19th Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 22, Year B. October 4, 2015. (Text: Mark 10:2-16)
The first part of today’s gospel is about marriage and divorce, and the second part is about children. In particular, it’s about childlikeness. I’m going to talk about the second part this morning.
At this point in his ministry, Jesus was passing through the villages, teaching. He seems to have been speaking to a market-place crowd this time. Some mothers came up with their children, wanting Jesus to lay his hands on them, pick them up and hold them, hug them. There was blessing in His touch! They knew it. No doubt some of these moms with babies also had toddlers in tow, little guys who were walking on their own, kids maybe two or three or four years old.
Who was annoyed by this? Not the dads. Their wives were coming up to Jesus with their own little daughters and sons. These daddies probably thought: “The Teacher is going to bless my child! How cool is that?” No, it was Jesus’ disciples who turned grumpy. Those guys could be bossy. Remember the 5,000 hungry people? The disciples said, “Send them away!” Remember the poor Canaanite woman who trailed after Jesus seeking help for her daughter? “Send her away!” Now it’s mothers bringing their little ones up to Jesus.“You women, get these children out of here! They’re disturbing the teaching. Jesus is talking to the men here about important things. Go away.”
But Jesus contradicted them. Flatly contradicted them. He said: “Let these little children come to me. Don’t stop them. Don’t push them away. The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. And unless you become like a little child yourself, you’re never going into the kingdom of God.” Which, of course, raises a question: What did Jesus have in mind when he said that “unless we become like little children” we can’t enter his kingdom? What exactly are little children like?
What are the qualities we all once possessed as little children that we should try to re-discover if we want to be fit for God’s kingdom? And, mind you, the kingdom of God is not “pie-in-the- sky-by-and-by.” It’s about a life that’s open to us, through the love of Christ right now.
Probably 100% of us here know something about children. After all most of us have children. Many of us have grandchildren. And all of us were once children ourselves. (Is there anybody here who was never a little child?)
The first thing we can observe in little children is that they are spontaneous. They live in the moment. They aren’t on any kind of schedule.
Our 12 grandchildren are getting older. Now even the youngest ones are in first grade and the oldest is out of college, working. But Grandma and I remember when they were really little. I remember a time when Sammy—who is now in third grade—was about 18 months old and came to visit us.Sam had just discovered the joy of mud puddles.When we took a walk down the street to a playground, he had to stop and stomp in every puddle. Then he had to bend down and pat the puddle. If there was mud in it, all the better. He knew just where he could wipe it off! He had a great time.
To enter the kingdom of God right now, you and I have to rediscover our capacity for spontaneity and joy. (I wonder what’s the senior citizen’s equivalent of stomping in puddles?)
Another thing about small children is that they have no doubt about their own importance. It didn’t matter what Poppy or Grandma Joan were doing, if a three year old wanted attention. We could be sitting in our favorite chairs watching baseball on TV, but if a little grandchild crawled up with a book and said, “Read to me,” do you think we’d have said “No way, I might miss a pitch.” Of course not! If a grandchild wanted to read a book or have a cuddle, that little person was more important than anything else. (Even the World Series!)
To enter the kingdom of God, we have to accept that we’re important to our heavenly Father. We’re God’s kids. He loves us unconditionally. It’s amazing how many people our age have trouble realizing how much God loves them. We can crawl up and “sit in the Father’s lap” any time we want (even if we’re over seventy). I recommend it to you. Just use your imagination.
Another thing about little children is that they don’t have any trouble believing that God might do something special with them, or for them, or through them. God might even speak directly to them. (Kids can often hear God lots better than we do.)
The famous preacher Tony Campolo tells a great story about a friend of his who dashed upstairs to his five year-old daughter’s room one night during a terrible thunderstorm. The lightning was flashing and the thunder was crashing. The man was sure his little girl would be terrified. When he got to her room, he found her spread-eagled against a tall window in her bedroom, looking out at the lightning. He said, “Honey, what’s wrong? Are you o.k.?” Without looking back at him—with her little face still pressed against the window—she said: “I think God is trying to take my picture.” --Little children know they’re important to God. Do we “old people” know that, too?
Another thing about little children that is that they have absolute confidence in the future. When I was in seminary a long time ago I worked in the slums of New York City. If you asked poor, inner-city eight year-olds forty-five years ago or you asked similar kids today what they were going to be when they grow up they’d tell you: I’m gonna be a doctor. I’m gonna be a ballerina. …Or a pro basketball player. …Or an explorer. …Or a rock star. …Anything!
Little children believe in their own unlimited possibilities. They can do anything, be anything. They believe in the future. It’s full of hope. The kingdom of God belongs to those who become like little children, little children who know that, with God, all things are possible. All things. All things. All things.
That brings me to the last quality I think Jesus was thinking about when he said we had to become like little children to enter the kingdom of God . . .And that is recognition that we are always dependent.
Little children are dependent. We know they’re dependent on us. And they know it too—even if they wish it were not so. They know that as little children they can’t do very much all alone. Teenagers are different, of course. Teenagers are certain that wisdom arrives with puberty. (The boys are, anyway.) But little kids—like the ones Jesus was talking about—know pretty well what they can do right now and what they can’t do.
Unless you and I become like them, we’re not going to enter the kingdom of God. And that’s because we can’t inherit the kingdom, or buy it, or earn our way into it. It is not a meritocracy. But if we become as little children are, we can climb up into our heavenly Father’s lap and ask Him if we can come into his kingdom—right now, today, this minute--and be welcomed in immediately!
God’s kingdom is beyond our attainment, but—paradoxically—it is within our grasp . . . if we are willing to ask in faith and receive it from our Father’s hand.
For all things, all things, all things are possible with God!