Rev. Dr. Martha ter Kuile

Fourth Sunday in Lent – First Sunday in ZOOM Church

March 22, 2020

Matthew 18.1-4

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

May God bless to our understanding these words from Holy Scripture.

So much for best laid plans.  Today was supposed to have been a special day for us at Bloor Street – with a visit from the Moderator to celebrate the arrival of spring.  The choir was going to sing something written by Bobby McFerrin – I don’t think it was Don’t Worry – Be Happy. Inappropriate!

Everything is different now – and each day we hear on the radio and the TV that what we are experiencing is unprecedented.  Nothing like this has ever happened before.  Schools and universities closed, borders shut down, social distancing, a whole new etiquette, the numbers of victims of corona-virus relentlessly rising.  The medical and economic and political impacts are genuinely unimaginable, in the sense that you can’t imagine them.  Short-term, long term –  who knows?  It is an anxious time, and the eeriness of the empty streets gives us a sense of living in a strange movie.

It’s unprecedented in other ways too – imagine if this had happened even 20 years ago.  We wouldn’t have been able to stay in touch and in sight through facetime and skype and ZOOM.  This.  We are spatially isolated by the pandemic but socially connected, spending endless hours online with friends and news stations and opinion brokers.  [For the most part – and you want to be very aware of the people in your life who aren’t able to plug in to friends and networks.]

The thing about this being unprecedented is that when you get to a certain part of your life, you aren’t used to things being unprecedented.  You have precedents for everything.  Even when new things come along you have so much experience and so many memories that you have somewhere to put it.  There’s a context.

Because of that, we are caught off-guard with this.  We are out of the habit of dealing with things that we have absolutely no idea how to handle, either in practical terms or emotionally.

So, this is when Jesus’ words about being children become really relevant.  He told Nicodemus he had to be born again.  And now he says to the gathered disciples Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  And I think it is not the innocence and the charm of the children he is talking about, but the fact that almost everything that happens to them is unprecedented.  They are always dealing with situations and people and requirements that they haven’t tried before.  They are always on a learning curve that is almost perpendicular.  They live their whole lives the way we have been living for the last week or two.

So in a funny way nothing surprises children, they take it in.  They haven’t set firm boundaries on what is and isn’t possible.  Occasionally a new development or constraint meets with a loud objection, and fair enough.  But children’s energy and enthusiasm for life helps them push through their challenges.  They get interested in things and want to try just one more time until they get it.  One more dive, one more story, one more puzzle.

Children are, as Jesus says we should be, enormously resilient.  They can adapt and find a way in the most difficult circumstances.  But as we also know, they are not infinitely resilient.  Children need care, and love in order to live in a world that is constantly new.  Without that they perish inwardly, become old before their time.  Jesus intends that we should be cared for.

We think of children as laughing – but in fact being a child is a serious business.  Still, the thing is, if you are one, you can find the fun in it.  You can turn it into a game.  And you don’t necessarily worry about getting it exactly right. The playing is more important than the perfect execution.

These are all the things Jesus is trying to get us to do.  He is saying, understand that all life is unprecedented.  You don’t need to know what is going on to be able to learn and play.  Keep at it until you get it.  Turn it into a game. Don’t worry if you aren’t very good at it.  Anything truly worth doing is worth doing badly.

And at the same time, he is saying everyone needs to be looked after.  Think of yourself, think of everyone you know, as a child who needs and deserves a word of encouragement, a nutritious meal, and a good night’s sleep.

Let us pray:

Loving God in this time of uncertainty and anxiety, help each one of us to become like a child.  Be with us as we learn and grow, cheer us on as we fail and try again, remind us that it is in this that we discover your kingdom.  We ask it in Jesus’ name.  Amen.



Photo Credit:  Sharon McCutcheon –

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