Well, we’re in the middle of a sermon series called Jesus and Me and we’ve looking at the life of Jesus and figuring out how to follow Jesus in our everyday life. These aren’t big theoretical ideas, these are the nuts and bolts of following Jesus. In the week 1 we saw how Jesus demonstrated kindness to someone who rarely found it, a tax collector named Zacchaeus. And through that story we were invited to be like Jesus and show kindness to people around us. Last week we saw that Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one came back to thank Jesus for healing them. And we were invited to give thanks to God for the things he’s given us, big or small, and to tell the people in our lives who support us that we appreciate them.
One of the people in our lives that we have to appreciate is our parents. Now, my guess is that not all of us have a good relationship with our parents… but as they so often reminded us while we were growing up… we have to be grateful for them for at least one reason… they brought us into this world… they may have brought us into the world on accident, but nevertheless, almost all of us are grateful have been born.
When I was growing up my parents were very present in my life. My mom stayed home, so she was the one who spent the most time with us in the evenings when my dad was had meetings. Mom’s the one who picked me up from practices after school. She’s the one who showed up at every meet, game, or performance I ever participated in… whether I would get any playing time or not… and whether I wanted her there or not. She wasn’t there EVERY time, but she did everything she possibly could to support me by being at my activities.
There was something really comforting about knowing my mom would be at every event. I knew she would always be there for me, even if we didn’t see eye to eye, and when I was a teenager, that happened an awful lot. But even when we didn’t see eye to eye, she showed up to my stuff.
My dad was a pastor, so he had a weird schedule and had to work Sundays and evenings for meetings. But I was fortunate because he still made time for me. Some of my fondest memories are getting airplane rides from dad… or building forts out of couch cushions and blankets with dad… or when we worked on a project together for someone for Christmas… or when he invited me to go with him to visit people from church with him…
This time with parents has a vital impact on kids lives. There was a study done by Harvard on Harvard students over the last 75 years. Researchers met students in their sophomore year and every so often over they would check in on certain aspects of their lives. They wanted to see if there was any factors that would help determine a person’s happiness and success in life. Here’s what they found: the number one predictor of success in life was warmth in childhood relationships with parents (or other significant adults).
They found that people who said they had warmth in childhood relationships with parents made $87,000 a year more than those who didn’t have those warm relationships. They were more effective at work. Less likely to develop dementia. Lower rates of anxiety. They were able to enjoy vacations more. And at 75, people who had these warm relationships had an overall higher level of satisfaction in their lives.
So when we are actively engaged in our children’s lives, or other children in our lives, it impact them for the rest of their lives.
And the question is: how are you investing in the lives of children… because as we’ll see in the life of Jesus today, Jesus takes that pretty seriously. Jesus takes children pretty seriously.
Our story today comes from one of Jesus’ followers, Matthew… and interestingly enough, Matthew used to be a tax collector, but his life was transformed by Jesus’ kindness, too.
And Matthew writes that right before the encounter we’re going to hear, that there were large crowds following Jesus. We know at this point in his ministry he’s only about 4 weeks from the crucifixion, and that’s likely weighing heavily on his mind… he’s just been questioned by some Pharisees about divorce and he answers their question… and then a bunch of kids show up, and here’s what we see:
13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them.
Now, in their culture, this would not have been a surprising thing to happen. Children were often brought to rabbis or religious leaders for a prayer of blessing. In fact, Jesus was blessed by a man named Simeon in the Temple right after he was born. So these parents bring these young children to Jesus for him to pray for them and bless them. And can you blame them?
They had seen many things Jesus had done. These parents had seen Jesus heal people, they saw him eliminate pain and bring peace… cast out demons, they saw him stand up for the powerless and reach out a hand to the rejected… like Zacchaeus. Jesus lived a life that made people want to bring their kids to him because Jesus was the type of person that kids loved to be around.
And one way this encounter leads us to follow Jesus in our everyday life is showing us that we should be the type of person children love to be around. Don’t be a curmudgeon. Be like Jesus. Like we talked about in the first week of this series, show kindness. To your kids, grand-kids, the kids in your neighborhood, the kids in church. Give out good candy at Halloween.
Be the type of person children love to be around.
That’s what Jesus did, and it resulted in parents bringing their kids to him to be blessed. And here’s how we see the disciples respond: 13b But the disciples rebuked them.
Rebuked them. The disciples rebuked parents and their kids for showing up and wanting to be with Jesus. I don’t about you, but sometimes I read accounts of what happened in Jesus’ life and I think, wooooow… how could the disciples be so stupid? How could they do that? I’m glad I’m better than them.
But think about this situation. How would we have really responded if we were in the disciple’s shoes? Cause I don’t think the disciple’s were intentionally being rude, I think they were sending them away because of misguided kindness.
Think about it. The disciples were trying to do a nice thing for Jesus. I mentioned before that at this point in the story, Jesus had been healing, he was having lots of conversations with his disciples and the Pharisees and Jesus was talking about taking up his cross… maybe the disciple could even hear the tension in his voice when he’s talking about it.
You can imagine if your spouse gets home from a really long day at work and as soon as they walk in the door the kids are all: “mommy mommy! Come play with me!” And in kindness the dad might say, “hey kids… mommy just walked in the door… Let her get her shoes off and take a mental break for a little… she’ll be ready a bit later. Go play by yourself.”
Even in the office here at church, there’s always some salesman calling, trying to get us to sign up for something or trying to get us to buy something, and I appreciate that Carol and Michelle in the office never patch them through on the phones, they just take a message and tell them we’ll call back if we’re interested.
The disciples probably just thought they were doing Jesus a favor… surely he’d appreciate them, right? Jesus probably doesn’t want to be bothered by these children right now, right? I mean… maybe on a slow day, but not today. Today’s been a busy day. Jesus is just… too important… he can’t be spending time with kids… right? I mean, they don’t have anything to offer. They just need things.
But here’s how Jesus responds to the disciples: 14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.
Jesus was busy. Jesus was tired. Jesus was giving it everything he had leading up to the crucifixion and yet he says… “let the little children come to me…”
Because children have a special place in God’s heart, and children are so important that Jesus was never too busy for them. Jesus allowed himself to be interrupted by them and for them.
And this isn’t new. We see this same attitude lived out in many stories from Jesus’ life.
In Mark 5:21-24 we see this story: 21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake.22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.” And he healed her. He was doing something else, and he was interrupted for a child.
There’s another story of Jesus retreating after some time with the crowds, and a Canaanite woman sees him and begs him to heal his daughter. And even though he was tired and work out and trying to retreat, Jesus heals the daughter.
In all of Jesus’ teachings, one of the most severe punishments that is ever described regards those who negatively impact children: Mark 9:42 – “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.
By saying “Let the little children come to me”, Jesus demonstrates that he might look busy, he might be tired, he might have a lot of things weighing on his mind, but children are so important, he’s always got time for them. He’s never too busy to be interrupted for children.
Cause that’s what we see here, right? Jesus is going about his life and ministry and when it’s not a convenient time for him, he stops doing what he’s doing to invest in children… to engage with children… to bless children.
So what does Jesus want us to do with our children? With kids in the church? With the kids in our neighborhood? If we’re going to follow Jesus in the day to day aspects of out lives, we need to allow ourselves to be interrupted by children and we need to Invest in Children.
If you have children of your own or children of friends that you are connected to, this might look like putting aside the work that needs to be done, put down the work emails, and prioritizing a meal with the family every day. Maybe it’s spending 30 minutes after dinner building something out of Legos. If you have older kids it might be taking advantage of windshield time. Windshield time is when you’re driving in the car. There’s nothing to do, and there’s no way to get out of a conversation, but you’re also not staring at each other so it’s a little more comfortable, and you can ask questions and have a good conversation.
When I put my 4 year old son, Nathanael to bed, it’s some of the best conversation I have with him all day. He wants to talk about himself and our family and school and life more in those few minutes than during the day. I cherish that time and I get everything out of him that I can.
We’ve got to be okay putting down our work and be interrupted to make time for children. And I have a little encouragement to help you be more comfortable doing that. You may think you’re too busy at work to invest in children, but if you don’t show up at work tomorrow or the next day, how long do you think it would take them to replace you? Not very long, right? They probably already have a stack of resumes waiting for them. Anyone can do your job. You’re not that special.
But no one else can be mom. Or dad. Or grandma or grandpa.
You could also invest time in children by getting involved with children or youth ministry here at Faith Church. Every week it takes a few dozen servant leaders to help lead, teach, and mentor children and youth in nursery, Sunday School, children’s church, and Youth Group. We don’t need warm bodies so that we can run the program. We need people to have warm relationships with our kids so that they grow up to know the love of Jesus and have a healthy life. Maybe for you it’s time to take a step of faith and say yes to serving.
Invest Time and Energy in Children.
Maybe you’re sitting here thinking about how you just generally don’t like being around kids. Please do not sign up to teach or mentor kids. But the good news is you can still invest in children by investing what you have to help make ministry to children and youth successful. Maybe it’s money. When you put money in the plates on Sunday morning or give online your gifts help fund Vacation Bible School where 200 kids come and hear about Jesus.
Your gifts help reduce the cost of youth retreats for middle and high school students. (PICTURE) Just this month we took a group of Middle schoolers to Maryland for a retreat where they grew closer to one another and closer to God.
Your gifts support the work of the church in Sierra Leone, which in part benefits children in that community. Your gifts support the Bellefonte Youth Centre, Blessing of the Backpacks, and Bridge of Hope which offers personal connection and resources to help get single mothers who don’t have their own place to live get back on their feet, back at a job, and find a place they can call home.
You can invest in children in many different ways, but Jesus shows us that children are worth the effort and we can make an impact on their life and faith that will last a lifetime. Invest in children and be the type of person children love to be around.
I want to close with this thought. As I was looking at the text this week, I realized that this isn’t a story about children. It’s about seeing value in people who the world doesn’t see value in. Those who society says is insignificant… the overlooked… the forgotten… the undeserved. Children were among the lowest in society because they had nothing to contribute. They were needy. They couldn’t make it on their own.
A few chapters earlier, Jesus says, “whoever welcomes a child welcomes me.”
And a few chapters later, in Matthew 25, Jesus says, “whoever feeds the hungry feeds me, whoever gives the thirsty a drink gives me a drink, whoever invites in the stranger invites me in, whoever clothes the naked clothes me, whoever looks after the sick looks after me, whoever visits those in prison visits me.
You know what children and the hungry and the naked and the stranger have in common. They don’t seem to benefit us. Investing in them isn’t going to make our lives better. Investing in them isn’t going to increase the value of my retirement plan. Investing them isn’t going to improve the value of my home.
But Jesus’ call for us today is to invest in children. Allow ourselves to be interrupted by children. And to be people who children love to be around.
But the broader call in this story is that following Jesus in the day to day means investing in the forgotten, allowing ourselves to be interrupted by the overlooked, and be people who have nothing to offer love bring around.
Because here’s the reality: Jesus loves us and invested in us by giving himself for us on the cross… even though we had nothing to offer of any real value. We couldn’t earn the title child of God, and yet he gives it to us for free.
And now we’re called to be Jesus so that others can understand his love… especially those who need it most… like children.
Jesus Loves the Little Children
- Who are a few people who were engaged with you in your life? How were they present for you? What impact did they have on your life?
- Read Matthew 18:1-5.
*The disciples were seeking to be “great” in the kingdom of heaven. Who do you think they expected Jesus would say was the greatest?
*What downsides can there be by mainly holding up powerful people as models of greatness?
*What do you think Jesus meant by “whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
- Read Matthew 19:13-15
How do you think the disciples felt when Jesus “scolded” them for stopping the children?
What do you learn from Jesus’ strikingly counter-cultural way of regarding children as valuable and important?
- If this story of Jesus would change one aspect of your life, what would it be?