October 7th, 2018, Pastor Galen
“Let the little children come to me…for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Mark 10:14).
So often in our society children are seen as a disruption. Children distract us from the seemingly more “important” adult things that we have to say and do. In truth, children require a lot of time and attention, in a society where time is often in short supply for adults. Children are completely and utterly dependent on others, in a society that values independence. Interacting with children requires us to get down to their level, in a society that’s all about upward mobility.
And yet Jesus welcomed the little children to come to him, and said that the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
I like to imagine what this scene must have looked like. In the previous verses, Jesus had been outside, speaking in front of a large audience, engaging in an intense public debate with some of the most prominent religious figures of his day.
Now, according to Mark 10, Jesus is in a house with just his disciples, debriefing the public spectacle that just took place. But while they’re relaxing in the house, people start bringing their children to Jesus asking him to bless them. I like to imagine this scene in the house, with Jesus holding a child on his knee, other children crowding around asking to be held. Toys strewn everywhere, one child fussing, other children running around, chasing each other around the table. Parents, grateful for a few minutes of reprieve as Jesus occupies their child, begin commiserating with the other parents in the room about the challenges of potty training and life with toddlers.
As a parent, it always blesses my heart when someone is willing to take the time to converse with my children — when they’re willing to stop what they are doing, to get down to their level, to look them in the eye, to ask them a question, and to really try to get to know them.
So often as a parent I feel like I’m walking on pins and needles when we’re out in public. What if our 2-year-old throws a tantrum? If so, how will the adults in the room respond? Will we be reprimanded, shushed, asked to leave? One of the most amazing feelings is in those times where my child is being fussy, and an adult responds not with criticism or a harsh word, but instead with a word of grace, or blessing for us or our child.
A few weeks ago, we were enjoying brunch at one of the wonderful dining establishments around the corner on The Avenue, and our 2-year-old was getting restless. She had finished her food and didn’t want to stay in her seat, so she started to walk around and around our table. We were distracted in conversation, but a few minutes later the owner of the restaurant started walking towards us. My pulse quickened as I feared she was going to reprimand us for allowing our child to walk around in the restaurant and potentially disrupting the other customers. Instead, she reached out and handed a wonderful little bowl of strawberries and blueberries to our child, which served to both occupy and satisfy her, and to show us that we were indeed welcome in her establishment.
It was this sort of interaction that Jesus had with children. Jesus’s disciples actually verbally rebuked the parents for bringing their children and interrupting Jesus. But Jesus was in fact indignant — but not at the parents or even the children, but instead at his disciples for wanting to prevent the children from coming to him!
Jesus welcomed and blessed the children and taught his disciples to do the same. He took the time to converse with children, to get down to their level and to get to know them. Jesus blessed them, spoke kind words over them. Jesus had a heart of love of compassion for all people, including and especially children.
Children and the Mission of our Church
Over the past few months since I’ve been pastoring here, I’ve been trying to learn and listen and observe the needs of the surrounding community. At the same time I’ve been taking stock of what are some of the assets of our church, some of the ways that we’re already meeting the physical and spiritual needs of people in the community, and some of the ways that perhaps we could even expand our outreach and impact into the community.
One of the things that I’ve noticed is that there are a lot of families in this community, many of whom may not attend church regularly. And so I’ve been thinking about some of the ways we can attract families to come to church, and I was thinking about the fact that we have a great kids ministry on Sunday mornings and wonderful monthly family nights, and how we could maybe leverage our kids ministry to attract families with children. Parents can come to church with their children, they can know that their children are downstairs having fun and learning great biblical truths in children’s church, while the adults are upstairs worshiping God in reverence and peace and quiet.
But this past week I’ve been convicted that my thinking has been skewed. You see, I had been seeing our children’s ministry primarily as a strategy for attracting families to come to church, as a means to reach the parents. But this week God has been convicting me that children are not simply a tactic for community outreach or even a strategy for church growth. Children themselves are valuable to Jesus, and therefore they should be valuable to us as well. If Jesus can take time to welcome and bless children, so can I, and so can we. I don’t think this is a radical shift for many of you, but I know it is for me. I hope that we are and can continue to be a church that welcomes children like Jesus did.
“…the kingdom of God belongs to such as these”
Not only did Jesus welcome children, he taught his disciples that “the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14) and that “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15).
In other words, there’s a lot that children have to teach us, and a lot that we as adults can learn from children. Children have an intrinsic love, trust, and dependence on God that we would do well to observe and incorporate into our own lives.
Although we often highlight the simplicity and innocence of children, children can be very deep thinkers as well. They often have incredible insight and grasp things that we as adults often don’t understand. I know that my own children have taught me so much about God and about the world.
Each of my children has their own personalities and perspectives on the world. Our oldest daughter tends to be incredibly optimistic like me. But my middle daughter tends to be much more realistic about the challenges and difficulties of life, even at the age of nine. She has always had a particular heart for the homeless and for people who are asking for food or money. It really bothers her when she sees people who are in need, and I think even at her young age she has a strong grasp of injustice.
Several years ago when she was even younger, we were driving in our car and we saw a store that was named “Life is Good.” You may have seen t-shirts or merchandise with those words before. My daughter asked about the meaning of that slogan, and my older daughter and I immediately responded with something to the effect of, “Well, you know, it’s pretty self-explanatory. Life is good, so we should enjoy it!”
And then my 5 or 6-year-old daughter said something that will probably forever change the way that I think about the world. She looked up and said, “But life is not good for everyone!” Even at the young age of 5 or 6, my daughter had a grasp of inequality and injustice and the harshness and reality of life for so many people that I so often ignored. I for one have so much to learn not only from my own children, but from all of the children of our church and community.
The Church of Tomorrow — And Today
My friends, children are not just the Church of tomorrow. They are the church of today. Children have a lot to teach us, if we will only stop to listen and learn from them. Children do need to be taught moral guidance and biblical truths, but they also have an intrinsic trust and knowledge of God and the world, and we as adults would do well to learn from them.
It is my hope and prayer that we can take Jesus’s command to heart, to let the little children come to Him. Let us as a church welcome children with God’s love, and let’s allow them to show us what it means to enter more fully into the Kingdom of God.