Little ones, welcome to your world.

Pastor Ingrid C.A. Rasmussen’s sermon from October 4, 2015

Listen along here.

The gospel according to Mark, the tenth chapter:

13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Word of God. Word of life. Thanks be to God.

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Little ones, welcome to your world.

This is a world filled with beautiful things: butterflies and cobwebs, cloud wisps and rainy days, maple leaves and gentle winds, wild geese and rivers that sparkle in the autumn sunlight. Here you’ll encounter beauty in rosy cheeks and wool sweaters, grandma hugs and baby kisses, morning laughter and dreams that gladly usher in the night.

Little ones, welcome to your world.

This is a world set free to be creative. The aunties tell the story of the beginning of all things: God came close to the Earth, getting dirt under the divine fingernails in the formation of every animal of the field and every bird of the air. We, too, are adamah—that is, of the dirt. Creativity is never neat and orderly; it’s always dynamic, open-ended, evolving, and messy. To be honest, this makes most people nervous—especially religious people. But rest assured, God saw that it was good and God sees that it is good. It’s all created for you, and you are created for all things.

Little ones, welcome to your world.

This is a world teaming with love. It’s all of God. It’s mediated through brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents, friends and teachers, mentors and complete strangers. Furry pets and good books and tender music are gifted lovers, too. Love has amazing powers—the power to comfort, to heal, to propel. It fortifies our best impulses. It undergirds our most courageous acts. Love is God’s creation; it pours down upon us like rain showers in the spring. There is no taking shelter from it. We are soaked. It drips from us we move through our daily lives; we cannot help but leave a loving trail behind us wherever we go.

Little ones, welcome to your world.

This is a world where the people you love most will suffer. It often happens when you’re not expecting it—addiction, depression, cancer, sudden cardiac death, Alzheimer’s. Illness comes by many names. No matter what you’re told, there are are no mental exercises that fully prepare you to face the fragility of those you love. It will interrupt the life’s rhythm on which you’ve come to depend. One wise person says that “to spend one night with real pain is to discover depths of reality that are roped off while everything is going fine.” But ask my friends Mary and Martha, Lazarus and the guy I just healed over there, and they’ll tell you that even in the midst of suffering and death, God is there—nearer to the suffering and the heavy-hearted than their very breath, closer to the dying than the loving hands that cling to them.

Little ones, welcome to your world.

This is a world that has struggled. Someday way too soon you’ll learn about the places where creation and community are fractured by things like economic exploitation, climate change, racism, violence, and patriarchy. You have no choice in the matter. If it’s any comfort, Abraham and Sarah didn’t either. You will inherit the sins of your ancestors: You’ll notice inequity woven into the fabric of daily life. You’ll discover that your forbearers have mistreated the Earth. You’ll blush that so much money has been hoarded under the guises of security and legacy. You’ll question why we need to say things like Black Lives Matter, as if there were another viable alternative. You’ll learn that we still execute those we’d rather God not redeem and that we still let gun violence go unchecked again and again. You’ll find that patriarchy’s residue requires lots and lots of hot water and scrubbing.

In the midst of the struggle, remember:

This is a world that is changeable. You stand in a long line of prophets—Miriam, Huldah, Isaiah, Deborah, Jeremiah, and Anna, women and men who have been persecuted for critiquing the status quo. There will be times when you’ll wonder if the struggle is headed anywhere, if your voice is heard by anyone, if your work is in vain, if your complicity in the very things you oppose nullifies your efforts. You will grow weary; ask Andrew, Thomas, James, John, Judas, or any of the other dudes around here, and they’ll tell you that disciples are often tired. Take heart in the fact that nothing is beyond God’s redemptive reach—the marketplace, the Earth, the law, the violence, the structures of inequality. All is subject to God’s reformation—and by extension, ours. It can be changed. It is being changed before our eyes.

Little ones, welcome to your world.

This is a world where hope resides. Sometimes it grows dim. Often it’s elusive. But hope is the undercurrent of the whole creation. If we listen closely, we’ll hear it circulating among the elders, and we’ll see it in the birth of the village’s newest child, and we’ll desperately try to capture it on our smartphones when Pope Francis comes to town. The Spirit ensures hope springs and pulses and sways and grooves, and it asks us to move with it—not into another world—but deeper into this one. The Spirit invites us into the commonwealth of God that has already come among us, a realm that is unfolding in, around, and through you.

Little ones, welcome to your world.

This is a world forgiven. Any of you with a younger sibling know that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves, but God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God’s forgiveness is like a woman who had two daughters. The eldest was obedient and content to live with her mother. The younger couldn’t wait to live on her own. When she was eighteen, she asked her mother for her portion of the inheritance. She took the money and ran. She spent every last dime on wild living. She returned home, with nothing, having tarnished the family’s name forever. But as soon as her mother saw her figure on the horizon, she ran to her daughter with open arms. It’s incredible, but God’s arms remain open to you, to me. Our greed and folly, complacency and perfectionism, envy and prejudice, pride and shame don’t have the last word. God’s mercy does.

Little ones, welcome to your world.

Finally, then, this is a world blessed by God. We so often think of blessing as that which makes the rich richer and the happy happier. But God’s blessing is more like what one poet calls a “life-cherishing force.” Blessing is water at the well. Companionship for the lonely. Fires for the cold. Ropes let down to the lost. And bread in the pockets of the hungry. It is for you. You are not alone.

Little ones, welcome to your world: Beautiful. Creative. Loving. Suffering. Struggling. Changing. Hope-filled. Forgiven. Blessed.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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