Greatest in the kingdom
18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 Then he called a little child over to sit among the disciples, 3 and said, “I assure you that if you don’t turn your lives around and become like this little child, you will definitely not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Those who humble themselves like this little child will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
Falling into sin
6 “As for whoever causes these little ones who believe in me to trip and fall into sin, it would be better for them to have a huge stone hung around their necks and be drowned in the bottom of the lake. 7 How terrible it is for the world because of the things that cause people to trip and fall into sin! Such things have to happen, but how terrible it is for the person who causes those things to happen!
Jesus blesses children
13 Some people brought children to Jesus so that he would place his hands on them and pray. But the disciples scolded them. 14 “Allow the children to come to me,” Jesus said. “Don’t forbid them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these children.” 15 Then he blessed the children and went away from there.
Thoughts on the passage:
This Sunday is Rally Sunday. From what I could learn, the history of Rally Sunday goes back at least one hundred years. It has always been used as a way of rallying the troops for the start of the church program year. After a summer off, it is a chance to bring everyone together to celebrate and get excited about what is happening in church. Churches would have children parade up front by class. While I have not been able to verify it, I remember hearing about how churches would even then parade out into the community.
After a busy summer that often pulls us away from church, it is good to take some time to rally together as a church community. Sunday morning is an important time for Christians. It is a time that we set aside specifically for God in our week. We use that time to praise God for where we have experienced God in our lives. We use the time to open us up to how God is at work in our lives. We use the time to learn about God. It is how we strengthen and grow in our faith. It gives us fuel for the week to come. Through Rally Sunday we are able to reenergize and make God central again in our week.
While Rally Sunday is for everyone, it is also a time that we specifically celebrate our children. There are lots of reasons to celebrate our children. We do it because we love them. We do it because we know that they represent the future. We do it because Jesus lifts them up as an example to all of us on how we are supposed to be. Our children are important to us and today is a day that we seek to remember that.
Children come up over and over in Jesus’ ministry. They are a focal point of his healing power on several occasions. They also serve alongside him, such as the little boy who provides his bread and fish to be used in the feeding of the 5,000. They also serve as teaching examples such as the two passages we read today in Matthew. It is clear from both his words and his actions that children are important to our understanding of God. There is something about being a child that is helpful for all of us in our faith. If we can have that child-like faith we will be able to better understand God and we will be able to enter into God’s kingdom.
What is it about children that is so special? Children possess a lot of different qualities. They have an innocence to them that many of us adults like. While they can be as selfish as the next person, they are also far more willing to share what they have with others than many adults. They also possess an ability to believe in the world around them. They see things simply as they are and yet are also able to imagine them to be something far more than that. This openness to new possibilities makes it far easier for them to see the ways that God works in the world than those of us who are burdened by our own hard-earned knowledge of the way the world works.
I think our knowledge is that stumbling block that Jesus talks about. It is the barrier that often comes between us and our faith. We have learned too much about the world and we let that knowledge block out what God wants us to know about the world. What have we learned? We have learned shame and selfishness. We have learned that we are different from each other and have made those differences to matter. We have learned that people are not good but evil. We have stopped seeing the world in terms of what is possible but instead in terms of what is not possible. We do not think of sharing our lunch with others because we know it can never be made to feed so many. Our own experiences have become a barrier to what God hopes to do in the world and they cause us to stumble.
We need to find ways to unlearn some of what we have learned. Children bring an innocence that many of us adults have lost to cynicism. Instead of thinking the best we think the worst. Instead of imagine what is possible we think about what is not possible. Instead of believing in God we believe in ourselves. We need to return to that child-like attitude when it comes to our faith. We need to believe in the best, in each other, in ourselves, and in God. We need to think less about what we know and instead believing in what God offers us.
I wish I could verify its accuracy because I love the idea that Rally Sunday is not just about gathering together in the church, but also this idea of the church parading out into the community. We are not going to literally parade out into the community today, and yet instead we are blessing our children and sending them out. We know that as they go back to school our children are taking not just their backpacks with them, but their faith as well. They are a part of how we as a church are at our work in the world. They are ambassadors of our faith that are going forth into the world.
I think this is another way that all of us could be more like children in our faith. We could all do a better job of taking our faith with us into the world. We could do a better job of not compartmentalizing it to Sunday, but letting it inform our daily lives. How do we take our faith with us into the workplace? How are we sharing our faith, not just by our words, but by our actions? We are the hands and feet of Christ when we are teaching, healing, building, and serving, whether it is a school, hospital, or a fast food restaurant. Do we feel like God goes with us as well?
We are all supposed to take our faith out into the world with us. We rally together on Sunday morning not because this is the time that we can uniquely experience God. Instead we rally together so that we can have the strength to take God with us out into the world. We need this Rally Sunday because we have lost our child-like faith. We need this Rally Sunday because we have let our lives get cluttered with all the adult things of life, our busy schedules, our personal needs, and our own desires. Instead, we need to reclaim that child-like innocence as we seek to once again be followers of Christ. We need to find the ways that we can come before Christ again like that little child, ready to learn and ready to love. We need to take that faith with us as we go into the world.
Questions to Ponder:
What does child-like faith look like to you?
What stumbling blocks do you have in your own faith?
What can you do to bring God with you out into the world each week?
God, help us to be like children, believing that through you anything is possible. Help us to see the stumbling stones we place before others in front of our own feet as well. Take away those obstacles that we might rush to be at your side. Empower us to take the love we experience in you and share it with the world. Amen