O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.
The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?” He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.
It was a busy Sunday morning.
The confirmands were getting confirmed.
The choir was trying out a new anthem.
The sermon was a sitting at a solid B-.
Nevertheless, I stood and addressed the people of God, all while constantly referring to the overstuffed bulletin in hopes that I wouldn’t, accidentally, skip over part of the service.
God gathered us. God spoke God’s word to us. And the time had come for us to respond. The confirmands were, finally, confirmed, and were therefore the first in line to receive communion. They, being the good and holy tweenagers they were, made silly faces at me when I offered the bread, doing their best to mess me up. I kept my cool, being all holy up at the front with my long robe and made a mental note to teach those kids some some respect after the service.
I kept distributing the bread with the solemnity required at such a moment.
Knowing head nods.
The subtle tap on the hand.
Until, the very end when the final person came forward to receive the body and the blood of our Lord.
I confess I was momentarily surprised to see Owen standing before me and below me in the middle of the sanctuary because Owen was barely three years old, a child from our preschool, and his family had never been to church before.
I looked around for his mother, and father, and little sister and found them frantically rushing around the back of the church as if they had lost something.
The something they lost was standing right below me.
“It’s my turn pastor Taylor,” he said, “I want some Jesus please.” And he opened his mouth like a little baby bird and waited for me to drop a piece of bread in.
So I did.
I then, of course, picked him up and carried him to the back of the church where his family expressed their gratitude for the lost having been found, and then I sprinted down the center aisle to get us back on track.
As the big, grown-up, entirely responsible, never child-like adult that I am, I am quite good at making myself the center of all things.
It doesn’t matter whether I’m at a dinner party or standing up in a space like this on Sunday morning – I get used to things going a certain way, the ritual of it all, the comforting domestication of life. So much so that I, occasionally, forget to pay attention to the Spirit who insists on defying and upending expectations.
God, bewilderingly, likes to drop road signs pointing us in the right direction, or smacking us in the face with stop sign to halt us dead in our tracks.
God’s ways are not our ways.
One day, Jesus was walking with the disciples, teaching them about the Kingdom of God. All of them, being good and faithful disciples, were frantically taking down notes so as to not miss any of the important details.
But they were distracted.
One of them, perhaps Peter, interjected, “Lord, can’t something be done about all these kids who keep following us around? Shouldn’t we send them to the nursery, or children’s church, or maybe we could just put them down in front of an episode of Paw Patrol? They’re so distracting!”
And do you know what Jesus did? He plucked up the nearest kid and sat her down right in the middle of all of the disciples and said, “When you receive one such child… Surprise! You receive me also.”
One day Jesus was hanging out with his disciples in the Temple. Upturned tables littered the area and the money lenders grumbled in the corners. Meanwhile, the blind and lame came to Jesus and he cured them, he made them whole. But when the big whigs, the movers and the shakers, saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children singing out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became very angry with Jesus.
They said to him, “Do you hear what they’re singing???” Jesus replied, “Of course I can hear them singing! Don’t you remember what it says in Psalm 81? Oh, you don’t remember that one? Well, let me refresh your memory: ‘O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is you name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.’”
And then Jesus left them standing there with the jaws on the floor.
Stanley Hauerwas is famous for saying: “Beware when you hear a Methodist minister quote his/her twelve-year old in a sermon. When that happens you know you’re fixin’ to hear some baloney.”
Though, when he says it, he uses a much saltier expression than baloney.
That he says it so often is indicative of his desire for sermons to be about God rather than about us. For, when someone like me stands in a place like this regaling people like you with stories of “Kids Say The Darndest Things” moments, it is worth wondering what, at all, that has to do with the Gospel.
We aren’t here to hear stories that make us chuckle about the whimsy of youth.
We’re here to hear a Word from the Lord, from God almighty!
And yet, as Jesus so wonderfully reminds us today, the child sitting in the middle of the crowd, the kid who sneaks away from his parents in the middle of a worship service, the children singing in the courtyard of the temple, they are here to distract us from our big, serious, but utterly self-centered adult religion, all so that another kid, a baby actually, might get our attention about what’s really important.
How odd of God to chose a baby born to an unwed virgin to change the cosmos.
How odd of God to chose the baby turned adult to speak greater truth than we could possibly bear.
How off of God to chose children singing songs by the temple to shake up the religious sensibilities of those in charge then and now!
Notably, when Karl Barth (the great theologian of the 20th century) was asked to summarize the entirety of his theology he responded by singing: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so!”
Shortly before his wild temple tantrum, Jesus settled a dispute between his disciples about greatness by telling them, “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven!”
So, should there be any children paying extra close attention to the sermon today, the next time you hear an adult tell you to “act you age” you have pastoral permission to respond by saying, “Well Jesus says that unless you start acting like a kid you’ll never enter the kingdom!”
Of course, it’s not just about having a child-like faith. We’re not called to be naive about the world. But, at least according to this moment from Matthew, when Jesus spins a verse from his favorite playlist The Psalms, it has less to do with being small or unintelligent and more to do with the fact that even babies and children proclaim the goodness of God.
Consider, for a moment, what it is that the children are singing that day in the temple courtyard: “Hosanna to the Son of David.”
Literally, “Save us, Son of David.”
The adults, the chiefs priests and elders, are all angry because they can’t stand the thought of Jesus being God, being the promised Messiah. They can’t stand to hear children confessing a truth that runs counter to everything they think they know. Perhaps they’re furious because they can’t imagine a world in which someone like Jesus, a wandering rabbi with a rag tag group of would-be disciples, could actually be the one to bring about the salvation of the cosmos.
But the kids… the kids that day see something more than the adults do, they hope for something more than the adults could wrap their heads around.
In Jesus, they see God.
They witness the abundant mercy of the Messiah who stoops to heal the sick, and the blind, and the lame.
They encounter the power of the Anointed One who rids the temple of its economic disparity for a reality in which all are welcome to worship no matter the size of their wallet.
They experience the King of kings who, in the end, rules from the hard wood of the cross and uses his final earthly breaths to declare, of all things, forgiveness.
Sometimes, kids get it better than we do.
It all began, the father starts his story, a few Christmases ago when my 4 year old daughter began asking questions about what the holiday meant.
So I began explaining to her that this was in celebrating the birth of Jesus and she wanted to know more about that so I went out and got a children’s Bible and we would read together at night. She loved it. She wanted to know everything about Jesus.
So we read a lot about his birth and his teachings and she would ask constantly about this one particular phrase and I would explain that it was “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And we would talk about those old words and what it all meant.
One day we were driving past a big church and out front was this big crucifix and she asked, “Who’s that?!” And I guess I never really told that part of the story, so I had to sort of fill the rest in. I told her that Jesus ran afoul of the Roman government and that his message was so radical and unnerving to the authorities at the time that they came to the conclusion that he would have to die.
About a month later her preschool had the day off for Martin Luther King Day and I took off the day from work and we went out for lunch together. We were sitting and right on the table was the local newspaper with a giant picture of Dr. King on the front. And she said, “Who’s that?” I said, “That’s Martin Luther King Jr. and he’s the reason you’re not in school today. This is the day we celebrate his life.”
She said, “Well, who is he?” And I said, “He was a preacher.” She looks up at me and goes, “For Jesus?” And I said, “Yeah, yeah he was. But there was another thing that he was famous for. He had a message. He said that you should treat everybody the same no matter what they look like.”
She thought about that for a moment and then she said, “Well that’s what Jesus said.”
I said, “I guess it is. I never thought about it that way but it is like ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’”
And my daughter looked down at the table for a long time before she said, “Did they kill him too?”
O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger. Amen.