Nobody Can Imagine What God Is Doing Through Jesus… Except For Infants.

Sermon by The Reverend Jodi Baron, Co-Rector, July 9, 2017, Pentecost 5, Proper 9, Year A, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30


“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants…”

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It is good to be back with you, friends. I’ve been absent the past two Sundays to take advantage of some of the continuing education and vacation time you offer me & Christian each year. It was good to read, rest, and rejuvenate.

It was good to spend time with my family in some of our favorite places, to reunite with friends we haven’t seen in too, too long, to read from authors I’ve neglected since before seminary…whose voices I’ve missed.

Like Rob Bell, for instance. As you may, or may not, know from our Parish Communications, the Education and Spiritual Formation For the Whole Parish Committee has invited the whole parish to join in reading Bell’s newest book, What Is the Bible? How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything.

We gathered at my house last Thursday for dinner and to begin discussing the book, together.

His books generally read I think, like a conversation with a wickedly smart human who desires nothing more than for you to ‘get it.’ Which is one of the qualities I have always appreciated about him. He is passionate about The Bible and will stop at nothing, even writing a book, to help us understand what in the world God might be trying to invite us to consider these people who wrote it all down thousands of years ago.

The other thing that inspires me so much from his writings is his curiosity. He takes himself into the text and pokes it, turns it, asks questions of it, wonders with it. He believes that just because something is “sacred” or “holy” doesn’t mean it’s untouchable.

He is intent on teaching people, empowering people, to learn how to read the Word of God literate-ly, taking into account what type of book it is.

Poem, Letter, History, Metaphor, Parable…

They are each different tools of communicating God’s Truth, human’s deepest desires to be reunited with their creator, in the cool of the evening in the Garden, like it was so long ago in Eden.
On Earth.
Where justice reigned and everyone had everything that they needed, and all were fed, and communion with God was eternal and ongoing and so incredibly mutual that humans and the Divine didn’t know who was giving and who was receiving.

They were in… Peace.

He hopes to help us learn how to honor the literature within scripture, to respect it, and learn from it, and…most of all…enjoy it.

Bell hopes that each of us will read these passages that we hear week after week, ask questions, discuss it, poke it, dance with it (really, he encourages us to DANCE with the bible) turn it, play with it, wonder about it, identify the parts that don’t make sense…

And all of this to say, today’s lessons have a lot going on. A lot of questions that popped up when I read them. A lot of things I wish I had more time to uncover and explore, with you.

Like this sentence from Matthew, that I lead with as a prayer,
“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants…”

Why would Jesus be praising God for hiding things from the humans he is trying to usher in the Kingdom of God to and reveal God to?
And why did the lectionary leave out verses 20-24?

Anyway, I’m not entirely sure what ground has been covered over the past few weeks in the preachers’ words but, it’s important to me that we are all up to speed on what is going on here.

Because, as we know, Matthew wasn’t written in disconnected snippets, but as one book. “As a bridge for the people in his community, between the two testaments by showing how prophetic fulfillment citations” from the Hebrew bible were fulfilled in the deeds of power and words of Jesus.

Matthew has within it, more collections of Jesus’ teachings than any other Gospel, which is probably why the early church employed it more than any of the others.

And over these past few weeks, Matthew has been going through and letting the reader know what it means to be a disciple. What it means to “follow” Jesus into this new way of how we move and have our being.

Two weeks ago he made the case that being a disciple trumps family obligations. Last week he said that true disciples are hospitable.

And today, in Chapter 11, we are a few paragraphs past the part where John is thrown in jail. Where John sends his disciples to Jesus to find out what is going on.

“Come and get me, Jesus.”
“What are you waiting for, Jesus.”
“Now is the time, Jesus!”

As though John was planning on Jesus busting him out of jail like it was a black and white cowboy film.

And Jesus is in a pickle, isn’t he?

The paragraph before he lets everybody know that John is the best disciple. The most loyal… the straightest arrow…

And yet… Jesus declares that even John has no idea what is happening.

Not even John can comprehend what is happening…

Nobody can imagine what God is doing through Jesus… except for infants.

Wait… what? Babies? What are you talking about Jesus?

Jesus, as far as I know, never had any children.

But take it from anyone who has spent more than an hour with one, babies are unreasonable… they can’t think rationally… they are self-centered and they soil themselves at least a few times a day.

And, I have spent many years trying to understand this Kingdom…of infants.

There is no way that a baby can understand the nuances of the Kingdom better than I can… or Deacon Marilou…, or Bishop Whayne… or, actually, anybody here today.

Babies just can’t understand things very well… at all.

And then I got to thinking… babies don’t understand what has to be overthrown.

They don’t understand injustice.
Or power or authority or Kingdom.

And so there isn’t the paradigm shift that must happen for those of us who have participated in sin… in systems that oppress… whether directly or indirectly…with things done or not done.

Infants are the innocents. They simply don’t know any other way.

I think that’s interesting… I think that’s beautiful… I think that is controversial.

And maybe that’s why Jesus is praising God…maybe that’s why he finds an infantile understanding of God’s kingdom more helpful than an adult, intellectualized and cerebral way of following arguments to their logical conclusion.

And maybe… maybe… that’s what he means in the last bit of this pericope… when he says…

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,” As though he is inviting us to remember what it was like to be a baby who had no burdens… and that will be rest. Where all of your needs are taken care of, all of your worries matter no more, all of your preoccupations with power and prestige and acceptance and belonging are satisfied in the company of Jesus.

And, “Take my yoke upon you…” as though he is asking us, “Can you remember what it was like before the weight of the world rested on your shoulders? learn from me… learn from the lives of babies…”

“For I am gentle and humble in heart…” If you are like a baby, you will find rest for your souls.

“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” So take it easy… like a baby… let me do the work.

And… if we are to be like babies… if we are to have no worries… that means that we are to be vulnerable… that means we need to be taken care of… that we need to be changed when we soil ourselves… to be fed when we cry… to be played with and read to and soothed.

That means that we need a caregiver… we need one who will help us grow and thrive into the next phase of growth and life… Somebody else will need to do most of the work.

But here is the toughest part… for me… maybe you have already discovered the flaw in this logic… but if we are to be like babies… and if our parent is the Divine… we know what the yoke can bring, don’t we?

We know what support of Kingdom Justice can result in don’t we?

We know that for many, including John who is imprisoned… it resulted in death, right?

But for Matthew… we aren’t there yet. For Matthew… he isn’t concerned with the reaction of those who oppose the New Kingdom… He is only concerned with discipleship.

What is the next right thing… What is the path of Jesus?

Here is the Hope… here is the hopeful message of this gospel…

Jesus is talking about a new Kingdom… a Kingdom that is coming… it isn’t here yet, for John…
it isn’t here yet, for Jesus…
but it is coming…

and it looks like a nursery… it looks like a garden… it looks like a place where our Divine creator walks in and through with us… pointing out all that is good. All of the places where goodness is saturating the landscape and people and creatures we meet. The butterflies and green trees, the oceans and lakes and birds and deer. Oh, the deer. Aren’t they majestic?
A place where we are totally dependant on God for our needs, and we don’t have needs.

It is a place where injustice does not exist.

Where systems will not oppress those who are vulnerable.

A place where there is no privilege.

It looks like a place where our eyes aren’t clouded with maligned desires but ones that seek to bring more people in, so many more that we would go to the ends of the earth and around again, until no stone has been unturned, no human untouched by this invitation to dance with God, in the cool of the evening, in the garden where all is well, and all are… home.

And that Kingdom is still coming. We will see glimpses of it from time to time… but it is not yet fully accessible… It is not present in Matthew, for John in jail… awaiting execution…

And for that Kingdom to come… we as co-creators… have much work to do.
Much hard work to do. To realize this kind of reality will require us to abandon our selfish desires for power and prestige and to recognize the humanity and divinity in each of God’s babies.

To treat them with dignity and respect.

If that wasn’t hopeful to you, maybe this is…

my grandfather passed down to my father a yoke made for oxen.
Someday it will be passed down to me.
It is big and heavy and wooden and damaged….
And it has room for two.

The yoke that we are to share with Jesus is built for two.

That yoke is a gift for us to make the work easier, it’s a gift to make us work in tandem, yoked, so closely with the work of Jesus that we hear his breathing, we smell his sweat, we feel the rhythm of our feet walking together.

It is a gift to let us participate in plowing the fields of injustice and making a way for God’s Kingdom… God’s Garden to grow.

That’s why it is easy… that’s why it is light…

So, St. Philip’s continue to plant justice… just like you have been for me and my family, for you and your family, for the passersby and travelers, for the friends and neighbors and strangers in our midst.

Because the bigger we make the yoke… the more necks we harness with us and Jesus… the easier the work will become.

The more the garden will grow.