People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. — Mark 10:13-16
On Friday, my family enjoyed an evening together at Tanglewood. We got to watch “Raiders of the Lost Ark” on a ginormous screen while the Boston Symphony Orchestra played the magnificent score by John Williams.
It was exciting and fun to be together, but it was also one of those times when you get away after a busy week and only when you get there do you realize how tired you are, mentally and physically. At intermission, we walked the grounds for a while, and then Gabe and I decided to just lie down on the grass for a few minutes to rest. It was a gorgeous night, the sky was full of stars, there was a beautiful warm breeze just strong enough to audibly rustle the trees, and the lawn was green and soft. As we lay there, we relaxed in body, mind, and spirit, and remembered how good it was to be, how connected we were to the earth, the trees, the wind, and the stars, and had a sense of enough-ness that superseded the cares of the week ending, insecurities and frustrations. It was as though we were inhabiting a Mary Oliver poem or Psalm 23. We were lying down in green pastures by the cool waters of the river of life.
But then, just as we were crossing into the land of repose and gratitude – not far from us, just to our left – someone belched. It was a large, satisfied belch – the kind of belch that comes after a few hours of heartily picnicking on the lawn. And that was the end of our reverie. We were back in the land of self-consciousness. We stood up and resumed our places in assigned seating in the shed.
But that moment we had was such a holy one – It was a reminder of the deep truth announced at our baptisms – the deep truth we will proclaim today – and the deep truth at the heart of today’s gospel: Our lives are such a remarkable gift. We are created by a loving God and are part of a web of life that interdepends, that interweaves, that iterates as we move through it. We are loved and connected, and called to love and to connect.
In our daily lives, forces much more serious than a harmless belch prevent us from holding on to this truth. We are rattled by the idol of consumerism, which sells us the lie that our value is determined by what we own, whether we are on trend, and whether we have seen or heard whatever is most popular in the moment. We are rattled by the idols of racism and sexism, which cause us to judge the children of God before we’ve even met them, to fear and to categorize and to oppress. We are rattled by the misuse of power by the church and by other religious traditions so hat we feel so ashamed to be who we are that we cannot imagine living honestly and creatively and thriving.
All of this rattling is why today’s gospel is so important and today’s baptisms such a gift to both Roya and Thomas, who are being baptized, and to us, who will witness and celebrate their vows.
In today’s gospel, people are bringing children to Jesus for a blessing. But his own disciples stop them. Why? Well, in that society, children were of very low standing. The disciples are following the mores of the society by assuming that Jesus doesn’t want to be pestered by people of such low status – that Jesus has better things to do and better people to bless.
But Jesus stops them. Let the children come to me, he says. Let me touch them and bless them. He goes on – They are the model for all of you, adults, people who think you deserve to be in the kingdom of God, people who are striving, striving, striving for God’s favor. You need to be like them in my kingdom.
As usual, Jesus has turned everything upside down. There are at least two remarkable things going on here:
First: Jesus is giving priority to the people at the lowest rungs of the social ladder: the children.
Second: Jesus is welcoming all the children – not the ones who have memorized Psalm 23. Not the ones who are well-groomed and wearing black shoes when they serve as torchbearers. Not the children of those who pledge, nor the strongest or the most beautiful children. Let the children come to me.
Jesus has reversed every aspect of who matters in the society and what matters about us.
All are beautiful and blessed. All are touchable by God, welcome in the heart of God. God’s joy is not complete until we are nearby. In our sinful and rattled state it is hard to fathom this, but it is true. As William Blake wrote, “we are put on this earth a little space that we might learn to bear the beams of love.”
Today, we will celebrate two baptisms. Both candidates are icons to us that bring this gospel story to life. Thomas is a little child. He is esteemed in God’s eyes long before we know anything about his personality, his particular gifts, or his life choices. He is loved because he is. Roya is an adult who has traveled far and lived much, and who carries a great deal of wisdom about what it’s like to live among “hearts of stone,” as the prophet Ezekiel wrote. She wants a guiding star in Christ, and she wants to come to God like a child, just as Jesus invited her and us, and to be blessed and renewed and commissioned to be a part of the great work of reconciliation.
It’s easy to get rattled in this world. The pains and body scars are many. False idols are shiny and pretty widely worshipped. But through your baptism, you are called to a life of love, a life of connection, a life of being yourself – fully yourself in all your particularity and beauty and wackiness and tenderness – and knowing that you are enough. Here we affirm that we are in it together, and we offer what we have and take what we need. Here we uphold one another in this truth.
So lie in the grass, gaze at the stars, and, yes, belch loudly! Blessed are the belchers. And we thank God for every minute of your one, short, beautiful life – first, last, and always.