THE WORD Mark 10:13-16
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
MESSAGE “Who Gets In?” Rev. James R. Renfrew
Before we get into the Bible text itself concerning Jesus and the children, let me say a few words about reading the Bible. For some reading the Bible is like being tucked in under warm blankets on a cold winter night, the chills, fears and worries we live with may not be entirely removed, but things sure feel better. For others reading the Bible is like being in a wrestling match, the words we read can be like a 400 pound wrestler doing a body slam on us, and only then do we finally get it, our self-centeredness giving way to a new way of understanding God, the world and ourselves. For still others the reading from the Bible is like trying to find a missing earring or lost sock – it’s got to be here somewhere, but where is it, maybe this time we’ll find the answer to the puzzle that keeps us stuck? I hope so!
Now this well-known story from Mark’s Gospel, about Jesus and the children. The children wanted to get close to Jesus, the disciples shooed them away, but Jesus wouldn’t hear of it and called for the children to bless them.
At the very least this short story reminds us of why we have a Sunday School and why we love to do things with children. It’s because of what Jesus said: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it. And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.” There it is right there, the reason we do it is to surround our children with every possible blessing.
Children behave in different ways in the life of a church. Sometimes they fall asleep, or enjoy sitting on your lap, and sometimes they run up and down the center aisle screaming. Believe it or not, I was a kid once. Our church had a wooden floor in the sanctuary, and while clutching the coins in our little hands eventually to be placed in the offering plate, different ones of us would manage to let one drop and then joyfully listen as it rolled and rolled and rolled across the floor until it finally spun to a stop. And, later, we realized that the Sunday bulletin could be transformed into a beautiful paper airplane. I’m not sure that we ever launched them from the balcony during the service, but I am sure we thought about it. My friend John, upon seeing children out of control one time came up with this great admonition, “Children, stop being children!” It captures perfectly the absurdity of trying to get children to behave in an adult world. My favorite example of a kid being a kid I had actually managed to dis-remember, but then Marilyn sent me a video of the baptism of Emery one Sunday here, and it was a pitched battle between her and me, complete with many karate kicks and tears over the baptismal bowl. Sometimes our children drive us crazy, but we still love them to pieces!
So why did the disciples attempt to keep children from approaching Jesus? You could say that the disciples look like dim-witted fools in this story, but let’s give them some credit, they were they trying to shield Jesus from their craziness. Some have said that in olden times children were expected to be seen but not heard. But Jesus knows exactly what he is doing, welcoming children in spite of their behavior in just the same way that he invites adults in spite of their challenging behavior!
There may very well be deeper lessons in this simple story about welcoming children. Maybe it has something to do welcoming all kinds of people, even though we create all kinds of barriers for people unlike ourselves, based on appearance, race, class and all kinds of other factors. So this Gospel story is about children, but it’s also about people. Jesus “reverses” many traditional views of the world. Not adults, but children. Not wealth, but generosity. Not war, but peace. Not privilege, but sacrifice. Not power, but vulnerability. Not the importance of our own tribe, but the well-being of others. Not the first, but the last! We’ve heard Jesus’ “reverses” over and over, but the world around us resists any reversal at all. This is the hardest challenge for Christians, we strive to adhere to Jesus’ values and priorities, but live in a world that does opposite. We come here on a Sunday morning to strengthen our resolve to live by Jesus’ values.
I could end right there, but let’s go further. Jesus invited the children to come closer and he blessed them. What exactly is a blessing? Does a blessing cure us? Does a blessing mean that God is looking out for us in a special way? Does a blessing mean that dark clouds will part and the sun shine through? Can you measure blessings? Can you store them up for a rainy day? How do you know you’ve been blessed? What do you feel?
So here’s this day when children were trying to get close to Jesus. You’ve seen children act like this, haven’t you? They want to be the center of attention. They want to BELONG! The disciples shooed them away. When Jesus sees that he becomes indignant! “Don’t do that, he says, I want to see them! In fact, if you want to find the kingdom of God, a good place to start is to be like these children.”
What does he mean by that? Usually we think that finding the kingdom of God requires great concentration, significant sacrifice, or extraordinary behavior. But children are rarely like that. Children are squirmy, they have runny noses, they make messes, and they want what they want this instant! So how do children show us the kingdom of God? I think that Jesus is thinking about their innocence, their energy and their readiness. Jesus gathers these children in his arms, lays his hands on them and blesses them. Imagine being a little child again enjoying a wonderful hug, that feeling of BELONGING. If you can return to such a moment, you’ll know what a blessing really is, and the kingdom of God may not seem so hard to reach anymore!
A blessing cannot be hidden in a closet, or buried in the ground, or withheld from others. To have any value at all, a blessing must be shared. One way you can know that you’ve been blessed by God is that you have this indescribable desire to tell others about it, an indescribable desire to share it.
More than anything else a blessing is not getting something from God, it is a new way of being with God, a new way of living in God’s creation, a new way of living like never before. Let’s finish in this way, find someone near you and say to them “you are blessed!” It may seem silly, it may seem unnecessary, it may seem awkward. But someone may really need to feel that blessing. So let’s do it. And I think we’ll see how easy it is to bless another.