20 Sep 2015
“And putting his arms around the child …” (Mark 9:36) In the name …
I’d like to begin today’s sermon by asking you to try and imagine the scene which Mark tells us about this morning in his Gospel. The hub from which Jesus’ journeys began was the village of Capernaum. There are no songs sung about Capernaum like there are about Bethlehem. Jesus is known as Jesus of Nazareth even though He moved away from His childhood home in favour of this other Galilean village. And while most of His ministry took place in Galilee with Capernaum as Jesus’ home base, everyone seems much more familiar with the stories of Jesus and Jerusalem. But none of this changes the fact that this little village on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee was the place Jesus called home.
Archaeologists have worked in the area for hundreds of years. They have unearthed a Christian church from the fifth century, but even more interesting is a synagogue from the second century, and even more interesting that that, this synagogue was built on an even older structure. This older building was probably the synagogue in which Jesus worshiped. A couple of weeks ago Sharon and I traveled to the Clark Art Museum in Williamstown to see the Van Gogh exhibit before it closed. We were literally inches away from hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of artwork. But if you can get past the money, and as you’re standing there, and as you’re looking at the individual brush strokes of Van Gogh, as you remind yourself that it was his hand that touched this canvas, you can sort of feel him near. I’m no traveler, especially no world traveler, but someday I may work up the courage to travel to the Holy Land. I would avoid tourist traps like Bethlehem, but would I ever love to stand in Capernaum, to pray where Jesus once prayed, to walk the streets that Jesus once walked.
Capernaum is the place Jesus chose to start His own life. Nazareth is the village of Jesus the carpenter. Capernaum is the village of the Jesus we know. Miracles were here performed. The people of this village thronged around Jesus to hear His words to the point that He had to make the conscious choice to move on to other places so that they too could hear His message (Mark 1:35-39), but He always seemed to return home. This is the case with today’s Gospel. Jesus and His disciples have returned to Capernaum and Jesus’ house. In that house the fundamental Christian message was uttered by Jesus: “‘If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.’” (Mark 9:35) But I’d like to rush past that important message for right now and concentrate on the image of the child. Jesus embraces this little one. My question as we try to imagine this scene is where did the child come from? As I try to picture this Gospel story, I see a door wide open. I see people coming and going in and out of this house because Jesus is back in town. I see children running around freely. I see almost chaos in what had to be a small abode. And Jesus loving every moment of it. I imagine Jesus as absolutely unpretentious. I see His holiness in His smile, His eyes and the way He brings a child close to Him.
And we need to be careful. Today’s Gospel is not the passage in which Jesus says, “‘Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.’” (Mark 10:15) That’s a theological concept that only uses the example of a child, but today’s passage is actually about a child. With the unnamed child held in His arms, with that anonymous child symbolizing all children and all who are helpless and in need, Jesus says to men who were arguing about who was the greatest, “‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.’” (Mark 9:37) Who knows what those disciples were throwing around as arguments for why they were the greatest, but when Jesus looked upon that child with perfect love I hope they got the message. In a world where children could easily be overlooked, Jesus was saying they mattered. He was saying everyone matters. And He was saying that when a person understands this message, then they understand greatness in the eyes of God. The smile on Jesus’ face holding that child lets us glimpse the face of God. Jesus loves these moments of human connection. He’s enlivened by them. And He’s trying to see if we can understand why.
That small house in Capernaum must have been filled with moments like this, moments of simple revelation. My Bible class on Monday again got me to thinking. They’ve been good at that this year. They were talking about how much structure there is in our time together at worship. Liturgy requires reverence, but if reverence overly dominates, then liturgy turns into a spectator sport, and that can’t be undone by scripting more parts. It emerges when people are personally engaged, when what matters to them matters. During the earliest years of our denomination, we changed so that the people could be more involved. We almost immediately dropped Latin so that the language of the Mass could be understood. We discouraged acts of private devotion during the Mass so that the congregation would better come together and act as one. We turned the altar around so that the congregation could see the liturgy better. We emphasized the sermon as the Sacrament of the Word of God so that the message of that particular day was recognized as holy as the eternal Eucharist. This place here is Jesus’ house today. This place is Capernaum. We need to continue to make our worship more accessible and maybe that’s something we can talk about in our Adult Discussion Group because Jesus loved it when people came together in His house, when there was the buzz of commotion and activity, when there was the connection made among people, when He could be with us and us with Him. This is His house today. Our worship needs to help us connect with Jesus just as if we had walked into His home in Capernaum. That He may help us to accomplish this, for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo