Sermon 4th October 2015

Trinity 18 - Mark Chapter 10 verses 2 to 16

A young man agreed to babysit one night.  At bedtime, he sent the youngsters upstairs to bed and settled down to watch football on the television.  One child kept creeping down the stairs, but the young man kept sending him back to bed.  At 9pm the doorbell rang, it was the next-door neighbour, Mrs. Brown, asking whether her son was there.  The young man brusquely replied, "No."  Just then a little head appeared over the banister and shouted, "I'm here, Mum, but he won't let me go home.”

Many people often view children as a nuisance.  In the passage from Mark’s gospel we see Jesus teaching an important lesson to those around Him, that to get into the Kingdom of Heaven they must be like children.

It was the usual practice in Jesus’ time for people to bring their children to a respected Rabbi in order for them to be blessed, and this is why so often there were children around Jesus.  On this occasion the disciples rebuked the people for bringing their children to our Lord.

We shouldn’t be too hard on the disciples as I suspect they were trying to protect Jesus from any unnecessary pressure, since He’d recently told them about His death and they were naturally concerned about Him.  But, as we heard, Jesus was indignant.  He called the children to Him and also told the disciples if a person wanted to get into heaven that person had to be like a child.  But what does it mean to be like a child, to be child like?

The theologian William Barclay lists four ways in which we can seek to be childlike.  Firstly, through humility - have you ever seen a children’s play when a young child has to do something, they get to the point and then go all shy?  Or when an adult greets a child and they hide behind their parent’s legs?  Young children haven’t learned to push themselves forward; pride doesn’t feature in their thinking, and often they’re just happy to be where they are.

Secondly through honesty - Professor Winston presented a television series on humans and how we act and develop.  He presented one series on growing up and in the programme he wanted to discover if children could lie and deceive.  It was done very simply with a coin that the children had to hide in their hands.  The children were shown how to play the game and then after a while were given the coin so that they could do it.  Up to the age of four the children could not do it; they would make it obvious which hand the coin was in.  They could not deceive.  After the age of four they were able to trick the adult.

Thirdly through trust, which is shown in two ways.  Children accept authority.  In any new situation a child will be guided unquestioningly by their parents.  Although that doesn’t last very long; even when wilfulness rears its head a child still has that instinct to turn to their mum or dad.  And trust is shown in the confidence a child has in other people.  Children grow up with a view that all people are good and the world is a wonderful place.  But sadly there are people who abuse that confidence and often innocence is stripped away from some children, and they become distrustful.

Also, for the majority of children, there’s no question that when they say ‘hello’ to someone, that person will want to speak to them.  For example picture the scene in a doctor’s waiting room as a perfect stranger asks to look at a child’s book and the child innocently complies with the request.

Fourthly, children have short memories.  I remember times at something I helped with in Cornwall called Kidz Club, which was an after school Church based club.  Whenever I reprimanded a child, for the rest of the session they thought that I was the nastiest person on the planet; and there was no way they were going to talk to me again.  The next week would come along and what did the child do?  Run up to me, and greet me warmly.  They had forgotten about the previous week.

This is therefore what Jesus meant when He said that we must be child like.  But notice that the phrase is ‘child like’, not ‘childish’.

We all know that children can throw a tantrum when they don’t get their own way, especially in the middle of a supermarket.  We all know how children can grate on a parent’s nerves with constant questions, and with seeing how far they can push before the parent gets angry.

But these aren’t the things that Jesus wants us to learn from children as we develop our personal holiness.

I said at the start that Jesus said that to get into the Kingdom of Heaven we must be like children.  So let us look at the four elements put forward by William Barclay and apply them to ourselves.

Humility - are you a humble person, or do you try to let others know that you are good at something?  In St Paul’s Letter to the Philippians he writes: ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.’

We must remember that we are no better than the person next to us; we all have weaknesses and faults.

And when dealing with others we need to be aware of this fact in order to remind ourselves if we’re tempted to take over or to look down on others.  It’s also true that just as there’s no place for seeking prestige or kudos for ourselves, there’s also no place for that false modesty which seeks to let everyone know how humble we are.  We must guard against both.

Honesty - dishonesty can take many forms and in particular deceit, which may show itself as seeking to blame others when we are in the wrong; through half-truths and little white lies.  Another form of deceit is trying to give other people the impression that we have no problems and I ask, ‘who do we turn to for help if we do this?’  If we are deceitful in any way can we be fully trusted - whereas honesty speaks for itself?  In Genesis Jacob says, ‘And my honesty will testify for me in the future…’

Trust - this is hard for people to do.  As children grow up they get let down, hurt, humiliated, and people learn to distrust.  This distrust colours people’s view of the world and the people in it.

They say on average children laugh 150 times a day and adults just 15.  I wonder how much of this difference is down to our lack of trust in people and not taking delight in what we see around us?

A short memory - I sometimes wish that I could be like the child at Kidz Klub and forget the severe reprimand.  So often people harbour grudges which go back to events that occurred in their lives many years ago.  We must cultivate a pattern of thinking that lets go of past hurts.  If we spend time thinking of them it does no good to anyone, most of all ourselves.  If we’re thinking of things that can be dealt with, then let’s deal with them and put them to rest.  If they can’t be dealt with then simply let them go.

So today, and every day, let us learn from children.  If you have children in your family, thank God for the constant reminder He has given you.  If you don’t have children in your family, look at those you see out and about.  If we look at children and think about what Jesus saw in them, and see those qualities He commends to us; humility, honesty, trust and a short memory, we can learn from children.

If we learn from a child’s openness and lack of pretence, we can take those lessons into our spiritual lives and use them to develop our own holiness.  And if we take those lessons into all aspects of our lives then the Kingdom of God is ours to receive.

Let us pray
Heavenly Father, we want to rekindle our faith; we desire faith like a child, pure, unadulterated, and earnest.  While Christ calls us to become like children, the world pushes us to mature at a rapid rate.  In so doing, we lose something.  Help us to trust, as a child fully trusts their parents to love and care for them.  Assist us in our endeavours to place ourselves in your hands, knowing that you will always watch over us.  We are your children, O God, not because we are immature and incapable, but because we are beloved.  You have graciously redeemed us from our sinful state.  While our eyes have been opened to the nature of the world, we long for the simplicity of childhood, marked by joy, learning, and growth.  May we rediscover that which has been lost over time, and, once more, be like those children gracing Jesus' lap.  For your honour and glory.  Amen.

© Martin Brown 2015

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