Scriptures: Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Mark 10:13-16
There is a curious phenomenon going on. At this point you go into any store, up to and including gas station convenience stores, and you will see the same thing. They all have adult coloring books in them. Part of the same phenomenon is one of the hot new trends in big cities like Indianapolis, is the opening of arcade bars. In addition to being fully stocked, top shelf bars these establishments are also full of coin-operated arcade games from the 1980’s and 1990’s. In the past couple of years there have even been adult summer camps popping up. These week long and expensive programs are growing in popularity as adults spend a week in cabins doing typical summer camp activities. Do you see the trend? There is an immense desire to return to child-like things, and to get back to the simplicity of childhood. For the longest time, it seemed that most generations were in a race to grow up as fast as possible and be as adult like as possible. For instance John D. Rockefeller, the most successful businessman of all time, started his first profitable venture at the age of 19, William Carrier invented the modern air conditioner at the age of 20, and Mozart wrote his first opera at the age of 14. It seems that my generation, might be the first one to reach adulthood, realize that adulting is not all that it is cracked up to be and looks to find a way to step back from the less desirable aspects of growing up. The current generation of young adults may be the first one to reach back towards childhood in greater numbers. However, we were not the first ones to realize that growing up is not the end all be all to life. After all it was Jesus who said, “I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” It does not matter if you are eight or eighty-eight, there is something to being a child that is clearly worth holding on to.
All this month in our “We are Family” series we are focusing on and considering how our faith can shape our family relationships and how our family relationships can inform our faith. Last week our focus was on marriage, and this week our focus is on children. For many the highlight of family gatherings are the children. While not every family is blessed with children, kids are often a vital aspect of families and family relationships. The two scriptures for this morning speak to the importance of children. They tell us why children are a vital aspect of any church family and why we should all be a bit more childlike.
Jesus said that the kingdom of God belongs to the like of children. One of the very common interpretations is that this is because children are so innocent. It should be noted that this is an observation most commonly made by people without children. Trying going up to any parent of a child that is at least two years old, and make a comment to the parent about innocent their child is and watch their reaction. You will get eye-rolls, a “you are kidding me” look, or just flat out laughter. Children may be sweet but they are not always innocent. I can distinctly remember the very first time I caught my son in a lie. He was two. Children are still human. They are just as capable and often just as guilty of being selfish, prideful, and dishonest as every other human being. That is why this morning’s scripture from Deuteronomy is so important. This morning’s scripture stated. “These commandments I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Children are not born knowing the Ten Commandments. We have to teach them that. Children are not born with the innate knowledge to love their neighbor as yourself. We have to teach them that, and we have to teach them who their neighbors are. Children are not born knowing that they are fearfully and wonderfully made by God. We have to teach them that. Children are not born knowing that God displayed his great love for us through his son Jesus. We have to teach them that. Children do not know that the way we can best express our love of God is by following the teachings and examples of Jesus. We have to teach them that.
It is easy to push this all on the parents, and the parents of children have a huge responsibility. Ultimately the faith walk of the child will be up to them, but parents play an enormous role. Of teenagers that are actively involved in youth group or church life only 1 in 5 of them will stay that involved once they are on their own. Of that 1 in 5, eighty percent attribute their parents as to the reason why faith took root in their life. Parents that model a genuine faith are more likely to raise children that have a genuine faith. This is why it is so important to follow this morning’s scripture, to impress the teachings of faith on children, to talk about them regularly and to model what it looks like to live faithfully. Parents play a key role, but it is not a burden they should bear on their own.
I sincerely believe just as it takes a village to raise a child it takes a church to raise a disciple. As a church family, we all have a responsibility in teaching children what it means to love the LORD your God. In fact, it is something we have all promised to do. Every time a child is baptized you are asked, “Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include this child now before you in your care?” You then always respond by saying “We will surround this person with a community of love and forgiveness that they may grow in their trust of God and be found faithful in their service to others. We will pray for them, that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.”
There are two vital ways that we can uphold this promise and do our part in raising disciples. First, we need to know our children. In the past couple of years as a church we can celebrate that we have been blessed with children. Do you know them all by name? More importantly do they know you by name? We can only influence, lead, and impress upon the children if we take the time to truly get to know them. We have to invest in them because children need mentors they can look up to. This means we need to live and act in a way that is worth emulating. “Do as I say not as I do” does not work, especially when it comes to leading new disciples. Second, we do need to truly pray as a congregation for our children. Again, this is something we promise to do when a child is baptized, but it is something we need to take to heart and actually do. We need to pray for the child by name and for their parents. Praying that someone grows up to be a faithful disciple is always in the will of God, and it is something we should be lifting up regularly. The bible is clear when it comes to children, our duty as disciples is to children why this faith we hold to is so important, so true, and so worthwhile. There is a mandate, not just for parents, for all of us to have the commands of God on our hearts and to impress them on our children.
Our faith teaches us the importance of valuing and teaching children, but kids being kids can teach us how to be better Christians. This is why Jesus told his disciples that anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” It is true, that there are some things that children need to be taught. However, there are indeed some virtues that come easier to children. In those cases, we have to un-learn what we have learned and we need to reclaim those aspects of childhood.
Looking at the list of spiritual fruit given in Galatians chapter 5, there are some things that a child is indeed naturally better at. For instance children tend to be much better at faith than adults. Often the process of growing up has left us jaded. We only believe what we see and we only trust if we can verify. That is not so with a child. If you say it with sincerity, a child will believe anything. Unfortunately, we lose this because too often this quality is used against young children for cheap laughs. How marvelous is the faith of a child though? You can tell them that a man walked on water, that the seas split to reveal dry land, and that the sick can be healed. You can tell them that and they believe it with absolute certainty. They are not cynical about, they do not instantly look for ways to naysay, and they are not instantly dismissive. That kind of simple but steadfast faith is the kind of faith that the kingdom of God is built on.
Children also excel at joy. If there is one thing that children excel at it is being happy. This is why it so horrific, terrible and awful when someone mistreats a child in such a way to rob them of this gift. Children can find fun and joy in anything. In my tween and early teen years I had a fear that boarded on anxiety towards growing up. I would look around at the adults and notice that a lot of them had something in common. I would look at some of my friends, who were suddenly more concerned with how they looked and who liked them, and I would see it creeping in. At the age of twelve I was convinced that adults had forgotten how to have fun, and I was terrified that as I got older that the same thing would happen to me. Now that I am an adult, I can say twelve year old me was on to something. A lot of adults truly have forgotten how to have fun. Life can be tiring. Its trials grind and wear us down. It is so easy to get caught up in that wearing pace, that having fun is sanded right off of us. I sincerely believe that this is another aspect of childhood we need to remember, because the kingdom of God is going to be fun. Honest, good, simple fun. The kind of fun where we take joy in the marvelousness of creation, and the kind of fun where we find laughterjust by being secure in God’s goodness.
The final aspect of being like a child that we need to reclaim into our faith is being able to forgive. Young children are much, much better at forgiving than adults are. They do not hold grudges or have unforgiving memories like we do. This is something that my daughter has taught me. She is without a doubt a “threenager.” That child, she knows how test my patience. I am a little ashamed to admit it, but there have been times when she pushed my patience past the breaking point. In anger, I said things that should not have been said in a tone that should not have been used. Just minutes later, she will come up, having let go of everything that has transpired, asking for a hug. Instead of staying mad at each other, my three year old did what I should have done and took the first step to reconciliation. The scripture is not lying, when it says “and a little child shall lead them.” That is a level of forgiveness and being willing to let go that we need to remember. In all of relationships we can choose to hold the grudge, we can choose to never let go of that one thing, or we can choose to take the steps to reconciliation. We can choose to forgive, just as God has forgiven us.
We have a lot to teach the children, but the kids have a lot to teach us. May we not shirk away from our God mandated responsibilities. May we take seriously, the directive to teach children about God and impress his commands upon them. May we take seriously the promises we made at their baptisms to provide a loving community of faith and hold them in prayer. However, may we not be so quick to grow up that we forget that the kingdom of God belongs to the likes of children. May we fight to claim and hold onto childlike qualities like an innocent faith, pure joy, and quick forgiveness. If we do that then we will find, that it does not matter how old our bodies get, in the kingdom of God we will still have a childlike heart. To take a new twist on an old 1980’s commercial jingle, perhaps we can sing “I don’t want to grow up, because if I did then I wouldn’t be Father God’s kid.”