Martin Luther described the Holy Bible as the "cradle of Christ"...in other words: The Manger.
Not only at the Christmas stable, but all year-round,
God's people are fed at this Holy Cradle.
We are nourished at this Holy Table.
We are watered at this Holy Font.

This blog is a virtual gathering space where sermons from Bethlehem Lutheran Church (ELCA) and conversation around those weekly Scripture texts may be shared.

We use the Revised Common Lectionary so you can see what readings will be coming up, and know that we are joining with Christians around the globe "eating" the same texts each Sunday.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Five Pillars of Biblical Giving

I wrote this song for Stewardship Season at Bethlehem, October 7 - November 4, 2018, 
rolling out a new verse each week, during the Children's Talk...


It’s the five pillars of biblical giving  C   G
Giving is living  C
And living is giving  G  C

1) First are the fruits,   C
So strap on your boots  F  C
And take from the top   C   
the very best that you’ve got! — FIRST!     G   C

2) Then comes proportion              C      
It’s quite a contortion F  C
Our gifts will reflect C   
The total in the deck… G     C

So if if you got 10, C
Give 1 God, and keep the rest       G    C

How ‘bout thir-tee? C
Well that’s 3 for JC, 27 for me!     G     C

And a $1000? C
Well that’s a 100, you could… C   G 
You’re still lookin’ pretty good!   C 

You see offering is fun [slow] C
In thanks for God’s loving everyone!     G    C

3) Next is giving regularly,                                  C
Like sleeping at night or your afternoon tea        F     C
When we’re just the groove,                                     C
The Spirit really starts to mo-o-o-o-o-o-ove.        G    C

4) Now it time to flex your wit,                                          C
When you’re giving to God, it could hurt a little bit,     F       C
Sacrificial giving is always                                           C
bold and risky living.                                                  G      C

5) Well the last is the best,                         C
It soars above the rest,                           F      C
Our favorite part of this -- O Boy! —           C
is that giving’s simply a JOY!!!!  [ditty]     G     C

Sunday, October 28, 2018

October 28 -- Reformation Sunday

I’ve never been there, but I understand that the road to and from Jericho was fraught with peril.  You dare not travel it alone.  And always, in the nooks and crannies of dangerous places, are the poor, those who can’t afford to get out.  Not everyone is wielding a weapon.  And those who can’t buy better places, better means of travel, better ways through, are stuck along the Jericho way.

Our text on this Reformation Sunday begins from a place of fear and sorrow — the Jericho road.  Dry, dumpy, and dangerous.  No real joy and hope to be found there.  No beauty.  Only a blind beggar, and outcast.  No life, only death, terror, fear and sorrow.

This is where the man in Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable got jumped too, remember.  Everyone knew that when you’re talking about the road to/from Jericho, you were talking about trouble.  Pain, sorrow, danger and death.  That’s where our text begins.

Which is fitting given our state of things.  With another shooting this week in a Pittsburgh sanctuary, and so many lives thrown again into chaos, terror, fear and indescribable sorrow.  With trouble in our own lives — loneliness, fear about the future, a barrage medical/health issues, with struggles at work and struggles at home, struggles in the family and struggles in the neighborhood — friends, we are no strangers to the Jericho road.
This week, downtown at First Trinity Lutheran, was the bi-annual Bishop’s Convocation.  Pastors and rostered leaders around the synod were invited to gather for a day of fellowship, networking, education and prayer.  (We are part of a really cool synod!)
Our guest lecture was The Rev. Dr. Francisco Padilla who now works with the ELCA Churchwide Offices in Chicago, but is originally and truly a pastor in Puerto Rico.  He came to share with us a word about preaching...before, during, and after a hurricane.  Hope — real hope — abides even with destruction all around.  “We danced through it all,” he said.

...Which doesn’t mean they didn’t suffer the greatest suffering and destruction of their lifetimes.  It doesn’t mean they didn’t lament.  In fact, their dancing came directly out of their tears.

Dr. Padilla told us about a flower that grows in Puerto Rico:  morivivi.  “Death life.”  It’s a tiny leafy plant that grows just about anywhere, like on gravel and dust, and trash.  
It’s blossoming along the Jericho road.  Life out of death.

This is the setting for Jesus’ healing blind Bartimeaus on this Re-formation Sunday.  This is our story!
Martin Luther too: how he suffered!  Terrorized by a God who was angry always.  Punishing any who stepped out of line, demanding the sacrifices of the faithful, keeping tally of good words, actions, thoughts — like the children’s Santa Claus song, which frankly is terrible (and wrong): “Better watch out, better not cry, better not pout...he knows if you’ve been bad or good.”  Apparently, Luther knew more about Santa Claus than he did about God!  He too “once was blind”!

...as we all can be:  I don’t know about you, but so easily I can wander out onto that Jericho road [pause] where death and despair, and fear and anger and sorrow rule the day.  [pause]

But our text on this Reformation Sunday, begins with Jesus heading out onto that road as well!
Only Jesus doesn’t fall victim to it.  Jesus doesn’t get carried away by the Jericho road.  Jesus stands over and against all that the “Jericho road” represents.  Like a mamma grizzly standing in the rapids, protecting her little ones.

Everyone else tries to get off that road, out of that current, as soon as possible.  But I’m struck, in this passage, how Jesus again stops and stays.  Verse 49: upon hearing the blind man’s plea for mercy, Jesus stops.  It says Jesus “stood still.”

There’s this image of the Jericho road as this rapid flowing, uncaring, reckless, and self-centered  highway, where you either move with it, or get run over, even killed...a real eat-or-be-eaten kind of existence (can you think of any places like that around here?)

And that’s exactly where Jesus not only shows up, but stops!  Christ is no victim of the Jericho road.  Christ stands over and against it, right in the middle of it, and in that powerful pause, there comes healing.  In that defiance of fear and anger and anxiety and sorrow, a blind beggar is freed.   Not even death itself can has a place now.  And the blind man is raised to new life!  Re-formed to be a follower of Jesus!   Mori...vivi!

This is our God.

This is the God who Luther discovered in the pages of Romans.  Not a God who is vengeful and violent, but a God who is grace and peace.  That grace and peace rests, it stops and stays, with us today.  It stands still here, [pause] amid all the terror and troubles that rush all around.  Christ takes hold of us and heals us.  And we too hear Jesus’ voice:  “Go, your faith — not your works, not your words, not your thoughts, not your resum├ęs — your faith has saved you.”
In the pause of Jesus, in the pause of our Sunday morning worship, in the pause of the Divine break-in — nothing we ever gave permission for; God breaks into our world — in the pause that is here, in the words of Jesus, we are healed.

We too regain our sight — that somehow got lost in the race, washed away in the fury, blocked and blurred by the Jericho way — but we too regain our sight and now can’t help, like the man who was once blind, “follow Jesus on the way.”  Jesus stays the course, Jesus “stays the Jericho road” — the places of violence and sorrow, Jesus is there.  He goes there and stays.  But we now — having been restored to sight — stand with him, no longer victims of fear, but rather “here we stand” as witnesses to God’s mighty works, reflections of this one Jesus Christ, who healed the sick and raised the dead.

We reflect that power in all we do and say...we can’t help it, having been healed ourselves!

It is in Christ, that we live and move, and pray, and have our being...and hold our ground for the sake of the poor, it is in Christ, that we journey down this Jericho way, it is in Christ that we live, it is in Christ that we die, it is in Christ that we are raised up...on this day, this RE-formation Day and always.  Thanks be to God.  AMEN.

Monday, October 22, 2018

October 21 -- Twenty-Second after Pentecost

Grace to you and peace from God who created us from the clay of the earth, from Jesus who brings us back from our sin and brokenness and into new life, and from the Holy Spirit who comforts and challenges us even now.  AMEN.

First of all:  You.  Are.  Here.  For whatever reason — maybe you’re here because you’re a regular and you can’t imagine your week without coming to Bethlehem on Sunday, maybe you’re here because you haven’t been and you feel bad, maybe you’re here against your will and someone is making you come this morning, maybe you’re new here and found us by word-of-mouth, or internet, or just drove by...Whatever way got here this morning, friends, I believe that God has brought you to this place!  In Exodus, when the Israelites are backed up to the Red Sea or wandering in the wilderness, time and time again, God is reminding the people, because they’re always forgetting -- especially when they panic, when they’re afraid, when they start to lose hope -- “Hey remember, I brought you this far, and I’ll bring you through!”  That’s true for us all today too, even as we just begin to know each other, God has brought us to this place.  And I give thanks that our paths have crossed this morning!  

Our Good Word today comes from the Gospel of Mark, where the disciples are backed into a place of wanting-to-be-the-best (James and John) and then the others into a place of anger.   

Sometimes, our need-to-be-the-best and our anger can lead to our demise, could be the death of us.  And yet -- here’s what I love -- Jesus, just holds them through it, and calls them out of it.  “Teacher,” they say, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”  Hey Jesus, make me the best one in this room.  Make me the smartest, the most successful, the most holy, the most spiritual, the most humble (which is a little ironic -- but I think that’s the one us church folk can fall into the most).  Anyway, Jesus make me the best!  We all have that drive at some level, I think.  

When pastors get together and share what’s up, I’ve always felt a little twinge of jealousy at all the cool things the other churches are doing (BLC is no exception—part of what drew me here).  I can’t speak for the others, but I’ve got this internal voice that needs to be better, that needs to sit by Jesus and get glory.  Maybe you too?  James and John are not alone, they weren’t bad guys — but they wanted to be the best and they wanted to be known for it — “Teacher, give us whatever we want,” they demand.  

Sometimes we talk to God like this too:  “God give me whatever I want.  Make me great.  Make us great here at BLC!”

And here’s what I love -- Jesus just holds them/us through that demanding phase, like a child’s demanding phase.  And what does he say, “You don’t know what you’re asking.”  You don’t get it.  

A few years ago, we caught Micah singing a song he had heard on the loud speaker at a Padres game:  “I’m sexy and I know it.” When we asked him about it, it’s clear he just didn’t understand yet.  “Daddy! You know, it means ‘you know it...it means you know something other people don’t know.’” Sexy = I know it.  Innocent and sweet, right?

Sisters and brothers in Christ, our misunderstanding of Christ’s call is almost innocent and even sweet.  Our wanting to be the best, our wanting to get the glory, our wanting to be seated in places of honor and respect, is like a child not getting it and being held anyway.  

Sisters and brothers in Christ, Jesus holds us in our brokenness.  “You do not know what you are asking,” he tells us too.  “This isn’t about being the best, this isn’t about giving so that you get all the glory.  This isn’t about getting what we want out of the church or the pastor or the council.  This isn’t about pulling strings and being lord over others...  

This is about being a servant.  This is about making sacrifices.  To use a great biblical image: this is about foot-washing.  This is about giving ourselves away for the sake of the world.”  That’s what it means to be Christ-ian.  That’s what Christ has instructed us to do:  wash each other’s feet, “just like I’ve done for you,” Jesus says.  We do that with our money too.
And this is a gift!  Jesus calls us to freedom through our percentage giving.  Jesus invites us to joyfully release that with which we’ve been entrusted.  It’s all God’s anyway.  It’s just been entrusted to us for this short life.  We joyfully release just a percentage of it, as a way of thanking God for bringing us through, holding us, loving us all along.  Let it go.  (Always thought that’d be a good song for a stewardship campaign.) 

“When the disciples heard these things, they became angry.”  They became jealous.  Even scared.  When we are invited to joyfully release just a portion, just a percentage of God’s gifts to us, we too can become angry and scared.   Maybe some of you have gone through that in this or previous stewardship campaigns?  I did a big campaign back in San Diego, a couple years ago...and it was such a joy, but it wasn’t without some struggle.  I remember some of our members telling stories about their fears and even angers at being asked to participate.  Asked to give to the church -- any church -- and we cry out:  But I don’t like what the church is doing!!  Every one of us can say that about something going on at church.  I’m not giving to that!!  I’m not voting for that with my money because I don’t like what they’re doing.  Jesus holds us through this.  “You don’t know what you are saying.”  (Only place in the world...) Biblical stewardship -- i.e. first fruits, proportional, regular, sacrificial and yet joyful giving -- is not about others and who gets “your” money, it’s not about church budgets and deficits and bills and salaries, it’s about you.  It’s an invitation to go deeper in your own faith.  Jesus holds us through our fears and angers, through our concerns about the future and our bitterness about the past.  

And when we’re finished with our rants, with our anger.  When we’re finished trying to be the best all the time, promoting ourselves, having to have the last word, trying to always beat out the others and prove our righteousness next to Jesus...Jesus offers us the final word:  “Dear ones,” he says to us even today, “It’s not about being the best.  I’m about serving, friends.  I’m about loving.  I’m about giving.”  

Sisters and brothers in Christ, Jesus serves us, loves us, and gives himself away for us.  To be at Jesus’ side, actually means to kneel at the feet of our neighbors and tend to their needs.  Jesus turns everything on its head!  There is no throne, disciples.  There’s a wash basin and a towel.  That’s where we find the real glory...and it makes no sense to the world.  Being Christian is not about fighting for our own rights, for our own spot, the best spot….it’s about tending to the rights and needs of others, particularly those who are left out in the cold and the rain.  To sit at Jesus’ side is to give yourself away.  Not out of guilt or compulsion, but out of joy and thanksgiving for what God has first done for us.  We get caught up in the current of grace.

We offer our gifts, not out of guilt or compulsion, but rather out of joy and thanksgiving for what Christ has done for us: Christ has forgiven us, for all our anger and jealousy and need to be on top, especially at the expense of others.  Done!  Forgiven!  And Christ now holds us/you in grace and peace.  When we are taken with that kind of hope and redemption, we can’t help but respond with our time, talents and treasures, we can’t help but respond with our whole lives.    

Let me conclude with an image:  
When we were little -- I grew up in Houston, Texas -- we spent most of our childhood in swimming pools to survive the heat.  And I remember how we used to create whirlpools in my friend’s backyard pool, going around and around in a circle in that small pool.  Then we’d take turns hopping out, and then jumping back in, only to be caught in the current.  It was so much fun, and we couldn’t help ourselves but to keep that current going so the next one could jump in and keep experiencing that joy of being carried by that same current.  

Sisters and brothers in Christ, God creates the current.  As we bring our gifts forward—our time our talents and our money—as we live this life of faith, as we participate with our church family in all the ways that we “discover, celebrate and share,” it’s like we’re caught in the current of God’s grace!  And when we’re caught, we can’t help but continue to move, continue to give and grow, continue to participate, continue to go in peace and serve our Lord.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Monday, October 15, 2018

October 14 -- Twenty-First After Pentecost

Grace to you and peace from God, our only Source and Ground.  AMEN.

“How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” Ouch!  In one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

“Easier for a camel…than for a wealthy person...” How would you explain this...say, to children?  How do you explain it to yourself?  (Actually saw the eye of a needle in a museum in Rome…but, not much help...)  What’s Jesus really getting at here?  This is worth our reflection, and we’ve gotta wrestle with this.   But let’s start by acknowledging “Jesus loved him” (vs. 21).  In fact, that’s the only instance in all of Mark... 
A couple years ago, I participated in a Gathering confession, like we here at the beginning. But these words, I’ve never been able to forget: “God, we hang on to and save up our money and our possessions as if you didn’t even exist.  We cling to our riches and our earthly things as if you’re not even real.”   

I think what Jesus is saying to the rich man in the story -- and to us who have money and things too -- that’s it’s even harder for us because we can fool ourselves into thinking that we can really secure and protect ourselves.  With pension plans, and insurance, with airbags, and security alarms, with a strong military and police force, with trusted financial advisors and back-up plans, and investments and security cameras, with brilliant doctors and nurses, plenty of warm and rainproof clothes and roofs over our heads…[pause] and with a clean record to our name: “I’ve kept all the commandments, never broken the law, if I did it was so minor and wasn’t even a big deal.  I pay my taxes, and I even go to church.” 

So, I really think I deserve all this...that I’ve worked for!   I can at least totally justify why it’s OK for me to have it all…

“With all our stuff, with all our money and privilege, who even needs God (except as maybe a sweet grandpa in the sky, who benignly loves us and throws a few reminders at us once in a while about how we better behave)?”  The poor and sick need God, they’ve got nothing else.  But the healthy and the wealthy?  “Who even cares if God’s even real or not?”  Are you getting the energy around this confession?

“God, we hang on to and save up our money and our possessions as if you didn’t even exist.”   
And today we hear Jesus sigh: “How hard it will be for those of us with wealth to enter the kingdom of God.”

Our possessions and our money become like a blanket that shields us from the deep truth that all we have and are comes from God, belongs to God, and returns to God at the last.  

Truly trusting in God is even harder when we’re wealthy (and I’d add in healthy).  This is what Christ was getting at:  Entrusting ourselves to our Source and Ground, even now...  

So what might this all look like for you, as you use and share and spend money?  As you make decisions about the future?  How are you doing these days with trusting in God?  Does your bank statement reflect that too?  “Lord, I’ve kept all the commandments!”  He’s fishing for that pat on the back.

But Jesus doesn’t give it so easily.  Jesus doesn’t let him off the hook.  The rich man in the story went away sad.  And he didn’t get to hear what Jesus said next…

We do:  Jesus sighs and comments for a moment on how hard it is for people how have a lot of stuff now to trust God.  Then the disciples — namely Peter — takes his turn at fishing for a pat on the back.  “We’ve left everything and followed you!”  Nope.  He doesn’t get it either:
Finally, we can’t rescue ourselves... 

Friends in Christ, this is about God doing the rescuing.  God being the final provider of shelter, security and eternal safety...even now.  God’s the ultimate security guard, security system, God’s the ultimate nurse and doctor and advisor, the true back-up.  For us it’s impossible, but for God, sisters and brothers, even we can be saved.  Even we can live free.  Open and trusting.  Peaceful and honest.  Naked before God.

Luther’s definition of sin was the self turned inward.  Suspicious, anxious, scared, protective, paranoid...and then all the behaviors that come as a result of that deep-seeded fear.  

I love to compare that with our little lab-mutt, Chloe.  She embodies trust.  Chloe rolls over on her back, fully exposed, naked and entrusts her whole little life to me!  For a while there, we had an issue with peeing on the floor, and we have a dear friend who is our personal dog-whisperer.  Andrea, told us that especially with her breed, these accidents are actually communication:  her way of telling us that we have her absolute submission, “I’m all yours, here’s everything I have.  I am literally emptying myself for you.”  [too much?]  

How would that look for us?  What if that was a metaphor for how we worshipped God and served our neighbor?  Go in peace, serve the Lord…[empty]!  What would that look like?  

“How hard it is” even to imagine, right?  I mean we’re so much more guarded and controlled than Chloe.  So much more turned-inward and blanketed with stuff, I’m afraid, too.  

[open hands]  “God, how can we trust you with the same self-emptying as a sweet, loving and submissive dog?  Help us to use and release money and handle our affairs as if you really did exist, as if you really are real!”  That’s our prayer. 

And sisters and brothers in Christ, I hope you know — and if you don’t, I’m going to tell you now — I hope you know that God does love us and forgive us, even us wealthy ones!  Just as we love and will do everything we can to protect and shelter and save our little Chloe, so God loves us even more!  You know that, right?  

God loves us and grieves to watch us live all clenched and curled up.  God graciously waits for us to roll over, even today, and entrust ourselves, into Christ’s everlasting providence and forgiveness.  Because the sooner we do that, the happier we’ll be: that’s when we enter the kingdom!  It can happen even in this life, even on this earth, even amid these headlines and developments and struggles.  That kind of love, that kind of grace, that kind of rescue, can only come from God -- who is for you, who forgives you even when you struggle to surrender, even when you’re ashamed to be naked, even when you can’t let go or roll over, even if you go home sad.  Remember, Jesus looked and the rich man, and loved him.  He loved him...and then invites him to trust even more.  

Our journey continues, friends in Christ, and we are not alone.  Our journey continues together, and through it all, God stays with us...always.  Peace amid the storms.  AMEN.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

October 7 -- 20th Sunday after Pentecost

Harsh words today from Jesus on divorce.  Harsh?  Or are they rooted in compassion and actually packed with grace?  Let us pray…
“God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of each one of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight for you are our strength and our redeemer.” 
Have you ever been trapped?  Maybe in an argument, maybe in a game, maybe in a situation?  If you go one way, they’ll get you.  If you go the other, something else bad will happen.  It’s a terrible place to be.  Sometimes we’re trapped in our relationships:  Say we have a dear friend who is really in trouble…we want to help them and have all the best intentions, but that means saying some things, telling our truth in a way that can truly upset our friend.  If we don’t, we’ll continue to watch them flounder.  If we do, we risk hurting or alienating, maybe even losing our friend.  Trapped.  Telling our truth is hard, being honest with ourselves and with our loved ones is hard.  It’s much easier to avoid the difficult conversations, it’s much easier to keep the peace, the status quo, the superficial harmony.  But even then we’re trapped.  
The question of divorce that comes up so directly in this text today, we have to understand, is an attempt by the Pharisees to TRAP Jesus.  They’re trying to back him into a corner.  The Pharisees aren’t asking Jesus about divorce with the best intentions.  They’re not dealing with their own issues at home, in their own marriages, and looking to their friend to help them sort through the Law of Moses, in order to do what is right.  They’re trying to trap Jesus.  
We are in a totally different place than the Pharisees when we ask difficult questions about divorce and marriage.  We’re wondering what the right thing to do is, the right way to think…
Marriage in Jesus’ day was nothing like marriage today in the United States.  Back then, you didn’t meet someone, date, fall in love, get down on one knee, have your favorite song as a first dance, and plan to live happily ever after.  Marriage was a business agreement between men: the father of the bride and the potential husband.  Romance had very little to do with it.  Lust maybe.  As the years passed, a married couple might begin to fall in love.  But at the outset, the woman was seen as property, an asset gained.  I’ve been at a few synod assemblies, namely a couple years back (before 2009), where a resolution would inevitably come to the assembly floor that we “uphold the biblical understanding of marriage.”  I think I know what the authors of these resolutions were trying to say, but I would always vote against such resolutions that seek to link marriage to a “biblical understanding”... if for now other reason but...a biblical understanding of marriage is a cold, calculated contract, where women and their voices are completely devalued.  Now certainly there were exceptions, but we have to make note of how marriage was seen in the days of Jesus and the Pharisees.
The good thing about marriage for women in that day, was that it meant—not romance and companionship—but protection, legal protection, financial protection, (in some ways) physical protection.  It meant safety at one level; another word for that is salvation.  You know this: she was the responsibility of her father until a certain age where the father is looking to “marry her off” well.  Once she’s married she’s no longer the father’s responsibility.  She literally belongs as property to the husband. So a divorce would literally put her out in the cold. [pause] (Today, if a couple gets divorced, either of them could feasibly go back and seek shelter in the arms and the homes of their parents—not so back then.)  She can’t go back to her father, because he no longer owns her.   
It would be like if you took back a car you sold years ago, and started making payments on it again. [pause]
Harsh, right?  Talk about being trapped.  So, in that very different context and understanding of marriage and divorce, look at what Jesus does here:  First he brings up for the Pharisees the issue of people’s “hardness of heart.”  There’s a lesson and a challenge in that for all of us—married or single, straight or gay, old or young, Christian or non.  Jesus calls people, especially those in power, to soften their hearts.  In our relationships, in our dealings, even in how we look at ourselves.  Spark Story Bible... “Love is easy going, love is kind.”  Jesus calls us today through this text to be easy going with our love and our treatment of each other—what a wonderful contrast to a stiff, calcified heart.   I’ve certainly experienced softness of heart in this community: In our neighborhood, as people show up and speak out and share support in the midst of all this vandalism and racist graffiti and terror.  What would it look like to embrace “Christ’s soft-heart initiative” in the coming days — in all our dealings and our relationships and our thoughts?
And then Jesus calls us to responsibilities and back into relationship.  He (and Genesis) remind us that we were all created in order to be in relationship.  “It’s not good to be alone.”  For some, that means we are called into the covenant of marriage.  For others: life-long friendships, partnerships, family connections. God’s original intention for us is that we be together. The human being, is the human being-together with another—be it a spouse, a child, a friend, a parent, a pet.  All of these—I don’t have to tell you this— are literally life-giving, science has shown.  That’s how God intended it.  Some congregations are doing a blessing of the animals today: October 4, St. Francis.  Next year?  
Really what that is, is a celebration of a relationship, a companionship that God has given us with all creation, and a call to be about the work of soft-hearted protection, like a good marriage contract was intended to be back then, creating safe spaces, safe forests, protected deserts and oceans, joyf-illed homes with pets where we’re not always sure who’s taking care of who, right?  This is what Jesus is seeking to re-affirm!  The blessing of the animals: “May you enjoy life together, as God intended.”
And finally, look at what Jesus does for women, in that brutal context—first, he empowers women to divorce as well, giving them some degree of dignity and power, which they didn’t have.  Now women are more free to divorce their husbands, and sometimes that’s definitely the best thing.  But not so back then, and Jesus’ mention of it is radical and liberating.  And then ultimately he comes down hard on men who divorce their wives, for to do so in that time was to cast another “human being-together” out into the cold alone.  Jesus is passionately invested in bringing all people to the center.  No one in God’s vision is to be cast out—not women, not children.  And Jesus reminds us again of that in the final scene here in our text, where he brings the children to the center and holds them in his arms — it’s a visible image for everyone of God’s inclusivity, God’s soft-heart, God’s freedom and love and joy and peace!  
To take this Gospel lesson seriously, is to understand that you are included in the center, in God’s loving embrace, everyone is included in God’s loving embrace!   
We are all trapped...in a good way.  We are all trapped, you could say, in God’s arms.  We are all trapped in our faith, we can never divorce that, because once God has gotten hold of us as God does at the very beginning, we can never break free.  And yet we are trapped in freedom — in the freedom that is ours through Christ’s love.  Trapped in the promise of the Holy Spirit’s ever-presence, trapped in grasp of grace, this day and for evermore.  AMEN.