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September 20, 2015, 10:00 AM

Proper 20 Year B -- The Good News of Children's Television

Proper 20

Year B

Christ the King, Quincy

 

    Great things, Thou hast done, O Lord, my God. I would name them and proclaim them, but they are more than I can tell. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

 

    A couple of weeks ago, this sermon basically wrote itself, I just didn’t know it at the time. Its not that I put pen to paper…or in this electronic age, digits to keys…but every insight I have on this morning’s Gospel lesson was gleaned from a family meal up at Bucks Lake. 

    One night, the grownups were clearing the dinner table, and the cousins all wanted to watch a TV show. So, as the tired but responsible parents we are, the kids got to watch Netflix while the grownups did the chores. But we set a limit on TV…they could only watch one episode because Netflix uses a lot of bandwidth, and grandpa had to begin his work doing infrared mapping of fires. At that point, John says, “Yeah, grandpa is nocturnal, he works at night then sleeps during the day.”

    The family was dumbfounded. Here is John, a week or two away from even starting Kindergarten, and he recognizes the Grandpa is active working at night and sleeps in during the morning and that this trait is defined as nocturnal. And the question four people ask in unison is: “How does John know how to use nocturnal in conversation?”

    And my answer was simple: I let him watch TV!

    And that it the main point I would like to make about our Gospel lesson this morning, we need to be watching more television, or at least emulate children’s TV. 

    How? Why?  Well then, let me back up a little bit…

 

    This morning, we have two small but profound vignettes in our gospel lesson. In the first half, we have Jesus explaining the nature of his messiahship: “Jesus and his disciples went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.”

    Ok. This is pretty common stuff. The disciples, once again, are described as being a little dense and timid. Nothing really new there. 

    So Jesus is explaining what is going to happen, and while we’re never told explicitly when or how, the silence of the disciples eventually turns into competitive gossip. “Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.”

    Now, I could give a whole sermon on how the disciples mistake Grace for a meritocracy. They were called by Christ, through no accomplishment of their own. And certainly, they can’t be heralded as the most capable lot of disciples, because again and again they fail to understand what Jesus is actually teaching them. But here they are, boasting in their status as one of Christ’s disciples, trying to determine which one of them is the greatest.  

    Jesus responds to their somewhat ignorant boasting by suggesting something totally novel. “He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

    Now, a lot of preachers will talk about a child’s innocence as the key to understanding Jesus’ allegory. Maybe, but I want to suggest a different childlike quality was what Jesus actually meant to highlight. 

    Spend any amount of time with a 5 year old, and you will quickly learn their two favorite phrases: “Why?” and “How come?”

    Children are inquisitive little creatures. They want to understand the world around them and to know how things work. I have spent the last two years explaining why the sky is blue, where planets come from, why Disneyland is shaped like spokes on a wheel, why moss grows on the north side of the tree, and other of life’s mysteries to Abby and John. And I am absolutely and completely convinced that this is the quality that Jesus wants in his disciples. 

    Listen again to our gospel lesson this morning: “he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.”

    What is so maddening to me is the fact that, not only do the disciples fail to understand Jesus’ teaching about his suffering, death, and resurrection, but they’re also too afraid to ask Jesus any questions about it!

    Can you imagine how valuable, how absolutely priceless it would be to hear Jesus explain why the Messiah has to suffer death? To have Jesus explain the relationship between suffering and faith.  To describe that teaching as illuminating would be a grotesque understatement. If we had, in Jesus’ own words, a teaching which once and for all said God values service and sacrifice more than strength and power—that alone would be enough to bring the light the world with our hope in Christ. 

    But we’re never given that opportunity. And as maddening as the disciples’ failure to understand or even ask questions with the hope of understanding may sound to us, how often are we guilty of precisely the same thing? How often are we afraid to ask a question because we think we should know the answer, or because we’re afraid our question is stupid, or even because we’re afraid of the answer?

    After all, if knowledge is power, then ignorance is weakness.    

    

    How did John learn to use the word “nocturnal” properly and in context? Well, I’m not ashamed to admit that he learned it from TV. He loves this PBS program Wild Kratts, whose narrative is driven by asking questions. Why does the cowbird lay its eggs in another bird species’ nest? Why do owls hunt at night? What’s it called when an animal is active at night and sleeps during the day?

    And so, if we are to grow in faith, we need to start asking questions, too. 

    And that is the good news this morning: All we need to do to is to watch more kid’s TV. 

    Now, I have folded a lot of laundry in front of our television, so I am somewhat of an expert on the subject of children’s television, and what our best kid’s show value more than anything is curiosity. They honor the sacred act of asking questions. That’s how people learn: they ask questions. They assert that there is a greater cost in not asking than in not knowing. 

    Here we are, some 2000 years later. Trying to understand the nature of Jesus’ predictions of his own suffering and death. We are trying to comprehend our place in society. We are surrounded by a materialistic world which preaches that our value lies in what we have, not in what we give. That power is best demonstrated by how many people serve us, rather than by how many we serve. We Christians are a strange bunch, and if we want to stand as Christ’s disciples, then we better be pretty sure we understand what kind of ministry he was calling us towards. 

    And the only way we discover that is in asking questions. 

    This morning, we heard Mark tell the story of Jesus predicting his death for a second time, but he never fully describes the Disciples’ reaction. We’ll never know about the gasps and the horrified stares and the hard gulps. And he says nothing about the heavy hush that surely descended upon the disciples. All Mark says is, “They were afraid…”

    That phrase should ring a collective bell for us. For on Easter Sunday morning in Mark’s gospel, we have Jesus instructing the women to tell his disciples that he has been resurrected, but instead they run away in terror, saying nothing to anyone “because they were afraid…”

    In his Gospel, Mark loves to link fear and faith. But I also think that Mark also links fear with ignorance. We don’t know, so we don’t act. Ignorance becomes indecision. But, there are those in Mark’s gospel who have learned the truth about this Jesus the Christ. And what they have learned about his mission, about his ability to heal, about the coming kingdom he heralds, leads directly into inspired action. They have learned who this person is and what he represents, and they go off into the world proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ. 

    Why does Jesus want us to understand that we should welcome him as a child does? Well, the innocence and trust that children exemplify are certainly part of it, but more and more I think that Christ wants us to come to him with our questions. He wants our questions about everything. Why bad things happen to good people? Why does evil exists? How long until we can relegate war to our history? What does God want with us? What does God want for us?

    If we approach Jesus like this, as a child unafraid of learning, it is then that we can learn about the nature of God and creation and salvation. But we won’t learn those lessons squabbling about who among us is the greatest, and we certainly won’t learn them if we are too afraid to ask the big questions. 

    We have to ask. And we shall be answered. 

Amen. 

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