Sermon "What the Children Know"
Text: Matthew 11:25-30, gospel text for the Feast of St. Francis
Grace and peace be unto you from God who is our Creator and from Jesus Christ who is our Savior and our Friend. Amen.
My son Elijah, who is about 6 and a half months old, does not talk, but he definitely communicates. There is a whole range of noises and sounds he’s able to make, in addition to crying and laughing.
At about three months the sound he made most often was “guzzshh” as well as the classic “goo.” For the last month or so he’s been saying “errrrr” a lot. He sounds like a pirate. And his newest sound is “uh uh uh.” It sounds like he’s frustrated or about to cry, and this is confusing because sometimes he is frustrated or about to cry but lately, not always.
For example, for two days in a row he’s been in his bouncy chair, bouncing up and down and rhythmically going, “uh, uh, uh.” He’s not upset, he’s having a great time and he’s just practicing his new sound. I wonder what he’d like to tell us?
I have been a bible reader my whole life and I have always wondered, and never known, what Jesus meant when he said, in verse 25 that God, the Lord of heaven and earth, has hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and revealed them to infants.
What are “these things,” and how exactly are they revealed to infants? The first part is easier to answer. These things are Jesus’s message in general. Earlier in the chapter he commented on how people criticized John the Baptist for not eating and drinking, and criticized him for eating and drinking, but ignored both their warnings that the day of judgement was at hand.
After several statements along those lines we get today’s verse, in which Jesus thanks God for hiding these things from the wise and intelligent and revealing them to infants.
It’s possible that Jesus is being a little bit sarcastic here, but he’s calling out those who rely too greatly and perhaps too proudly on their own wisdom, insight, education, street smarts, etc., and he is lifting up the trusting nature and openness that children have. He’s saying, this is how you should receive my message. Like a child.
However, I’m still fascinated with verse 25 in which Jesus says that God has revealed these things to infants. How is knowledge of God revealed to infants? What is it that infants know?
Before babies are able to talk, they use crying as their primary way of communicating. They don’t have any other way to let you know that they are hungry, tired, bored, hot, uncomfortable, in pain, or in the mood to play.
Parents learn to decode their children’s cries. Elijah has a whimper that means “I’m bored, entertain me,” and a scream of distress that means fear or pain. When we hear that one, we come running. But he often just opens his mouth and says, “Whaaaaaa!” and we have to figure out what it means. By the way, it’s almost always, one, hungry, or two, sleepy.
Again I ask, “What is it that infants know?” and as I reflect on it, what infants really know is how they feel. They know instantly if they’re hungry and they tell you. If something hurts, they don’t ignore it, they howl out loud. If you take something away from them that they were enjoying, they don’t stay silent, they cry out against the injustice!
Infants know how they feel and what they need and they demand that their needs be met. There is something of God in that.
Too often we adults ignore how we feel, emotionally and physically. Too often when we are hungry, tired, anxious, sad, angry, afraid, or lonely, we just proceed as if we’re not. The problem is that it always comes out, it just comes out sideways and usually hurts someone else in the process.
Hungry, tired, anxious, sad, angry, frightened, lonely people get in over their heads and lose self-control. They become bad drivers, rude to colleagues, mean to the vulnerable, harsh to pets and loved ones. If we’re hungry, tired, anxious, sad, angry, or lonely it’s much better to acknowledge it, and meet the need right then and there.
Maybe the next time you feel hungry, tired, anxious, sad, angry, or lonely you should go, “Whaaaaa!” and then ask yourself what you really need, and fill that need or ask someone else to fill it. There is a lot of God in that.
Now I want to take this idea of God revealing to infants what God has hidden from the wise and intelligent in the specific direction Jesus had in mind, having to do with children’s openness.
All of you know who Greta Thunberg is, right? She is the 16 year old Swedish environmental activist against climate change whose campaign has gained international recognition. She recently visited the United States and addressed the United Nations. The speech she gave was brilliant, brave, and unsparing.
She said, “People are dying; entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you. You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.” From the mouths of babes. Are the adults listening?
Not everyone knows that Greta Thunberg has Asperger’s Syndrome, which means she is on the autism spectrum. Those with Asperger’s have trouble picking up social cues. Greta has called her Asperger’s her super-power. Now, it is absolutely not the case for everyone with Asperger’s because each person is different, but Greta’s autism allows her to filter out social cues, and to be phenomenally focused and direct.
Children have a kind of insight and spiritual authority because they see the world so clearly and because their worlds are still black and white, and not yet gray. They see a problem and want to help. They haven’t yet internalized all the reasons adults give as to why they can’t make a difference, or their efforts won’t be enough.
No, they see someone who hungry, tired, anxious, sad, angry, frightened, or lonely, and want to help. They offer half their sandwich or a sticky hug and kiss. They open a lemonade stand and donate their profits. They see a planet whose ecosystems are collapsing and animals going extinct and they go on climate strike and inspire a generation to have hope and work for change.
On this Sunday as we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis and all of God’s creation which includes animals but also the entire living ecosystem of plants, trees, sun, rain, rivers and oceans, the call comes urgently to us not only save our children’s childhoods and their future on this planet, but to be like children, to be like infants. To believe that there is right and wrong and that we can be on the side of right. To acknowledge the problem and address it.
Am I hungry? What am I hungry for? Let’s eat.
Is the planet’s climate changing? What can I do? I’ll do it.
Elijah lets his parents know when he’s hungry, tired, anxious, sad, angry, frightened, or lonely, and trusts in those who are bigger and stronger than he is to respond. That is a good model for our relationship with God. But Elijah also lets us know when he is happy. He lets us know when he wants to play.
When Elijah is on my lap and wants to be lifted into the air or bounced or some similarly delightful thing, he stares right into my eyes, and tenses up his shoulders and grins a grin of anticipation, and the moment he feels himself being lifted, he lets out a shriek of delight. This too is of God.
Are you hungry, tired, anxious, sad, angry, frightened, or lonely? Be like an infant and admit the need and meet the need. Say “Whaaaaa!” which is an invitation to someone else to help. Are you concerned about the planet? Be like a teenage girl, take action, and make a difference. Do you have the capacity for delight? You do. If it has not gotten a lot of use lately, it’s time to change that. Express your joy in shrieks of delight. This is very much of God. This is God.
I thank you, Father, Mother, Creator of heaven and earth, lover of animals and plants and mountains and oceans, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Makes us more like infants, we pray. Amen.