I’m finding that today’s text addresses at least 3 huge questions that we all live with to some or other extent. I wonder how they resonate with you?
- What new thing are you – even now – are you being curious enough, humble enough, teachable enough to notice and to embrace during this time…
What new thing is God up to and wanting you to notice?
- What distorted images of Jesus, of God, of ourselves are we clutching or being clutched by that we should lose that a truer image (VERA-NIKA) may emerge?
- What are we to do about that – for what particular purpose are we currently being prepared & commissioned?
What new thing?
And so to that first question: I wonder what it is about little ones that Jesus said makes them especially open to the ‘things of God’ – that apparently are so difficult for the ‘wise and intelligent’ to embrace? I wonder if it has to do with their innate curiosity, their open receptiveness, and their easy teachability. Children do SO have that ability to soak things up. As a parent, ever argued in front of your children and then caught those little faces worriedly looking up at you? It’s their ability – both beautifully and tragically – to absorb/ to become what they are exposed to… Deeply impressionable, with impressions that can last a lifetime. Is that something of what Jesus had in mind here: our being soft & receptive/malleable with the things of God…?
But there’s more: We know that with an infant mortality rate of up to 40% by puberty [i] – those early biblical communities were not sure whether their children would survive childhood. It’s only once they’d celebrated their Bat or Bar Mitzvahs in their early teens that children gained any individual standing in the community. And so, in addition to being deeply impressionable, marked by an insatiable curiosity and wonder-full receptivity, children also had no special status. All they had in their lives, was given purely by grace, and their communities knew that!
And so, What new thing are we being encouraged to become – like a child – curious, impressionable and humble enough to notice and to embrace during this time? Perhaps, it’s a genuine willingness & ability to see God’s gracious hand at work outside of the formal & familiar?
At a time when most of us are seriously missing our gatherings in the traditional sense, it’s us becoming open enough, curious and humble enough to recognize God in the most surprising places: in the work and words of heroes such as our wonderful Dr Bonnie Henry, or any of those who are putting themselves on the line standing up against the pernicious effects of this virus. Psalm 91 speaks of God putting ‘angels in charge of us to protect us wherever we go’ – is that what this means? There is all those many many people who are constantly noticing and caring, reaching out to the most vulnerable in our societies?
How about God within that which is arising from within all of us – religious or not – all who are saying ENOUGH to systemic racism: DO YOU SEE GOD THERE? Where are you being given this child-like ability to notice holiness? What blinkers are keeping you obliviously indifferent to what God is in fact currently doing…? Oh, may we be given child-eyes to see God’s hand in all of these ‘outside-of-the-church’ places and so come ever more deeply to appreciate how God is still very much with us and is still so very beautiful! For that IS somehow who Jesus actually is and who Jesus reveals God to be …for those with eyes open enough to see…
What distorted image?
Which brings us to the second question: What distorted images of God, and of ourselves should we be losing – that an infinitely truer image may emerge? I’ve always loved the name ‘VERONICA!’ because of what it means: VERA-NIKA: TRUE IMAGE! It is associated with the 6th station of the cross, that 1st Century woman who became St Veronica – who after handing Jesus a cloth to wipe his sweat, it’s said that an image of his face miraculously appeared on the fabric![ii]
So… what DOES Jesus reveal of God? And perhaps as NOT of God? What ugly and false, damning images of God and of Jesus and of ourselves made in God’s image do we really need to lose, and what liberating and spacious images of the Holy and of our truest selves are being revealed to us? It’s no coincidence that there are so many studies and articles dealing with our ‘Distorted Images of God’ because we are so good at creating them. I think of JB Philip’s little classic ‘Your God is too Small’ Why, when all is revealed as being so beautifully vast and spacious, holy, why do we insist on making it all so exclusively tight and small?
What are we to do?
And that’s our third question: For what particular work are we currently being positioned & commissioned? The ‘rest for our souls’ is not so much about us getting more sleep, as about coming into an alignment with how and what we have been made to be – the blessing God has always intended us to be! THAT is the real rest that Jesus was referring to! I love Peterson’s paraphrase of this passage: I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
This ‘blessing’ of being yoked is surely about the enthusiastic embracing of our truest selves as we are being set for service. I don’t see it too much enthusiasm in the stoicism of yoked oxen, but have you ever seen the explosion of excited energy as sled dogs are harnessed and set to work? Sure they can survive without their harnesses but it’s as they are put to work that MOOSH! THEY JUST COME ALIVE! It’s what they were bred to be, and what they were bred to do! It’s with Christ’s perfectly fitted yoke that we come to be most alive: …made in God’s image, it’s what we were bred to be and do!
…and yoked together! We do our best work for God as we are with others, acknowledging our altogether communal identity and purpose – all pulling together!
And so, once again, these 3 questions: what are you most hearing through all this?
What new thing are we being encouraged to become curious, humble, teachable enough – like a child – to notice and to embrace during this time…
What small & distorted images of god/of ourselves have we been clutched by for far too long – that an infinitely truer image (VERA-NIKA) of holiness everywhere may emerge?
For what particular work are we, together, being prepared, positioned, commissioned?
Rev. Robin Jacobson reserves all rights © 2020.
You are welcome to use, copy, edit or reproduce this sermon summary with copyright attached. Publication is prohibited.
[i] This paper first appeared as: M. Bar-Ilan, ‘Infant Mortality in the Land of Israel in Late Antiquity’, S. Fishbane and J. N. Lightstone (eds.), Essays in the Social Scientific Study of Judaism and Jewish Society, Montreal: Concordia University, 1990, pp. 3-25. The electronic address of this file is: https://faculty.biu.ac.il/~barilm/infant.html
[ii] The point of vs 27 is that Jesus is the ‘VERA-NIKA’ of God …kind of like what he said to Philip in Jn.14: ‘anyone who has seen me has seen God’