Meadowbrook Congregational Church
Called to Change, by the Rev. Joel K. Boyd
September 11, 2022
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” 2 He called a child, whom he put among them, 3 and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. 4 Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. 5 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matt 18:1-5, NRSV).
Change is bound to happen. We see it every day. You are one day older now than you were yesterday. When your friends came over for the football game and ate all your snacks, by the end of the game, you were snack-less. Amazingly, we were able to put humans on the moon in the 1960s, while curiously we’ve recently met with challenges to get our rocket off the ground safely. Things change with or without us knowing about or even understanding [how], but they do change. Have you ever had the experience of re-reading a book you read years ago? How about looking through old photographs? It’s shocking to witness how what we feel about past experiences can change, too. And yet, the pictures show the actions of the time they were taken, and the book will display the same words we read through younger eyes. There can be no doubt that change takes place all around no matter how old we are, where we have lived, whom we have loved, and the tragedies and celebrations we’ve endured along the way.
Yet, while some change can appear to simply happen to us, much more is within our control than we may think. When a hurricane approaches American towns in the Gulf of Mexico, we know that we cannot stop the hurricane. We can’t disable it or push it off course. On the day you learn of the engagement of your first child, perhaps you get excited about the possibility of grandchildren in your future, knowing full well that it’s not we who bring grandkids into existence. And we may have to stare down the eye of that hurricane, preparing our very best, fortifying our windows with strong boards, evacuating as possible. We can make these choices. They are within our control. But we cannot deter the storm itself. If it comes, it comes. So, we will have done our best to survive it, knowing there will be pieces to be picked up in the aftermath. It is possible, however, that given our completely reasonable fear, we might not give much thought to the idea of help coming from others.
Other human beings, flesh, and blood, like us, may come to or send help when we most need it. They may choose to do that. And by the choice of their selflessness, we may be blessed by change we never could have expected: the love of God shared through people. This change can change everything. In our passage from the Gospel of Matthew this morning, we see the disciples asking Jesus a rather profound question: “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” We could rephrase this question to: “What makes a person truly great in the eyes of God?” The idea here, of course, is to get an answer one can work with—preferably one that shows that one’s already on the right track to that greatness. Sounds good so far, but the answer Jesus provides is not likely to have been what his disciples hoped for or expected. Jesus replies: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Before we think that finding our old backpacks and hitting the schoolyard or asking someone to the school dance, we need to ask what Jesus means when He talks about children here. Surprisingly, we learn that Jesus is talking about social status, true discipleship, and humility. All this in just mentioning kids! When we think about being a kid today, we picture a way of life that is far removed from the culture and customs of ancient Israel and Palestine. Today, kids have access to all kinds of modern opportunities and are held in wholly different esteem than in the days Matthew wrote his Gospel. At that time, children had the lowest status in society. They had little agency, protection, or rights and would have almost exclusively had their identity and future stem from the status of their family, with little chance of improving their station in life from one generation to the next. On the top rung of the “status ladder” would have been Roman families of prestige, the elite, continually bringing honor to themselves and their kin. Today, children may not have all the opportunities as do adults, but there can be no question that they are cared for, encouraged, and granted a significantly increased level of access to opportunity than was offered in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry. They also have easier access to a lot of things that are dangerous to their minds, bodies, and emotional health.
The reason this is all worth knowing is that Jesus provides a challenging answer to the disciples’ question about who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. He doesn’t say that a senator, a Roman family of renown, a high priest, or a military commander is the greatest. Jesus says that whoever becomes humble like a child is the greatest. With children being the lowest and prestigious families the highest on the societal ladder of status, what Jesus is doing here is reversing the order. Jesus says to become like the lowly not like the powerful or proud. And here’s the thing, notice how Jesus does not say simply that the lowly or the children are the greatest. He says those who become like them are the greatest. This means that Jesus’ disciples are called to change. They are called to note the difference in the world and make the necessary changes to be faithful. The disciples were called to forget about prestige or power, and instead to become humble servants to all God’s people, and to include those of lower social status as a priority. And they were called to change within the culture of their own time.
As a Congregational church, in which the authority is in the members under Christ, we know what it means to experience change. The Bible may be the same, yet we are free to interpret it as we are moved by the Spirit as a free people aiming more and more to live in a free world; a world that continually changes. Some are joining us in worship today who remember when our mother church, Bushnell Congregational Church, prayerfully made the hard decision to plant this church here in Novi. We are further blessed to celebrate today the payoff of the mortgage on this church Meetinghouse, knowing that while we borrowed from ourselves by using some funds from our endowment, we have persevered through decades of faithful financial stewardship in seeing this momentous change come to be. And I pray that it is not lost on any of us, how while most certainly changes have come to the church and its community, the members and friends of Meadowbrook Congregational Church have time and time again chosen to live into the challenges before us. The church has changed. But our story is not completed. There is a new world out there: a world of technology, political divisiveness, and global connection. It can be tiring to change, and it can be unsettling. We might ask ourselves from time to time, why we change anyway.
At the end of our passage from Matthew, Jesus shares these words to his followers: “Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” Jesus shows us that we are called to change because in faithfully doing so we welcome Him. We are called to change together as we seek to share the love of Jesus with all God’s people in all our tomorrows. May it be our prayer on this Rally Day that we keep our hearts open and our minds ready to answer Jesus’s call for our church to change as we serve in the next chapters of our story. May it be so. Amen.