Texts: Genesis 2:18-24; Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16
However, addressing the first half of this reading every time it appears in the lectionary means neglecting the second half; and considering Jesus’ recurring message over these last three weeks to “welcome the little child” and to not “put a stumbling block before these little ones,” and “let the little children come to me, and do not stop them,” it feels wrong to continue to once again ignore the children who are ignored in these stories by all but Jesus. So, I think I’ll skip talking about divorce this year. Don’t worry, we’ll have plenty more chances.
As I have said previously, children in Jesus’ time were considered non-persons. This doesn’t mean they weren’t loved, but adults didn’t think children had anything to offer them. They were “pre-people;” their value was as future heirs and brides. For this reason, the disciples see them as a bother and a hindrance and try to get them out of the way so Jesus can go back to the far more important work of discussing the kingdom of God.
Unlike his disciples, however, Jesus sees children differently. He recognizes them as full persons, people with intrinsic value, people with a purpose and gifts to share in God’s kingdom. Jesus cannot talk about the kingdom of God without talking about all the people for whom that kingdom exists, which includes such “little ones” as children.
Stephanie has recalled how once when she was preaching, Fiona P-----—back when she was still a little peanut—started fussing. Katy, I think, had her here by herself, and she got up to take her out; but on her way out of sanctuary, Pat Borgen stopped her, saying something like, “She’s not bothering anyone, you don’t need to take her out. We want her here.” As the pastor, I can say “we welcome children in worship” until I’m blue in the face, but it doesn’t mean a thing unless the congregation lives that welcome like Pat did.
I’m so glad that this community makes space for children and all their wiggles and giggles because those little people have important things to teach us. In my time here, God has shown me so much through them. Here are just a few of the ways I have met God in our kids:
A year or two ago when William G----- was smaller, Mary had him in her arms coming up for communion. I handed William a chunk of bread first, and he immediately shoved it into his mouth with his whole hand. By the time I handed Mary a piece of bread, William’s hand was free and he lunged for her bread, too, and almost got it! Mary and Ehren both had to become better at keeping their own bread out of William’s reach. I have seen Elizabeth now do the same a few times. I see this and I LOVE that they couldn’t get enough Jesus. I wish we all could come to this table with such an appetite for God’s grace.
I am delighted by how comfortable Alessandra O----- is in this space. Watching her walk back and forth across the front of the sanctuary, hearing her joyfully exclaim “Storytime!” when it’s time to come up for the book, or her occasional punctuation of hymns or choir anthems with joyful noises warms my heart, because it shows us all that she knows that this place and this community are her home and always will be.
If you know Mason W------, you know that he is serious about fire safety. At his baptism, when we handed the lit baptismal candle to his parents, he immediately blew it out because he knows that fire can be dangerous! That kid has such a strong sense of vocation when it comes to protecting people and keeping them safe. I know that he will live out that vocation through his whole life, no matter what age or what he is doing.
Alex and Nate S----- are two of the most curious and inquisitive kids I have ever met. The wonder they display for the world around them is a tremendous gift, and it reminds me to be more aware of the marvel of God’s creation around me.
At baptisms we pray for the Holy Spirit to descend on the baptized: “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the Spirit of joy in God’s presence.” When William I------ was baptized at the Easter Vigil, it was a little past his bedtime and he was kind of wound up, and as we all sat around the font in the narthex, he started running laps around it. That was wonderful in itself, but then Greg Jackson got up and ran a lap or two with him! Because of William’s witness, we all received the Spirit of joy in God’s presence that night.
For a while, whenever either Maggie or Jason R----- would bring Jack up for Story Time, no matter which parent brought him up, he inevitably wanted the other one. Once, dad was bringing him up, and he wanted mom, so they switched, and he immediately began asking for dad again. Finally, I think, they both came up with him and he was finally happy. His desire to have his whole family with him I think is something we can all relate to; Jack reminds me of the importance of the Communion of Saints, the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us when we gather for worship and come to this table.
I could go on, but you get the picture. These kids are a unique and vital part of our community, a part that we would be missing without them. God blesses us with their presence, helps us to grow into better people through them, and that is what Jesus wants his disciples to see.
As a matter of fact, that is where these two stories intersect: Jesus wants us to see how the relationships God gives us—both in marriage and with children—are intended to be life-giving. Just as relationships are broken by death, they are also broken by sinfulness; the bonds between spouses or between parents and children can fall apart and become life-taking instead of life-giving. Unfortunately, that is the way things are in a world bound in sin and death.
But just as relationships can be marred by human sinfulness, they can also point us to the reality that exists beyond that sinfulness—to the kingdom of God. Every day we make decisions about who we will accept in our lives and who we will deny. We warmly welcome our friends, we embrace those who look and think and act like we do, but we keep at a distance those who disagree with us, those who frighten us, those who we deem have nothing to share with us. We refuse to make eye contact with the person begging for loose change, we refuse to find common ground with our political opponents.
If we can learn such important and godly lessons from children, think what God might teach us and show to us through the lives and stories of our other invisible siblings: people experiencing homelessness, people wrestling with poverty or addiction, people suffering from mental illness and deep grief. Think how God might open our minds to new understanding of our world and ourselves by bringing us to the table alongside saints from other classes and countries and political parties.
While it is sometimes necessary to separate ourselves from others, to protect ourselves from people and relationship that are unhealthy or unsafe, when we allow ourselves to automatically ignore or reject some people—like the disciples ignored the children—we may find that the life we are living is less than whole as a consequence; life cannot be eternal unless it is shared with the least of these.
“Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it,” Jesus says. These little ones may not fully understand everything that’s going on or why, they may not have the vocabulary or the reasoning or the attention span to know what this is all about, but they have some of the most important stuff already figured out—sometimes better than we do. Even as we teach them and help them to grow in faith, they are teaching us and helping us grow. Perhaps we can all take a lesson from St. Jack about never being satisfied until we all come to this meal together.