Out of the mouths of babes …

Meditation for UNC Chapel
World Communion Sunday
October 4, 2015

When I was a kid sitting in church, my favorite thing was to find a puzzle in the Bible. Which usually meant trying to figure out the length of a cubit. Our Psalm today has a puzzle in it … it’s the first praise hymn in the Psalms, and it’s full of wonder at the good gifts God has given us.

creative commons license

creative commons license

But there’s this funny business in the second verse:

Out of the mouths of babes and infants,
You have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.

That’s odd. What does it mean? What comes out of the mouths of babes? What is a bulwark? And who are the foes?

Well, the first question we can get. What comes out of the mouths of babes? Cries! Babies sleep … except when they are hungry or wet or tired … and then they cry. We’ll come back to that.

What’s a bulwark? It’s a wall or a barrier, a defense.

Who or what is God’s foe? Old Testament scholars say God’s enemy is chaos, another way to describe the void that was the wild emptiness of the universe before God created light … and land … and love.

So … how can a baby’s cry become a defense against chaos?

Daniel Stern, an expert on infant psychology, says that chaos is how a baby experiences the world. A baby is its feelings: its hunger is a hurricane of feeling washing through everything, its tiredness is a torrent tearing the baby apart. A mother hearing the cries of her baby feels an instant response. Her brain begins producing oxytocin, sometimes called the compassion hormone. Her breasts produce milk, she reaches for the baby and gazes into the baby’s eyes. They bond in love, all over again, her nervous system regulating the baby’s system, with soft sounds, gaze, heartbeat, breath.

When a mother or father picks the baby up and feeds her, soothes her, this care is everything to the baby, turning her world right-side up and making everything okay. Kind of like the spirit of God moving over the face of the waters, soothing chaos into the order of creation. Just as there is deep joy and contentment in the parent caring for the infant, I have to think God felt deep joy, too, in God’s work of creation. Why else create, except to have something to love?

It is the cry, whether of a single baby or of a world in chaos, that gives God purpose and movement and a reason to care. It is our cry that triggers God’s creative, compassionate response, giving us – as Jesus says – the kingdom.

And this brings us to our reading in Mark. Jesus has been feeding people, like a caring parent. The disciples have been arguing over which of them is the greatest. The Pharisees have been fighting over which law is the most important. And then some parents come walking up to Jesus, bringing their children to Jesus so that he might touch them. And the disciples wig out, getting all stern with the mothers. See, in that time, children weren’t the point. They didn’t have Baby Baby stores and $200 strollers. A child was a non-person, until they were old enough to work or be married off. So, the disciples were completely in line with the times … but not with Jesus.

Let the little children come to me.

Do not stop them.

It is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.

Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God
as a little child, will never enter it.

And he took the children up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Jesus is following the law of the heart, the same heart as was in creation, brooding over the face of the waters, responding to the cry of chaos by creating compassion and comfort and care. The same heart that heard the cry of the Israelites in bondage in Egypt, and said “Let my people go.” The same heart that spoke through the prophet Isaiah, saying “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.” (Is 49:15-16)

Jesus speaks from the heart of God when he says “Let the little children come. Do not stop them. Don’t stop the refugee children. Don’t stop the immigrant children. Don’t stop the children who don’t have enough to eat. Don’t stop the children who can’t bring themselves to eat. Don’t stop the abused children, the homeless children … do not stop them. Because all the children can do is receive. Everything they have is a gift.

The kin-dom of God, our belonging to God, this we need to learn to receive as they do … as gift. Unearned. Not about who’s first, or right, or wrong. Abundance, freely given. Gift.

This is the law at the heart of God’s world. God’s nature is an eternal readiness to give. Our nature is to cry out of our chaos. When we do, God responds. As Hagar said, God is the one who sees, the one who hears. God is a God of response. If we don’t cry out, God can’t be who God is. It is in our nature to need God’s love, and to cry out for God. It is in God’s nature to respond. This circle of love is the nature of the world created for and held in God’s compassionate embrace. Like a mother whose body aches to feed and hold her child, God aches to draw us near. And freely give. Thanks be to God.

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