17th Sunday after Pentecost
What if I were to tell you…that what you do this week could change the world? Would you believe me? Would you think about it? Or smile politely but secretly laugh to yourself at the ridiculousness of the idea?
In our text today we get the famous, famous scene of Jesus with the little child in His lap. Together with the other famous scene of Jesus blessing all the little children, saying to the disciples, “Let the little children come unto Me and forbid them not; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these”—the two scenes have inspired painters and poets and preachers for centuries! There is something heartwarming about it all. And, if you’re an adult, there’s also something annoying about it all!
Annoying because, well, what does a kid know about life? As George Bernard Shaw once said, “Youth is wasted on the young!” Annoying, because, yeah, we’ll put up with the preacher telling us to be more child-like in our faith, to live more simply, laugh more often, be silly once in a while, get down and crawl on the floor, stop to look at a bug, or any of the other sorts of things a little child can find to do. Yeah right…like we’re gonna do that…as if that’s gonna accomplish anything.
But Jesus is not turning into a Mr. Rodgers, taking off His robe to button up a cardigan sweater, and slipping off His sandals to tie on some tennis shoes…all the while gently encouraging us to get in touch with our inner child.
No, He’s not telling His grown-up disciples that they have to be children (which, of course, they cannot be) Jesus says to them, “Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me, receives not [only] Me but Him who sent Me.” There’s a unique sort of “butterfly effect” at work here.
One of the currently popular motivational speakers, Andy Andrews, wrote a little book he called The Butterfly Effect. In it he catalogues the extraordinary impact of simple acts by human beings. Except, he says, that when you look back over these simple acts, you can’t really tell which ones made the biggest difference.
For instance, Norman Borlaug, the great-grandson of Norwegian immigrants who had settled over in little Dane, Wisconsin, grew up to develop high-yield, disease-resistant corn and wheat. He is credited with saving two billion lives worldwide from famine? Or should Henry Wallace, a one-term vice-president, who created an office to work in Mexico to develop hybrid seed for arid climates and who hired Borlaug to run the operation, credit for saving all those lives from famine?
Or should we credit George Washington Carver, who took the young Iowan, Henry Wallace, under his arm and instilled in the young man a love of plants. Or should the credit go to Moses and Susan Carver, who adopted an orphaned George as their son, who so influenced Henry Wallace, who hired Norman Borlaug. Or…should it be… Well, you get the idea.
In his book, Andrews points out how interconnected all of our actions really are. Our actions create an unforeseen butterfly effect that ripples across time and space to affect millions.
Of course, it doesn’t always work simply. The disciples here are a good example. St. Mark notes that Jesus is traveling covertly because He is spending quality time with His disciples. They are like children. He is teaching them. Circle time. Story time. Symbolically He’s taking them in His lap to bless them with the knowledge of what lies ahead.
And what lies ahead, in the near future, is Jerusalem, Good Friday, and Easter. “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And when He is killed, after three days He will rise.” One on one, like telling a little child a story with a happy ending. But…St. Mark writes, “They did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask Him.”
Oh yes, we can understand that the disciples didn’t get it. I mean, we’ve lived with the Gospel our entire lives…but how much do we really understand the death and resurrection of Jesus? An do we ask our questions? That’s why we have Bible studies, to ask those questions, to wrestle with the things of God. It’s not about acquiring information, as if one day we’ll have to pass a test at the pearly gates! But deep-down we seem to have this fear that we’ll go to hell if we ask the wrong questions.
But just think what might have happened had the disciples realized what Jesus was offering them. In this private circle time, like little children, Jesus offered to share with the disciples these doubts about their place in His eyes and the big scheme of things.
Perhaps…perhaps had they asked their questions they would have come more quickly to learn how human greatness does not lay in one’s own power and the size of the splash he makes. Greatness comes in the acts that ripple out from Jesus, to those who are furthest from Him….
Ah, but here’s the point. We don’t know the often-times tortured path which the Jesus butterfly effect is going to take. In God’s grace it required all the traumatic experience of Jesus’ death and resurrection before those disciples finally stood at Pentecost, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and did what Jesus had long before prepared them to do. And Judas never got there…
Still, all of those ripples…ripples which have spread to this very day in 2012…the ripples from Jesus can be seen here as He takes the Twelve aside. And that’s the difference between faith and motivational speakers. Motivational speakers are all about me, getting me to jump in and make a splash, send those ripples out. But faith is all about Jesus, all about God the Father. That’s how the ripples flow. So Jesus takes aside His disciples, puts them in His lap, so to speak, like little children, that they might receive Him, and in receiving Him receive the One who sent Him.
The what if’s which ripple out from all of this…well, that’s God’s business. But whenever Jesus puts anyone in His lap, as He does right here each week in worship, telling us the heart and mind of God the Father…oh, the possibilities that ripple from here…they are endless.
Who knows? Maybe one of you who hears Jesus today will give encouragement to someone else, who, in turn, will help another person who may be on the verge of giving up on the faith….
Or maybe a person who hears Jesus today will find the courage stand up to that bully this week (and not all bullies are confined to childhood; they can be found anywhere, at work, even at church), and in standing up to that bully in Christ not only are the bullied helped but perhaps even the bully. And even if you, like Jesus, get beat up for it, in Christ your “martyrdom” may inspire the next person, who….
Or…maybe a hearer today will be moved to do as simply as Jesus has done, and receive a little child…maybe volunteer to read to kids in our preschool or at the local library. And by what you say or do you shape the choices of a child who will grow up to discover…. Or maybe.…
The things we do this week—our actions, our decisions, our choices—will, in fact, ripple out with consequences foreseen and unforeseen, for good or for ill, for the lifting up or for the tearing down of our world. No, not simply because of us and what we do, like the motivational speakers always say. It’s what we do this week having sat here in Jesus’ lap, listening to Him, having been taken into His cross and resurrection, taken into the mind and heart of God…what we do in Christ, who did what He did in God the Father…that’s what will make a difference in the world.
Jesus took a little child…He took the Twelve…He takes you and me…“whoever receives this [little one],” He says, “receives Me. And whoever receives Me, receives not only Me, but also Him who sent Me.” Ripples and ripples and ripples because our lives have been so touched again this morning.
So what would you do, if I told you that what you do this week in Christ could change the world?