Sunday, 30 September 2012

Musings on Children and God's Kingdom

Jesus took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in His arms, He said,' Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes Me.'
(Mark 9.37)

And in Matthew's version of the same story, we read,
'I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heave.'
(Matt 18.3)

What a great day for that little boy! Imagine being called out by Jesus the great Rabbi! You can just see the little chap stood there proudly, rushing back to tell Mum and Dad and Granny and Grandpa...and perhaps years later telling his own grandchildren about how Jesus, yes they one they say died on a cross and rose again, had actually called him out in front of the crowd to help with His teaching. Last week at Richmond, Archbishop Sentamu called 6 children out to help him with his talk; I overheard one of them telling his friend about it - he will remember that day for a long time!

Children feature a surprising number of times in Jesus' teaching and ministry - 12 times in the gospels. They are not just valued, they are given the highest place. We are told, unless we all become like little children, we cannot enter God's Kingdom. If we receive a child in Jesus' name, that is like receiving Jesus Himself. Why are children so important? What does Jesus mean when He says we should all be like children? I want to explore four aspects of the nature of childhood that might be relevant.


Children have that marvellous sense of curiosity and wonder, don't they? They're discovering the world for the first time, seeing it all with new eyes. They're not jaded and cynical about what they see, but excited by it. Isn't it that sense of wonder and curiosity at God's world and where He has placed us in it that leads us into God's Kingdom?.

You don't have to be a child to retain a sense of wonder. I met living proof of that recently. I gave a lady a lift home from a church variety show - it turned out she is 90 in November. She had just been on stage playing the harmonica and telling caterpillar jokes. She told me that for her 80th birthday she had been up in a hot air balloon, for her 85th she had had a ride in a small plane and for her 89th (incase she did not reach her 90th!) she had ridden pillion on the back of a motor bike. That is surely retaining a sense of the wonder of life - and, interestingly, the children at the show had clearly loved her.  Despite her rather old fashioned manners and use of language there was an immediate bond between her and the children.

Perhaps we aren't all physically fit enough to go flying at 80, but the challenge is, what we can do to recapture a sense of wonder at the world about us? A sense of gladness that God daily provides for us. An enthusiasm that we can share with others with a shining face.


Children have a deep rooted and immediate sense of what is just and fair. Try sharing  a box of chocolates between them or refereeing a game when they know they rules better than you do! 'It's not fair, Miss!' In the words of the Lord to Zechariah the prophet, 'You are required to administer justice'!

Is Jesus saying that a profound sense of what is right and fair is a prerequisite for entering the kingdom of Heaven? And, accompanying that, so deep a sense of outrage at what is wrong that we are compelled to take action. In the gospels, Jesus does not often talk about hell. But He does speak of the flames of hell at the end of at least two parables. You remember the parable of Dives, the rich man, and Lazarus, the poor man at his gate whom he refuses to lift a finger to help? And the parable of the sheep and the goats where the goats are those who have not fed the hungry or given the thirsty to drink or visited the prisoner or the sick and so on. Jesus Himself displayed a great sense of outrage at life's injustices - that some had all they could possibly want and did nothing for those who had very little. That some thought themselves better than others or always in the right and were not prepared to be moved by the plight or the words of others in very different circumstances. Children want what's fair for themselves but they generally have a well developed sense of what's fair for other children, too, and will stand up for it.

A willingness to get involved

A very big difference between children and teenagers is that children can't wait to get started on an activity, can they? But as anyone who's worked with teenagers will know, they hang back. Will they look silly? Will their friends join in? What are the risks? The older we grow, the gretaer the temptation to think,' 'Let someone else do it' or at least, 'let someone else try it out first...if it works, I may join in.'

Jesus was fully engaged with those around Him. He did not necessarily hide from awkward or threatening situations (though sometimes he took evasive action), He took risks, He responded to whoever was persistent enough to come to Him. Perhaps one of the things that marks out members of the Kingdom of God is that they don't stand on the side lines and watch. They don't marginalize themselves or other people. One of the most moving performances I've ever seen of the story of Romeo and Juliet was by pupils of the Sheppherd School in Nottingham. It was an interpretation, in movement, of Juliet's sorrow over Romeo's death. You could feel the grief, touch the tragedy. This was performed by a group of young people with learning difficulties. I was struck by the way in which their teachers had encouraged them to get fully immersed in the story, to understand it from the inside of their own experiences of love and then to communicate what was in their hearts. From this emerged as eloquent a dance as I have ever seen about human loss and grief. To enter God's Kingdom, we need the ability to engage, not to stand on the sidelines as an observer, to give the things that come our way all we've got, even in the face of discouragements.

The ability to receive

Children love presents, don't they? They love to given something small from your house to take away and treasure. They trust the people who care for them. They are not too proud to receive help when they really need it. They know they are dependent on their parents and carers. Being childlike means returning to that sense of immediate dependence on God. Receiving from God thankfully and gladly. I have a friend who was recently working in Tanzania. He was very impressed by the way that the people he was working with literally got down on their knees everyday outside their homes and gave thanks for the new day. Not only that, they received every meal, every slice of fruit by the roadside, every journey safely completed as a gift from God that was to be remarked upon and prayed about with gratitude.

Become like little children! Retain or regain a sense of wonder. Love justice. Plung in and get involved. Receive everything as gift from God. Is this what Jesus meant when He said, 'Unless you become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of God'?

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