Last Saturday was Violet’s fourth birthday. For her birthday we took her to COSI—the giant kid friendly science center down in Columbus. Let me tell you, I had the best time ever! And I think Violet and A.J. did too!
If you follow me on Twitter then you saw the numerous tweets I put out with pictures of Violet doing various things from: playing with boats and other floating objects in a flowing kid friendly river, to painting, to watching an experiment about radio waves and frequencies, to building a huge fort with giant foam tinker toys, to checking out the human body in the anatomy section where you could literally pull the plastic innards out of a dummy and then fit them all back together like a puzzle, to looking at bugs and turtles in the biology area, while asking if a particular snake was venomous. My tweets accounted for only a handful of the things we saw and did.
Throughout our time at COSI, and watching both Violet and A.J. scurry about from one multisensory apparatus to the next, I couldn’t help but wonder what they will one day grow to become.
We know that for a child the future is wide open, and so our children and grandchildren, our nieces and nephews may become scientists or slackers; doctors, dentists or deadbeats; minister or malcontents, lawyers or “lawyers”. There is no way to know what our children will become, but what we do know is that for our children to “become all they can become” they need the love and support of family, friends, teachers, coaches—and I certainly believe a church family. All will play an important and valuable role.
Today we mark the celebration of the Children’s Sabbath as a way of honoring the presence of children in our church, our community, and beyond. The Children’s Sabbath was started in 1992 by the Children’s Defense Fund, as a way to educate people about the urgent needs of our youngest and most vulnerable citizens and celebrate the gift of the presence of children in our lives, because the truth is, children are a gift, no matter their age or personality.
Children are, however, a paradox—they are incredibly simple, yet they are unimaginably complex. But that is part of their gift, because we have an opportunity to nurture them within this complex age that is childhood.
And how are we to nurture this complex age? Well, Jesus shows us how.
The presence of children creates quite a conundrum for the disciples and quite a teaching moment for Jesus.
Jesus is in the middle of speaking to a crowd of people when a group of parents bring their children forward for a blessing. It was customary in Jewish society for a rabbi to bless a newborn child as a way of accepting the child into society. Jesus’ actions— touched, took in his arms, blessed, laid hands on—are the official actions of a rabbinical blessing.
But this blessing almost didn’t happen because of Jesus’ disciples. As the parents get close to Jesus, the disciples step in to deny the children access to Jesus.
Now certainly we bristle at what appears to be the disciples’ insensitivity, but it’s important to note in this day it was accepted behavior because children weren’t valued—unless you were a first born boy. Almost all children were treated like property.
In the Greco-Roman world one could literally throw children away by exposing them at birth. Exploiters would gather abandoned children and raise them to be used as gladiators or beggars or worse for the females.
It was easy to ignore children or bar their access because there was no one who really cared or would fight for them. Except Jesus.
When Jesus saw the Disciples holding back the children, Mark tells us Jesus was indignant. He’s not just perturbed or ticked off or annoyed; he’s indignant—he was angry… irate… outraged… toward the injustice being done, a power play being perpetrated against the powerless. And so he stops them, and actually turns the disciples’ sense of authority against them. He gathers the children like a mother hen, and says to his followers, “?You all are so concerned about entering the Kingdom of God, and want to know how to do so? Well right here is how. Look at these kids and be like them.”
And just what does Jesus mean by this? I believe he means we need to stop acting our adult age, and start being more like children.
As we age, we get saddled with more responsibilities and take on more worries; we forget what it’s like to see things through the eyes of a child. As a result, we lose the qualities that make us more open and accepting—of people, of changing times, even of God’s presence in our lives.
So if we seek to follow Jesus’ proclamation, which child-like qualities should we strive to emulate? Well, there are three that I think would make for a good start.
The first, I believe, is trust. Children are trusting. Unlike us adults, children have not yet learned to be suspect of the world.
We see a stranger, someone different than us, and we immediately go on the defensive. A child, however, sees a stranger as a friend they haven’t met yet, which is why we as adults have to be diligent in protecting them. But think of the level of trust they exhibit, especially in those of us whom they love.
When Julie and I dropped our daughter off at her first day of pre-school, she bounded through the door and into her classroom without the slightest hesitation, because she knew that me, her dad, and Julie her mom, wouldn’t send her some place unsafe. That’s the trust Jesus is talking about here—being willing to take a leap of faith, trusting that no matter what, we will be safe in God’s arms.
Another quality Jesus calls us to exhibit is humility. Children don’t try to act like someone they’re not; they’re not conscious of the image they are trying to project. They are uniquely, fully themselves…sure sometimes to our chagrin.
We all have stories of a child or grandchild or niece or nephew who has blurted out an inappropriate statement in the middle of Target or church. I would share some personal stories here, but they’re not fit for the pulpit. But that’s kids! They don’t have a socialization filter in their brains; they don’t worry that other people won’t like their artwork. They simply want to share what they have, be it curious questions or jelly fish drawings or whatever they have discovered.
Children show us how to be humble.
This leads to another child-like quality that I think almost all adults are seriously lacking, and that is: a sense of wonder. When a child discovers something new, it immediately becomes the greatest thing in the history of the universe and they just have to tell you about it! I see this all the time with Violet and A.J.
Or think about a baby discovering her hands for the first time. She’ll look at them like they are some sort of alien tentacle that’s waving in front of their face, and then she’ll realize that she can control this tentacle, she can actually make it do things like pick up a cheerio and put it in her mouth. A whole new world has opened up!
Do we remember what it’s like to feel that sense of wonder? I wonder what it would be like if we re-discovered God like a baby discovering her hands? Are we strong enough to trust…to be humble…like a child? Are we too jaded for all this? Is it too late to stop acting our age? Or can we somehow find our way back to a child’s perspective, receiving Jesus as he was meant to be received— as a gift?
And actually that idea of receiving Jesus as a gift can be another lesson about our age. Children are much better about receiving a gift than we are. Adults are always worried about etiquette and reciprocity. “Oh, I didn’t get him anything! Should I open it now or wait? What if I don’t like this? Is it rude to ask for the receipt?” But you never see a kid worry about such etiquette. Give a kid a gift and they shred the pretty wrapping paper, fling the tissue and then lift up the new treasure as if it were the Holy Grail itself, all as they shout and screech with joy.
What if we greeted God each morning like that? How much better would our lives be? How much better would we make the lives around us? How much better would the world be if we all were a bit less our actual age, and a bit more child-like?
All of these qualities— trust, humility, a sense of wonder—are smaller parts of a bigger quality I believe Jesus is highlighting here. Jesus knows that children will grow and become what they are nurtured and taught to become by their parents, families, teachers, coaches, their church family. And he is showing us, imploring us, to help them become like him—one who is loving, compassionate, and seeks to serve others—one who is trusting, humble, and has a deep sense of wonder.
“Let the little children come to me,” Jesus says. Adults can find all kinds of reasons to reject this invitation— too busy, not good enough, not enough faith. But not kids. They receive this gift with trust, with humility, with a sense of wonder, fully dependent on the One who calls them to his side.
Author Michael Elliott writes, “We spend too much time trying to be on top of things rather than trying to see things from below. We should remember that the only time Jesus saw things from the top was when he hung on the cross.”
I’m thankful for celebrations like the Children’s Sabbath that remind us of the need to get down on our knees, because from there we have a better chance of seeing things from a child’s perspective.
So may we, in our efforts to nurture the children in our lives, be nurtured by them in return. Let us take a lesson in trust, humility, and wonder from the children in our lives. For when we do, we will forget what our actual age might be, and discover a life giving faith—like that of a child. Amen.