invited to trust in the One who is always there for us – no matter what situation we find ourselves in, no matter what mistakes we make along the way, no matter what overwhelming challenges we face.

A baby trusts that when she cries, she will be picked up; when he is hungry, he will be fed; when she has made a mess in her diaper, someone will clean her up; when he is tired and cranky, he will be given rest. There is no negotiation or discussion or debate… Just a loving response from a healthy parent.

Can we remember this in relation to God? Can we remember that just as Jesus welcomed the child, took her in his arms, lovingly laid his hands on her and blessed her that the Ever Present One also welcomes us, embraces us and lifts us up – no matter what mess we may have made? Through our tears, our hungers, our need for rest, God will always embrace and bless us.

St. Francis once said, “Preach the gospel at all times…use words when necessary.” This is exactly what Jesus was doing for those with eyes to see.  Jesus did not just talk to the little children or his disciples about God’s love. He did something far more powerful. He shows them and us. He held the little ones in that love. He blessed them with it.

Later in our service, during the Rite of Baptism, parents, godparents, family members and the whole congregation will be asked to affirm our love and support for these little ones. One of the Spirit’s gifts to us in baptism is that the circle of love for a child expands to include not only the family, but the Christian community.  The Rite of Baptism expresses that our loving God can be known through a community that will rejoice with families when you rejoice, will be sorrowful when you are sorrowful, will always be ready to walk with you, to support you in any way we can, in love.

Fortunately for little Ava and baby Nico, they will never face what the desperate children in today’s gospel faced. They will always know how profoundly they are loved. In Caitlin and Nic, they have attentive parents who respond to their needs.  But, that is not the case for all children. Today’s Gospel also challenges us to recognize and prioritize reaching out to those who are most vulnerable among us… refugee children, foster children, children of color, children struggling with disabilities and diseases.  To receive the Kingdom of God is to come to God as we are – like helpless children – with our brokenness and struggles;  and to welcome and embrace the most vulnerable among us. As we do these things, we can trust that God embraces us, lay hands on us and blesses us with the fullness of  love and unconditional grace! Amen.