I know this is true for me, so I suspect it is true for many of you. I can get so bogged down in worry, that I miss so many wonderful things. I become so confused by questions that I miss answers. I get so lost in the moment of shadow that I fail to remember the light just beyond the haze. I get so critical of others that I can’t see anything good in anyone. I allow the pursuit of perfection to become the enemy of the good: Kids, job, the world, the future, state of public education, gun violence, politics… you name it… I can get worked up.
“Worry” paralyzes. Fear, freezes.
One of my favorite scenes in a book is from JD Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. Franny, like many young adults is worried about life, choices, where she is headed. She wants to have a spiritual experience, wants clarity, wants answers, wants faith to make sense. She is lying on the couch in a kind of existential funk. She won’t eat as Bessie, the housekeeper, brings her a cup of soup. I have been there, have you?
Franny’s brother Zooey says this to her: “You don’t even have sense enough to drink when somebody brings you a cup of consecrated chicken soup – which is the only kind of chicken soup Bessie ever brings to anybody around this madhouse. So just tell me, just tell me, buddy. […] How in hell are you going to recognize a legitimate holy man when you see one if you don’t even know a cup of consecrated chicken soup when it’s right in front of your nose?”
Wow! Isn’t that great: Franny has missed the wonder, the holiness of a good cup of soup, worried about not having an experience of the holy.
This all reminds me of the disciple’s conundrum in Mark. Just a day or so after Peter declares Jesus the Messiah and hears the voice call Jesus “My beloved son, listen to him!”—just hours after the disciples have seen him cast out a demon—they hear Jesus talk about his coming suffering and death (he even tells them that in three days he will rise again, but they don’t hear that because they’re stuck in the worry of the issue of suffering) “they don’t understand” and are too afraid to ask, “What does it mean?”
Very soon worry becomes consuming and the question is no longer what is going to happen to Jesus, but what is going to happen to them. Anxiety leads to isolation and to a preoccupation with self. It is “Original Sin” – all over again. The disciples begin questioning their worth and status – comparing themselves to one another to see who is the greatest.
Jesus cuts through all of it: look at this child. You will see everything you need to know about the kingdom of God and how you are supposed to live in it.
Christianity, and don’t get me wrong, I love it (pays my bills!) – but we have this habit of intellectualizing faith, dogmatizing belief, turning everything into doctrines that we question so that, in fact we lose the wonder of it all and often, frankly, make faith boring as hell. And I use “hell” in its biblical norm – feeling cut off from love, from God, feeling alone. I think, if there is a hell, it is like some horrifically boring meeting talking details of policy, it never ends, lasts an eternity and there is no polite way to get up and walk out!
The disciples get stumped on the big one: why does Jesus have to suffer? How can a good God allow suffering and death?
Remember Elie Wiesel’s description of a little boy hanging from a gibbet in Auschwitz. And one in the crowd asks, “Where is God now?” And someone else answers, “There is God hanging from that tree.”
How can God let this happen: let little children suffer, let newly-married women die, let a father of three drop dead in his front yard?
In fact, the question of suffering and evil—“theodicy” is the theological term—is the number one reason why people don’t believe in God at all.
But let me tell you one thing -and I think I am right about this – from page one of the Bible to the last – suffering is part of life, we are not protected from suffering. The central teaching of our faith is that God suffered and died … and then rose again. Now that takes some imagination, that takes some risky confidence, that takes an attitude, that takes some faith, hope and love.
Jesus says: Look at a child, there you will see the kingdom. Suspend analysis, just look.
We baptized two cherubic little ones today, Margaret Isabel and Benjamin Dennis – the kingdom of God is in our midst! The Kingdom of God is not for the worrier, it is for the curious and those caught up in wonder. Like Mary who when confronted with the Angel Gabriel was “perplexed and wondered what sort of greeting this might be.” (Luke 1:29) Or Moses who wandered off the path in wonder at the sight of a bush that was burning. Or Paul, who kept making things up as he went along, bumping into people who had experienced the risen Christ.
The Kingdom is for those like Simeon, the righteous man in the temple who was waiting for the “consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25). He looks down at the baby Jesus and says, “My eyes have seen salvation.”
The Kingdom of God is in our midst when we make sure our children get something to eat. God is present when immigrant children are not afraid of being demonized or called “anchor babies.” Jesus is in our midst when children experience the wonder of education, and we greet the Lord when our children aren’t afraid of playing outside lest they get shot by a drive by bullet.
Oh yes, holy wonder leads to a different kind of worry – a deep agitated concern for others, which does not get twisted into “what’s my status?” and “how do I keep my toys?” and “what is my worth?” but, rather, drives us beyond self towards service.
Jesus says everything you want to know about the kingdom is shown in a child. Every time we baptize a child here something inside of us is released, we laugh and we cry and our hearts are moved by something so precious. It is a miracle – we are in the presence of a miracle; let yourself be moved. Here is the kingdom! We are in it!
So quit worrying and be moved by what is right in front of you: a baby, a cup of soup.
The wonder of the kingdom, the pure gift of grace, the truth of the Gospel is all condensed in an instant when the boundaries are shattered and the walls come down, and a little child reveals God and you are sent forth with a new set of eyes, and a heart attuned to grace, and a mind released from the worry of what is going to happen to the wonder that there are little children to serve and all lives matter.
Thanks be to God!