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Sermon: At the Table

October 2, 2009

Mark 10:13-16

We are getting close to the high season for houseguests—Thanksgiving and Christmas.  In homes across the country, all available bed space will be used up.  People will be sleeping on couches and on mats on the floor.  There won’t be enough glasses and plates and silverware for everyone at meals.  We will have to set up card tables and make all sorts of odd seating arrangements.

It is Thanksgiving, of course, that has given rise to that quirky tradition known as the “kids’ table.”  The adults are crowded into the dining room, and the atmosphere there is much more formal.  They eat off the good china with nice silverware on a clean, white lace tablecloth.  There is a silver gravy boat and long candles giving off warm light.  In the Thanksgiving pecking order, the dining room table is at the top.  That is where the most respected family members sit.

If you wander into the living room or the kitchen, however, you will find the kids’ table.  This is most likely an old card table, and it is more wobbly than a ship in a storm.  In my family, the kids of years past had written on the underside in crayon and marker, and there was even a red and green candle that had melted and permanently fused to the bottom of the table.  We also normally use paper plates at the kids’ table.  While the best of the turkey is carefully arranged on an elegant platter at the main table, the remnants of the bird are tossed onto a plate and slopped in the middle of the kids’ table.  If you are sitting in the living room and you want butter, gravy, salt or pepper, or another roll, you have to get up and go in the dining room to fetch it.

Now this doesn’t mean that the grown ups’ table is more fun—just more respectable.  They are probably talking about mutual funds and medical procedures, and they are pretending to laugh at Uncle Bob’s stale jokes.  At the kids’ table, everyone is trying to stick a spoon to their nose, there are lots of ridiculous knock-knock jokes, and everyone sitting at that wobbly table knows that they don’t belong with the respectable members of the family.

That is exactly what the disciples thought, too, when some parents brought their children to Jesus.  “These kids don’t belong here.  They are not important.  They are not contributing members of the cause of the kingdom.  Jesus can’t be bothered.”  And so the disciples tried to send them back to the kids’ table instead of poking around the master at the grown ups’ table.

Robert Capon is an Episcopal priest, and he helps us to understand what the disciples really must have thought about these meddling kids.

The modern world’s wishful view of childhood as a blessed, innocent state…is a late-nineteenth-century invention.  Prior to that time, children were…[seen as] imperfect, sawed-off adults who needed little more than to have their imperfections beaten out of them and their education beaten into them.  Children were seen as losers…and childhood was considered a state that no sane child…would choose to stay in for one minute more than was necessary.  (Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002], 380.)

We get it.  Have patience and behave yourself, and someday you, too, will be able to sit with the grownups.  You kids just aren’t a priority.  Jesus is up to serious business, and someday you can come around, but just not today.  In fact, not for a long while.

But Jesus has an odd way of doing things.  His methods don’t often measure up to his disciples’ expectations.  When Jesus saw his followers pushing the kids away, Jesus became indignant.  “Don’t stop these kids from coming to me.  Bring ‘em on.”

He took them in his arms and blessed them.  Jesus said, “Whoever cannot embrace the kingdom as a child can never enter it.  Don’t you see, I have come to sit at the kids’ table, not in the dining room with all the fine china and even finer guests.”

As Capon writes,

How many times do I have to say this?  How long is it going to take you to catch on to the fact that I don’t work with winners?  I am not in the business of saving people’s questionably successful lives.  I am in the business of being a loser myself and of offering them, in my crucifixion, a chance to turn the absolutely certain unsuccess of their death into pure gold.  (Capon, 381.)

So if you want to go where Jesus goes—and that is the kingdom of God—then you have to get with the losers and be a loser yourself.  You and I can try to climb the ladder of success, to behave well enough so that one day we can go sit at the big table, but if we do that, then we leave Jesus and the kingdom behind.

Yet so many of us get caught up in the desire to strive and succeed and win, even though those are not values of the kingdom of God.  The kingdom values are love, compassion and giving ourselves away to others.  People are at the grown up table because of their own merit.  They have played the game well, and they are recognized for their ability to fit in to the crowd of winners.  The kids have no redeeming features at all.  There is no point even to hope of sitting at the big table.  It’ll never happen.

A funny thing happened on the way to the crucifixion.  Jesus found his way to the kids’ table.  And he never left.  If you want to sit with him, you may.  Just go push yourself up to the table.  If you want to go sit with the fine china, you’re welcome to do that, too.  But you can’t be in both places.

We have a kids’ table set up here this morning.  This is the table where Jesus can be found.  The food here isn’t fancy.  It’s just a little bread and juice.  But you are welcome here.  On this World Communion Sunday, we remember that all the losers of the world are welcome here, and not just us.  Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.  We children are united by one common Lord and by the common desire to be sitting at the kids’ table and living out the values of the kingdom of God—love, compassion and sacrificial self-giving.

If you want to join Jesus this morning, you will have the chance.  No one will turn you away.  Jesus will lay his hands on you.  And he will bless you.

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