Summary: The aim of this sermon is to show the truth that we as adults can learn important lessons from children.
Children our teachers
“Dad can I have a glass of water please?”
“No, go to sleep.”
“Dad, I’m thirsty, can I have a glass of water please?”
“NO, go to sleep.”
“Daaaad, I’m really thirsty. Can you get me a glass of water please?”
“No, and if you ask once more I’ll spank you”
“Dad, when you come into spank me can you bring a glass of water please?”
This is the view that many people have of children, as a nuisance. In this passage of Mark’s gospel we see Jesus teaching those around him an important lesson, that to get into the Kingdom of Heaven they must be like children and that in fact children are our example in this.
It was the usual practice in Jesus’ time for people to bring their children to a respected Rabbi for them to be blessed by him, and this is why there were children around Jesus. We should not be too hard on the disciples though as they knew that Jesus was heading towards the cross and they wanted to protect him from as much pressure as possible, hence they tried to drive the children away. But, as we heard, Jesus told his disciples off and called the children to him and in addition told the disciples that if a person wanted to get into heaven that person had to be like a child. But what does it mean to be like a child, to be child like?
In his commentary William Barclay lists four ways in which we can seek to be childlike.
1. Humility. How often have we seen a nativity when a young child has to do something and they get to the point and then go shy? I see it with Emily; I say hello to her and she runs to Becky and hides behind her legs. Young children have not learned to push themselves forward; pride doesn’t feature in their thinking, often they are just happy to be where they are.
2. Honesty. I don’t know if any of you have seen Professor Winston on television. He has done a few series on humans and how we act and develop. Well he did one series on growing up and in the program wanted to find out if children could lie and deceive. It was done very simply with a coin that they had to hide in their hands (demonstrate). The children were shown how to play the game and then after a while were given the coin so that they could do it. Up to the age of 4 the children could not do it, they would make it obvious which hand the coin was in. they could not deceive. After the age of 4 they were able to fool the adult.
3. Trust. This is shown in two ways, that they accept authority. In a new situation a child will be guided by their parents and that will be unquestioned. I know that doesn’t last very long, but even when wilfulness rears its head there is still that instinctive turning to mum and dad in children. The second way is that trust is shown is in the confidence that a child has in other people, children grow up with the view that people are good and that the world is a marvellous place. Yes it is true that there are people who abuse that confidence and that war soon strips away that innocence from some children, and these children become distrustful. But it is also true that for the majority of children there is no question that when they say hello to someone else that person will want to speak to them. There is no question that a perfect stranger will want to look at their book in the doctor’s waiting room.
4. The fourth thing that a child has is a short memory. A few weeks ago I was at the Tuesday club and Ellie was there, we were playing and she hit me with something and I told her that if she did it again then I would take it from her and we wouldn’t play any more. She hit me again and you would have thought that I was the nastiest person on the planet; there was no way she was going to talk to me or even look at me again. The next week came along and what did Ellie do? She ran up to me and wanted to play. She had forgotten about the previous week.
This then is what Jesus meant when he said that we must be child like. But notice that the phrase is child like, not childish. We all know that tantrums can be thrown when a child doesn’t get its own way, especially in the middle of supermarkets. About things that get broken when the child is upset. We can understand how children can grate on a parents nerves with constant questions, with seeing how far they can push before the parent gets angry. But these aren’t the things that Jesus wants us to learn from children as we develop our personal holiness.