"Be Like Newborn Babies"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - April 24, 2005
Psalm 31:1-5; I Peter 2:2-10
Once Jesus taught, “Unless you become like children, you shall not enter the Kingdom of God.” In another setting he said, “Allow the little children to come to me, do not hinder them from coming, because to such belongs the Kingdom of God.” Jesus wanted his listeners to know that entering the Kingdom of God is not a reward; it is a state of consciousness.
Perhaps we can understand these teachings more clearly if we go back in our own biography and remember numerous experiences in our home while growing up. It is interesting how all of us have retained certain snap shots of incidents that seemingly had little significance to how our lives evolved, but, nevertheless, there they remain prominently displayed in our mind’s picture album.
My brother had a friend whose name was Vance Brown. One day Vance’s mother called and invited Roy and me to go to the beach for the day with their family. Mom was delighted at her invitation but indicated that only Roy was able to go. I was in the other room and heard the conversation. As soon as Mom hung up the phone I asked, “Why can’t I go too?”
She reminded me that I had carried a temperature of 101 the day before and she was not going to permit me to go. I couldn’t believe it. I argued, “But I feel fine! My temperature is normal!” Mom said, “Temperatures are often normal during the morning hours. My answer is, “No.” (She had a couple more cards in her hand than I did; she was a Registered Nurse!)
I told her she was mean. I told her that I never get to do anything I want, that Roy gets to do all the fun things. “Besides,” I asked, “Why doesn’t our family ever go to the beach? I never get to go. This is my one chance and you won’t let me have it.”
I am sure every parent is familiar with the whiny voice of a child who has just been denied something he or she really wants. Everything from our body posture to our wanting to hide in our room forever comes on stage with us during these show and tell mini-dramas.
I followed Mom around the house pleading my case until she had had enough. She shot me a look that communicated, “What about the word ‘No’ do you not understand?” I knew the conversation was over. Roy went to the beach and had a wonderful time. I stayed home and pouted about how no one loved me.
What is so interesting about this episode is that when we develop older bodies and experience circumstances that are not to our liking, we behave in much the same manner. Our hurt feelings cause us to focus on ourselves. We allow one incident to create a mountain that hides our view of life’s countless blessings. We convince ourselves that life is unfair, that there is no justice and that had this one incident not occurred, we would still be happy. Just like children, we figure that if God really loves us, God has a very strange way of showing it.
The longer we live, the more we see the wisdom of Peter’s next verse of our lesson. “You have found out for yourselves how kind God is.” Sometimes one incident can literally imprison us. However, when we allow our hurt to fade, we see the big picture again. While I struggled with my hurt feelings, nothing about my Mother’s love for me had changed. This is the way God’s love is.
Drinking the “pure spiritual milk,” as Peter described this process, is a profound teaching. Following our upset, consider how we regain our balance. Everything we need for healing is available to us. As children, we slowly remember that we have a room to go to, that Mom and Dad work hard to take care of the family, that supper is still at 5:30 p.m., that the refrigerator is l well stocked with food, that we still go to school where many of our friends are and that we can laugh and play again.
When we are thirsty for the “pure spiritual milk,” we are on a quest for learning how to trust God when life is complicated and appears to be void of meaning. As we grow through each one of our little upsets, we learn that life is bigger than the source of any one of them.
Some years ago I was leading a weeklong teenage backpacking expedition along the Appalachian Trail, a trip that originated from Camp Manidokan. One day we awakened to a pristine morning, ate breakfast, broke camp and started hiking. I noticed that one of the girls was very somber and chose to remain at the end of the line. This was very uncharacteristic for her. I fell back to join her, and I noticed that she had been crying.
She told me that she had gotten up early in the morning to watch the sunrise. She had gone off by herself and found a large bolder upon which to sit to write in her journal. She noticed a magnificent circular spider web coated with dew that made it glisten in the sunlight. As she was writing about it, a boy came up behind her and threw a log through this beautiful creation destroying it. With tears again she said, “Why did he do that?” I answered that I did not know.
I told her that many people go through life and never appreciate such creations of beauty. I reminded her that she would always discover such works of nature’s art. Later that day, she found a Luna moth perched low on the bark of a tree, and she was happy again.
When we learn to grow through our upsets without blaming others for their often callous, cruel behavior, God offers guidance toward even bigger and better things. It is a matter of trusting God with all circumstances, even the ones we do not understand, that makes the difference for us. By letting go of her resentment and moving on, this sensitive teen was able to see other wonders.
Drinking the “pure spiritual milk” also enables us to perceive our circumstances very differently. Rather than sensing how unfair life can be, or entertaining the thought that God has abandoned us, we begin to understand that we are being fashioned, strengthened and empowered for much greater tasks.
One evening Susannah Wesley awakened to the horror that her home was on fire. Samuel and 18 of their children escaped without harm. When she counted noses, however, one was missing. It was their 5-year old. The house was so engulfed in flames that a rescue attempt through the front door was impossible. Samuel agonizingly slumped to the ground on his knees and commended his son’s spirit to God.
Some neighbors had a different idea. They formed a human ladder with the largest man on the bottom, and the smallest among them scaled the tower of bodies reaching the window where John eagerly awaited with outstretched arms. After the incident, Susannah taught her son that he was “her little brand, plucked from the fire.” She told him that God had a purpose for his life.
John Wesley barely recalled the fire during his adult years, but he remembered what that fire empowered his mother to teach him. In brief, John Wesley traveled more than 250,000 miles on horseback, averaging twenty miles a day for forty years; preached 4,000 sermons; produced 400 books; knew ten languages. At 83 he was annoyed that he could not write more than 15 hours a day without hurting his eyes, at 87 he was ashamed he could not preach more than twice a day. He complained in his diary that he was experiencing the increased tendency to lie in bed until 4:30 a.m. In the aftermath of his life, he left behind nearly nine million people who call themselves, “United Methodists.”
If we focus on something that represents a horrible tragedy for us, e.g., a fire, a death, a divorce, an illness or someone abandoning us, how do we know where it will lead? How do we know what gifts or insights might be evoked within us? We do not know what creative forces are at work during a moment of perceived darkness. By trusting that God is leading us somewhere, we will stay on purpose and convert “dark” events into being opportunities for us to create.
On December 9, 1914, the great Edison Industries of West Orange, New Jersey were consumed by fire. That night Edison lost two million dollars and most of his life’s work. His buildings were made of concrete and thus he had only insured them for $238,000. He assumed that they were fireproof. Edison was 67 at the time. As the buildings burned, Edison yelled to his 24-year old son Charles, “Where’s your mother? Get her immediately, she will never see anything like this again!”
The next day as the father and son walked through the charred remains of Edison’s hopes and dreams, Thomas knelt down and picked up a handful of rubble. “There is great value in disasters,” he said. “All our mistakes are erased. Thank God we can start over again.” Three weeks after that fire, his company delivered to the world the first phonograph. At an age when most men have retired, Thomas Edison was not distracted from his purpose – that of creating. Some people’s spirits are broken by such events while others soar! It depends on the tools they use to interpret life.
If we remain like newborn babies, we maintain our innocent trust. Even though we will be unhappy sometimes, devastated sometimes, insulted and injured sometimes, we still grow up under God’s infinite, loving care. In the process of our growth, we become saved from experiencing debilitating fears of abandonment and from defining ourselves with self-defeating thought patterns.
It does not take a rocket scientist or the skills of a brain surgeon for us to understand that trust, perception and a sense of purpose are the invisible qualities that govern everything we experience. If these skills are not finely focused on the spiritual path of growth, our energy will propel us toward behaviors that can disguise or hide the light we have. But even then, God’s energetic arms remain outstretched toward us at the end of our journey.
I began this message talking about children and I will end with a story of an eight-year old girl. Amanda was so angered by her mother’s refusal to honor her wishes that she stomped upstairs and slammed the door to her room. There she simmered and smoldered with her anger. Finally her hostility grew to such enormous proportions that she stormed out of her room, took a pair of scissors and cut her mother’s best dress to shreds. When she finished her destruction, she felt that she had repaid her mother for her lack of understanding.
Upon finding the dress, her mother threw herself on the bed and sobbed. Every fear of failing as a mother swept through her mind. When Amanda heard her mother crying, she came into the room, crawled on the bed and said, “I’m sorry, Mom.” When she was greeted with silence, Amanda said, “Mom, please take me back! Please take me back!” Amanda’s mother put her arms around her daughter and said, “Honey, I still love you. You never have to doubt that.”
God knows that we are just children, capable of so many things both great and small. Yet in the grand scheme of things, God still loves each of us. To all of us, that is good news.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Loving God, as we gather for worship, help us to examine your presence in our lives. How often our love changes like the seasons. We forget that our love is about what we give away and not about what we receive. We allow uncertainty, fear and perceived defeats to erode our confidence and trust. We seek new truths without putting into practice what we already know. Teach us to practice patience and understanding. Teach us that we do not need to be anywhere special in order to make your will visible. Inspire us during moments of challenge to remember our role as a light in darkness. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
God of mercy and love, we often come to church out of habit, never really sure what may happen to us as a result. Our lives are often shaped by events, circumstances and relationships that we could have never planned. It is as though life happens to us when we are busy doing something else. Being in a worship experience often helps us regain a perspective we may have misplaced.
Thank you, God, for creating us as you have. We are able to give and receive love. You have equipped us to be resilient in our losses and flexible during painful transitions. We have all experienced the miracle of healing from the inside out. We know what it is like to lay our painful memories at Jesus’ feet. As we do, the freedom of forgiveness floods our spirits. You created us to change as we practice what we have learned. As we mature in our discipleship, we delight in letting our light shine from within us. When we combine our lives with others at St. Matthew’s, we experience what it means to be in community where love, acceptance and support flow as water through a peaceful brook.
Enable us to cease judging life when it is not as we would prefer. This morning we celebrate the enormous powers you have given us to make meaningful and purposeful responses to everything we experience. May others take their cues for living by what they see us do. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .