When It’s OK to be Childish

“When It’s Ok to Be Childish”  Mark 10:13-16
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, October 7, 2012

Audio of the sermon is here:



Videos like this one are all the rage these days, with adults talking with children’s voices.  Why the popularity?  What is the rationale advertising companies have for making adults sound like children?  And what does this have to do with a  footlong meatball sandwich? I’m not sure about the sandwich strategy, but I think there is some conversation around the ad planning table about tapping into our inner child; how we really are children at heart; that our adult actions are really just dressed up versions of our childhood selves as we act childish so much of the time.  And what is wrong with that?  I am here today to say that God thinks it is ok to be childish, at least in a few ways.

Approval for being childish was in our Gospel text (Mark 10:13-16) for today.  Did you hear the invitation from Jesus to be childish?  We learn from him that it is not only acceptable to act this way, but preferable. This was Jesus’ point as his disciples tried to prevent little children from coming to Jesus, as if they were coming to harm him or be Palestinian paparazzi. Jesus corrected them, making sure they understood that the children were to come to him.  In fact, Jesus went so far as to say that being like a child was the standard for entrance into the kingdom of God, providing several ways this childish behavior is to be most visible.

One lesson children provide adults is about faith.

Jesus, with a disappointed and angry tone in his voice, told the disciples to quit keeping the children from coming to him, to, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.(v.v.14-15) It is the “as a little child” here that was to be most instructive to them.  Back then, they didn’t think too much of children.  They were to be seen and not heard.  They were not viewed to be fully human.  It wasn’t so much that they were against children, it was more from a survival technique due to the high mortality rate for children.  You didn’t want to become attached to your children because they may not live too long.  Even still, they knew what it was like to be a child.  They knew that children have an untarnished ability to have faith in things they cannot see.  As adults, they could remember the sense of wonder, imagination, and innocence of being a child. Children were young enough to believe without limits; to have deep faith.

 

C.S. Lewis is someone who had a real grasp on child-like faith.  It drives the stories he wrote, especially those about Narnia.  Today’s Christian[1] posted a letter he wrote to a girl not long before he died in 1963, answering a question she had if he would be writing another Narnia book.

Dear Ruth,

Many thanks for your kind letter, and it was very good of you to write and tell me that you like my books; and what a very good letter you write for your age!

If you continue to love Jesus, nothing much can go wrong with you, and I hope that you may always do so. I’m so thankful that you realized the “hidden story” in the Narnia books. It is odd, children nearly always do, grown-ups…hardly ever.  I’m afraid the Narnia series has come to an end, and am sorry to tell you that you can expect no more.

God bless you.

Your sincerely,

C.S. Lewis

Lewis is still loved by children because he understood them.  He connected to their faith.  His statement is as telling as it is depressing: It is odd, children nearly always do (realize the hidden story), grown-ups . . . hardly ever.

What is it about becoming a “grown up” that keeps us from seeing with the eyes of faith?  Pablo Picasso once commented, All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.[2] This becoming an adult is a problem, isn’t it?  How is it that we lose our ability to believe in things we cannot readily see; to imagine things we once imagined?  Your answer to those questions could reveal what may be blocking you from living fully in the Kingdom of God.  Maybe you had the faith of a child one day, but you reckon your faith to be just that–something of the past–and you learned how the world really works.  You now know that prayers don’t work, that miracles are merely metaphors, that nations cannot change, that sin is unforgivable, and that, as much as you would like to think differently, things really don’t ever change the way you thought they once would, when you were a naive child.  What Jesus says to you and your adult way of thinking is:  Let the little children come to me; do not stop them!” And as you hear these words, you can know you are child, no matter what your age, one who needs to approach Jesus with unhindered faith. How can you become more childish in your work this week, in your relationships, at school, and in your church?  Maybe it would help if we called this hour Children’s Worship and it became a time when we are reminded who we are, what is possible, and what it feels like again to daydream about a kingdom.

The other part of being a child Jesus refers to in this phrase, like a little child, is that of dependence.  Then, as now, children were completely dependent on their parents, from conception until they were old enough to provide for themselves.  A parent provided them with food, clothing, shelter, and hopefully lots of love. Jesus wanted the wanna-be crowd handlers, the crowd, and even the children to understand how they were to have that same kind of dependence on their heavenly Father.  They were know that God was handling things just fine and that that they could keep their trust in him for all things.

Bill Cosby has some great, oft-quoted comedic material on parenting.  One comment he has made truly speaks to a child’s dependence on a parent.  Human beings are the only creatures on earth that allow their children to come back home.[3]  This has never been more true in society than during this time in history.  Children are continuing to be almost completely dependent on their parents even late into their 20’s.  Many parents, now accustomed to their empty nest, aren’t so excited about the homecoming of their children.

I believe what we are invited to do, based on the words of Jesus here, is to be fully dependent on God, for the rest of our lives.  What Jesus says to us about God is that He wants us to return home.  God wants us to receive His perpetual care; to bring home all of our junk, put it in the garage, and bum off of Him from now on.  God loves his children so much that he enables their dependence, never wanting them to go out on their own.  That’s how He feels about you.  Have you returned home yet?

Dependence on God also goes along with the reality of acceptance.  Acceptance is a vital part of being a child.  I read an article[4] this week of what happens when a child is not accepted by a parent.

Girls without a father in their life are two and a half times as likely to get pregnant and 53 percent more likely to commit suicide. Boys without a father in their life are 63 percent more likely to run away and 37 percent more likely to abuse drugs. Both girls and boys without a father are twice as likely to drop out of high school, twice as likely to end up in jail, and nearly four times as likely to need help for emotional or behavioral problems.

This was the kind of parenting so many around Jesus that day knew as a child.  For many of them, being a child was a horrible picture.  Jesus, though, painted a beautiful picture, and provided a model of one for many an artist ever since, of God’s loving acceptance of all who come to Him.  Hear these words again, And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. (v.16).  Jesus put his words into action.  Jesus demonstrated for the disciples, the crowd, the children the kingdom of God through two simple and yet powerful gestures:  he took them up in his arms, and blessed them.  What a view of God they had in that one moment.

God wants us to have this same view, as we are gathered here this morning.  He not only wants us to hear it from the words of Jesus, but He wants us to feel the caring strength of his embrace, to experience the affirmation of his blessing.  Imagine how much the kids in Jesus’ arms went from being unnoticed to accepted, from disregarded to regarded, from cursed to blessed.  And imagine what that looks like with you in the arms of Jesus–to step from being forgotten annoyance into cherished significance.

May you never become a grown-up.


[4] Source: Preaching Today: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services press release, “HHS Launches ‘Be Their Dad’ Parental Responsibility Campaign” (March 26, 1999)

 

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