Let the Little Children Come to Me
Luke 18:15-17 – Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
September 8 and 9, 2018
Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ,
A Tale of Two Gardens For ten years, starting in 1980, we lived next to Principal Peterman and his family. Sitting out there two miles north of small town Lewiston was a Lutheran school, a little white wooden church, the principal’s house, and the parsonage, in that order. For about 7 years, our gardens were adjacent. The Peterman garden looked like it came right out of Better Homes and Garden magazine, the Griffin garden not so much. His rows of vegetables were straight, clean, and lush, ours not so much. He not only hoed up his weeds, he picked them up and carried them far away, me not so much. In the latter weeks of July, Mr. Peterman would be harvesting his produce in timely fashion, the Griffins would be on vacation, allowing the garden to do it’s own thing. One spring day, I believe in 1987 or so, I did one of the smartest things I ever did. I tilled up our garden and seeded it into grass. A tale of two gardens.
At least two attitudes one can take towards tending a garden, and so also with raising up children in the Christian faith. In some of our homes, it seems as though Christ and His Word are front and center, and in others shoved into the background. A snapshot of our homes on some days would show adults and children gathered around God’s Word and on their knees in prayer, and other days, we’re just too busy and not wanting to be bothered. In today’s text, the disciples may have meant well when they tried to prevent parents with small children from crowding around and even touching Jesus, but they were as mistaken as they could be. Let the infants and the little ones come to me, Jesus teaches. Let them be close to me. Help them to know the are valuable, they are precious, they are the apple of my eye. Two parts to our sermon today. Part #1is Jesus teaching us and Part #2 is Jesus challenging us.
Part #1 is our Lord teaching His disciples and He is teaching us. His teaching is that In the eyes of Jesus, children are (valuable). In Jesus’ day, at least in the Greco-Roman world, children and especially infants were thought very little of . Maybe it was because of the high child mortality rate at the time. At least one preacher surmised that since many children were going to die anyway, maybe it was a psychological way for adults to not get too attached to them. In any case, children didn’t have value at all until they could at least help with the family farm or business. Children were thought so little of in the Roman world that infanticide and child abandonment were rampant. Luke seems to be pointing this out by emphasizing that they were bringing even infants to Jesus! And so one of the great missions of Christians for the first centuries of the church was actually trying to save children who had been abandoned by their parents in the wilderness.
Paul wrote to young pastor Timothy, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Truth #1 on this Christian education Sunday, as we kick off Sunday School and Confirmation classes and Lutheran School, truth #1 is that in the eyes of Jesus, every child, without exception is valuable.
They are valuable in the first place, because God created them wonderfully and marvelously, and (He still takes care of them)Many of you will recognize this as First Article language, where Luther reminds us that not only has God made us and all creatures, not only has he given us bodies and souls, eyes, ears, and all our members, not only our reason and all our senses, but he still takes care of us. How does God still take care of us? And specifically, how does God take care of children?
Well to say it simply, God takes care of children’s bodies and minds mainly through the efforts of their parents in partnership with schools and we care for their souls mainly through the efforts of their parents in partnership with local congregations. Add to that the angels of God watching over these children and you realize that you have a partnership between heaven itself and earth. Matthew records Jesus declaring this as He prepares to tell the parable of the lost sheep, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.
Keeping in mind our partnership with angels in heaven above, keep in mind that we have 480 children listed as baptized members age 0-14 here at Trinity, and if you add to that 100 high schoolers or so, we have up to 580 children and teenagers in our care, every one of them valuable in the first place, because God created them wonderfully, marvelously, and with significant purpose.
They are valuable, in the second place, because Jesus Christ has redeemed them, (that they might belong to Him) You will recognize this as Second Article with explanation language, where Luther writes how Christ has redeemed us as lost and condemned people, he has purchased and won us from all sins, purchased and won us from death, purchased and won us from the power of the devil, and say it with me, not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death, that we may be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.
Jesus taught that where a man’s treasure is, there is his heart. Usually we think of that as a stewardship sermon coming down the pike, but today I invite you to think of how where God’s treasure is, there is his heart. The Father who sacrificed his only and beloved and his treasured son at the cross, there is his heart. The Son who shed precious and innocent blood on a little hill outside of Jerusalem, there is his heart. Our text for today makes it abundantly clear – Jesus treasured children and even infants, he wanted in the worse way for them to come close, he wanted with all of his heart to take them up in his arms and to bless them.
As many of you well know, in this place, we believe there is a sanctity of human life beginning at conception and going all the way until we breathe our last. Furthermore, we believe in a two part process for the raising up of children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord – part #1 get your child baptized, and part #2 in the words of Moses in his farewell sermon, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children…..”
If Part #1 in our text is that Jesus is teaching us that in His eyes children are valuable, then Part II is that Jesus challenges us today. He challenges us first of all to become like children, and secondly to care about children.
Challenge #1 from Jesus to the disciples and to us is (To become like) children. Children are by definition needy, they require someone bigger and stronger and smarter to take care of them, they are dependent. In the earliest stages of life, children are absolutely helpless. Spiritually speaking, they contribute nothing at all to their salvation, they are in no way able to pick themselves up by the bootstraps and make something of themselves, and so Jesus would challenge us today to become like children in the way that we receive the gifts of the kingdom, become like children in the way that we open up the gifts of the kingdom, become like children in that way that we come to Jesus with all of our burdens, with all of our weariness, with all of our troubles, and cry out for help.
Challenge #2 from Jesus to the disciples and to us is (To care about) children. I read recently that of all people who end up believing in Jesus Christ, 90% of them started believing before the age of 18. Now that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to witness to adults living apart from Christ, but it does mean that time and treasure and talent spent in bringing children into the presence of Christ is time and treasure and talent well spent.
My hunch is that I wouldn’t find a single voice in our midst today who would dissent with the idea that time, treasure, and talent spent in bringing children into the presence of Christ is time, treasure, and talent well spent. The more difficult questions, of course, include these: What are the best ways for us to care for the children in our care? How can we be the best possible stewards of our time, our treasure, and our abilities? How can this church, this school, this Sunday School, this confirmation class program, this release class program best partner with parents and grandparents, how can we best partner with the very angels of heaven, how can we best partner with God in heaven above to care for and about the children, especially the 580 or so listed on our membership roster?
A Tale of Two Villages
There’s an old African proverb that says, “"If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together." Hillary Clinton quoted another related proverb which unsurprisingly became controversial, “It takes a village to raise a child.” With those two proverbs in mind, we close with a tale of two villages. In a land not too far away there are two villages adjacent to each other. In one village the several churches are partnering with any families that are interested in helping the children to know Jesus Christ as their Savior and friend, in the other village not so much. In the one village, the truths of Scripture are taught by trained and Spirit filled teachers in diligent fashion, in the other not so much. In one village, parents are more often than not turning off the screens and gathering for brief devotional times, they are kneeling at their children’s bedsides night after night praying “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee Lord my soul to keep,” parents and grandparents and Godparents are seeing themselves as partnering with pastors and teachers, partnering with Jesus and the whole company of heaven, in the other village not so much. A Tale of Two Villages, one with all kinds of happy endings, the other one, not so much.
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