By Rev. Chris Jorgensen
July 25, 2021
Video of entire service: https://www.facebook.com/hanscomparkchurch/videos/351718033275422
Scripture: Luke 18:15-17
I shared this story in the garden on Thursday, and I want to share it with you this morning as well. It’s about this train.
Like Diana and Cindy were saying, it was VBS (Vacation Bible School) this week. That meant that there were loads of volunteers and children filling the building every evening from Sunday through Thursday. I was out of town for the first couple of days, and my first day back from vacation this week was Tuesday.
And friends, it had been a long day. I’m not sure how many of you know how first days back after vacation can go sometimes – you know…sifting through the hundreds of emails, trying to catch up on everything you missed, in my case…trying to figure out how to fix the sound here in the sanctuary. There’s always something. I had worked from 8 AM until 8 PM when I had the opportunity to participate in the closing gathering of that day’s Vacation Bible School session.
I was still pretty tired yet when I came up the stairs after that closing gathering. But I did arrive just in time to see my little friend Xander roll his train backward and shoot it off the five steps that lead into the glass entryway. I’m not going to lie, I was surprised the train still worked after that. But it did – and it worked after he did it the second time as well. These trains are surprisingly resilient.
Well, all of a sudden, Xander looked at me and said, “Pastor Chris, pull the train backwards all the way down the hall and let it go.”
I was like, “Xander, I don’t think that’s going to work. You know you can only pull those trains back so far. It might break…”
Then Xander was like, “Pull the train all the way down the hall and let it go.”
I said, “Ohhh – kay.” Now, I don’t know if you know how far it is from the glass entry way to the end of the hall up here by the sanctuary. It’s what? 30 feet? 40 So I get down crawling on the floor and pull the train backwards. And I hit that spot where it’s fully charged up, and it starts to go “click, click, click…” and I say to Xander, “I think that’s far enough.”
And he’s like, “ALL THE WAY DOWN THE HALL, PASTOR CHRIS.”
So I keep going. Click, click, click. Then I finally make it to the end of the hall, and I let that train go! It takes a hard right and goes right into the bathroom. I laughed and laughed…and experienced the kingdom of God like a child. It was the first time I had been aware of the joy and wonder of the kingdom of God during that busy day. It was the first time that day that I truly experienced the joy and peace and freedom that comes when we perceive the kingdom of God which is present, right here. The kingdom of God is at hand.
We talked about that in the garden as well. We talked about how the kingdom of God described in the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew is something that is close and present to us. Sometimes it is described as small or hidden (like a mustard seed or a buried treasure), but the kingdom of God – the presence of God – is right here and available to us. We can dwell in the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven…not just in some future time after we have died. We can dwell in God’s presence in every moment.
This might be a new way for you to think about the idea of salvation (of experiencing the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven). See, in the Methodist tradition, the Wesleyan tradition, salvation is not something we wait for until after we die. Rather, salvation is new life, lived in love, now.
Now, I’m not sure about you, but when I hear salvation understood in this way, I often think it sounds like a very modern idea. However, it is not. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, who lived in the 1800s, talked about the idea of salvation as a present thing as well. Wesley actually got the idea from ancient monks like Macarius of Egypt and Gregory of Nyssa … who were teaching and living and writing in the 4th century…that’s the 300s.
That’s all to say that this view of salvation, this idea that we can experience the presence and peace and hope of the kingdom of God right here and right now – well, it’s been a part of our tradition since these gospels were written and has been carried through the ages from the early Eastern church fathers to John Wesley to us here today.
Wesley specifically writes this about salvation: “And first let us inquire, What is salvation? The salvation which is here spoken of is NOT what is frequently understood by that word, the going to heaven, eternal happiness…It is NOT a blessing which lies on the other side of death….
It is not something at a distance: it is a present thing, a blessing which, through the free mercy of God, ye are now in possession of.”
In other words, the salvation of God, the grace of God, is available to us right now. As Wesley said, it is a blessing we are now in possession of.
As I have thought back this week about my day on Tuesday, about my time laughing with Xander when I glimpsed the kingdom of God, I started to ask myself some questions. Maybe these resonate with you as well. But as I thought about how I perceived the presence of God in that time of play and joy with Xander, I began to wonder:
- Why are those glimpses of God’s joy so infrequent for me?
- Why is it so hard to experience the salvation, the healing, the freedom of God in my life?
- Why am I not more free to take more time to play with trains and goof off with the kids?
- What interrupts my experience of the kingdom of God right now?
- What interrupts my experiencing the salvation of God in my life?
Well, I’m going to tell you what I came up with for my answer to these questions. I had a professor in seminary, Dr. Kevin Newburg, who confessed to us one time…he said to us, “Usually, I just preach to myself and let others listen.” This is one of those moments, my friends.
So the answer I came up with, about why it’s so hard some days for me to experience the ever present kingdom of God’s love here and now…is because I am always trying to do something to earn that love. I am always working so darn hard to prove that I deserve somebody’s love – whether that’s your love or God’s love. But I am always very busy, trying to produce enough, trying to work hard, trying to be perfect enough so that I might be worthy of love and belonging.
Does anyone here feel me?
So we need to fix this, and I want to invite you to do a thought experiment with me. I’d like you to picture yourself at like 6 years old. You can go ahead and close your eyes and take a deep breath if that helps. Picture yourself at 6 years old. Hopefully, you’ve seen a photograph or you can even just imagine it. Now I want to ask you and myself some questions:
- Is that 6-year-old YOU worthy of love and belonging?
- Is it okay for that 6-year-old YOU to make mistakes and be forgiven?
- Is it okay for that 6-year-old YOU to be imperfect and still have things to learn about how to live this life?
- It is okay for the 6-year-old YOU to take time to rest and play?
I hope you know: the answers are yes and yes and yes and yes. You are worthy of love and belonging. You can make mistakes and be forgiven. You still have a lot to learn, and it’s okay to rest and play. The answers are still and will always be yes for you in your grown-up life.
Like a child, you don’t have to earn your place in God’s kingdom. You are already worthy and loved, and you can’t do anything to lose that love. That is God’s grace. To adults who are keeping score – who want to know who gets in and who gets kicked out – it is an offensive grace. It is offensively grace-full to say we don’t have to do one darn thing to earn God’s love.
But for children, who can accept that there is enough love to go around for everyone, it is the salvation of God.
“Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
Luckily, we’ve got lots of kids in this world to show us the way.
Thanks be to God.