Sermon Text: Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30
In the second part of our Gospel Jesus says a prayer to God the Father, thanking God for hiding these things from the wise and intelligent and revealing them to infants. What exactly are these things that Jesus is mentioning? What can an infant understand that the wise and intelligent have trouble grasping?
It’s summertime right now and I will use an example from where I was supposed to be this week as a chaplain at Camp Sequanota. At Camp there is something called the challenge course, a low ropes course that tests participants in their ability to problem solve and communicate. You see, all the challenge course elements are designed to be done as a group, but often times adventurous campers will like to test their skills and do things alone.
My favorite challenge course element was called the Mohawk Walk. It was long pieces of steel cable that wound their way from tree to tree in the woods. You had to walk the wire between trees, anywhere from 8 to 20 feet, from the start to the finish without anyone in your group falling off. It was really difficult.
In my experience, every time I led this activity, and I led it often, the most outspoken and boisterous camper would try to prove their ability by going it alone. And most every time they failed and fell off. This would go on for a few minutes until the group got frustrated and changed tactic. Eventually, the group discovered that they needed to work together to accomplish the goal and safely walk the wire from Point A to Point B. When they were dependent on each other for support and balance they succeeded where they failed by themselves.
I liken this independent mindset to the wise and intelligent in Jesus’ prayer. Meanwhile, the ones who recognize their interdependence are like the infants.
The biggest myth in life is that we can be wise enough, intelligent enough, strong enough, successful enough, or fill-in-the-blank enough to make it on our own. The infant shows the truth; we are dependent. We are dependent on God. We are dependent on each other.
In the Gospels there is always a crowd around Jesus. Members of this crowd might have also been around John the Baptist during his ministry. I feel like there is an unspoken question that Jesus wants to ask this crowd: “What do you want? What are you looking for?”
They complained about John the Baptist, his message was too stern, too uncompromising. His diet of locusts and honey was too severe. His call for repentance was too radical. It made them uncomfortable. The crowd wanted somebody more like them.
They complained about Jesus too. His message was too accepting, too welcoming. He proclaimed God’s abundant favor for all, even tax collectors and sinners. He feasted and drank. His message of grace and forgiveness was too radical.
The crowd wanted somebody more like them. Someone who would allow them to be as they are. Someone who would leave them alone, untouched and unchanged. After all, if you are wise, if you are intelligent, if you are self-sufficient, then you don’t need help, just like the cocky camper doesn’t need teammates on the challenge course.
But infants, they know the power of dependence and how that will help them change and grow. That is why the infant has the leg up. They can accept dependence. They can accept change. They cry for it.
But for those living with the notion of independence, change often feels like loss. It brings pain, and pain feels like death.
I believe the crowds around Jesus—from his time until our own today—desire to grow. We desperately want to grow, but we don’t really want to change.
Change brings the unknown. Change is not certain. Change has risk and the potential for loss. that is why people often struggle and stay in failed jobs and relationships, because they may not like it, but at least it is something familiar—they know what to expect. But with change…who knows where that could lead?
That’s the difficult truth about life in Jesus Christ. We cannot enter into relationship with Jesus and expect to be unchanged. I’ll say that again. A relationship with Jesus changes us.
So IF there is a precondition for receiving Christ—perhaps the ONLY one—it is that we are to recognize our need for Jesus.
Earlier, Jesus is criticized for eating with tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners. The Pharisees ask, “Why does Jesus eat with those people?!?” And Jesus responds, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners.”
Forgiveness is only meaningful to those who have sinned. Grace is only valuable to those who are broken. The promise of abundant life, of resurrection, of everlasting life, is only attractive to those who know they are dying.
That’s what this prayer is all about. The Gospel is only good news to those who can identify theirs needs. If you think you can do everything by yourself, then the Gospel his little appeal to you.
But for those who know their brokenness, who can admit their need like an infant, who can turn to God—they will be known, understood, accepted, and nourished.
In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus is healing everyone. Every time he turns around theirs another healing event: lepers, a centurion’s slave, the possessed, people who are sick, people with pre-existing conditions, even the dead. They all have real and substantial need. True faith is simply acknowledging our need and trusting Jesus to respond.
What are your needs? Spend some time and take stock. Give thanks for what is good and right, and admit where there is hurt, pain, loneliness, doubt, or disappointment. And then pray for change.
Because once we do this we can look to Christ, who promises to know our struggles, to enter into them with us, to change us, heal us, and make us whole.
God is at work in us throughout our lives. This isn’t necessarily an instant change and it is helped when we come together and exist as one, big interconnected, dependent Body of Christ.
Jesus is clear. You who are content and satisfied will find little of value here.
But you who are weary will find rest.
You who are convicted will find forgiveness.
You who are abandoned will find fellowship.
You who are disappointed will find satisfaction.
You who are hurting will find healing.
You who are misunderstood will be known, loved, and accepted.
To everyone who has need, Jesus says, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.” AMEN