"THE LESSON OF CHILDREN"
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22)
October 7, 2018
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
"Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of Godlike a child shall not enter it."
Mark 10:15 (ESV)
The story of our Savior blessing the little children is one of the most familiar in the Bible. We hear it every time that we celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. It's a touching story, one in which we see Jesus Himself placing children in a place of prominence--a place of importance. He brushed aside the protests of His disciples, who were concerned that their Master not be distracted from the important task of teaching the truth of God on such serious and heavy subjects as marriage and divorce. But despite the disciples' well-intended concerns, Jesus welcomed the little ones who had been brought to Him by parents who no doubt had heard about Him and wanted to give their children the opportunity to see and touch this Man of great wisdom.
Sad to say, the attitude of a lot of adults toward children today is the same as that of the disciples in the passage before us. Children are often seen as a nuisance, a bother, a distraction that takes attention away from important and serious matters. Our society displays many symptoms of this attitude. For almost fifty years now we have been engaged in an ongoing national debate as to whether or not children who are likely to be a bother can be legally and "safely" brushed aside by abortion. Some of our sister congregations that have Christian Day Schools have learned that they must also provide before and after school day care, because people won't enroll their children unless they can drop them off by 7:00 in the morning and not see them again until at least 6:00 at night. It is estimated that well over fifty percent of divorced fathers are grossly delinquent in paying child support, to say nothing of spending any time with their children. In the minds of many children just aren't all that important--at least not as important as a lot of other things.
But Jesus tells us and shows us in this morning's Gospel that children are very important--so important, in fact, that they teach us a valuable lesson--a lesson that is essential to our very salvation. Jesus says that unless we learn this lesson from children and become like them, we won't be a part of the glorious fellowship of His heavenly kingdom. What did He mean? What is the lesson that we must learn from children? Children do have a lot to teach us in two respects: They are trusting and they are fast learners.
Children are trusting. That's why we have to teach them to avoid strangers and not to go with someone they don't know. Children are trusting because they are aware of their vulnerability. They seek the comfort and strength of someone who they perceive to be stronger than themselves. One of my fondest memories as a parent is the touching scene of a little boy crying out in the middle of the night because a "bad dream" woke him up. He cries out for Mommy or Daddy (usually it was Mommy, because she was always easier to wake up). He holds on for dear life to the parent who comes, and he says: "Something scared me!" He's not exactly sure just what it is that he's afraid of, but he knows that he can't handle it alone, so he seeks out someone who he trusts--someone who he knows can handle it--someone who can make it all right.
There is a lesson in that for us. Maybe we're not afraid of "bad dreams" anymore, but we certainly ought to be afraid of our sin and its consequences. It should terrify us to know that we willfully reject the God who provides us with everything--that we break fellowship with the very Source of our life. It should frighten us that in our confusion we say that we love God and yet we are so fascinated with and attracted to the idea of hurting Him by rejecting His Lordship. Like the little child, we need to realize that even if we don't understand ourselves and our sin, this is a problem that we cannot handle alone. We should look in faith and trust to the One who handled it for us in His life, death, and resurrection and we should cry out to Him for comfort and help, knowing that He will hear our cry and come to our side to "make it all right." That, in a nutshell, is the lesson of sin and grace--of Law and Gospel--of repentance and forgiveness. It's too simple for the sophisticated mind, and that's why Jesus tells us that for our own good we need to be like the simplest child.
Children can also teach us a lot by virtue of the fact that they are fast learners, compared to adults. There are two reasons for this. First of all, children look at new things with fascination. They see something new as a challenge--something to observe and to understand and to make a part of their lives. We adults (and I stand accused here perhaps more than others) look at new things in an entirely different way. We want no part of learning something new. We eye new things with suspicion. We're concerned that we never will understand them, so why bother? In the second place, children are fast learners because they don't have unlearn as much as adults do. Once you get a wrong idea into your head or pick up a bad habit, you have to unlearn that idea or habit in order to replace it with the correct one.
If only we could learn from children how to be fast learners, we could grow so much in our spiritual life. We could look at the mission challenges before us not with the fear and skepticism that usually greets them, but with a childlike enthusiasm that says: "Here's something else that I can to do glorify my Savior and thank Him for the mercy that He has shown toward me." We could honestly examine our attitudes and our prejudices in the light of God's Word with a sincere desire to amend our lives with the power of the Holy Spirit instead of constantly trying to accommodate the Word to our own ideas. Following the example of children in this is essential to real learning and real growth. The kingdom of God is new and different. It goes against our grain. It contradicts many of our long-held ideals of self-sufficiency and pride. That's why Jesus said that we must receive His kingdom "like a child."
Children are not a nuisance or a burden, and they are much more than entertaining. They are indeed a blessing from the Lord. The Savior tells us that children are perhaps our best teachers in the world. The lesson that they teach is one of openness and trust--one of humility and a desire to learn and grow. If we really want to have the glory of God's kingdom, we must receive it "like children," aware of our need of forgiveness, eager to receive the forgiveness that God offers in Christ, trusting in the Savior's mercy, and fascinated by the prospect of learning more about Him and thus being equipped to do His will. In short, we have to stop taking ourselves so seriously and to start taking the Gospel of Christ more seriously. His Spirit works this attitude in us so that we, as members of His kingdom, can echo the words of the late Khalil Gibran, who prayed: "Keep me from the wisdom that does not weep and the philosophy that does not laugh and the pride that does not bow its head before a child."
May the Lord bless your hearing of His Word, using it to accomplish in you those things for which He gave it. May you be enriched and strengthened in faith that you may leave here today to go out into our world armed with the whole armor of God, prepared to be able ambassadors of your Savior Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.