Damariscotta Baptist Church
Saturday, August 18, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

06/22/14 Sermon - The Kingdom of God Belongs to Children

“The Kingdom of God Belongs to Children”

 

This Sunday we have set aside our time of worship to recognize the children in our church community. We have asked them to participate in our service and we work hard all year long to make them feel like they are a significant part of our congregation.  This is not the norm. Even in today’s society, but even less so, when Jesus walked on Earth.

In the passage from Mark 10, which Lydia read for us, we see some interesting emotions emerge as Jesus welcomed children, and his disciples were rebuking the people who were bringing them to Jesus.  Jesus was indignant towards the disciples. Can you picture the scene?

Why is there such a dis-connect between what the disciples think and what Jesus thinks?  Why does the behavior of the disciples cause Jesus to be “indignant” which, by the way, means, ‘feeling or showing anger or annoyance at what is perceived as unfair treatment.’

In order to find the answer, we need to again, go back to the time when this was written, to the place this was written and view it within the context in which this was written. We can’t just take it out of the text and assume we can understand it clearly.  Early commentators have interpreted this text by focusing on the characteristics of children as the key to the meaning of this text. You may have even heard sermons which focused on the innocence and humility of a child as being the way to receive the kingdom of God. Other commentators have focused on the fact that children are unselfconscious,   receptive and content to be dependent upon others, and one needs to be like them to receive the kingdom of God.  However, in the past two decades, commentators have changed their interpretation of the words, “as a little child”.  Instead of focusing on the assumed characteristics of a child, the focus has been on their social status, in the first century world.  Commentators have also chosen to look at these verses as a part of the whole Markan Gospel, and have claimed it cannot be read outside of its larger literary context from Mark 8:22 to Mark 10:52. I urge you to take some time this week and read that section, Mark chapter 8 to chapter 10. It has been agreed that this section of Mark highlights two important things:

1.  Jesus’ exchanges with his disciples regarding his forthcoming suffering and
 
2.  What they must do to follow him.
 

Mark uses the literary strategy of rhetoric to depict the disciples as dense and resistant to Jesus’ instruction, in order to challenge the Christian communities that would hear this gospel.  From the time in Mark 8:22, when some people who brought a blind man to Jesus, through the time when Jesus heals another blind man, Bartimaeus, Jesus tries to teach his disciples.  Ironically they seem to be blind and deaf to his teaching. Thus, the indignation of Jesus, when for the second time, he must explain the importance of children and their relationship to heaven.   

Let’s look back at the first time children appear in the Gospel of Mark, in chapter 9, verses 30-37. Just prior to this verse Jesus has revealed to his disciples that he is going to be betrayed, killed and three days later rise.  The group is arriving in Capernaum and as they come to the house where they will be staying, Jesus asks them what they had been talking about along the road. Of course this is a rhetorical question as Jesus is quite aware of what they were talking about.  How many parents here today have asked their child or children a question knowing the answer would incriminate them?   

Well that is exactly what Jesus is doing. He has previously said things like, “If anyone would come after me, they must deny themself and take up their cross and follow me.”  Notice, he had just told them, as the Messiah, he was going to be killed and would then rise again, three days after.  Well, the disciples keep silent and don’t answer Jesus.  Because they had been arguing over who was going to be the greatest.   

Jesus then creates another “teaching moment”. He sits down and calls the Twelve to join him and says, “If anyone wants to be first, they must be the very last, and the servant of all.”   

Remember, they are at someone’s home in Capernaum, which is the primary domain for children, so Jesus then takes a little child and has the child stand among them.  Jesus then takes the child in his arms, and says, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

You see, Jesus understood that his disciples weren’t getting the main point of what it meant to be a disciple and one of his followers. Up until God came down to Earth, men had been following other men in order to become “greater”, to improve their status and intellect. Here was Jesus, turning everything they had ever understood about being great, upside-down again. Jesus is telling them it is “servanthood” that is going to make someone great in God’s kingdom.

And like any good teacher, Jesus looks around and finds a visual aid to assist him in his teaching. He is in a home and he sees a child, and not only does he place the child in their midst, he then embraces the child. Jesus has taken the “least one” in the family and society and demonstrated how this child needs to be received. And then Jesus makes a statement that must have made the disciples even more dumbfounded. Jesus claims that embracing a child is like embracing God!

Now to help you to understand just how paradoxical and upside-down this must have seemed at the time, let me give you some background as to how children were seen in the 1st century.  The Palestinian Jewish society and the Greco-Roman world were patriarchal, leading societal practices to go something like this. Whenever a child was born, it was taken to its father.  The father looked upon the child and decided whether or not it should live or die. Male children were valued more than female. And if there were anything that looked to be wrong with the child physically, the father would immediately turn his head, which meant the child was to be put outside in the trash and left there to die.  Roman law did not prohibit such practices.  Also, in contrast to what we know of childhood today, the number of childhood years was strikingly less during Jesus’ time. Girls were promised and given to marriage by mid-

teens, boys only somewhat later.  Unlike the American customs for raising children, which has evolved into expending considerable energy and money to guarantee their children have extended years of safety and proper growth, the child Jesus was embracing, was not seen as naïve and protected by his family.  The children at that time were one of the most vulnerable of society and easily and quickly exploited by adults.  

So what do children and the kingdom of God have in common?

A lot……………..according to Jesus.
 

Jesus said, “the kingdom of God belongs to children”.  This meant, the kingdom of God belongs to the most vulnerable. So whether you are placed as vulnerable by the society you live in  

or
 

whether you place yourself as a servant and in the sphere of a vulnerable child,

These things must be done in order to enter the kingdom of God.

This saying of Jesus does not promote human passivity.  You cannot sit on the fence. You cannot choose the “greener side” of the fence.  You are called by God, to choose vulnerability. And in reality, aren’t we all vulnerable when we compare ourselves to God? By doing what Jesus has demonstrated, by using a

child, we discover God’s kingdom as an experience of God’s graciousness for the weak and vulnerable.

But Jesus doesn’t leave his lesson with how things look.
 

Jesus embraces the child, and offers the little children his blessing touch.

 

I invite you today, to become incarnations of Jesus’ embrace and blessing and reach out to those around you that are vulnerable. You don’t need a formula, a simple touch will do, and a kind word of encouragement.  And in doing so, I suspect you will experience Jesus’ warm embrace and blessing, in return.  I believe that is what is meant by “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

We have the ability to bring heaven down to those around us, even if it is for just a short time, when we chose to reach out to the vulnerable around us.

We also have the ability to bring heaven down to ourself, when we choose to be like a child, vulnerable and a servant of all.

 

May we chose to be like a child and experience God’s kingdom this week and always.  AMEN.