Blessed to Receive

I appreciate your words of kindness as we have made this pastoral transition.  Your recent words have been consistent in tone and feeling throughout my tenure, and have not just been reserved for these days of departure.  Your collective words brought me to this text for this last Sunday, where Jesus reminds his disciples that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

In the scene, children are flocking to Jesus.  His disciples sternly shoo them away; trying to do Jesus a favor.  Even Jesus disciples are guilty of deciding for him who deserves to receive what degree of love and care from the Christ.  Seeing what was happening, Jesus became indignant and spoke imperatively saying, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them.  Then he turns their understanding upside down when he makes children model citizens in the kingdom of God saying, “such as these that the kingdom of God belongs“; suggesting all should be as a child.  He sets a condition to this conversion saying, “Unless we receive the kingdom of God like children we will never enter it.”  He underscores his point by taking the children, who his disciples were preventing earlier from approaching him and “laid hands on them and blessed them“.

The text reminds me disciples both then and now; need to be told again and again this simple, but profound truth.  At our core, none of us are no more than a child of God; called to embrace the blessings of receiving the gifts God offers to us through all circumstances and persons.  Assuming the position of the child puts us in the best posture to receive.  A child’s best quality is they are good receivers.  Children do not think like grownups in terms of earning or deserving.  They live unapologetically with open hands.  It seems the older they get, the bigger their open hands grow.  If adults act like this, we call them sluggards, or worse.  Jesus says all of us, young and old, are to be like children in the way we receive.  The reason Jesus affirms we are to receive like children is they model the way God loves the world.  God offers love and we are to simply receive.

Over the years of my ministry, I have not always been a good receiver.  I have a hard time saying thank you and being quiet.  I am more comfortable giving than receiving.  This is why I do what I do; serve and give to others.  Despite my best intentions to offer myself for the sake of others like my big brother Jesus; I admit it feels more noble when I give, than when I receive.  Blessed to receive is easier to say than actually do.

The people of FUMC, SS have helped me learn and relearn this object lesson Jesus taught his disciples about children-“It is more blessed to receive“.  As I have had the privilege of serving this church. I’ve come to know in personal way, through you, God’s love and care is not dependent on what I produce for God or others.  I have come to repent of the futility trying to be worthy of God’s love; recognizing all the ways I fool myself into thinking the kingdom of God is for the taking or that heaven can be had by working for it.  I have been taught by you what it means to simply receive as a child of God.  I have come to know more thoroughly God’s love through receiving gifts from you; than I ever could have known trying to earn God’s love by doing something for you.

Many personal experiences have put our family in the position of being a child, who can do nothing, but receive.  You have graciously shepherded our family; welcoming us to a new city/new church, praying for us, walking with us, and sometimes carrying us during unexpected times.  Through it all, you have loved us through difficult experiences.  You have been good pastors to your pastor, Terri, and our family.  As we have received your gracious gifts, we have reconnected to what Jesus meant when said we are to receive as a child.

We can tell how some of you helped Terri find a place in the school system.  We can speak of the ways you supported us as we were walking with a wandering child.  We can tell stories of night time visits by some of you after my heart surgery.  We can tell of small acts of kindness that were bigger than you could have imagined, extended to us while our parents struggled with multiple health issues.  Through these experiences, we have come to appreciate the act of receiving your gifts of grace for the moment like the children of God we are.

Jesus’ revolutionary teachings concerning children were shocking because in his day, (even a 150 years ago), children were not much good to anyone.  So, for Jesus to teach children are to be blessed for no reason other than they exist was as outrageous then; as it is to say today to adult disciples God’s desire for a loving them is not conditional on their behavior, nor is it something they can attain by their own goodness or hard work.  These ideas are beyond the scope of reasonable thought both then and now.

So, it may sound unusual for me to say: Terri and I have been greater recipients of the love of God than we could ever offer.  I can attest this to be true because I have often been in the position of being a child of God while serving you, receiving the gifts God was offering through FUMC, SS.  We could’ve prevented ourselves from experiencing your gifts of grace by not being willing to receive.  You steadily embodied the gospel message.  The more times we received your gifts, the more we relearned this simple but fundamental childhood message-it is blessed to receive.

Your legacy along with this text points to values that will shape my ministry beyond FUMC, SS.  Thus, I will always thank God for you because much of this understanding of being more open to receiving what God gives sunk in my soul last fall as we walked through the book, He Loves Me.

First, I will be more mindful of the children, who model God’s love.  I will be looking for more ways to bless them; spending less energy turning them into little adults too quickly.  I am convinced by allowing them to experience the love of God at their own pace; makes room for others to experience God in all the various ways and times God comes to them.  After all children are our models, and the way in which they receive God is the way God intends for each of us to enter into the divinely intimate relationship.

Secondly, I will cultivate a greater openness to the gifts God wants to share through others.  I will receive the blessing of receiving; offering a model of God’s love.  I will resist the temptation to be any more than what I am-a child of God, dependent on receiving the blessings God wants to offer through those I serve.  In doing so, I hope to portray the best qualities of a child of God by being open to the gifts of each day and every person.  I will remain open to the gift of others for the sake of others and myself; inheriting the kingdom of God.

There are many ways you have shaped me and my ministry.  I’ve learned to receive grace in order to experience God’s grace.  I’ve learned to be still so I might better recognize God’s gifts when they show up.  I’ve learned God is more interested in blessing me than my work.  I will leave here with empty and outstretched hands so they might remain open to receive the gifts God wants to give.  When I boil it down, it’s not about doing something special for God; it is about becoming a child willing to receive the gifts given for the moment.  John’s gospel says, “For as many as received him, to them gave he the right to be called children of God.  

So, I am going to say thank you and be quiet.  Thanks for being a model of God’s love.  Thanks to our God who graciously gives in ways that cannot be measured.  Thanks for open hands to receive it all!

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