Let the children come to me
Luke 18: 15-17.
I have a huge problem with the Bible.
And that problem is that I look at the Bible with my eyes and my experience.
Every time I read the Bible I read it and think that the way I read it is the same way that everyone reads it, and if I see what the passage says then you should see it the same way too.
And often that means that I miss what it might be saying to me.
Let me give you an example.
This passage today.
It is short, it seems very simple.
Some parents come to Jesus with the idea that he will give a blessing on their children.
They don't want to listen to Jesus’ wise words,
they don't want to change their ways so that they become better people,
they don't want to do amazing things for God so that the world is changed for the better.
They just want their children sorted.
And the disciples think this is really, really selfish.
There are people that need to hear Jesus’ wisdom so that they can change their lives for the better; there are people that need to come to Jesus so that they can change the world for the better.
Jesus has already said that his death may be imminent, that he has little time left on this earth. If that is the case then Jesus only has time for important things.
Not petty, selfish things.
And all these parents want is their children blessed.
And Jesus sees what the disciples are doing and called the children to him.
‘Let the children come to me and do not stop them, because the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these!
Remember this! Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.’
What is that meant to mean?
Does it mean that we should be eager and open like a child?
Don’t think so.
These children didn't come to Jesus, they were brought to Jesus.
They may even have been brought kicking and screaming.
‘Come along young Jacob, you need to be blessed by the rabbi.’
‘I don't want to be blessed by a rabbi.’
‘You will be blessed whether you want it or not.’
Does it mean that we should be as accepting of the faith like a child?
Because children can be like that, they’ll believe in any old rubbish their parents tell them; like Father Christmas and Tooth Fairies and Easter Bunnies, and that when the ice cream van gives off that tune it means that he has run out of ice cream.
I don't think that’s how Jesus wants us to come to him.
Because life is tough and challenging and we need a robust and thoughtful faith to survive it and overcome it.
Does it mean that we need to keep growing?
Because that is what children just keep on doing. Growing and growing. They start off just lying there and sleeping and then they are sitting and then they are crawling and then they are walking and then they are into everything. Children are always moving forward, stretching the boundaries, going a little further than they did the day before.
And maybe that is the way God expects our faith to be.
Not something stagnant and stuck.
Not a faith that wants everything to stay as it is, to never change.
But then it dawned on me that Jesus wasn’t talking to the children, he was talking to the disciples. And it was the disciples that needed to learn the lesson.
But as I said, the problem I had was that I see the passage with my eyes and experience and biases.
And an insight I got was from another group.
The Clackmannanshire Worship Group.
I am in the process of trying to help them develop a worship team which can do sermons and children's addresses and the like and they got together to study a passage.
It was an incident in the Old Testament.
Moses has led the slaves out of Egypt and across the wilderness. It has taken 40 years and now Moses has died and Joshua has taken over and he is at the River Jordon waiting to cross into the Promised Land.
And God tells him that he will honour Joshua the same way that he honoured Moses. That if the priests walk forward with the Ark of the Covenant then when they go to the river it will divide in two so that the people can walk across dry land.
And the Clackmannan Parish Worship Group sat around trying to work out what that meant.
And one of the worship group said, ‘It isn't even a new miracle. Moses did that with the Red Sea. When the people were running away from Pharaoh they were trapped by the Red Sea and Pharaohs army was coming up quick to destroy them and the Red Sea parted and the people crossed safely. Wouldn’t that miracle be old hat?’
Then another one said, ‘But they had never seen it before. That generation had all died out. Maybe this generation just thought of that miracle as an old story their parents told them to comfort them. But didn’t believe what they said.’
Then another one said, ‘Maybe each generation needs to see God work in their generation. Maybe each generation needs its own miracle.’
Isn’t that a fascinating thought?
Maybe each generation needs to see God work in their own generation.
Maybe that is what Jesus was trying to do here.
Here was a new generation. And the disciples were keeping them away from Jesus. Maybe the disciples thought it wasn't the children's time yet.
There’s, the disciple’s generation, was the generation that needed Jesus, there’s is the generation that Jesus came to save.
If their generation can be fixed then they can fix the next generation.
And maybe Jesus was saying that each generation needs him.
In fact maybe Jesus is warning that if we just worry about our generation, just worry about ourselves, then the temptation is that when our generation is sorted then we forget the next generation. We are Ok, they can sort themselves out. In fact we are so tired and exhausted from sorting ourselves out that we have no energy to help them out. And if we could sort ourselves out then they can sort themselves out when they need to.
And Jesus saw that attitude as such a temptation that he was warning the disciples that instead of ignoring the next generation, they should encourage the next generation to come to him.
I think there might be a truth in that.
We are rightly preoccupied with the state of the church just now.
We are preoccupied with the building because we had dry rot.
We are preoccupied with the leadership because we are all getting older.
We are preoccupied with the ministers because we are getting smaller in number.
Some of the churches in this area have less than 40 people go on a Sunday.
So fewer and fewer people are looking after more and more church buildings.
And it is easy to forget the generations following.
And it is very, very easy to not bother about the generations following.
We don’t have time for them because we are busy with ourselves.
We don't have time for them because we don't understand them.
We don't have time for them because that is someone else's job.
We have done our bit for the church and we don't want to do any more. We certainly don’t want to commit any time or effort into looking after them when we need to look after ourselves.
Why should we bother?
Because that other generation isn’t just another generation.
These are people we love and care for.
These are our children and our grandchildren.
These are the neighbour’s children that we have watched grow since they were infants.
I’m going to use Roseanna here as an example.
Roseanna hates pets. Always has, always will.
Some of the biggest fights between Roseanna and her children were over getting (or rather not getting) rabbits or dogs or stick insects (actually that wasn't the kids that was me), or goldfish.
So of course as soon as the children leave home the first thing they do is buy huge husky dogs and the like.
Which means that every time our family visit and bring their pets Roseanna then has to deep clean the downstairs of all their dogs hairs. Which enamours her to pets all the more.
So my daughter Cairy and her boyfriend decide that they don't want to live in a flat two stories up because humping the pram up two flights of stairs is a pain in the neck. They want a house on the flat. But they can’t afford a bridging loan. So they suggest that they sell their own flat and then buy a new flat once theirs is sold. But that means there may be a time between being out the old flat and being in the new flat.
Without a moment’s notice Roseanna says, ‘You can live with us between the houses.’
I get home to discover this arrangement and wonder if Roseanna has thought this through.
And discover that, as normal, she hasn’t.
‘So you’re Ok with them staying for an indefinite period of time.’
‘You do realise that instead of just James in the house, who we never see, now it will be James, and all of Cairy’s family, Ian and Jessica...’
‘Which will be brilliant having my grandchild always there.’
‘Yes Riley. You can’t expect them not to have their pet dog here. You know the dog that whenever it has stayed overnight has jumped onto your side of the bed, usually at 2am because it wants to go out. That dog. Staying with us. Not overnight but for months on end’. Possibly every night keen to be your bestest friend. To jump and on the bed and tell you how much he loves you by licking your face. That dog.’
The look I got at that moment from my wife was not a look of love.
But you know that was the point.
She hadn't cared at that second about the dog.
Because her love for her children and grandchildren just made her instinctively want to do what needed to be done. And if that included the dog, then that included the dog.
Maybe that’s the lesson that Jesus wanted the disciples to understand, maybe us to understand. That what we really need, is a faith that loves the next generation so much that it does what it needs to do to help, and loves them so much it forgets about the baggage that comes with it.
The disciples just needed to care. We just need to care.
And if we care then we will work out what needs to be done.