“The Kingdom of Children”
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
November 13, 2016
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.
I’ve been out of the Disney loop for awhile, but now that I have grandchildren, I’m back in. After raising four children, two boys and two girls, I went through a period where Daddy time was going to see Disney movies. I’ve sat though many of them and feigned interest. I’ve bought costumes and toys of the then popular characters. The Disney folks know a lot about entertaining and marketing to children. And, have you ever notice how much they focus on kingdoms, royalty, princes, princesses, kings and queens? Why, their most popular park is even named the Magic Kingdom. I did a quick survey on the internet about Disney movies and characters. Disney, to date, has made 311 movies, and these movies have a whopping 381 characters that are royals – princes, princesses, kings and queens. All of us who had trick or treaters met many of these royal citizens, primarily princesses.
But Jesus taught long ago that children are Kingdom citizens, royalty, not of a “magic kingdom” but of the Kingdom of God.
It began with people bringing their children to Jesus (that one verse is a sermon in and of itself, isn’t it? It implies that we have a responsibility to bring children to Jesus! But that’s a sermon for another day.)
The disciples spoke sternly to the parents, probably trying to protect Jesus’ time and energy for more important matters than children. You see, in the days of Jesus, children were really only important to their parents and no one else. Jesus saw what the disciples were doing and was “indignant” – the original language is very strong and could imply being furious. And Jesus said, “Let the children come.” And then, remarkably, he added, “it is to these that the Kingdom of God belongs.”
I suspect I’ve heard, taught and preached about this verse a thousand times but never really caught the full import of that emphasis, “the Kingdom belongs to children.”
What a striking contrast to how we usually view the Kingdom. We’d all agree that it’s God’s Kingdom, but that the work of the Kingdom must be done by mature, responsible, grown ups! In the church, the Kingdom’s outpost, but believe that must be a grown-up in charge. And yet, here comes this world-changing Jesus, radically reversing that idea; the Kingdom belongs to the children; fascinating.
Then he said, “Who ever does not receive the Kingdom like a child will never enter it.” He then took the children into his arms and blessed them.
Jesus, the teacher who used illustrations close at hand, like sowers, birds and lilies, used the lens of children to teach about the God’s Kingdom of love, grace and justice.
For one thing Jesus with the children reveals that the Kingdom is a Kingdom of grace.
In the days of Jesus, the only way to be in a right, good relationship with God was to keep some 613 commandments and even keep the massive amounts of commandments contained the the commentary on the 613. More, to be in a good relationship with God, people were required to perform certain rites and rituals and give some required offerings. If you couldn’t do all of this, you wouldn’t be considered righteous.
And children couldn’t do any of this, so by the reasoning of the day they couldn’t be in the good graces of God. They had no concept of the laws, commandments, rules, regulations and rites of the day and certainly couldn’t give the required offerings. And yet, God incarnate, Jesus, loved, accepted and blessed them and went even further stating its their Kingdom, not a Kingdom of those who can keep the rules. Jesus is teaching grace, not something that can be earned, but only given by God and received and then responded to.
This grace came to the children and comes to us before the capacity to acknowledge that God even exists. It’s a grace that comes in a helpless state. It’s what we call “prevenient” or preparing grace – preparing for the time of being able to respond. It’s the grace that’s the very basis of the baptism of our children. By virtue of their being born in a Christian home and being surrounded by a Christian community, this grace is evident. It prepares them for the day of celebrating their responding in confirmation. And our commitment as a congregation on those days’ reveals that there are no “yours and mine” when it comes to children, they are our children, our responsibility and our covenant it that we’re all their spiritual parents and family.
This grace that comes before we respond is a one wherein God’s love, initiative and compassion reach out to us. Dean Elaine Heath of Duke Divinity School likens this Kingdom of grace to “a mother who cooks dinner, sets the table, then goes to the door and calls us to come and eat. When she doesn’t see us she goes out and looks for us and brings us to the table, because she loves us.”
God and God’s Kingdom of grace is like that mother. God is active and alive in the world, reaching out, calling, seeking and wooing us to God. God is the real loving force in the world, redeeming all that is. I find comfort in knowing that God’s love is out there seeking, reaching and offering compassion in the wake of our toxic political life.
More, an obvious lesson from the life of Jesus in this event is that Kingdom works focuses on children.
I hope you know of the incredible work our United Methodist Women are doing with marginalized children on an almost daily basis in an impoverished area of our city. I hope you’ll ponder the fact that, through our helping hands for hunger initiative we’ve packed, many children helping as well, over one half a million meals for children in 2/3’s world countries, offering nutrition and an incentive for attending school. I hope you’re excited and will pray and give to support our many ministries with children and youth to mission projects, group meetings, Sunday School, youth group and scouting. I hope that all we say and do, individually, congregationally and yes, even politically will be done asking, “is this the best we can do for our children?” We must if we’re to work in God’s Kingdom that focuses on children.
Finally, this passage reveals a Kingdom example to be followed. You see, when we adults call our children to behave we’re usually telling them to act like adults. Jesus turns this around; when he tells us how to enter the Kingdom, Jesus tells the adults to follow the lead of the children.
How we need the leadership of the children, especially recently and moving forward, especially in our civic life! Children know its wrong to call each other bad names; they know its wrong to be disrespectful of others. Children know not to gloat in victory or to be destructive sore losers. Children have much to offer us in our national life.
And spiritually children can lead us! Think of it; if a child is hurt they cry out to their parents for comfort and healing; if a child needs help they seek their mother or father. What a lesson in prayer for us, who stridently try and maintain our independence turning to God only when all else fails!
Children have much to teach us about sharing and generosity. If children a moved by a true need, they share. Just this morning after the 8:30am service, a prominent pediatric eye surgeon caught me after the church. He wanted to share with me something special, especially since I’d called upon us to learn from children. A little 5-year-old girl on his pew, who he didn’t know, slid down beside him and gave he half a Tootsie Roll since he looked nice and like he needed it! Dr. Young said don’t be surprised about the offering because she gave the other half to God by dropping it in the offering plate!
Children model pure, simple, straightforward faith. They believe from the bottom of their hearts that God is good and God is great and that yes, Jesus loves them.
Children have eyes of faith-filled wonder. They may see the giant moon tomorrow night and you’ll see wonder. They can walk across an acorn strewn area and pick out one special one that they’re fascinated by.
Children can sing without worrying about pitch, they can dance in sheer joy regardless of the latest moves, they can play, laugh and experience unbounded joy. Children know if its Sunday you should go to church and Sunday School. Children can be our spiritual leaders; leaders in the example of how to enter the Kingdom. Children are to be the focus of our Kingdom work and it should all be aimed at blessing them spiritually and practically. Children teach us the meaning of receiving love and living in grace.
May we have Spirit imparted wisdom to follow the children and let down neither them or our God.
Share with your group an important lesson you’ve learned from children.
Share with your group what you believe the church needs to being doing for children.
Share with your group your understanding of how grace (un-merited favor) is shown in the baptism of a child or infant.