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The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

A Sermon on Matthew 11: 16-30 by Pastor Bob Kuppler

Thankful Living: Like Little Children

Matthew 11:16-30  English Standard Version (ESV)

16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,

17 “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
    we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”

20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

On these so-called “green Sundays” – the liturgical color of green symbolizes growth – the Gospels show us the way to live and grow as followers of Jesus Christ, and in today’s Gospel, the subject is faith.

How would you describe your faith?  Is your faith child-like, or is your faith childish?  There’s a difference.  In Matthew 18, Jesus said,  “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Listen again to v 25 of today’s Gospel:   “Jesus said, I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”  Jesus is teaching us something about faith…that it’s not at all complicated.

Let me tell you about a little guy I run into every so often.  His name is Liam, whose mom is a waitress at a local place I sometimes have lunch.  One day Liam decided to have lunch with me, so he pulled up a chair across the counter and we ate together and we talked.  I took his picture; he took mine.  He told me about 8 times that he was 4, and that he could count to 100  “1,2,3,4, 5, 6, 17, 80, 90, 100” and how he would soon be 5.  He likes purple pickles (pickled beets) and pizza.  Life’s pretty simple for him.  Being 4, counting, favorite foods, toys and people.  Nothing really complicated.  Being 4 years old sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Like life lived through the eyes of a 4 year old, the Christian faith isn’t complicated either.  God loves us; Jesus died for us; We are forgiven; We have promise of eternal life.  1,2,3…17, 80, 90, 100!  Faith is child-like.

Being a Christian is not something that you have to achieve at a certain age, or something that you decide to do, or that you obtain by working hard.  Christian faith is God’s gift to you, given in Holy Baptism and through His Holy Word.

Martin Luther emphasized this in his Small Catechism explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed that confesses the work of the Holy Spirit as described in the Word, saying “I believe that I cannot, by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”

This means that the faith I have, the faith you have, the faith of those recently baptized babies, is something Jesus has given us, and this faith is like that of a child; He wants us to live with child-like faith.

Isn’t it amazing – the faith that children have!  No doubts; no worries; no trying to figure it all out.  It’s faith that simply receives from God; like a hungry infant opening her mouth, knowing that mom will give her the food she needs, and just receiving it, and then all’s well.

Child-like faith simply trusts Jesus, but faith that’s childish isn’t the same at all.  It’s interesting that in this section of the Gospel, v 16,  Jesus wasn’t speaking to children.  He was addressing “this generation.”  But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,

“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;

we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”  Mt 11:16-19.  The so-called “wisdom guided deeds” of those who rejected John’s message as well as the subject of that message – Jesus himself, results in God’s judgement.

“This generation” that Jesus addressed almost 2 millennia ago, seems a lot like the generation that we’re part of now – fickled, self-centered, willing to leave it things to others  to take care of, wanting things their own way; not responding to Jesus unless it suits us; getting upset when the form of the message was not the way we like it. Childish, isn’t it?  Remember, Jesus wasn’t talking to children, he was talking to grown-ups.

And today, to you and to me – folks who are already His own! Remember, the “Green season” of the Christian calendar is intended to help us to grow as disciples; we are people with experience and knowledge and wisdom; people with the ability to hear what God is saying; people who are able to contribute to being part of a Christian community.  How often, though, that our immediate reaction to things is to think of ourselves first.

This is what “sin” is.  Luther use the phrase that “sin is being curved in on oneself.”  It’s also been described as “sin is looking at oneself.”  Try looking at yourself now.  When we do, we look down.  What do we see?  We see no one else.  We see our stomachs and focus on filling them; we see our pockets and focus on putting and keeping money in them; we see our hands and we notice the things that we don’t have, but which we want; we see our feet and focus on them not moving too far or getting dirty and how quickly we can move to get away from someone we don’t want to be with.

It’s obvious that little children are curved in on themselves, but we love ‘em anyway right?  Even though they may occasionally they drive you up the wall, or drive you just about insane.  They can be generous, but other times they can be very selfish and stubborn; they want everything their own way; they want everyone to play the game with their rules; and when they don’t get their way, they can be very difficult, and make life miserable for everyone around them, including themselves.  Does this at all familiar?

Childish behavior isn’t just restricted to kids.  Look at the news; political parties, protests, political correctness, demonstrations, fake news; deception; temper tantrums – adults acting in childish ways, of which you and I are not immune either!  At home, at church, at work, at play, shopping, or driving on College Road.

The problem with being a grown-up with intelligence and so-called wisdom is that we tend to rely more on our own intellect to direct our lives, on our own wisdom, likes and dislikes.  As the Apostle Paul said in his message to the Roman Christians: For I don’t understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate, especially when life get tough, and when we get weighed down with the all of realities that often seem to bombard us from all directions.

Like all people – Christian or not – we’re not immune to sickness, tragedy, family strife, and personal struggles.  When these come, do we fall back on our own resources, and not only fail to trust, but also question and blame God, or do we remember Who we are, and Whose we are, and respond with child-like faith?

There is good news for us today!  The One of whom it was foretold by Zechariah, who would enter Jerusalem, humble, riding on a donkey – Jesus the Savior has come, bringing righteousness and healing.  Though completely innocent, Jesus endured the pain of death on the cross, and then, rising from the dead, He defeating the power of sin, death and the devil for good!  Doing for us what is impossible for us to do – His perfect life, his innocent death, his selfless sacrifice, and his glorious resurrection from the dead, has made us acceptable to God.  With child-like faith, we simply need to receive what Jesus has done for us…every day.

This is God’s wisdom at work to bring forgiveness and healing. Jesus then offers this invitation:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

To those with faith like a child, he says:  You’re mine; I am not going to leave you alone; come to me, and I’ll give you rest.  But it’s not the rest that you might imagine – a good night’s sleep, or lounging with your feet up and a drink in your hand; or no problems.

No, it means that, forgiven, we are relieved of the guilt and stain of sin; it means, that as His own dearly oved ones, we can bring our burdens to Him; it means learning the best way to live from God’s wisdom in His Word;  it means being welcome and safe and at peace in His presence, especially here at the Lord’s Table;  it means receiving comfort in the face of challenges; it means not having to endure the hard things alone – He’s by our side..yoked with us, pulling with us, for us.  It means that We don’t have to live life alone, when in fact, we can’t do it alone.

There’s a better way.  Having faith like a child. Recognizing that you can’t do it yourself.  Recognizing that you need a power and source of strength greater than your own.  This is the faith Jesus has given His Baptized, dearly loved ones.  It doesn’t mean that life will be easier, but the One who brings healing and forgiveness, who has already endured it all, and has come through it all, is by our side all the way.  He promises I am with you always, to the close of the age.

Faith.  Child-like.  It’s really not complicated at all:  God loves us; Jesus died for us; We are forgiven; we have the promise of eternal life.

Pastor Bob Kuppler

St Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church

Wilmington, North Carolina USA