18 Pentecost proper B22
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 10:2-16 Sermon
October 4, 2009
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
426 "All Hail The Power Of Jesus' Name"
260 "Jesus Took The Babes And Blessed Them"
497 "I Think When I Read That Sweet Story Of Old"
431 "Crown Him With Many Crowns"
TEXT (vs. 13-16): "And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them."
As most of you know, or at least you could assume, I've been involved in many marriage ceremonies over the years. I know I've mentioned this fact before. I can't count the number of ceremonies at which I've officiated. Then there are those where I was the organist. I've been a part of the wedding party in a few. And of course I've attended many weddings as well.
However within the last several years, my part-time job at the hotel has given me yet another perspective. We frequently will have a small block of rooms reserved for people coming to a local wedding from a distance away so they can have not only a place to stay, but also a place to sit and visit for awhile too. This was the situation I observed several weeks ago; and the experience is one that I felt was worth sharing with you.
The wedding was taking place up in Agnew on Saturday, so our hotel was a logical place for people to stay. We had something like six rooms reserved for the family members for Friday and Saturday night, most of whom had come up from Kansas if memory serves me correctly.
Anyway, amongst the first to arrive were two ladies, a woman and her elderly mother who were sharing a room together just off the lobby. This woman's elderly mother, who was the great-grandmother of the groom, was an absolutely delightful woman. She appeared to be in her 90's. She was quite thin and frail, and she walked with a rollator, which is one of those rolling-type walkers with the handlebars and a seat. He had a lovely smile and a twinkle in her eyes that provided a good reflection of her character.
She was out in the lobby as her family began to arrive; and everybody from the oldest to the youngest went up to her, hugged her and kissed her, and spoke to her. And mind you, this was quite a sizeable group of people in our lobby too. This was a big family, and she was obviously the matriarch.
I was able to spend some time inter-acting with members of this family. I found myself giving many of them directions as to how to get to Agnew, and how to find the wedding venue.
But otherwise, this was about the nicest bunch of people that I had ever witnessed. They weren't drunk or loud or obnoxious; in fact, I don't think I heard so much as a cross word or a complaint from anyone. They were happy, they were having fun, and they just thoroughly enjoyed being together. This wedding was a happy occasion for them, and that feeling just radiated throughout the group. This is what I had witnessed on Friday.
When I went back to work on Monday afternoon, I was surprised to find that the woman and her elderly mother were still in house. It turned out that the woman's car broke down on Sunday, and they were having it fixed. They had hoped to leave on Monday, but they had to stay Monday night too, because the car wasn't ready.
They were sort of sad that they couldn't go home. I made the comment to the elderly lady, "Well, at least you have a nice room with a comfortable bed." She said she was very thankful for that, and that we had been so nice to them. Then the conversation shifted to the 2,000+ homeless people living in Lincoln and how sad that situation was.
Then this elderly woman began to tell me some things about her own life. She began by saying, "I've experienced a lot of heartache and tragedy in my life; but through it all, the Lord has continued to bless me in ways that I could have never imagined."
She began her story by telling me about how happy and thrilled she and her husband were at the birth of their first child. He was a beautiful baby in every way. But suddenly, just a few days after he was born, he died suddenly--and that was in the days before a lot was known about sudden infant death syndrome. This young couple was absolutely devastated.
But then she went on to say that about a year or so later, the Lord had blessed them with a baby girl. And as this girl grew, the love of her life was music and her piano. She took piano lessons and showed herself to be a very gifted budding musician. And as she entered into her teen years, she played the piano every week for Sunday School, which was something she looked forward to with joyful anticipation every week.
One Saturday as she was practicing for Sunday, her mother was working in the kitchen. This girl came to her mother and said, "This hymn I'm practicing is such a beautiful hymn. Would you come and sing it with me?"
Now what mother could ever refuse an invitation like that? So she dried off her hands and went with her daughter into the parlor. Now as this lady was telling me this story, she sang a few lines of the hymn she sang with her daughter, and it's one that I know. The words go like this: Verse 1: "Come to the Saviour, make no delay; here in his Word he has shown us the way; here in our midst he's standing today, tenderly saying, 'Come!' Verse 2: 'Suffer the children!' oh, hear his voice! Let every heart leap forth and rejoice; and let us freely make him our choice; do not delay, but come. Verse 3: Think once again, he's with us today; heed now his blest command, and obey; hear now his accents tenderly say, 'Will you, my children, come?' And the refrain to each verse goes: Joyful, joyful will the meeting be, when from sin our hearts are pure and free; and we shall gather, Saviour, with thee, in our eternal home."
Then this lady continued her story. Ten days after this, her daughter's school was going to dismiss at noon because of an out-of-town sporting event. The girl didn't want to go, so she asked her father that morning, "Will you come and pick me up from school at noon? I just want to come home instead."
Her father agreed. He picked her up and drove her home. When they got to the end of their farm lane, the gate was closed across it. The father stopped the car and had just opened his door, when his daughter looked at him wide-eyed and said, "Uh-oh!" And with that, she died instantly, slumped over in the front seat of the car. She was fifteen years old.
I was literally speechless. Then the woman said, "I know that she was ready to meet Jesus whenever that would happen. I don't know why the Lord chose to take my two children the way he did. But he did bless us with another boy and a girl after that. My husband and I thought about not having any more children, but we decided to put our trust in the Lord knowing he would do what was best. Had we not done that, none of the festivities of this past weekend would have happened. I have been truly blest indeed."
Thanks for allowing me to share this rather lengthy story. As we look at our Gospel lesson for today, and we couple that with our Old Testament Lesson, the theme that carries through it all is home and family. What we see is God's formula for one big happy family. This is what I witnessed with this elderly woman and her family staying at our hotel.
Our Old Testament lesson is God's creation of woman, and the institution of the first marriage. God describes the woman as being the "helper suitable" for the man. Now before you develop a picture of this helper being some sort of slave or servant to the man, we have to consider what the Bible is literally saying. The Hebrew word for "help" is "ezer." Besides this instance, the only other time that the word "ezer" is used in the Bible is when God uses it to refer to himself. For example, Psalm chapter 124 verse 8 says, "Our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth." That's the kind of suitable help a husband sees in his wife. That is what God intended. And that is definitely an honorable position.
As we move into our text for today, the Pharisees are asking Jesus some legitimate questions regarding marriage. And so he states in no uncertain terms that marriage is something between one man and one woman; and when they are married they become one single unit made up of two suitable or complimentary parts. That's how God designed it in the beginning.
Divorce is definitely not what God's will is for marriage; however it is an unfortunate consequence of marriage sometimes. We don't live in a perfect world; and since that's the case, we can expect some marriages to become irretrievably broken. Jesus describes this happening "because your hearts were hard," which is a way of saying that sin had entered into the relationship, and had destroyed something God had established as being good.
And as sin enters marriages, it has also perverted society's ideas of marriage too. Churches are bending to social pressures to allow "committed same-sex relationships" in their midst. They figure that as long as the relationship is "loving" (however they define that) and not "promiscuous," that it should be sanctioned and blessed. Even though God expressly calls such relationships sinful and detestable, one Bishop said: "I am uncertain of the rightness of this current decision," which was his reaction to the official decision to accept homosexual clergy into the church body's midst. And what this boils down to, is the way the people who call themselves "Christ's Church" have re-written the rules according to the pressures of society.
At the end of our Gospel lesson for today, the focus progresses from marriage to the family as a unit, which emphasizes children. Children can only be the natural product between the union of one man and one woman. A child cannot be produced from the union of two people of the same sex. It's a biological impossibility; and since that is the case, we can include that with God's instructions regarding the union of two people. Not only does God call it sinful, he also makes it impossible to procreate under those circumstances. That's enough said on that subject.
So now we turn to children. The account given to us in the Bible is Jesus using the faith of a child as an example of a true and genuine faith in its most basic form. A child isn't usually preoccupied with theological rhetoric and conflicting social pressures. A child knows that Jesus loves them, forgives their sin, and promises to take them to heaven one day. A simple faith like that is a saving faith.
A Christian home exists to share that faith and to bring up children, as it says in Ephesians chapter 6 verse 4, "...in the training and instruction of the Lord." Proverbs chapter 22 verse 6 sums all this up quite well: "Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it."
Families aren't perfect. Mothers and Fathers aren't perfect. Grandparents aren't perfect either. And any parent will quickly tell you that children are about as far from perfect as you can get. The influence of sin spares nobody, and the family that succumbs to sin is headed for disaster.
That's why it is so important to know the Saviour. When Jesus is an active and integral part of the family, then there's always love, forgiveness, and hope. Everybody needs to know that faith in Jesus means the forgiveness of sin and the entrance into God's family. God works that miracle of faith in the heart of even a new-born baby through the water of Baptism. Even a child who cannot focus their eyes or mouth words can have a saving faith in Christ. That faith begun at Baptism is nurtured in the home so that a child grows up knowing Jesus as their Saviour.
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting a very devout Christian lady and the many people that are her extended family. They gathered together for a wedding, where one man and one woman came together according to God's ordinance. The family prayed for God's blessing on this new couple, with the knowledge that they were doing things according to his will. There was no sadness, no mourning, and no weeping over something that was a mockery of God's institution of marriage, but only happiness and joy as this new husband and wife began their life together.
I know this elderly lady still experiences grief over the loss of two of her children at a very early age. But she knows without a doubt that Jesus has them safe in heaven with him. And she knows too, that as happy as their family gathering was at our hotel, it will be nothing compared to the joy and happiness they will all experience together in heaven someday.
This lady has a very special appreciation for the words Jesus spoke to his disciples so long ago: "...suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them."
And you also know that she still sings that song in her heart that she sang with her daughter at the piano so many years ago: "Joyful, joyful will the meeting be, when from sin our hearts are pure and free; and we shall gather, Saviour, with thee, in our eternal home."