May the words my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength, and our redeemer. Amen
Many years ago when our daughter was about two or three years old, it snowed. Julia Ann was going to take her out and build a snow man. She knelt down to put on her coat and stocking cap and was trying to put on a pair of mittens on her little hands. She apparently had her hand balled up in a fist and Julia Ann was telling her to stick out her thumb. After telling her several times and with no success, she looked up at her face. Yes, that’s right, she had her tongue sticking out!
Jesus was on his way back from somewhere outside the region of Galilee. He had told them that he would be handed over and be killed and after three days he would rise again. He stopped at Capernaum and stayed at probably Peter and Andrew’s house. He had heard the disciples talking about something along the way. And he asked them. What were ya’ talking about? Dead silence. They had apparently heard him say he was going to be killed but couldn’t understand what he meant by being raised again. They were arguing about who was going to be in charge. Who was going to be in charge after Jesus was gone? What was the pecking order?
Questions of rank and status were normal and played an important role in the life of Jewish groups at the time. And Jesus sat down. Uh-oh! Sitting before speaking puts Jesus in the formal position of a teacher. The professor sits while the students stand. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Jesus then took a little child and took it in his arms. He tells them those who receive a child receive Jesus and those who receive Jesus receive God.
That was a shocking event that cannot be appreciated by us modern readers. Our society has elevated children to a point so that their time as children is a privileged time of innocence and happiness and peace. Typically, we would think that the child Jesus used would be the trusting, innocent of any evil, and happy all the time kind of an example.
However, this was not the way it was in Jesus’ time. A child was a non-person. The child should have be with the women, not hanging around the teacher and his students. And Jesus insisting that receiving a child might be of some value for his male disciples was almost inconceivable. Even the Romans of the time considered children non-people. Childless Romans who needed heirs to pass on their property adopted adults rather than children. Even when Jesus referred to his new family as those “who do the will of God” in the third chapter of Mark, he said that they were his mother, brothers, and sisters, not children.
This extreme example treats the child as a nobody, practically invisible, as the stand-in for Jesus. So, what does that tell us about the disciples and what their ranking would be? They had the desire to be “first”. Who should take over when Jesus was gone? They had just previously failed at casting out a demon. And they had the fear of Jesus’ prediction that he would be killed. But none of these things undermined their confidence that they could follow him.
Remember Jesus’ first words during this teaching moment. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” He was telling them that his death would be his offering on behalf of all—all! He, Jesus, would be the servant that gave all. He would be the non-person.
Our views of children are radically different than those 2000 years ago. I would think that you along with me would think that’s a good thing. We wouldn’t react with surprise as the disciple probably did when Jesus spoke these words. We sometimes become annoyed when young children “act up” in a public gathering like church. At the same time we all assume that even young children have their own uniqueness and dignity. And maybe it was because of Jesus using children as examples that they are no longer thought of as non-people.
But and seems to always be a but. But, there are those who study our society who wonder whether North Americans have lost their desire to make the well-being of children a primary concern. There are too many children who are discounted by their parents or guardians—too many left with mothers with no father figure in the family. There are too many who left on the streets to fiend for themselves and become members of gangs to find acceptance. Too many who can’t find the teachings of Jesus.
What does that mean for you and me? Quite frankly, it means that as parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, that we must sit down and teach; that we make disciples, or at least future disciples of our children and grandchildren and our nieces and nephews. Teach them what you know. Bring them to church.
Most of us gathered here today, in person or through the internet, went to church every Sunday as a child. I didn’t know I had a choice until I moved out. That’s what we did every Sunday morning. It was something we did just like eating supper. We gathered around a table, and we ate what mama put in front of us. for us!
Phillip Yancey tells the story of a young mother who brought her young son to church one Sunday. As with all six year-olds he began squirming and fidgeting. She rather briskly yanked him around in the pew and in a whisper most people could hear told him to be quiet. The boy began sniffling and tears came down his face. The mother looked at him and said, “Now that’s better!” Here was the example of what the future of the church could look like.
And we gather around a table here or virtually, we gather. We gather and we partake of the holy food God has given us through His Son—His body and blood given for all—even the children—especially for the children—for we are all children—children of God. We respond to God’s calling for each of us to pass on what God has given us—salvation. If we don’t teach our children, they will never know the joy and peace of having a relationship with God and a relationship loving and respectful relationship with their neighbors
Many, many years ago my grandmother would visit at my home church. She was always amazed at the number of children there was at church. She would remark that with so many children the church would never die. Two and a half generations later, attendance has dropped drastically and obviously that has a lot to do with COVID. But the fact is that has happened to so many congregations. The life of any congregation is in its youth and the support they get from the older people. We are all God’s children, and we are all valuable to him. In fact, we are so valuable that he gave his Son to die for us. And as God’s children, it is our responsibility to act as his children, his disciples and obey his calling his calling to share his Word with all we come into contact—especially the little children. How do we treat our future? Think about it!
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