All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.
The following sermon was preached by Jason Chesnut, LSTC student, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Thursday, September 24, 2009.
One of the best posters I have ever seen is titled “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” A few highlights: Share everything. Play fair. Take a nap every afternoon. And, my favorite: Be aware of wonder: Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. Oh, to be a kid again. To not really know how or why, but just to have wonder.
Of course, at some point, we grow up. We’re old enough to be, well, disciples, like the ones who in Mark today are getting an intensive course credit with Professor Jesus. Their Macbook laptops just can’t keep up with the pearls he’s throwing at them. Things are going good, understanding seems to be blossoming…except, when they break up for small group discussions, they do what they always do in Mark’s Gospel – they don’t understand…and they’re afraid.
And then Jesus sighs, and has them all sit down in a circle. A little girl walks by, skipping to m’lou, my darling, and Jesus calls her over to join them. And he picks her up, all his attention focused on this child.
And here were the disciples, arguing about who was the greatest. How embarrassing. The disciples have been walking along with Jesus, who has been talking about dying, and they’re saying to each other, “No, no, no…I’m the greatest.” They’ve been spending time with this rabbi, learning what they can, but repeating a litany among themselves, “I have done so much! I gave up my business! I dropped everything to be a disciple! I…” They’ve been a part of this ministry, this Jesus movement, but inside they’ve been reiterating to themselves, “Really, I am the greatest…” Even after all they’ve learned, they are still so insecure. They are still so worried about whether or not they’re enough.
And then Jesus points to this little girl. You welcome her, and you welcome me, he says. And that’s not it. You welcome me, and now we’re really talking. In the kingdom of God, Jesus seems to be saying, it’s not about all you’ve done, or how hard you’re trying. In the kingdom of God those who want to be first, need to first get out of the way. They need to be like this kid, skipping around. Walt Streitiff said that, to a child, there are no seven wonders of the world: there are seven million. Here she is, thinking about nothing else but the beauty of this world in which she lives.
God will use us, not because of how much we do, but simply because we are. In God’s eyes, we are enough.
Luckily, this Scripture from Mark has nothing to do with us today. It’s a nice little story with a feel-good message, and we sit around the fire and sing Kum-Ba-Ya, and that’s it, right?
Oh, but then we see ourselves in the disciples again, maybe for the first time. Here I am, trying to walk along with Jesus, and yet the insecure me is muttering to myself, “But I have done so much! I dropped much of my life. I came to Chicago! I am taking out plenty of loans in order to come to school here. I…”
Here we are, in the midst of doing ministry, and still we might be repeating the litany of how much we’ve done, worried that we haven’t done enough, worried that we aren’t enough, still so insecure, wanting to know who’s the greatest.
And then Jesus points to a little girl, someone who hasn’t yet done anything…well, productive, we might say. And yet she knows she is enough. There’s a time when every child seems to know this, before society tells them otherwise. It’s the story of the sociologist who goes to a class of first-graders, and asks them: Who can draw? Who can sing? Every hand shoots up. “I can sing!” Then she goes to a class of high school sophomores, asking the same questions…and no one raises their hand, except a few hesitant youth. “I…I guess I can…” They don’t know their own potential anymore.
No, at this point, this little girl in the gospel knows from a place deep within that she is loved herself, fully and without reservation – and Jesus points to her, and says to us, “God will use you, not by how much you’ve done, or how productive you are, or how many papers you’ve written…just because of who we are.” In God’s eyes, we are enough.
And guess what? That kid knows it. She knows it from the very core of her being, and it doesn’t take a Master of Divinity for that kind of knowledge. It doesn’t take a certain amount of years on this earth for that kind of knowledge. It doesn’t even take actual knowledge – it’s a knowing that goes beyond understanding. It’s something deep within us, beyond words. All it takes is a recognition that we are loved; that we are enough. She knows this.
When we know this, that we don’t need to do anything else to experience God’s overwhelming yes in our lives, then we are freed to do what we were always called to do. Today, Jesus names that as a radical hospitality. You welcome this child, you welcome me. You welcome me, you welcome the one who sent me. This is a part of our calling as human beings.
And we are enough to do this. We don’t need any special qualifications. And so we, in the church, can stand and know, deeply, that we are enough, in order to shout from the rooftops that everybody is enough. It doesn’t matter how people are seen by society; or how people are seen by institutions of power and the status quo; or how people are seen by the lack of “official” documents as they cross borders in search of dignity. It matters how people are seen by God, our maker. “You welcome this child, and you welcome me.”
We are enough to do this. And when we take a step back, and know this, then we can go and preach this good news – that there is One who walks along with those who are told they are nothing, and places them in the circle and says, you are good. There is One who, in the midst of a culture that says over, and over, “You must have more,” quietly reminds us, “You are enough.” There is One who went to a cross, who risks everything so that everyone knows that they are enough.
And yet we’ll question whether or not this is true. We’ll wonder, and try too hard, and argue about who is the greatest. And, in reality, we really aren’t enough – not without God naming us and claiming us. Not without God saying yes in our lives. And yet so God does, over and over and over again. It might be difficult for us to believe that. It is difficult for us to believe that.
I stand here today, worried that I’m enough. Worried about whether or not I did enough to prepare this sermon – a year of preaching on internship, and yet I stand here, wondering if I’ve done enough. How many of us here wonder if we’re enough?
And yet, like the little girl, Jesus picks us up and puts us in the circle, claiming us as children, reminding us that we are enough, and welcoming us into new life – and so we welcome others in that same name.