A Sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church of Palo Alto
Sunday, October 4 2015
Text: Mark 10:13-16
Observant fellow that he is, when I asked Chip to read the scripture today, he pointed out that I had left out the first part of the reading – and that is true. You see the lectionary actually gives us Mark 10:2-16 as the gospel text for today, but I really didn’t want to deal with this difficult text about divorce om World Communion Sunday, a day in which I hope we can celebrate the joy of being embraced and held by Jesus in the wonder of the Beloved Community of God.
Let me say this word about the verses dealing with divorce. First, there context is first century Palestine, a culture with social structures radically different from our own. One cannot draw easy parallels about the meaning of marriage and divorce from that time to ours. Second, the Pharisees who challenge Jesus with the question about divorce are not interested in having a meaningful discussion about the issue; they are trying to catch him in a heretical statement they can use against him. As usual, he deftly sidesteps their trap.
Third, there is the placement of this discussion in a literary context in which the writer of Mark is trying to show how Jesus’ mission was to include the least and the lost, the broken and needy in God’s Beloved Community. This grouping of teachings begins with Jesus taking a child in his arms and proclaiming, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me” (Mark 9:37). It includes the teaching about divorce, which among other things, lifts up the plight of women in this culture and ends with his rebuke of the disciples for blocking those parents who were trying to bring their little ones to him for a blessing.
He’s trying to show his disciples and anyone else who will listen that there is room for everyone in God’s Beloved Community and he wants them to understand that this is especially true for women and children who were at the very bottom of the social scale in this cultural context. One focal problem is that his own disciples have set themselves up as sort of gatekeepers for the Beloved Community. They are trying to exercise their power to decide who gets in and who doesn’t.
You know how that works, right? You’ve been an outsider, a cast off, a victim of oppression, forced to the bottom of the pile. Then you get a little recognition, a leg up, some enhanced social standing. You’re part of Jesus’ inner circle and suddenly you think you’re in charge of the whole operation. Your little bit of affirmation goes to your head and suddenly you are a very important person. Jesus’ message about being the servant of all is not very appealing. You’re really hoping to sit on his right or left hand when he comes to glory.
But the point is that you haven’t been lifted up, rescued from the pit, affirmed in your brokenness, so that you can put others down. You have been blessed precisely so that you can be a blessing for others. Make room for the kids. They belong as much as you do and you need to make space for them.
It’s difficult to read this passage without thinking about Pope Francis. It may be that he is a sort of Christ figure, even in his very human fallibility. Over and over he tells people not to elevate him to the special status that’s supposed to go with his office. Instead he pleads, “Pray for me.” He must know something about the traps and tragedies of holding a little power on this earth. Making room for the kids is hardly a priority among those around him who have been elevated to positions of authority in the church. Yet there he is, frustrating his security detail and his handlers, delighting the people by leaving his entourage to kiss a boy suffering from cerebral palsy or lift up a little girl dressed in a pope outfit. Isn’t there some delicious irony in that scene? He skips lunch with the power elite of Washington to dine with the poor and he washes the feet of real impoverished prisoners. Unlike those first disciples he seems to have grasped Jesus’ vision of the Beloved Community and he means to live it out as best he can.
“Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Unless you learn to make room for the kids, you’ll never find space for yourself. What is it about kids? They can be rascally, unkind, sometimes really mean. Kids are no more perfect than the adults around them. But at their best they possess a quality of innocence and a sense of wonder that time and circumstance has beaten out of so many of us older folk. If we try really hard we may be able to recall the wonder of Disneyland or Christmas or Yosemite or a bicycle or a doll when first encountered. There is something magical in moments like that. Make room for the kids for they help us remember the moments of magic, the ways of wonder, the innocence of feeling love unconditional.
A couple of weeks ago there was a great story in the news about the discovery of a new human subspecies. If you recall, the bones were found in a cave in Africa somewhere. The problem was that access to the cave was narrow and the cave itself very small. From the news footage I saw I’m pretty sure I would not have fit. So in order to do the work of excavating the site the lead scientists put out an appeal for smaller people with backgrounds in spelunking and science to do the work. In the end, there were six small female graduate students who were chosen. They were able to slither through the narrow opening into the small cave to retrieve this wonderful body of evidence.
Is there some sort of object lesson here? You’ve got to be small to get in? It takes a woman to get it done? Sometimes it’s the least likely who lead the way. You’ve got to make room for the kids in order to experience the wonder of discovery. If you let your sense of self-importance become over-inflated, you will never fit through the entrance or stand in the presence. In today’s Words of Preparation, Maggie Ross testifies, “I know the only way to cope with growing up is to become a little child, to choose to evolve with all our complexity toward simplicity; to accept and trust as a little child trusts, only now with the second innocence born of sin and pride transfigured that is more precious than the first, that enables us to walk into dark corridors knowing we will be clobbered, but walking in anyway; to love whole-heartedly with wonder and astonishment and delight; to not be afraid of a child’s self-forgetful absorption in life, approached uncritically and with suspended judgment, so that we may learn true critical discernment” (Maggie Ross, The Fire of Your Life: A Solitude Shared).
To evolve toward simplicity, to accept and trust as a child; to love whole-heartedly with wonder and astonishment and delight – all will help us walk down dark corridors, crawl through the tiniest of spaces, and slip through the thin places into the heart of God’s Beloved Community. We need to make room for the kids who will show us the way, Make room for your own kid, held deep inside your being who, will lead you along the path to that place where we find ourselves delightfully lost in wonder, joy and praise, where Christ takes us up in his arms, lays his hands on us and blesses us. Amen.