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Rev. Brennan Hurley
Associate Pastor, First United Methodist Church in Taylorville
Pastor, Stonington United Methodist Church
Jesus was out telling parables one day, and some kids were making too much noise. The good religious people scoffed! “Where are their parents?! Don’t they know that they need to be respectful of Jesus?!” They tried to block the kids from seeing Jesus, but Jesus was having none of it. “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children.”
I once heard a sermon on this text in which the preacher said that Jesus was pointing to children as models of faith because they knew how to trust authority without questioning. The whole time I was listening to that sermon, I was thinking, “Uh…have you ever had a conversation with a four-year-old?” Kids love to ask questions! Maybe that’s the point.
A religious leader, Nicodemus, came to Jesus under the cover of darkness one night. “Jesus, what must I do to be a part of your kingdom?” “You must be born anew from above,” says Jesus. Nicodemus doesn’t understand. He wonders aloud how someone can re-enter their mother’s womb to be born again. Jesus doesn’t make it any clearer and instead invites him to listen for the wind (sidebar: in the original Greek, wind, breath, air, and Spirit are all the same word: “pneuma.” Fascinating to ruminate on that). Jesus leaves Nicodemus with that oft-quoted bumper sticker Bible verse: “for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that those who believe in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” Nicodemus doesn’t put it on his bumper. He leaves with questions unanswered, confused, befuddled, but curious, seduced, allured. Nicodemus ends up being one of the few who stuck by Jesus through the end.
Nicodemus and these kids are models for faith – curious, imaginative, wondering. They ask unending questions, not because they need firm answers, but because there is a hunger somewhere deep within the stomachs of their hearts for something greater than the life they’d lived up to that point. Much of Christianity today is about formulas. Say the sinner’s prayer, and you’ll be saved. Give ten percent, and you’ll be blessed. Believe this, that, and the other, and you can be one of us. Easy and straightforward.
But what if our formulaic Christianity misses the point? Formulas for faith make our lives comfortable and predictable, but are they faithful? They say “curiosity killed the cat,” after all. But, how many cats have been killed for a lack of curiosity? The life to which Jesus invites us is hardly about easy answers and straightforward plans for us to follow so that we can become heaven material. No, Jesus invites us on an adventure of mercy, justice, and love. Before you were born, you had eyes and ears but could neither see nor hear. Jesus is giving us a new birth so that our eyes and ears will be opened to the ways of God instead of our own ways. Bright-eyed children interrupt and ask questions. We dull their eyes and stifle their questions, and Jesus groans. These are our models of faith – curious, imaginative, not afraid to ask a good question. So, ask your question. Have your doubts. God can handle it.