O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Empty Hands Filled
Empty Hands Filled
Based on Luke 18:15-17
Preached on September 11, 2016
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You who are loved by God, it must have been rough, eh – being chastised by Jesus. And it was about the children! It wasn’t the best day for the disciples. This lovely text we all know - where Jesus calls the children to Himself - permanently captures their epic blunder. They go down forever – as those guys – who bullied all the kids away. But they wrote it. All three synoptic Gospels record this dull moment of the disciples – because it is such a bright and beautiful moment for you and me, and especially Jesus.
You see, Jesus was in the middle of something when all this started happening. He was teaching. Telling the crowds about how the kingdom of God is different from the kingdoms of this world.
He had just told a parable about a widow – the kind of woman the people of His day would have seen as a drain on society. Then a parable about a tax collector – the kind of man the people of His day would have despised as a cheater. Yet in both these parables Jesus was spouting something bold. Something different. That although the rest of the world might write these kinds of people off – these least and lowest – the ones who admit they have nothing to offer Him - are the very ones God is acting for.
Evidently, some people were getting it. They were bringing even infants to Jesus that He might touch them. Even infants. The most helpless of all. Ones who don’t contribute anything to the situation except the need for everyone else around them to do a lot of extra work. (Trust me, I know) But hey, He listens to the pleading of the least. He forgives all the sins of the lowest. Maybe He’ll even bless my baby. Some of them were getting it. Jesus is the place for the least and the lowest.
Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You can’t bring those babies in here. The disciples are running interference. There is important work going on. This is Jesus – the rabbi. You almost get this picture of a bank board room, you know, up at the top of an enormous skyscraper – with all these well-dressed decision makers sitting around the table – and a group of parents break into the meeting hoping for things to stop and attention be given to the babies in their arms. It’s ridiculous. In fact, we shouldn’t be too hard on the disciples because pretty much anyone would have done the same thing. No. No. This is not a place for infants.
This is the way of the kingdoms of this world. That’s how it works. You have to have something to bring to the table or you don’t belong here. You’re clearly in the wrong place. You have to have something to offer – something in your hands – this is no place for widows or tax collectors or infants. That is the way the old kingdom works. But the new kingdom is different, Jesus proclaims.
Let the children come to Me, Jesus says – the ones with nothing to offer – the ones with empty hands – to such belongs the kingdom of God. It is for them. And Jesus is not talking chiefly about age here – when He says children – He is talking about position – the posture of one’s heart - regardless of age. The kingdom of God is not for those who think they have something to offer – who hold up hands full of their accomplishments in the old kingdom as though God should be pleased by it. He’s not. It’s all old and dying. It stinks. And holding up some rotten, dying old accomplishment is not the way the new kingdom works.
Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. The new kingdom is not for those holding onto the old. It is not for those trying to somehow make that old dying reality work again – it will never work again. The old has gone. The new has come. Now it is time to trust. Time to open wide your heart to this One who receives the lowest and the least – who wants to enter into your life and fill your empty hands with every good gift. Trust - that this Jesus is going to freely give what only He can give. Trust - that He will receive the outcast and the sinner and the useless and the unlovable. Trust - that He has come for the lowest and least. Let the children come to Me. (big pause)
But the disciples aren’t. Don’t you find this fascinating. Jesus is bringing in the new kingdom, but the old one doesn’t like it. His own disciples are the ones interfering with His coming. This teaches us something critically important. Where is it - that we should expect to find the greatest pushback against this kingdom Christ offers? Yes, in the world, in the devil – but the incredible truth the disciples teach us is that we often find the fiercest opposition to Christ’s merciful, humble kingdom in ourselves. We resist His kingdom. I push away the new.
But I think you know what I’m talking about. Why is it so difficult to go to Church, or attend Bible Class ,or read your Bible? Why is it so easy to find an excuse for these things? The old doesn’t like the new . It doesn’t want to be on the receiving end of something new - like a child. It wants to work to the top. To be better than everyone else. To take a seat at that bank board table and prove to everyone “I did it - see.” I am worth it. I have something to offer. Full hands.
Meanwhile, this old kingdom mentality pulls everyone else down too. It searches for the shortcomings of others as it climbs its way to the top – using them as footholds - and cheers itself on by looking down on those around it. “See you’re doing good.” Judging everyone to pull itself up higher. But it doesn’t work. It is only death, for the old kingdom is done. It is dying. The new has come. And it is very different.
He came from the highest board room. From the highest heaven. But made Himself nothing for you and me – taking on our flesh and our cause to make it all new. He proved Himself king and first in this new kingdom - by taking all the old and the sin and the evil into Himself and dying with it there on the cross. He didn’t just talk the talk. He died the death. He raised the life. He is the new.
Jesus is the new humanity. He is the One who rules by mercy and forgiveness. He is the One who comes for the least and the lowest. He is the One who fills empty hands held up to Him in trust.
This is the most beautiful thing about the new kingdom – the kingdom of God – there is no holier than thou position. There is no place for anyone to sit in judgment of anyone else or look down on them. There is only mercy. Because the kingdom of God is a gift that none of us deserve. A gift we want everyone to have.
You know, those infants didn’t crawl to see Jesus. They were brought to Him. And I know it may feel like you chose to come here this morning, but you have been brought – brought here to Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church and School. Brought to hear this promise of God – yes, the promise is for you and for your children. And while you may feel like you’ve had some pretty epic blunders in your past – this day Jesus has made you new. You are forgiven and you belong with Him.
And so we realize what we are celebrating today – this Rally Day – His gentle humility – His putting everyone first –yes, His death for us on the cross that will be sounded anew in the halls and classrooms of our church and school. Thanks be to God - that in Jesus – He makes all things new. In His Holy Name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr