Pentecost 19B: The Child’s Way through Propaganda

The readings for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost are:

Old Testament      Genesis 2:18–24

Psalm                    Psalm 8

New Testament     Hebrews 1:1–4, 2:5–12

Gospel                   Mark 10:2–16

The Pharisees tested Jesus. They were confused by the hot topic of divorce and wanted to know if Jesus could cut through all the rhetoric. Rabbis had different solutions. All of them saw a place for divorce, but what should be the “grounds.”

Jesus says that Moses’ very practical advice about a man’s granting a document of divorce so a woman could remarry was less a direct command than an accommodation to human “hardness of heart.” Jesus makes that connection by taking the imaginative leap of looking at things “from the beginning.” When God made them for each other and steered them to leaving mom and dad and  forming a new household, he intended for two people to become distinct and one—a precious union that no one should separate.

After that little debate people brought children near for Jesus to touch and bless them. Disciples thought this rude and a breach of protocol, but Jesus became indignant and said with great solemnity, “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

I take from these two scenes divine affirmation of the way I’ve always tried to follow to cut through all the poisonous language that’s fed to us every day in the form of political propaganda that is designed to divide people into opposing camps. This propaganda is formed by a meticulously concocted stew of distorted language. Each word or phrase is coated in fear, and together they then have the power to drive us into ideological corners that we can’t get out of or see beyond.

Words like family values, the traditional definition of marriage, Black lives matter, critical race theory, second amendment rights, little babies, the right to life, socialism, big spending, secure borders, and even freedom itself, are deployed as short cuts to thinking. We are rarely encouraged to deeply listen or look at the facts. We are seldom taught that really there are always far more than two approaches to deciding our problems. We are almost never helped to consider that we may only have a bit of the truth and the other guys have other bits. We are never taught that we are all responsible for finding solutions that work.

Jesus tells us two things: Go back to the beginning, and receive like a little child. Break things down to the fundamentals.

When I faced up to my divorce many years ago I learned that the official act itself took about five minutes in a courtroom. But the real heart of the matter was a lifetime, and it was all about love. In the beginning God made me for love, I had no alternative but to love my wife, and I bore full responsibility for the way I loved. So, in spite of that five minutes it took to flush our twelve year-old marriage down the drain, I was one with her and with the children of our union. I had to find ways, even new ways, to keep loving.

And though my wife and I were grown with our own family, we were, inside still children who needed love. That need made it imperative that we reach out for the love from beyond—from the God who we needed to surround us with parents and friends and church that could love us back to health.

Every day I must confront the horrible ways we distort language and try to make very complex human problems go away rather than solve them or cope with them. The only way I can do that is by receiving God’s love into my life as a little child. And God’s design for me cannot be forgotten. I cannot ever stop listening to or loving others because of the mixed up ways we talk past each other. I must go back to the beginning, to the child’s point of view, to the fundamentals, and cut through the fog of loaded language.

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About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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