Sermon For Sunday, September 28, 2014

Matthew 18:1-5

“A Child-Like Faith”

This is the fourth in a series of sermons:

Following The Fundamentals Of The Faith (Without Being Fundamentalist!)

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ http://www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

Dedication Of Jolee!

Dedication Of Jolee!

I’ve always been taken by the fact that in the story of God’s relationship with us as told in the Hebrew Scriptures, time after time God gets fed up with us and lets us have our way, even if it’s not the divine will nor particularly good for us. In the book of 1 Samuel 8, as translated in Eugene Peterson’s The Message, the climax of the story sounds like this:

When Samuel heard their demand – “Give us a king to rule us!” – he was crushed. How awful! Samuel prayed to God. God answered Samuel, “Go ahead and do what they’re asking. They are not rejecting you. They’ve rejected me as their King. From the day I brought them out of Egypt until this very day they’ve been behaving like this, leaving me for other gods. And now they’re doing it to you. So let them have their own way. But warn them of what they’re in for. Tell them the way kings operate, just what they’re likely to get from a king.”

I read a lot into the fact that God did not want us to have a sovereign nor monarch to rule over us. It is my belief that the original design of the twelve tribes and the judges who led them was to shape a way of understanding life that could have been, if allowed to work, more communal, consensual, and healthy. There is something inside us that pushes us to want hierarchy, and that urge is neither beneficial nor holy.

Then, as if to make the point imminently comprehensible, God became embodied in Jesus Christ and embodied divine love and sacred grace amongst us. Everything about Jesus, from his humbly birth in a borrowed stable, to his life lived out on the margins of society, to his death as a common criminal radiated solidarity, equality, and collaboration. Today’s scripture, part of a larger conversation Jesus was having with his disciples about leadership, focused on the image of a child as the symbol for greatness. And while the point is still well made in our society and era in history, the message would have been pointedly and painfully clear in an age where children and women were devalued in relationship to men. To become as a child would be to place oneself on the bottom rung of the ladder. God-in-Jesus calmly takes down the ladder and puts it away.

An absolute fundamental of a healthy, vibrant, and devout faith is to understand that mutuality, consensus, and shared leadership reflect the divine will for humanity. Our need for and use of hierarchy reveals more about our lesser and base motives than about God’s will. Systems and language that place one or a few persons over and above others should always be seen as a concession rather than an improvement in the way things should be.

How does this play itself out? Well first and foremost in our language. While I am quite aware that the Bible is submerged in monarchial language and even Jesus refers to God as “king,” you will not, as a rule, hear me use it in reference to God or Jesus in what I write, pray, or preach. In part because we have no real parallels in contemporary culture and thus it is mostly incomprehensible to us, but primarily because it does not reflect the ultimate objective God has for humanity nor our spiritual lives. Likewise, we should avoid language that emphasizes oppressive and top-down imagery in place of communal, cooperative, and consensual communication.

But beyond language, this way of living also becomes manifest in how we shape our human social structures. I am part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) because we have a relentless commitment to non-hierarchical structures and ways of organizing our work in the world. Our three “manifestations of the church,” local – regional – general, all are equal and work with and inform one another; no one “level” is at the top or bottom. We do not have “bishops,” but Regional Ministers. Our clergy – who, by the way, were seen as completely expendable during a portion of our history, even at our church – are consider and Elder among Elders. One of the things the Official Church Board will hear from the New Visioning Team later today is a reminder that all too often folks coming from other religious traditions oftentimes expect me as pastor to act in more authoritarian ways or to have the power to make things happen, when in fact it is the Official Church Board that holds the administrative power in a congregationally-based church. This is why I am committed to this denomination and this church in particular.

And finally, a faithful understanding of what it means to “become like a child” and to “welcome a child” means our way of relating to one another must be consistent with Christ’s model. When we are autocratic and controlling we are less than God intended for us to be. When we communicate more with those around us, when we confer with others often, when we consider the least, the lost, the last, and the loneliest we are following Christ more fully. When we chafe at being put over and above others and relish being on the same level as others, we follow Christ more fully.

And this brings me to my ultimate guiding inspiration for this fundamental of the faith. It comes to us from Philippians 2:2, and enjoins us, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.”

Amen.

Liturgy for the day, written by Rev. Allen V. Harris:

CALL TO WORSHIP

One:           The sparkle of success shimmers bright in our world, and the temptation to greatness based on power and status relentlessly grows stronger…

Many:        But it is here we are reminded our goal in life is faith like a child’s.

One            We revel in God language that mimics warriors and monarchs, and we find strange comfort in speaking of a savior who vanquishes and destroys our enemies…

Many:        But it is here we are reminded our goal in life is faith like a child’s.

One:           Our culture is saturated with images of people and things that are extraordinary, distinctive, one-of-a-kind, unrivaled…

Many:        But it is here we are reminded our goal in life is faith like a child’s.

INVOCATION, CONFESSION, & LORD’S PRAYER

Topsy-turvy God, you have a habit of turning our lives upside down, upsetting our apple carts, knocking over our fruit baskets. As we climb the ladder of success your point out the lilies of the field. As we rise to the top you sit down with the kids. As we idolize the successful you take your seat beside the sinners. Forgive us. You know well how difficult it is for us to walk in Jesus’ sandals. Be gentle with us as you lovingly remind us what is truly important in this world.

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