Thursday, 27 March 2014

Like children

Exeter Temple Message notes
Sunday 23rd March 2014
Bible Readings:          Mark 10:13-16   Matthew 18:1-6
                                           He called a little child and had him stand among them."
                                                                          (Matthew 18:2)
Some parents brought their babies to Jesus for Him to bless them but the disciples tried to prevent them. Jesus intervened, welcomed the children and went on to teach an important lesson through them.
1. Everyone is welcome
It was the custom of the times for mothers to bring their children to some distinguished rabbi on their first birthday that he might bless them. The parents were acting according to the custom of the day but in doing so were recognising Jesus’ position and authority as a teacher and leader. They hoped that his blessing and contact with their child would have a positive effect. These parents came to Jesus because they wanted their children to be winners not losers. Throughout history society has seen the rich, the powerful or the accomplished as winners and the rest as losers.
In Jesus’ day it was also believed that being a winner depended upon a person having the favour of God.  Disability, illness, bereavement, childlessness, low social status, scandal could all be reasons to label a person a loser. It was believed that if these things affected you then somehow you or your parents had earned God’s disapproval or even that  the devil had cursed you. In addition your inadequacy, your failures, your lack of moral fibre could also exclude you from God’s blessing. 
Jesus didn’t condemn these parents for wanting his blessing to guarantee immunity for their children from that.  
Jesus also actively called the ones who were able to walk to Him to come to Him themselves. Jesus still calls children to come and follow him. 
85% of the people who come to Christ are people under the age of 18. 
This story is not just about the importance of children’s ministry, but an example of Jesus living out the message he was continually preaching. 
We have lost the impact of it, today but Jesus revolutionary statements which we call the Beatitudes upset the religious establishment to the core. 
See Matthew 5:1-12
Some have interpreted these as a recipe for right living, a list of attitudes we should have But what if Jesus was actually saying something like this? 
Hey! You who have no spiritual references! Come and belong to my kingdom. You, who have lost so much and you who has never been noticed before, I want to give you all the riches of heaven. And those of you whose longing for things to be put right have never been satisfied, I can meet your need. You over there, who have been taken in again and again, used, abused and put upon, you can come under my rule and I guarantee you will never be taken advantage of.  And those who standards are impeccable, my Kingdom will help you be all that you long to be because you’ll see God himself in it all! If you are worn out with the strain of maintaining relationships or mistreated or misunderstood you can lean on the Father because you are a son of God and a citizen of heaven itself for all eternity.”
If Jesus is actually saying that those who are labelled losers can still be blessed by God then these are an announcement of good news.
It is easy to get sucked into the world’s view perception of who should be welcome and drawn into a religious perception of who God blesses.  
Even as committed, Christians we get to feel that somehow there are some things the word of God offers or expects of us that doesn’t quite include us.  Somehow we’ve thought that the Holy Spirit is for extroverts, that ministry is for the gifted and that prayer is only for the pious!
We have to think differently about ourselves, what we can do and what we can be.  
2.  No one should be hindered    
If the kingdom of God is for everyone, then nothing should get in the way of people knowing that and having access to it. Everyone is welcome and no one should be hindered from coming to Jesus.
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these”.
Why did the disciples try to block these parents from getting their children to Jesus?
One problem was that they were extremely busy. Some days they didn’t even have enough time to eat, so they didn’t want to be interrupted.
Maybe the disciples could also see the strain of the impending crisis that Jesus would face in Jerusalem beginning to wear on him and they were trying to watch out for the Lord.
But Jesus’ was still displeased with his disciples and his reaction to the disciples’ attempt to protect him show us that there is never a good reason to consider some people too insignificant or too irrelevant for our consideration.
The disciples hindered the children; Jesus rebuked the disciples and invited the children. The lesson is clear: Disciples of Jesus should remove all hindrances that keep anyone from coming to Jesus.
We do not actively say to people, “Don’t come to the Salvation Army, we don’t want you.” But people are sometimes hindered from exploring faith or receiving the ministry of Jesus through us by things other than words.
It might simply be that people are hindered by lack of knowledge. They don’t know what is on offer. It might be simple things like the times we are available for people.  It might be a perception that they are not welcome because they do not already have their faith sorted out.
Some people are hindered by bad publicity about the Church and stories of abuse. Some are fearful that the church will make unreasonable demands on their time or even that we are after their money.  Jesus is quite clear that we must not hinder people from coming to Him. 
May God help us to see ourselves through other people’s eyes and the message we are giving out. 
3. We all need to be like children
This story is often depicted in nice scenes of Jesus surrounded by cute kids but it is not a totally comfortable one. It contains a warning.
Having child-like qualities is not only desirable but essential. 
The disciples of Jesus had fixed ideas about how Jesus would rule as a King. They were very concerned that when Jesus set up his government they would hold influential positions. Jesus used a little child to illustrate his point that “Unless you change and become like little children you will
never enter the kingdom of heaven.” They might not even get in to the kingdom let alone hold office in it.
Jesus says that unless we learn from children we are losing out on something so vital that we lose touch with God and how He rules the universe.
A child at birth is helpless and cannot provide for himself. There is nothing they can do to feed themselves, keep themselves clean, keep warm or safe. They are completely dependent. 
In our need to be rescued from the power of sin, we need to recognise that we are as helpless as babies. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves.
This was something that Jesus pointed out to Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
As we grow learn to play “let’s pretend”. Let’s pretend we are coping OK. Let’s pretend we are more in control than we really are, let’s pretend we don’t really care etc. etc. As we grow it’s easy to try to hide behind masks and we can find ourselves being less than honest with ourselves, others and God. 
Unless we go back to the place where we cry out to God to help us, in the same way as a baby cries out to be fed or changed or held we will never find our place in the kingdom. 
A child does not have blind faith, but keeps on asking questions and keeps on discovering more. Some adults never come to faith in God because they need all the answers first, but God is just too big for that.
Other adults have a faith which never asks any hard questions but that kind of faith is no use to us in really testing circumstances. Jesus welcomes both belief and questions just as He freely welcomed children.
Jesus loved children. They are teachable. They are not proud, self-important and critical.
We are to come simply to Jesus not with any pride of knowledge or achievement but with the trusting dependency of a small child.

God bless


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