The last window of 10 in this 10-week series is inscribed like this:
Suffer little children, and forbid them not to come unto me for of such is the kingdom of heaven” In memory of Joseph Wood 25 years an elder of this church.
This is only one of two times this summer that I have not been able to find out anything about the person noted in the inscription. So, as we did before, let us pause and give thanks for all those, like Joseph Wood, who have been active in the life and work of this congregation. Thanks to all of them and to all of you for ensuring that God’s work happens through this church.
Today’s reflection is a wee bit shorter than you’ve gotten used to from me. It is shorter because the message didn’t require a lot of research. It didn’t require the exegetical examination to determine the deeper meaning that I had to do for previous sermons. There was no digging apart the meaning of certain words or determining what they would have meant in the original Greek or Aramaic. The message is shared across the gospel. It isn’t a secret. We find it in Matthew, Mark and Luke and even the book of Thomas. The mystery today is in the simplicity of the message. In God’s Word we will always find that there is something worthy of our reflection and contemplation. Unlike some of our scriptures this one needs little more from us than to just sit with the words as they are, set them in our hearts and be present to how living according to their instruction radically changes our lives….if we let them
So let me ask you this….how did you feel this morning when we sang, “Jesus Loves Me”? Did you wonder why we were singing a children’s song when there are few to no children in church this summer? Did you feel a little silly singing that song? Or maybe you felt sentimental? Did you feel that those words were yours…Jesus loves ME… or were you thinking how nice it is for children to sing that song? Or did you feel like a child?
There comes a point where we put childhood things behind us. Things like our toys, our silly games and our little songs… Songs like “Jesus Loves Me”. When does that happen? It is difficult for us to pinpoint the moment when we were no longer a child… but it does happen. If we are lucky it happens very slowly over time. Our brain is still developing from the brain of child to the brain of an adult well into its mid-twenties. I say “if we are lucky” because some of our children are pushed into adulthood well before they should be thanks to violence, poverty, war and trauma. But, if we are lucky enough in our childhood to avoid being corrupted by things such as these then our minds turn slowly over time from child to man or woman.
Here’s the thing about little children and their parents in relationships untainted by trauma. Little children love their parents unconditionally and believe that their parents will always love them. Little children count on the understanding that their parents will feed them, clothe them and take care of all their needs – they don’t even question it. They also care about what their parents think of them. They don’t want to disappoint them and they do their best to please them. (I’m speaking of little children here – not teenagers or even pre-teens!). They ask for their help when they are in trouble or don’t know how to do something. Little children need their parents to survive. They really need them and they know that they can’t do it without them. Even in healthy homes…but our dependence on our parents changes over time…
I have two young children who are in that time of growing. As I watch them develop I see how their demeanours have shifted over time. When they were very little, they had no shame. They were blessedly unaware of the potential judgment of others. They would kiss me easily in public and hold my hand. They would run around naked if I let them… but, as they grow up, I now catch them watching to see if anyone is around before planting a big kiss on me on the playground. There is less of a tendency to reach out and grab my hand when we are walking together in public. Both are still very loving and wonderful children…but they are becoming aware of what other people think of them. Despite my best efforts, they feel ashamed sometimes to be themselves.
They also wonder about things in the world. They hear reports on the radio in the car and now comprehend that the news is talking about real people being hurt in the world. They ask questions about why bad things happen. They are aware that they may not be safe. Despite my assurances that they are, they sometimes feel afraid.
They notice that some people have more than others and that some have nearly nothing. They see that there is an order to “The way things are”. When they started school they saw that some people were more liked than other people. They realize that there were heroes and there were bad guys. There is good and there is evil. They are trying to figure out who’s who. Despite my assurances that they are great just as they are, they began to wonder where they fit in that order. All of these things are the slow steps of growing up in the world.
The world of adults has always been a different world than the world of children -even at the time of Jesus. And as much as we think we may have evolved as a society, the adult world at the time of Jesus, in essence, wasn’t that different from our world. As far removed as we are from them in culture and time and geography, Jerusalem under the Roman Empire had a very similar definition of success as we do in the west today. Success was judged by how much power you had; by how many people you had defeated in war; by how much money you had. by how much land you owned; and so on. So, when the disciples asked Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” They wanted to know who the top dog was. Who was the man in charge? Who had the most power? Who was the best? Who was the Hero? Jesus answer would have shocked them.
The scripture that my daughter Lillian read this morning says he placed a child among them as the exemplar of who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. A child? But, a child was worth nothing! A child was completely dependent on her parents. A child had no power! How could a child be the greatest?…
…Because to be great in the eyes of God is paradoxical to what it means to be great in the world. God wants us to be humble. God wants us to be innocent. God wants us to love unconditionally. God wants us to be vulnerable to the reality that we can’t do it all alone. God wants us to be like a child again. Jesus is very clear on this teaching. It is time to turn away from being concerned with being great according to the world’s kingdom and start being concerned with what matters to God.
Jesus teaches us that all God wants is for us to want God and to live according to what God wants for our lives. Jesus taught these lessons with his stories and with his life. It’s that simple. Yet, even the disciples didn’t grasp this message any easier than we do! After teaching them this lesson in Chapter 18 of the book of Matthew, we hear in Chapter 19 that the disciples turn around and tell those bringing their little children and infants to Jesus to stop what they are doing. Jesus is not happy about this. Not only was he saying that we should be LIKE children, he was saying that children are welcome in the kingdom of GOD. There is nothing they have to earn. They are a part of God’s kingdom simply because they are. Children and those like children need to be welcomed and when we welcome them we welcome God. Another simple instruction.
I am not gifted as a teacher of children for longer than a children’s time on Sunday morning. I tried to teach a children’s yoga class one time and even Lillian left the room! But, I can tell you this… whenever I have the opportunity to welcome a child into my life by having a conversation with them I take it. In those special moments I have recognized how I am very close to someone still so indefinably connected to God. This is a connection that goes beyond religion and culture. Children don’t care what God is called. They ALL know God. Some have a name for it. Some don’t. But every little person that I have ever taken the time to connect with one-on-one – whether after church, at a funeral, or in the hospital have this thing that we just lose somehow….Jesus says we need to turn back to that way of being to be closer to God.
I want to tell you a story today about my daughter who is here today. I have her permission to tell this story. I have a number of God stories to tell about when Lillian was a very little girl. Let’s just say at one point she had a T-shirt that said “Little Guru” which means teacher. She and her little sister are my favorite teachers when it comes to things about life and God. When she was very little, she used to talk to God all the time. I didn’t know who she was talking to at first and just assumed it was her imaginary friend. One day I decided to ask her who she was talking to and she proceeded to tell me three names that I cannot pronounce. I asked her what she was saying to them. She told me that they were angels and that they just talked about God and stuff and she told them about her day. Then she said something I will never forget. She said, “Mama they said to tell you that they knew you too, before you forgot.” Chills went up my spine because just for a split second I knew that she was telling me the truth. I think that’s what happens to our child-like innocence… Eventually….we just forget.
Thankfully we have Jesus to show us the way to remember what it means to be a child of God…. And we have the children to show us. Jesus showed the disciples that the greatest of those among us are our children… I encourage you to take the time to talk to children who you meet when you meet their parents. Lean down and take the time to ask them an important question. Get beyond the cute and see them as your teachers. Welcome them at church, not just because they are adorable, or because they are the “future” of the church. All that is true, but get to know them because they are the Greatest in the kingdom of God. Look to them to learn how to be with God. You won’t regret it… Pay attention and you will find God in those conversations. God is in our relationships…always. The mystery in the message today is in it’s simplicity.
Be like a child.