Like Little Children
By Pastor Krista Ducker
18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 Then he called a little child over to sit among the disciples, 3 and said, “I assure you that if you don’t turn your lives around and become like this little child, you will definitely not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Those who humble themselves like this little child will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
Falling into sin
6 “As for whoever causes these little ones who believe in me to trip and fall into sin, it would be better for them to have a huge stone hung around their necks and be drowned in the bottom of the lake.
In this passage, Jesus responds to a question from the disciples that constitutes what we’d call a “teachable moment”; they ask him who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And in his response to them, Jesus re-defines what greatness looks like, by comparing the “greatest” in the kingdom to the very least in the human order of things in the ancient near east: children. He says to his disciples; “I assure you that if you don’t turn your lives around and become like this little child, you will definitely not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus then goes on to say that there are three ways that children teach us about what it means to be great in God’s kingdom:
Children are humble; therefore, we are called to humility (verse 4); 4 Those who humble themselves like this little child will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Note: children are not only mentioned here because they are dependent and innocent. In Ancient Near Eastern society, children had no power or influence, and their lives were very precarious, especially if they did not have the protection of parents (that is, orphans). They were excluded from adult male society, that is the sphere of power in that world, at least until they reached the age of maturity, which would have been around 13 years old. So if we are to be a part of God’s kingdom, we will relinquish control to God and operate out of a spirit of humility.
Second, We are called to hospitality (verse 5); “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” Jesus says to us that anytime we welcome and show care to those who are weaker members of society, it is as if we are welcoming Christ; this word hospitality is not about impressing our friends or having the fanciest, most lavish house parties in town--it is about an attitude of the heart that is open, that treats everyone with dignity and holds space for them with generosity of spirit and patience.
Third, We are called to be good examples of faith (verse 6); A stern warning, but a reminder--the way we behave toward each other matters. How might we be causing each other to stumble? Especially now in our highly charged times? Sometimes I think of the command that we not use the Lord’s name in vain in this way. If I use the same mouth to praise God and curse my neighbor, am I not tarnishing God’s name? Who would want to know God after seeing me behave like that?
How we behave toward those who are weaker, or sick among us--or those who share different views--matters. We need to operate out of a place of humility and hospitality, with welcome and generous hearts, so that we do not lead others into places they shouldn’t go.
This evening on our first Manna in the Middle service in a year and a half, we have had the tremendous joy of confirming one of our young people into the church and into a growing faith in God. Ayden, we celebrate this with your family and your confirmation friends, and we welcome you into this church family.
And in a little while we will be welcoming students of all ages as we bless their backpacks and award bibles to our children. Let us look at these moments not only as opportunities to bless them, but to be reminded of God’s call to us to be people of humble hospitality; that we would allow God to shape us into strong role models of faith for these young people, and for all who look to us for guidance, in Jesus’ name.
By Pastor Pete Grassow
Intro: Today we come to this service with a number of things on our minds:
• Yesterday was 9/ 11 - and many people are sad.
• We continue to be challenged by the Corona Virus - and more people are dying now than last year this time.
• And it is National Grandparents Day.
I want to honor all of these emotions - will speak about Grandparents, and then lead us in prayer for those who have died
I remember the moment that I discovered I was a grandfather - My daughter phoned - and spoke to my wife: "You are going to be a grandfather" I thought it smart to say "So I will be married to a granny"; to which she replied "such a young woman going to bed with a Grandfather feels kind of wrong". Because it is Grandparent's Day, I have chosen a passage about a grandparent: it is a beautiful story of love, and compassion - a story that I hope will challenge us:
Naomi is a Jewish widow, who comes from Bethlehem. She had moved with her husband and two sons from Israel across the Dead Sea to the land of Moab - which is an ancient kingdom whose territory today is located in the modern state of Jordan. And then tragedy struck: her husband died. Her sons married local women and lived with their mom for the next ten years. And more tragedy both her sons died. So she decided to move back to Bethlehem. Naomi released her daughters-in-law from their obligation to care for their mother-in-law: she told them to find new husbands within their own culture. One daughter went back to her family - but the other chose to go with her mother-in-law. Her name was Ruth.
Ruth 1:16 But Ruth said, "Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.....
Ruth 1:22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.
Here Ruth meets a local Jewish man called Boaz . He was a relative of her deceased father-in-law, and custom dictated that he should take her in and care for her: in fact there is provision in Jewish law that suggests that he should marry Ruth. It is called Levirate marriage - and says that if your brother dies then you must marry his widow - (do I see you thinking about how this would turn out today?) Let me read a bit from Scripture:
Ruth 4:13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the LORD gave her conception, and she bore a son.
Ruth 4:14 Then the women said to Naomi, ''Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel!
Ruth 4:15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him."
Ruth 4:16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse.
Ruth 4:17 And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, ' son has been born to Naomi." They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
Today I want to speak briefly to all who have Grandparents and then to all who are Grandparents.
First of All: The story of Ruth challenges us in the way we view older people: anyone who can be a Granny or Grandpa to you. Let us not become trapped in this idea of biological grandparents - I come from a culture where we call every older person Granny or Grandpa as a sign or respect.
Ruth chose to look after her mother-in-law. Tough ask: some mother's-in-law are hard work! I am blessed with my wife's mom (turns 97 this week & Jenny is with her).
Today invites us to be respectful of those who are older.
I saw a tragic clip-on social media of a school board meeting in Tennessee where a grandson was speaking about his grandmother dying of Covid - and the people around him were mocking him. Let us show our children how to care for older people. We are better than those who mock the dead: when people have died - show respect.
• we will remember those who died on 9/ 11: we show respect for them and their families: it is what Christ-followers do.
• We will show respect for all who have died of Covid: and for their families.
But back to Grandparents: Let me speak now to those of us who are Grandparents. We can fill a grandparent's role without having any children of our own/or without having our grandkids near to us. It can be that you keep an eye on the kids in the neighborhood. It can be that you have kids next door to you. I think of a Grandfather who greets every kid who arrives in church as if they were his own...
I want to invite us to reflect on the impact we make as Grandparents in society. Here is a story of a Grandmother: Naomi - she has a grandson - born of her son's wife . This boy's name is Obed - and this boy has a mother who is a Moabite: There is a troublesome text in the Bible that tells Jewish people to avoid the Moabites : Deuteronomv 23:3-6 says, "No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live."
And here is Naomi with a Moabite as a Grandson! Yes his father is Jewish - so young Obed is half Jewish - except that some will point out that the Jewish faith is passed down through the mother: who is not Jewish. Ruth does say that she will take on the faith of her mother-in-law: but she is known in Scripture as "Ruth the Moabite". In essence this boy is a questionable half -breed.
And at this point - while the gossip is swirling through the village: Obed's grandmother steps in and settles the debate:
Ruth 4:16 Then Naomi took the child aryd laid him on her lap and became his nurse
Naomi places this new child in her lap: there is no safer place than in the arms of a granny: "I will love you". And then even more startling: "I will nurture you" She nurses this child. This is a very intimate action - "I will let you share my strength. I will make myself vulnerable for you".
Naomi becomes an example for every grandparent here - the fact is that children need our protection...and it does not matter who they are! The story of Naomi says to us all
- they do not have to be your blood for you to love and protect them. There is a lovely moment in this story: the whole community steps in and names this boy: he is called "Obed" which means "Servant of God" - literally he is one of us...he will serve the Lord amongst us.
And he did - he becomes a grandfather to King David - and thus one of the ancestors of Jesus.
Challenge all of us to step up and be grandparents to every child that crosses our path.
We simply do not know what lies in their future...and how they might become useful to God.
Let me close with a story:
Two young boys were spending the night at their grandparents' house the week before Christmas. At bedtime, the two boys knelt beside their beds to say their prayers.
The younger boy began praying at the top of his voice. "I PRAY FOR A NEW BICYCLE!"
the older brother leaned over and nudged his younger brother and said, "Why are you shouting your prayers? God isn't deaf."
"No, but Grandma is!" the little brother replied
I challenge us not to be deaf to the voices of our grandchildren: show them love, and kindness and compassion. Take the time to listen to them and to encourage them.
By Pastor Pete Grassow
Can You Hear It?
It is the Labor day weekend……
And so much has happened: fires on the west coast and storms on the east coast,,
And children going back to school!
So what is the word from the Spirit of God for today?
Using the reading set for today: Mark Chapter 7 – a man who is given the gift of hearing….am reminded that there are so many voices clamoring for our attention: and we all need the gift of hearing the Spirit.
An introduction to the reading:
Jesus has moved north – away from the Sea of Galilee – into the territory of foreigners. Last week I spoke of the Greek speaking woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter – in Tyre. Jesus now wants to return to the Sea of Galilee – but cannot take a straight line: there is a mountain (Mt. Meron) standing nearly 4,000 feet high directly between Tyre and the Sea of Galilee. So he travels north to Sidon to take the pass through the mountains to the Jordan river valley, where foot travellers to Galilee would have fresh water for the trip: I have a riddle for you…“Who is permitted to speak but not able – and able to speak but not permitted”
I am going to read from the Scriptures: and the answer is found in our reading. he journey.
Mar 7:31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.
Mar 7:32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him.
Mar 7:33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.
Mar 7:34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”
Mar 7:35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.
Mar 7:36 And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.
Mar 7:37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
Here is the story of a man who could not hear. Not only was he unable to hear – he also had difficulty speaking. There is a connection: he was unable to speak – because it requires hearing to speak clearly. Back to riddle for you…“Who is permitted to speak but not able – and able to speak but not permitted”
Here is the man who was permitted to speak – but was not able to do so.
And in the culture of Jesus this was even more painful than might be realized:
The deaf were different: –“they are not mentally well – possibly even insane” So they were chased out of society. Not only were these insane people – but they became “unclean” – the rejects of society.
And then this amazing moment: we are told that Mar 7:32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him.
This is a powerful phrase: “lay his hand on him” . Those who had watched Jesus knew that Jesus did not see anyone as capable of making him unclean…. Jesus ignored the social stigma surrounding people. Jesus touched people – embraced them – ate with them.
Mark’s Gospel tells us that Jesus takes this deaf man aside from the crowd privately. Here is Jesus giving him personal care and attention. And Jesus uses signs to communicate – because the man cannot hear. Here is Jesus telling the man that he understood his problem: a series of symbolic gestures…. Not magic – but signs that a man who cannot hear will understand:
This weekend marks the end of Summer holidays – the children are going back to school.
And I believe that this story can help us see our children in a better light – whether you are a parent / Grandparent / Uncle or Aunt or family friend.
All too often we treat children as if they are unable to hear and to speak: sometimes we even operate on the basis that “Children should be seen and not heard”
We make decisions for them – without them. “I know what is best for you” We override their decision making capacity because we are grown ups.
Especially true right now – adults arguing about what is best for the children – and do not see their fear and confusion at the adults arguing over political leaders,
And the Corona virus
and masks or no masks
and our opinions on ending the war in Afghanistan. And every other thing that makes us afraid.
And our children watch us like this man watched Jesus – unable to comprehend….
And they are needing the one thing that Jesus gave this man: he touched him.
Our children need us to hug them….no long explanations – no theory – no lectures – touch them Give them your hugs and reassurance that they are loved.
Do like Jesus: take them aside and give them your personal attention : away from everyone else. Where they know that they are treasured and noticed.
Reassure them that your love them – and that God loves them.
I know that I have been speaking about children – but allow me a moment to speak about the other categories of people that we often treat like children –
I have a friend who has cerebral palsy. Her name is Jenny and she lives in Cape Town. She is extremely bright – but limited in the way her body behaves.
She shared with me her frustration when she is out shopping: the assistant at the store will speak directly to the person pushing her wheelchair – as if Jenny cannot hear. She is perfectly capable of understanding her purchase. It is just that her hands and feet do not work as she would like….but she is treated as if she were unable to hear or speak:
What made it worse was when the carer who was pushing the wheelchair suggested that the store assistant speak to Jenny:
Suddenly there was a need to speak slowly and loudly to Jenny: as if she were mentally slow and hard of hearing.
After one such incident she posted this on her Facebook site:
Jesus shows us a better way: take the time to listen and speak to people who have physical (or mental) challenges – all it requires is a little more time and a bit of patience – and a change of perspective in our thinking.
One more thought:
Jesus shows love to this man and he is healed:
And then this man breaks into language….Jesus can’t keep him quiet!
Back to riddle for you…“Who is permitted to speak but not able – and able to speak but not permitted”
The man was now able to speak – and Jesus tried to keep him quiet!
In fact Jesus tries to tell people to keep quiet – and they just ignore him:
Sometimes this is true of our children – pay them attention and they do not keep quiet!
But this is how children learn.
They are verbal – learn through asking questions “But why” until we wish that we had never started.
I do know that when I take the time to sit with my friend Jenny – she can’t keep quiet: it has been bottled up, waiting for someone to listen. The longest emails I get now are from her: everything in caps but full of joy and interest in life (takes her hours to type with one finger)
But hear the response of the crowd:
Mar 7:37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well.
This is the best thing that anyone could say of anyone: “Well done”
Kind of reminiscent of the Genesis account of Creation: when God was finished – it was well done.
This is our goal as followers of Jesus – to do things well: The words found in Matthew Ch 25 ring in our ears – when the master returns and evaluates our work we will want to hear him say “Well done Good and Faithful servant”.
If you are in doubt about this – . Let God open your ears to hear the good news today – that you are God’s beloved. God made you well.
And then the challenge: I invite us to get behind our children / people who are physically and mentally challenged / people who do not do things like you or me / and give them courage – to help them to see and hear clearly that they are God’s beloved.
By Pastor Pete Grassow
Thanksgiving Is Our Dialect.
August 15, 2021 – Ephesians 5: 1-2 & 15-20
I recently heard someone comment that all religions are basically the same: just pick one and find your route to God.
This was what people said to St Paul in the first Century, when he brought the message of Jesus to the city of Ephesus. Speaking about Jesus was an audacious venture – because there was already a well established religion in town: Ephesus was home to the Temple of the Greek Goddess Artemis (also known as Diana by the Romans). It was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world and the first marble temple of the Ancient world. Acts 19 tells that the Apostle Paul became the subject of a city meeting – with the citizens asking: why start another religion?
Paul thinks about this – and writes a letter:
Ephesians 5 1-2 Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.
3-4 Don’t allow love to turn into lust, setting off a downhill slide into sexual promiscuity, filthy practices, or bullying greed. Though some tongues just love the taste of gossip, those who follow Jesus have better uses for language than that. Don’t talk dirty or silly. That kind of talk doesn’t fit our style. Thanksgiving is our dialect.
5 You can be sure that using people or religion or things just for what you can get out of them—the usual variations on idolatry—will get you nowhere, and certainly nowhere near the kingdom of Christ, the kingdom of God.
6-7 Don’t let yourselves get taken in by religious smooth talk. God gets furious with people who are full of religious sales talk but want nothing to do with him. Don’t even hang around people like that.
17 Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.
18-20 Don’t drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge drafts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ.
St Paul replies to those who ask why he is bringing another religion to Ephesus. He insists that all religions are not the same. He says that Jesus brings a different dialect to the religious discussion.
Let me illustrate this: Last Sunday I visited a church held outdoors at Oakwood Park – and when I introduced myself I said that I was from Brookings: but the Pastor said “You’re not from South Dakota”.
He is right: I am from South Africa…
I speak of petrol and you say gas.
I stand in a queue and you stand in line
I speak of Tomatoes and you say…
I say I-siah and you say I-zayah.
You and I share a common language – so we communicate in English. But we have different dialects… different ways of speaking. And this becomes our identifying mark –
I open my mouth to speak and I am known for my roots.
Our teaching for today uses this image: Jesus brings a different dialect to the religious discussion.
Let us look at the existing religion in Ephesus: Artemus was the Goddess of Fertility; Artemis (Diana to the Romans) could provide you with fertile crops, or give you fertility in your family – or your business: but she demanded gifts. You had to keep her happy – and if you did not – then you would find your wife barren, or your crops would fail – or your business would go bankrupt.
St Paul says that the religion of Jesus is different:
5 1-2 ….. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us.
Paul points out that we do not have to live life in fear of God: rather we can be blessed by God’s extravagant love “He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us.”
Pause for a moment to let this sink in:
God chooses to bless us – not because we have offered gifts and sacrifices – but because God first loved us /
Before we knew there was a God – God called us beloved children /
And even when we wander from the path – God never gives up on us.
The religion of Artemis thought that people needed to persuade the gods to get their blessing…and I often wonder how much of this thinking still occupies our thought:
We think that we earn God’s love by our offerings, or by attending church services, or by saying the sinner’s prayer…
So how about believing the teaching of St Paul: there is nothing we can do to earn God’s Love – we already have it!
“He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us.”
Paul then continues: he says that the only response we can have to God is That of Thanksgiving:
Ephesians 5vs4 “Thanksgiving is our dialect.”
Even through all religions might speak the religious language of love – the followers of Jesus speak a particular dialect – we speak the language of thanksgiving
When we open our mouths people will hear our religious accent – and it will be touched by thanksgiving.
Paul then continues: avoid speaking of the kind of love that abuses people – avoid lust, sexual promiscuity, dirty talk and gossip: such things do not lead to thanksgiving. Instead the sound that is to be expected from mature followers of Jesus is one of gratitude and grace.
Let Thanksgiving be our dialect.
This means that we can recognise another follower of Jesus by the things they speak about – we will hear the gratitude in their heart. Paul imagines how followers of Jesus greet one another: The English Standard Version:
Eph 5:19 address(ing) one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,
Eph 5:20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ
The point being – when we come to worship – we come to express gratitude to God for the loving Grace that God has shown to us
And to expressing gratitude to each other for being part of our journey.
When we are here we do this by singing songs
But when we are not here we carry the melody in our hearts:
So the difficult question: when people see you coming – what is their first impression of you!
I am reminded of the story told by AA Milne: Christopher Robin – who had his friends in the thousand acre woods. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpIT3t3_t7A
The words of Eeyore : “This is the happiest day of my life”
I suspect that some people think of following Jesus as something like this:
If you follow Jesus – then all the fun is squeezed out of life!
Christians have a list of things you cannot do: and they are all the fun things. So, like Eeyore: “This is my happy face”
Christians are known by their desire to make everyone unhappy?
Paul has a completely different picture of what it means to be a Christ-follower:
5vs 6-7 God gets furious with people who are full of religious sales talk but want nothing to do with him. Don’t even hang around people like that.
Instead: Thanksgiving is our dialect
Invite us to live lives of Thanksgiving: it is not that we ignore the things that are wrong – but we can choose not to make them the focus of our thinking and our conversation.
It is so easy to be consumed by everything that is wrong with life:
Today I want to challenge you to shift your focus:
The Good News of our faith is that God is with us as we face our daily lives: and if we choose to pay attention, we will discover God blessing our days.
One way is to begin a gratitude journal: to find one thing to be grateful for each day…
And begin a habit of expressing gratitude to the people around you
Say “Thank you” – not just for things your receive – thank people for the qualities that they bring to your life
“Thank you for your smile”
“Thank you for your help”
When last did you say to your family: “Thank you for putting up with me – first thing in the morning!”
Let me conclude:
Here is a challenge: to become infectious: to infect people with happiness:
Start right now!