August 7, 2011
A Kid Friendly World
We completed Vacation Bible School on Wednesday, so I want us to turn our attention this morning to kids. Next week we’ll return to the Sermon On the Mount as we look at loving our enemies. That promises to be a lot of fun.
Our Scripture passage for this morning is the well-known passage from Mark’s gospel, where Jesus blesses the children. Let’s read that passage –
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
Some years back I clipped a column out of the paper that was written by Ellen Goodman. Listen to a portion of what she wrote – At some point…it becomes clear that one of your main jobs as a parent is to screen the culture…Mothers and fathers are expected to screen virtually every aspect of their children’s lives. To check the ratings on the movies, to read the labels on CD’s...All the while keeping in touch with school and in their free time, earning a living…Parents see themselves in a struggle for the hearts and minds of their own children. It isn’t that they can’t say no. It’s that there’s so much more to say no to…it’s not just that American families have less time with their kids, it’s that we have to spend more of this time doing battle with our own culture. It’s rather like trying to get your kids to eat their green beans after they’ve been told all day about the wonders of eating a Milky Way.
(“Battling Our Culture Is Parent’s Task,” Chicago Tribune, August 18, 1993).
I clipped that article back in 1993. Things have not improved in the ensuing eighteen years. Every generation wonders what kind of world will be inherited by our children and grandchildren? If you’re a parent or grandparent, have you asked yourself that question? It’s a question asked for generations, but it seems we are now at a very critical tipping point in history. The stakes are now so high when it comes to the future that we have entered a truly unsettling time. What are the environmental consequences facing our children and grandchildren? What are the financial consequences facing our children and grandchildren? What are the spiritual consequences facing our children and grandchildren? It seems that the scale of the problems has increased dramatically in recent years, to the point where we have great anxiety about what the future will hold for our children and grandchildren.
Mark tells us in this passage that people were bringing children to Jesus, but the disciples rebuked them and were seeking to send them away. It’s too easy, sometimes, to pick on the twelve disciples, but I wonder what on earth caused them to believe Jesus wouldn’t be interested in children? The disciples were, I think, acting in what they thought the best interests of Jesus. Things were difficult for Jesus. Opposition was increasing daily and he is very close to Jerusalem and the cross. Though the disciples did not yet understand about the coming cross, they had an instinctual desire to protect him from the difficulties he was encountering.
The problem with instincts, especially protective instincts, is that sometimes they are wrong. I know of a church that built a playground, but they were so worried about kids in the community coming to use it they actually considered putting up a six-foot tall chain link fence around it with razor wire atop the fence. That’s a badly misplaced protective instinct. One of the greatest instincts of a parent is the instinct to protect their child. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there? But it can be damaging as well. Protection can become so smothering that it harms the child rather than helps. There are so many dangers that we certainly want to protect children from, but at the same time we must allow enough freedom to a child that they can learn how to deal with the realities of the world. To protect a child from every heartbreak and every disappointment in life does not protect them; in the long run it brings them more heartbreak and more disappointment because they have not learned how to face those challenges. How hard it is to step back and watch our children deal with hurts, but we know that sometimes it’s the best thing a parent can do.
Mark says Jesus was indignant about the reaction of the disciples. Indignant isn’t just being mildly upset; indignant is being really hot under the collar about something. Jesus was upset with his disciples for two reasons – misunderstanding his nature and being callous in their attitude toward children. The kids were brought to Jesus for a blessing.
A blessing wasn’t just a kindly pat on the head; a blessing was a very deep expression of love and care toward another person. Think about the blessing Isaac gave to his son Jacob (Genesis 25:19-34). Jacob deceived his father in order to steal away the blessing that rightfully belonged to Esau. Jacob so desired the blessing that he was willing to deceive his own father and brother in order to take that blessing. A blessing was a really, really big deal.
The kingdom of God, Jesus said to his disciples, belongs to such as these. The kingdom belongs to those who are not the ones in power, not the strong and the mighty, not the ones who own everything; the kingdom belongs to the children and those who have the characteristics of children.
Children exemplify the greatest characteristics of the kingdom. They are –
Before I had a driver’s license I used to hitchhike to get where I wanted to go. I don’t remember thinking much about it. I would hitchhike late at night sometimes. If I ever discovered Nick and Tyler hitchhiking I would lock them away in their room and ask are you crazy? What were you thinking? I was far too trusting, and today it would be absolutely foolish to get in the car of a stranger.
It is innate in a child to trust other people. It doesn’t occur to them not to trust. Trust is the default position of humanity. Distrust is a learned response, and it is one of the tragic realities of life that we have to instill a certain level of distrust in kids for their safety and well-being. Be careful of strangers; don’t trust everyone we tell them. How many heartbreaking stories do we hear about tragedy that results because adults took advantage of the trust of children? It’s so tragic.
But we can’t life without some level of trust. But as we age and suffer disappointments we tell ourselves I can’t afford to trust. I don’t want to be hurt again, and trusting people will just bring hurt.
Trust is not being naïve. Trust recognizes there are very real dangers in the world and we have to be careful, but losing trust begins to build a protective wall around our hearts. Maybe just a little wall at first, but then it becomes like the church that wanted to fence in their playground. We build a bigger fence around our heart, and then we add the razor wire to is to no one can break through and we can stay safely ensconced behind it. Losing trust means we lose so much of the richness and love that life brings to us.
2. Full of grace.
Kids are very forgiving. Kids are willing to give a second chance, and a third chance, and a fourth chance. While we as adults can be quick to hold on to our hurts and withhold grace, kids just offer it up.
Grace is one of the absolutely central tenants of the kingdom of God and grace is one of the central attributes of God. Jesus talked about grace all the time. Sadly, grace is not what people see from a lot of churches.
I had another minister ask me, some years ago, what I thought about how he was handling a difficult situation in his church. He didn’t like my answer, thinking I was being too easy, where he wanted to be, in my opinion, harsh and judgmental. He told me I was wrong and my response was if I’m wrong I’m happy to err on the side of grace. I don’t know how to handle every situation, and I’ve proven this many times over the years, but I believe grace is always to be our guiding light. Not judgment, not criticism, but grace.
Jesus was a powerful corrective to the disciples as they wanted to limit access to Jesus that day. There are still people who want to limit access to Jesus, and I believe we are called to tear down those walls that are built by others as they seek to keep people away from Jesus or as they seek to attach all kinds of conditions one must meet before they can access Jesus.
A friend of mine told me a story from his childhood years. He and his friends played basketball in a friend’s yard. They played basketball so often the grass in the yard was worn down to dirt and was packed so tightly that nothing could grow. Wearing out that grass really bothered one of the other neighbors, who thought it improper to let kids ruin a good yard by playing in it. She came out one day and told the mom she shouldn’t let those kids ruin a good yard and started a long speech about how it would take a long time to get the grass growing again. The other mom listened patiently and said I’m not raising grass, I’m raising boys. Isn’t that a great response?
Jesus taught his disciples such a great lesson that day. He took those kids in his arms, he loved them, and he blessed them. May we always be people who will embrace kids, and love them, and bless them.