Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Do not despise little ones. . .

Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18A, preached on Sunday, September 10, 2023.

Children have become the stuff of romance more than reality.  We like them when they are cute and cuddly but we are not sure what to do with them as the grow up. We treat them as if they were possessions or, perhaps, toys.  We do not play with them, but use them as our playthings.  Most of the fun of it is when we dress them up to look like adults or when the child ends up spewing a mouthful of adult words or when a child a child tries to do adult things.  Except that children are not ours.  They do not belong to their parents and they certainly do not belong to the government.  They belong to the Lord.  To say this is as shocking today as it was when Jesus turned an adult conversation about greatness into a an indictment of the way the people treated children.  Perhaps we could stand such a conversation.

Children are meant to be seen and heard.  More importantly, they are meant to put constraints on how we adults talk, what we talk about, and what we do in front of them.  I am not sure that any age really got this but ours is as bad as they come in this department.  We allow our children to see the worst in us and the worst in our society.  We thrust them into adult situations and then force them to make adult choices about such things as sexual desire and gender.  We fill their minds with fears and then wonder why they cannot sleep at night.  We treat them as if they were burdens to born instead of holy responsibilities from God – if you do not believe me, try and recruit Sunday school teachers!             

Jesus is blunt.  If you cause one of these little ones who believe in Him to sin, you deserve to be drowned in the depths of the sea.  You cannot play around with the stuff of sin and especially when children are listening and watching.  The Lord is making a point.  The children do not belong to you but to Him.  They have been placed in our care as a sacred trust.  It surely matters then to make sure you get them good medical care and feed them good food but it matters most of all if you bring them to the worship services of God’s House and raise them to know their heavenly Father and their Savior Jesus Christ.  In other words, your job is not simply to insulate them from the bad things but to raise them up in the holy fear and faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lest you think that Jesus is talking about being an adult for the sake of the children in your care, don’t forget that He has also said we must become like a little child if we are to be saved.  Only little children can be saved.  
Could it be that Jesus has expanded His definition of children?  Our Lord is talking about a sense of holy innocence – not because the child is perfect and never does anything wrong but because the trusts what He is told.  To become like a little child means to learn again to trust what God says, to count on it, and to cherish it.  I fear this is not what we are hearing.  It is not about acting like children or  teenagers.  Our wish to be children is not the pursuit of innocence or trust but the opportunity to avoid what we don not want to do, to spend our money and time on ourselves, and to indulge our every whim.  That is not being child-like but childish.  To become like a little child means to listen to Him with all the attention of our hearts, minds, and lives.

Do not play with sin as if toying with evil had no consequences.  Do not treat evil as if it were no big deal.  Live as the pure in heart and the holy in mind.  Until they are corrupted, they listen because they trust you and they hear because they want to know what you know.  If only we were that childlike.  The value of a child is not defined by what they child can do for you but is inherent in the very life of that child.  We have long ago given up the idea that anyone’s life matters merely because they are alive.  Long ago we began to put a price tag on people’s lives and we decided that some lives were not worth as much as others, some could be washed from the womb as if it did not matter at all, and some could be given drugs to ease their pain so that we might be relieved of the burden of the aged and infirm.

It is the will of God that none should perish, that every life be given the rightful honor not only of being alive but of being a child of God by baptism and faith.  It is the will of God that no one and nothing prevent His saving grace from rescuing the lost, restoring the broken, forgiving the sinner, and giving life to the dying.  This is absolutely true with respect to children but it is no less true for those we call adults.  In fact, the same generous and loving will of God for the child belongs to the adult of any age.  In fact, it might be that our Lord is address all of us as children, beloved by God, valued by His love, saved by His grace, redeemed for His purpose and glory.

We have a merciful and loving God who desires for the child the same as the adult and who seeks to save the adult as well as every child.  This God will not relent until any who would be saved, will be saved and come to the knowledge of His Son and believe in Jesus Christ whom the Father has sent.  God became a child for children, and not just the babies but for all the children of men.
The child cries out and God is there.  The child finds comfort in the arms of his father.  This is what God desires to do not simply for the little ones but for you and me.  We are the lost in whom the Father rejoices to save, we are the weak whom He seeks to protect, we are the children who must be warned about the things that can harm us, and we are the dying whom He wills to live.  We are the children who trust the voice of the Lord and who walk in His ways.  We are the children of God, redeemed in baptismal water and given new and everlasting life.  We are the children whom God welcomes with open arms and forgives our every sin.

This is why we are here and this is what Jesus is here to do for us.  To answer the cry of every broken heart, to cradle every fearful soul, to forgive every guilty sinner, to restore to innocense what sin has corrupted, to bring home every runaway, and to give life to every one who lives in the shadow of death.  Jesus claims this as His mission and He tenderly invites us to share in that mission, with the children who are young in age and the children who are not but whose lives have value because He died for them and whom He protects with His own blood.  We are precious in the Lord’s sight not because we are cute or because we are valuable.  God loves us without any blinders on to the sins and evils in us.  But His love restores us to innocense by making us all children, His children, today and forevermore.

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