Learning from a Child

Matthew 18:1-4

September 6th & 7th, 2008


            Sarah Palin.  Have you heard of her? Two weeks ago, I would have a lot more explaining to do, but now she is the new vice presidential candidate, second in charge and some say destined for greatness.  When the disciples asked who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven, essentially they were asking who was second in charge.  They knew Jesus was the Messiah, but they also felt like this also involved great advantages for them too.  But is greatness also a desire for us?  Our initial response may be no.  When we look     all the responsibility the lack of a private life, and the general we have of living in this community, many of would say no we are not after such greatness   However if greatness is defined as living a life where people can look at you and say, now that person mattered, to us this may sound good.  Maybe for us greatness is defined as being financially comfortable or at least more comfortable than we are now.     Maybe for us greatness is found conquering bad habits, improving ourselves, writing a book or leaving a lasting legacy.  Greatness is visible, greatness is felt, greatness means some sort of success.  We might even think wouldn’t be great for our message, for the gospel, if Jesus would make every Christian a step above everyone else.  Our statement could be this, “confess Christ, and your emotional, financial, and psychological health will definitely get better.  If  we could do this, then we have proof that hat following Jesus really does work.    What if we could  prove that Christians are happier people, then every one would know that true greatness comes from following Jesus. No this isn’t vice presidential greatness, but it is greatness nonetheless.

            Jesus looks around and sees a child.   Now in our world children are at least outwardly seen as very important.   Today political candidates hold up babies, and we hear pop-psychologist talk about getting back to ones inner child. Yet, in the first century children were not important to the functioning society.     They could not fight.  They could not lead.  They didn’t have worldly wisdom or education.  Today in many ways little children, and that who Jesus is talking about here are more receivers than givers.    They consumed a lot of energy and time.  Little children by themselves are not going to help the family income or the church budget.  Little children tend to take up a lot of time, especially when they are very young.  After a day of rocking and holding a child, what does a young mother often say?  I didn’t get anything done.  Why does Jesus chose children as an example?

Jesus makes everyone present look down at this child   and says “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”   The disciples must have been thinking, what is Jesus talking about?  Usually we are told to grow up, and now Jesus is telling us to grow down.    It is as if Jesus is saying, you want to know where greatness lies. It lies in me?  It lies in what I have done for you, and my connection to you.  Your greatness is not in what you will do or don’t do, it lies in being dependent/having faith in what I have done in your life.  Become like a little child. Grow down. 

            I’m reminded of Jesus encounter with Nicodemus, the Pharisee whom he met late at night, very impressed with his miracles.  Jesus turns to him and says “no one can enter the king of God unless he is born again”.  Nicodemus response to Jesus “grow down” approach was “How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb?”   Jesus gave him the answer when he said that this new birth happens through the water and the spirit.  In other words, if this is going to happen, I need to do something for you.   This is the lesson for us too.

            Children are used to having things done for them.  They are given food, clothing, hopefully a safe environment.  It is the parents and families who chose their schooling, and make decisions on where they live.  If parents and family members do not provide, especially young child he or she simply will not survive.  This is the point Jesus is making to his disciples and to us.  A child is dependent, and your greatness comes from growing down, from your being dependent on me for everything you have, and everything you will be.  To humble oneself, is simply the gift of recognizing the truth.  The truth that it is God who has given us every single nano second of life this side of heaven, it is in him we live move and have our being.  The truth that it is Jesus who became incarnate as a young child, he put our skin on and he bore in his body   all of our faulty desires of living on our own separate from his forgiveness.  The truth that our sins against him and against our neighbor are totally and completely covered when he said on Calvary “it is finished.”   When he says “This is my body, this is my blood” the truth is we are then clean and whole.  The truth that he really has paved the way to everlasting life, and that shame, guilt, pain, grief and sorrow will one day give way to a new order of things.   A day when God himself will wipe every tear from our eyes.  The truth that greatness comes from receiving the good gifts our gracious Lord has to offer.  The truth that we are glorious dependent on this God for everything.     Greatness comes from growing down, so help us Lord to do just that! Amen.