Saturday, August 26, 2017

Let the Children Come to Me!

Luke 18:15-17 All of us have heard the old story about the plumber whose bathtub doesn’t drain or the mechanic whose car has bad brakes or the attorney who doesn’t have a will.  Maybe we have seen that Norman Rockwell painting of the overweight doctor with a cigarette in his mouth lecturing his patient about his health. 
The point being that even people who ought to know better are often times blind to the needs that are right before their eyes.
The same thing can happen in the church.  All of us know the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ:  Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded. 
This command and invitation involves brining people into the Kingdom of God and training them in his ways. 
The Church at large-- and this congregation-- have responded to that glorious invitation to take our part in the Lord’s mission to save all people.  Paul was sent to the Gentiles.  Thomas made it as far as India.  By the beginning of the second century A.D. Christianity was already established in Great Britain.
So it has gone down through the ages as the people of God have responded to the Lord’s call to make disciples of all people.  Our own congregation supports missionaries in Asia and Africa and it is exciting to hear those stories of how the Good News of Jesus has touched people all over the world.
The commission of Jesus to make disciples of ALL nations really does mean ALL.  ALL includes people of every nation, tribe, people and language.  It includes God’s ancient people the Jews.  It includes people across the world who we will never know until we get to heaven. 
But brothers and sisters in Christ, this charge to make disciples of all nations—to bring people into the kingdom and train them in the ways of the kingdom-- also includes those who are closest to us—those we know and love best. 
It also includes those who the Lord, in his wisdom, has placed into our care in our families.  It includes our children.  We begin to fulfill the Lord’s Great commission and take our place in this important mission work when we bring our children to Jesus and teach them the ways of the kingdom of God.  The Bible says that:  The people were bringing even infants to Jesus that he might touch them.
I would not have to make this point at the beginning to the people of the ancient world but in this place and time it does need to be made:  there were children in that place who could be brought to Jesus at all!
We live in a culture that is ambivalent at best about children and at world is outright antagonistic.  It is legal in our country and throughout much of the co-called Christian West for parents-- who have been gifted by God with a baby-- to murder that baby in utero.  St. Mother Teresa was absolutely correct when she said:
The greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child…
And even where the child is allowed to live there is still profound ambivalence about how children are to be regarded—as a blessing or a burden.
Our godless, materialistic culture sees children as a burden or an imposition or a roadblock to our self-will and our self-love and our self-determination.  But the people who were bringing their children to Jesus that day knew God’s own truth about them:  that they were blessings from God and that the family who had more children had more blessings.
There is nowhere- and I mean nowhere- in the Bible where God speaks of children as anything other than his blessing.  Sadly, the people of God have forgotten that today as the birthrate among Christians is no different than that of the unbelieving world around us. 
But the believers who came to Jesus with the children, even their infants, believed that their children were blessings from God and they wanted for them the blessings that only Jesus can give.  The Bible says that when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.
When we hear these words and picture this scene in our minds we can’t help but wonder to ourselves, “Why on earth would anyone keep a child from Jesus?  Who thinks that is a good idea!?” 
But the disciples did-- and so do many people in the church today as well.  They do it because they really do not understand that children—and even infants—also need what only Jesus can do for them and that is forgive their sin and make them a part of God’s family.
There is nothing in this world sweeter and more precious to us than our babies and children but we have to believe what Jesus says about them—that flesh gives birth to flesh—that they too must be born again from above by the Holy Spirit if they are to have their own place in God’s kingdom.  The Bible teaches that:
Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people…
Every one of our children—born of their parents’ love--are part of Adam’s family and because they are a part of Adam’s family the judgment of God pronounced upon Adam falls upon them too.  No one is excluded from that—no one.
And yet the God who created them, loves them-- and desires to be a heavenly Father to them-- and has sent his Son Jesus Christ for them—to die on the cross for them and to give them a new and eternal life in his kingdom. 
That is why Jesus gave the Great Commission to the church—so that all people could have a life with him through baptism and faith in his teachings— even, and especially, our children. 
That is why we bring our children to Jesus in the waters of Holy Baptism-- so that the saving benefits of his death and resurrection can become their own.  That is why we teach our children to obey everything our Lord has taught us so that they can come to Jesus and take their place in his kingdom.  The Bible says that: 
Jesus called the parents and the disciples to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.
I know that every parent sitting here this morning wants the best for your children.  I have absolutely no doubt about that whatsoever!  You sacrifice for your children.  You pray for your children.  You encourage them and disciple them and guide them and pick them up again and again when they stumble and fall.  You want the best for your children.
But brothers and sisters in Christ, I will tell you that the “best” when it comes to your children is not the right kind of career.  The best is not fame and fortune.  The best is not a lifetime free from worries or difficulties.  The best is for them to take their place in the kingdom of God and be his children first and live with him forever.
As parents we don’t always know what to say or do when it comes to our kids.  We have—and will—make parenting mistakes.  Praise God that he has made our children resilient enough to survive our parenting-- and praise God that he forgives us and helps us begin again in the power and help of the Holy Spirit to fulfill our calling as Christian parents!
But brothers and sisters, whatever other mistake we may make, we cannot get this wrong:  that our first priority as parents is bring our children to Jesus and see them take their place in his Kingdom and learn his ways.
That I why we baptize them.  That is why we read them Bible stories before bed.  That is why we teach them to pray.  That is why we bring them to church and Sunday School.  That is why we have a Christian school and early childhood center.
This Church understands that our responsibility as Christians- first and foremost--is to see that our children are brought to the faith and trained in the faith and taught the faith so that they can be a part of God’s kingdom in time and for eternity.  Jesus says:  Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
That our children are to be our very first mission priority—that our children first brought into the Kingdom of God and trained in its ways is not an exception to the way that God works in this world or something out of the ordinary—but it is the very pattern for ALL our mission work and evangelism efforts!
Every person in this world—by nature—is just as helpless in spiritual things as is the tiniest newborn baby!  Every person in this world—by nature—has just as much to learn about God’s kingdom as does the youngest child in our early childhood center.  No one comes into the Kingdom of God in any other way than by simple faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
And so then, to fulfill the Lord’s mission in this place we need an early childhood center and we need a Christian school and we need a vibrant Sunday School if for no other reason than that WE would learn that the Lord’s love and care and concern for souls extends to ALL people, even the least in the world’s eyes-- and so our love and care and concern is to extend to all people, even the least in the world’s eyes, beginning with those who are closest to us. 

When we pray for and encourage and support Christian education we are showing that we take seriously our Savior’s words when he invites the little children to come to him and promises them a place in his kingdom.  Amen.

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