Summary: Jesus teaches us the important place of children in the realm of God.
Sermon for 17 Pent Yr B, 5/10/2003
Based on Mk. 10:13-16
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, Alberta
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Two young children were talking with each other about parent problems. One of them complained to the other, saying: “First they teach you to talk, then they teach you to walk, and as soon as you learn how, they tell you to ‘Sit down and shut up!’”
In today’s gospel, it appears that Jesus’ disciples were attempting to shut up the children and prevent them from coming to see Jesus. Mark tells us that people were bringing their little children to Jesus hoping that he would touch them and, along with his touch, bless them. What were the disciples doing anyways when they tried to send the children away from Jesus? Did they think that they were trying to protect Jesus and give him a chance to rest? Did they feel that children were not important to Jesus? That children did not belong in God’s kingdom? The disciples’ behaviour here seems a little strange, since it was quite customary for Jewish rabbis to bless children. In that blessing, the rabbis were bestowing on the children the hope of a life filled with health, joy, prosperity and peace. Well, whatever caused the disciples to do what they did, Mark tells us that Jesus thought and acted differently.
Over the centuries, and even today, it seems that some Christians have adopted the same attitude as the disciples. They, unfortunately, also either try to send children away or they don’t consider children as very important members of God’s kingdom.
It is important to listen to children. They hear things that we no longer hear. The Steven Spielberg movie ET was about exactly that. Children have secrets not available to grownups. They can do Rubix cubes and understand computers. They have priorities we once had and now have lost. A teacher who listened to children used to take off his hat and bow to them at the beginning of each school day. Because they were, he explained, the future in our midst. Not surprisingly, one of the pupils was a boy called Martin Luther.
The custom in some churches is to keep the adults in the sanctuary and send the children out. Many children think of the church as a place where adults keep telling them to be quiet as they go out. I wonder what Jesus would think of all that. Perhaps he would choose to go out with them.
The truth is we don’t listen to children. We assume they should listen to us. “I don’t care what you want, you listen to me!” a father shouted at his two-year-old at a neighbouring restaurant table. Children spend a lot of time sitting while adult voices talk at them. The child in ET tries to tell her mother about the strange and loveable being who has arrived at their house and who is somewhat the worse for getting into the beer. But her mother is unloading groceries, is tired out and has no time to talk. “What is it you’re saying?” she says, as she swings the refrigerator door open and knocks ET down. “I think you’ve killed him,” says the little girl. But the mother still doesn’t hear.
We don’t listen to children much. We ignore them in stores and serve the adults first. We hang pictures high up on our walls as though everyone was tall. We ask children what they are going to be when they grow up, as though they are nothing in their present state.
Jesus said “Let the little children come to me.” Worship is livelier and richer with them present. There’s no need to trivialize worship for the sake of children. The church has stressed the importance of “understanding.” But all understanding is not intellectual. All learning is not verbal. Children worshipping alongside adults who are expectant and reverent before the presence of God learn lessons they will remember all their lives. Nor should Christian education be for children only. Adults have much to learn from children. Children are an important part of the church community.
Jesus said the kingdom of God must be received “like a child.” It is true that Paul said he “gave up childish ways” when he grew up (I Corinthians 13:11). But childishness is not what Jesus is referring to. Childishness is petulance. Childish people imagine the whole world is centred around them and if they cry loudly enough they will be served. Some childish people are adults. Jesus, on the other hand, asks us to be childlike. He is speaking about that open, trusting responsive part of us which laughs and cries and is willing to risk.
Listen to the children. Not just the children who are young in years. There is a child inside of all of us, no matter how old we are, who needs to be listened to. 1