20th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 10:2-16 Sermon
October 22, 2006
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
408 "Praise To The Lord, The Almighty, The King Of Creation"
572 "Children Of The Heavenly Father"
370 "Just As I Am, Without One Plea"
192 "Abide With Us, Our Saviour"
CHRISTIANITY IS A FAMILY THING
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.”
One Sunday morning, little Johnny was with his parents at church. Everything seemed to be going well; however in the car on the way home, little Johnny began crying.
His mother turned around and looked at him in the back seat. “What’s the matter? Why on earth are you crying and carrying on?”
“Because,” he sniffed, “The Pastor told me today how important it was that I be raised in a Christian home!”
“What’s the matter with that?” his mother asked.
Little Johnny replied, “Because I want to stay with you and dad!”
Naturally the home little Johnny lived in was in fact a Christian home. His parents were good parents who loved each other and loved him very much. They prayed at their meals. They had family devotions. Little Johnny said his bedtime prayers faithfully. His parents had taught him the Lord’s Prayer, and he could say it without missing a beat. Without a doubt, Johnny’s parents were trying to raise him the way God wanted them to.
So why the confusion here? Why didn’t Johnny realize that his home was a Christian home? It was simply a matter of terminology, and it was too abstract for him to grasp. Furthermore, he had no idea of what it would have been like to live in a home that wasn’t Christian.
If I think of my own situation, I don’t know what it would have been like to have been raised in a non Christian home. I can’t even fathom the thought. My parents were raised in Christian homes and brought up in the church. They didn’t know any other way. And when it came to my upbringing, my parents did the same thing their parents did with them. It was pretty much automatic.
Proverbs 22, 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.”
This morning, our Scripture lessons appointed for today are jam-packed full of things. As I studied them this week, I could think of numerous different sermons I could have preached. My mind was almost boggled with the various thoughts and directions I could go.
The one recurring theme however is home and family. God’s institution of marriage is the first step, which is talked about in our Old Testament Lesson. And when we get to the Gospel lesson from Mark 10, the concluding verses speak about children, and the love Jesus has for them.
When I read the text at the beginning of the sermon, you might have noticed that I used the King James translation of the Bible. I had no particular reason for this, except that it’s one of those passages that I have become familiar with in the King James Bible over the years. Besides, I like the way it sounds—“Suffer the little children…”—“Suffer” meaning to “allow” or “permit,” just in case you aren’t fluent in 17th Century Elizabethan English.
If you look in the front of your hymnal on page 243, right at the top of the page, you’ll see these verses quoted there. It is the Scripture reading associated with the service of Holy Baptism. This is definitely an appropriate passage to be read at this time.
If we go on to the third paragraph on that same page (243), we have the exhortation, which reads: “Since in Christian love you present this child for Holy Baptism, I charge you that you diligently and faithfully teach him (or her) the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer; and that, as he (or she) grows in years, you place in his (or her) hands the Holy Scriptures, bring him (or her) to the services of God’s House, and provide for his (or her) instruction in the Christian Faith; that, abiding in the covenant of his (or her) Baptism and in communion with the Church, he (or she) may be brought up to lead a godly life until the day of Jesus Christ.”
Now I know that I’ve brought these words to your attention before when I preached about Baptism. But I believe that this exhortation deserves our attention frequently.
The tasks presented here are indeed awesome. And what is being put forth here is the simple fact that the child is to be brought up in a Christian home, pure and simple.
Husbands and wives need to first recognize the responsibility they have to each other. They are to love, honor, and cherish each other. If the marriage isn’t a good one, then the whole home life is completely off kilter. And when the home life isn’t right, and when a husband and wife don’t act in a God-pleasing manner in their marriage, then the children will suffer as well. Trying to “keep it from the kids” is a plan that is doomed to failure. Children can look right through false facades. They know when something isn’t genuine. And so they suffer because of it.
Our Gospel lesson speaks first about divorce. Divorce is never good. Anytime there is a divorce between a husband and wife, there is one thing you know with absolute certainty: Sin is involved somewhere. It might be the man’s sin, or the woman’s sin, or both of their sin. But sin is there, nevertheless.
We also know that God never intended for divorce to happen. He intended marriage to be the life-long union between one man and one woman. That’s the way it was when he instituted marriage in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. And that’s exactly the way it is to be today.
In Malachi 2, 15-16a God makes no bones about the way he feels on this subject. We read, “Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. ‘I hate divorce,’ says the LORD God of Israel…”
But yet, we know that marriages will dissolve for one reason or another. Even though we can plainly see that divorce is not God’s will, yet it continues to happen. Even amongst fine Christian people, sin is still present. And as it happens far too often, one party will sit by helplessly while the other works to sever the relationship, regardless of the attempts of the one party to reconcile or smooth things over.
And so the scars of sin are created. A divorce injures spouses, children, and entire households. Divorces are painful, and God certainly doesn’t want his people to have to experience that kind of pain.
In our Gospel lesson for today, the Pharisees are questioning Jesus about divorce. In verses 4-5 they tell him, “’…Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.’” And then he concludes in verse 9, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”
Hardness of heart, or having a heart that is calloused with sin is what separates marriages. Not living as husband and wife as God intended is the result of this. So divorces happen. Satan gets in the midst of things and has a field day. He makes people miserable and makes lives miserable and makes households miserable.
I don’t think that it is coincidence that Jesus concludes this section with the example of children. Even though this incident happens with the disciples apart from the Pharisees, there is a lesson that needs to be taught to them.
People were bringing their children to him so he could bless them. It seems like a rather innocent thing to be doing, almost like parents taking their children to sit on Santa’s lap at the mall in the days before Christmas. Of course the intent here is far different from that, and I would never want to relegate Jesus’ blessing into that category, but at least you can sort of get the idea about the activity going on here.
One commentator states, “This is one of the most delightful, most comforting, and at the same time saddest stories in the synoptic Gospels.”
Oh certainly we can try to excuse the disciples’ actions and think that they are only trying to protect Jesus from these interruptions and keep his time for the more important things. And that is what the sad part of all this is.
Jesus wants us to think of the children and how important they are. They are important members of a household, and the innocent victims in a divorce. Furthermore, he wants children to be a part of his kingdom, so he shows just how much the children mean to him.
Jesus doesn’t get upset very often, and this is one of those rare times. He gets upset with his disciples in this instance, and not the Pharisees like he did before. His disciples should have known that Jesus’ blessings were there for people of all ages and for all ranks of social status.
It’s sad when people think that little children cannot have faith, and deny them baptism until a time when they reach some ambiguous “age of accountability.” It’s sad when people don’t include little babies and children in Jesus’ command to baptize “all nations.” Jesus clearly shows in our text today that his mercy and grace extends to them as well.
Sin affects marriages and homes and children as well. Sin affects the lives of everyone on this earth. That’s why we need to approach things with the faith of a little child, believing without a doubt that the grace of God will heal them, regardless of how young or old the person is, and regardless of how deep the scar of sin is.
The one thing that we have to learn is how far reaching the love of Jesus is. We can picture him sitting down and all of the little children running up to him. But that picture has to be broad as well, and would include children of all ages, whether they are 9 months or 90 years old. Jesus uses the example of a child-like faith as being the important thing. It is something that can’t be intellectualized by learned scholars; rather it is a Godly logic that defies all human wisdom and understanding.
We ourselves can picture Jesus sitting there with his outstretched arms inviting us too. He is willing to take us just the way we are, in simple faith and trust. That simple faith is one that trusts only in him as our Saviour from sin. He doesn’t ask us how old we are, he doesn’t rebuke us for all the wrong we have done, and he isn’t going to give us a pop quiz to test our depth of theological understanding. He just wants us to come, pure and simple.
And so we do come. The hurts and the pains which have been inflicted on us through sin, whether it is our sin or the sin of others, will indeed find relief in his waiting arms.
When I talked about little Johnny at the beginning of this sermon, he had experienced the blessings of a Christian home without even realizing what it was. His little life was blessed, and he knew his Saviour from the very beginning. He couldn’t have fathomed a home without Jesus at the center.
But you and I both know that his home wasn’t a perfect one either. He misbehaved like any other boy and got into trouble. He would have been punished like any other normal boy or girl. He was a sinful person like anybody else.
But thankfully, he knew the love and forgiveness of his Saviour; and so do we. Our Christian homes are identified first and foremost by our faith in Jesus. Jesus is the head of our Christian households, the unseen guest at every meal, and the silent listener to all of our conversations.
By keeping our faith in him active and intact, we will indeed have strong Christian homes. And when sin rears its ugly head, we know we can come to him just as we are, and find the peace and restoration we need. This is an absolute guarantee. We can be assured that Jesus will never divorce himself from us, or leave us high and dry. He is always there ready for us, however we may need him.