Sermon for Sept 19th, 2021
Children are useless. I think I may have said that before, but it bears repeating. Children are useless. They scream and cry and mess things up. They want attention all the time. They want food. Most of them have a real hard time holding down a steady job, so they don’t contribute much to society. They don’t pay taxes. They are always looking for some sort of handout. They don’t have a lot of skills. I keep thinking of Karen Walker from the TV show Will and Grace, when a button comes off her fur coat she says: “Children can’t do anything right!”
Children may look cute, but they take way more than they give. They aren’t really useful, not when they are little. You have to serve them for a long time before they are even capable of serving you, and even then there’s no guarantee. Now maybe I am jesting a bit; you recognize that it is ridiculous to look at a child and wonder “What can you do for me?” But how often do we look at other adults that way?
We know that it is absurd to look at little children and to value them based on what they can do or produce or give. They can’t do much at all, not at first. Children need more help and assistance than they can immediately repay. And as far as I can tell, most parents are really OK with that. The bonds of love are so strong that a parent can give and give without getting an immediate payback. Children don’t need to be useful to be loveable or to have value. Naturally you want them to grow into adults that are responsible and healthy with a sense of purpose and the capacity and inclination to give of themselves, but they don’t start out that way. They start out needing more from you than they can give back. We are OK with that with little children, most of the time, but when it comes to adults….that’s another story.
This is an unfortunate truth but it needs to be told: a lot of times, maybe not all of the time, but a lot of the time, when we meet another adult, one of the first things that starts to go through our minds is “how can you serve me?” How can you help me? What can you do for me? Now maybe that seems cynical, but don’t get defensive just yet, because I think it is just part of our human nature. Until we get to know and love people as individuals we often deal with people as objects. Something we can use. That’s what networking is all about. You know this person that I want to know. You’re a good lawyer, well that’s convenient because I need a new will. You’re good with computers, that’s great because I need a new website. We do this all the time with each other, and it isn’t always sinister, or meant to be nasty or mean, but we look at people and we wonder how they can serve us.
Can you advance my career?
Will you publish my book?
Will you vote for me?
Will you become a regular patron of my establishment?
Will you buy this thing that I want to sell?
Can you help my kids get into the right school?
Will people have more respect for me because they know I know you?
Welcome to our church! We are so glad you are here! Would you like to serve on a committee? Oh don’t think for a second that us good church folks don’t do the same thing. It’s tough, because there are only so many people that volunteer to do things, and there are all these essential things that have to get done, I can’t do this by myself, so it is very tempting to look at every new person that walks through the door as someone who might be useful. You can serve on the altar guild. You can be a lay eucharistic minister. You can teach Sunday School. It doesn’t matter that I can’t remember your name yet, here’s the key to the building, please lock up when you leave. And this isn’t me pointing fingers, this is confession. I do this too. All churches do this, we always have.
Think about the passage from James a couple weeks ago when he talks about showing favoritism to rich folks. That is all that is about: looking at people and wondering how useful they might be, or how useful their money might be. Humans do it all the time, it is a part of our nature, but there is a giant problem with looking at people this way: it’s not how God looks at people. God doesn’t look at us the way we look at each other. God doesn’t value us the way we often value each other.
The creator of the universe doesn’t need you for anything. Jesus didn’t need his disciples to help him up on Easter Sunday or to roll away the stone. God has more power than you can ever imagine. So, God’s love for you is not based in any way on how useful you are. God does not see us the way we see each other, that is all over the scriptures. So if you want to understand the mind of God and if you want to try to see the world the way that God sees it, which as followers of Jesus I hope you do, then you need to at least try to look at other people and see them as beloved before you see them as useful. You need to see someone that you are called to serve, without trying to figure out how you are going to benefit from this relationship in the long run. In other words, you need to look at them the way that a parent looks at their little child. It is hard to do that though. Old habits don’t go easy.
Some of Jesus’s disciples were arguing with one another along the way about which among them was the greatest. Basically, they were all trying to figure out how they were going to get the others to serve them. That’s what jockeying to be the greatest is all about: figuring out how to get others to work for you. Maybe Jesus got frustrated and wondered: is there ever a time when you people can just love something and serve something without expecting an immediate payback? Is there ever a time when you can just love someone and know that there’s gonna be a whole lotta work before they can ever do much for you? Is there ever a time when humans see each other the way that God sees them? I imagine that it was just about that time that a baby in the room started fussing and screaming. Now the gospel doesn’t say this, it just says that Jesus took a child in his arms, you probably imagined when you heard that that the little child was cute and asleep and precious, but I’d be willing to bet (or at least I hope) that he or she was screaming his or her little head off, because that would really have driven Jesus’s point home. Jesus takes this precious, beloved, and useless, child and says “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” It is one thing to love someone when they can serve you; but it is another thing entirely when you have to serve them. It is also one thing to follow Jesus when you have much to gain; and quite another thing to follow him when you have much to lose.