10:13People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16, NRSV)
Let us pray: God of grace, you have given us minds to know you, hearts to love you, and voices to sing your praise. Fill us with your Spirit that we may celebrate your glory and worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This is the final sermon in our series on Hospitality. For the last three weeks you have heard biblical texts and sermons that have focused on the broad sweep of Hospitality and the theme of welcome. We have talked about how our church can be more hospitable and how we can be more intentional in our welcoming of others. I have shared my definition of biblical Hospitality which is a life of openness to the presence of God and to every human being. This understanding of hospitality is a thread that weaves its way throughout the Bible. It is the recognition that the presence of God pervades the world, and that God may come to you and me at any moment. So, to be truly hospitable, we must live in an open readiness to experience the presence of God at any moment, and in any human being. I have shared numerous stories and theories in those previous sermons.
Today, in our text from Mark 10, we read that a crowd has gathered around Jesus and some in the crowd brought their children to Jesus in order that he might bless them or heal them. But his disciples, being good mangers and bodyguards, scolded the children and their parents, “Get out of here! Can’t you see he is too busy, too important, to be wasting his time with little ones. Come on, move back.” We must understand that these disciples were just upholding custom and tradition because Children were nobodies, so why should Jesus pay attention to them? Jesus had much more important things to do with his precious time.
In response Jesus becomes indignant and rebukes his disciples – “Let the little children come to me – do not stop them – don’t you understand, of such is the kingdom of God.”
When we read the Bible we learn that Jesus welcomes all types of people of every station and situation in life. Young, old, healthy, sick, clean, unclean, insiders and outsiders, rich and poor, saints and sinners. No matter the place: a formal wedding reception, a dinner in the home of friends or with sinners, or out on the dusty roads of Palestine, Jesus welcomed people. To be that welcoming, that hospitable means that one must be open, vulnerable, and approachable. As Jesus welcomed those children, they couldn’t possibly understand his teaching or his message he was doing it because of them and somehow they felt welcomed. Jesus welcomed and cared for these children who were considered the least and most vulnerable human beings. He took them into his arms, he blessed them.
We are upset with the insensitive action of the disciples. We all agree that children matter, because they are precious. We love them, we support them and we affirm them. That may be what we think and say but what is the reality? Do we as a church really welcome children? Or are we more like the disciples? I am not implying that we are gatekeepers fencing off the church and Jesus, not at all but our reality is much more subtle than that.
Here are some examples of what I am talking about. Are we welcoming to our own? Especially children? I have listened and observed in my first six months with you with an eye on children and youth for many reasons, first because they are the church too, not the future of the church but the church here and now. Selfishly, my children are in the church and involved in these programs so naturally as a parent I am attuned to it. Here are some observations I have gleaned.
We have a solid core of seventh and eighth graders that we would like to do more with to prepare them for confirmation and youth group. So, Jennifer and Michelle are planning to do more for our growing middle school age group but their first question to me is how do we pay for it. We are running on a bare bones budget and we are behind in our giving for the year. So what do we do? We would love to do more and offer more but the financial constraints prevent us. I know we have the financial resources to make it happen so let’s do it.
We have young families in the church and we want to offer them opportunities to educate their children in the Christian faith and tell them of God’s love but we are in constant need of Sunday school teachers. Most of the teachers we have come from parents with children in this age group. This means that they miss the worship service. I know we have capable and talented adults who can step up and teach so that some of these young parents come enjoy worship as well.
We have children with mobility and other issues and they faithfully worship with us on a weekly basis. We have caring staff and teachers to help them but we also have limitations to our facility. We are in need of an elevator so that all can reach the education classrooms downstairs. It is also an issue for our choir that many of them have trouble with the stairs and an elevator would be a huge help for them as well. Our classrooms downstairs and in the pre-school wing are not air-conditioned so in these hot and muggy months it is uncomfortable for teachers and children to gather for Sunday school. I tell you these things because they reflect how welcoming we really are. Again it is very subtle but people notice. I know that these are large expenses and will take time and effort and work to take care of but if you don’t know they are needs then they are out of sight out of mind. I am also convinced that we have the resources to make them happen. We just have to do it.
We have so many resources and so much potential it is our challenge now to step up and respond to truly welcome our own, to make the children feel at home here so that they can learn the important stories of the Christian faith, so that they can grow together and find love and encouragement as they grow in the faith. So that they can be the church as we all are.
The question is not just young children. I know you have noticed how many young kids we have come down for children’s church? It is wonderful! I love it! But have you also noticed there aren’t too many high school age young people in worship? What happens? Do they get too busy and use Sunday mornings to sleep in? Or is there something we can do to be more welcoming, more supportive and embracing, more hospitable so that as these young ones grow up they will want to be here – to be here in worship where they know that they are loved and accepted and appreciated. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers, but I think about it a lot.
I don’t see these issues as obstacles but as opportunities for us to respond. These are tangible and real opportunities to show how we welcome and how we take seriously God’s call to share hospitality with the stranger, the visitor, and especially to our own whether they be young or old, new to the church or longtime members. May our eyes be open and our hearts accepting to all we meet.
Let us pray: