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Oct 07, 2018

As A Little Child

As A Little Child

Speaker: Bethany Nelson

Series: October 2018

Category: Communion Sunday

Audio of 2nd scripture reading, Mark 10:13-16, followed by the sermon begins at the 23:18 point.

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.

 Last Sunday, we heard a story from slightly earlier in Mark’s Gospel, where someone was casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and the disciples wanted to stop him.  He was an outsider, not one of them, and they didn’t think he should be doing that work.  However, Jesus told them not to stop him, because he was doing good work.  He isn’t against us, says Jesus, he is for us.  Draw your circle wider.  Expand your vision of who it is God calls us to love and to welcome.

This week, it sounds like the disciples are still struggling to learn that lesson.  This time, rather than someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name, it is people bringing children to see Jesus.  Parents are hoping that Jesus will touch their child and offer a blessing.  That doesn’t seem to be too much to ask.  The problem is, they were children.  Children, who had no status at all in that society.  They were good for nothing!  They certainly were not worth Jesus’ time.  He must have had many more important things to do than to bless lowly children.  All of that was likely going through the disciples’ minds as they spoke sternly to those people bringing the children to Jesus, trying to keep them away and keep Jesus free to attend to the people who mattered.

But when Jesus sees what is happening, he is indignant.  He cannot believe what he is seeing.  Didn’t he just have this conversation with the disciples?  Draw your circle wider.  Expand your vision of who it is God calls us to love and to welcome.  No wonder he is upset.  “Let the little children come to me,” he says.  And he doesn’t stop there. “It is to them that the kingdom of God belongs.”  What?  The kingdom of God belongs to these good-for-nothing kids?  I can just picture the disbelief in the disciples’ eyes.  But they shouldn’t be surprised.  This has been Jesus’ message his entire ministry.  Draw your circle wider.  Expand your vision of who it is God calls us to love and to welcome.

That is an especially important message for us to hear today, on World Communion Sunday.  The day we are called to remember that we do not live or worship in a vacuum.  Today, Christians across the world will pause to remember that we are all God’s beloved children - more similar than different, and that rather than separating us, our differences can help us to learn and grow.  We will pause to remember that for his last meal, Jesus invited even his betrayer to eat with him, because that is how wide he drew his circle.  We will pause to remember that time and time again, Jesus chose to include people – all people – rather than to push them away.

The Psalm that we heard today reminds us that that God is mindful of all human beings, and that God cares for all mortals.  All, not some.  And, especially today, we remember that we are called to do the same.

That is a very important message for World Communion Sunday.  But, it is not all that Jesus says in the passage from Mark’s Gospel.  After urging the disciples to let the children come to him, he goes on to say, “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”  Jesus is not just telling us to welcome the children, but also to be like the children.  This is a challenge to the powerful and elite of that time.  Those who thought they had it all figured out and believed they had an easy ride into God’s kingdom because they had the most money or power or status … even if all of that was gained by treating others poorly.  Think again, says Jesus, that is not what God desires. 

Consider how children move through their lives.  Full of wonder and joy.  Filled with awe at even the simplest of things.  Unconditionally loving and accepting of everyone.  Quaker theologian Parker Palmer writes about these qualities as birthright gifts that we all have as young children.  Palmer notes that children move through life on the “winged energy of delight” – an energy that comes from deep within the soul and is “here for its own joy.” (He is quoting the poet Rumi there.)

Unfortunately, Palmer notes, we spend the first half of our lives abandoning these childhood gifts.  He says we betray our childlike sense of wonder and joy and love in order to better conform to society’s expectations.  That sure is a stinging critique of our society!  Palmer says we are “trained away from our childhood gifts” toward more acceptability.

Much of Palmer’s work focuses on reclaiming these childhood gifts.  And it would seem that Jesus is in favor of that as well.  “Receive the kingdom of God as a little child,” he tells us.  What would it look like to bring that childlike wonder and joy and love back into our relationship with God and with each other?  Notice I did not say childish ... I said child-like.  That is an important distinction for me.  I think we see plenty of childish behavior from adults these days.  Adults who have trouble sharing, who resort to name-calling, who are bullies to each other.  That is childish.

But to be childlike is to reclaim that wonder, joy, and awe that we once knew.  Palmer is certain that we each still have those childhood gifts.  They are there, deep within our souls.  He says that “as we become more obsessed with succeeding, or at least surviving in the world, we tend to lose touch with our souls.”  What would it look like to invite ourselves back into that place of childlike joy and love?  What would it look like to meet God there, in that deep part of our soul, the part that we maybe have lost touch with in our wanderings through this world?[i]

(sung) Meet me here.  Find me in my wanderings.  Meet me here.  Deep within my soul.

“When I was a child, I gave him all I had.  He stood among hungry people who needed to be fed.  And I believed that he knew how to make the food go round.

Now that I am adult, I have much more to share.  But, though the crowds are still hungry, I am reluctant to give him what I have.

Lord, when today I see the faces of those who long for food and justice, when I hear their cry, make me as generous as when I was a child.”

(sung) Meet me here.  Find me in my wanderings.  Meet me here.  Deep within my soul.

“When I was a child, he told me to get up.  Outside my window, the neighbors were saying, ‘She’s a hopeless case.  There’s no help for her.’ But he put them to silence and told me to get up.

Now that I am an adult, sometimes doubt, sometimes frustration, sometimes failure, sometimes sadness surround my bed; and I hear the voices of those who criticize more easily than I hear the voice of the one who encourages.

Lord, when I hear the voices outside which condemn and the voices inside which discourage, make me as keen to listen to you as when I was a child.”

(sung) Meet me here.  Find me in my wanderings.  Meet me here.  Deep within my soul.

“When I was a child, Jesus laid his hand on me and blessed me.  Others wanted to keep me away, believing he had better things to do.  But I pushed my way through the crowd, and sat on his knee and let him embrace me.

Now that I am an adult, sometimes I think that he is too busy and often I say that I am too busy to let his hand rest on me to bless me.

Lord, when so many excuses keep us apart make me as keen to let you embrace me as when I was a child.”[ii]

(sung) Meet me here.  Find me in my wanderings.  Meet me here.  Deep within my soul.

 [i] See Let Your Life Speak and A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer.

[ii] Present on Earth, The Iona Community, pg. 112-113.

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