Sermon on Matthew 18:1-7, 19:13-15 – Big Children in Adult Bodies
The passage this week might seem a weird choice for the Sunday we recognize the Sunday school teachers given Jesus’ warning. The teachers embody the exact opposite of what Jesus warns against: being stumbling blocks for children or the innocent. Our Sunday school teachers remove the stones away and clear the path to Jesus for our young people. They even do the exact opposite of the disciples in the second passage, encouraging the children to go to Jesus.
They exemplify what Jesus wants us to do, making them a great illustration as we talk about stumbling blocks to faith.
Think about what makes you stumble in your faith journey. When I think about it—especially what made me stumble in youth—denying access to Jesus causes a lot of stumbling, coming from the disciples physically blocking children from Jesus or the church acting as gatekeepers to the cross and to faith.
I can almost hear the disciples’ thoughts as the people brought their children for Jesus’ blessing: “We cannot do this; we do not have time!” or “Children—with their dirty hands and lack of formal learning in the matters of faith—should not come be directly in the presence of the teacher; they can be blessed from afar!” They absolutely believed they did the right thing, yet they had also heard Jesus describe the children as the greatest among the people.
Jesus, again, has completely flipped their beliefs and practices upside down.
But why would Jesus call the children the greatest among them? I favor contrarian positions, but I need a why as much as anyone else.
Why are the children the greatest?
Are the children Christ spoke of polite? Did Jesus grab a polite and proper child to prove his point?
Are the children Christ spoke of studious? Did Jesus hear this child reading scripture in the temple and teaching a great lesson?
Are they children Christ spoke of quiet? Did Jesus not hear this child, finding a child that knew that children are supposed to be seen and not heard?
Are the children Christ spoke of eloquent? Did Jesus hear this child speak in complete sentences at 18 months and have helpful conversations with adults?
Are the children Christ spoke of charismatic? Did Jesus’ heart melt because the child he grabbed smiled well and captured the room?
If you read that list and wonder where it came from, good. That list came from my mind late at night. That list reads like a list of things we want of children, things that make children more palatable and how we point to children being “good children.”
That list also lacks any mention of children being children, the one reason Jesus calls the children the greatest among them.
Jesus calls the children the greatest because of their strong, joyful, innocent faith, made strong, joyful, and innocent by being youthful, something adults cannot attain. Jesus lifted the child up for everything that makes it a child.
We do good with the little ones. Before they can really talk, when they do not know how to not disrupt the service, when they are still cute in that specific baby way, we tend to have no problem finding joy with their wonderful presence.
Once they can talk and should “know better,” we stop finding them wonderful and joyful, instead wanting them to change into something not a child.
I have a question for you to ask yourself, and I need your complete honesty when you answer this question: Have you said any of these phrases—or something pretty close—any time in the past month:
“Kids these days…”
“Millennials are doing this [thing I don’t like]…”
“If they would just grow up…”
“When I was a kid…”
I know your frustrations, some valid but a lot just a sign that things change. I hear these things all the time: kids spend too much time with technology, kids listen to terrible music or watch terrible TV shows and movies, kids wear weird clothes and do not dress properly for church, kids just do not know good things when they seem them.
Children should live and act like children, but we want their childhood to not discomfort for us and exist so we understand them perfect. We do not “get it” a lot of the time, and we decide that they must be wrong if we do not understand, and we proclaim what makes them children should not live in the church.
Remember that major stumbling block for faith of preventing access to Jesus and the church, driving someone away instead of opening the doors for them. Do your attitude and actions toward children whose childhood differs yours drive them away? Do you want children to fit a mold of your desires and condemn any child who God made different as “immature” or “not good enough”? Do you want children to act “normal” and “proper” to even step foot in the building?
God made the children in His image, and God does not make mistakes. If you tell a child God made them not good enough for you, they will fall away. Children learn who does not welcome them early and telling someone—especially a youth but anyone—they must change who God made them for you to welcome them anywhere tells them you do not welcome them.
Jesus cared about nothing other than the child living and acting like a child, filled with innocence, wonder, and joy—and unconditional love that only a child can give. He demanded the disciples become like children, not “perfect” and comfortable versions of children but exactly children.
We want little adults in children’s bodies when Jesus demands we become big children in adult bodies. Our selfish desires for everything familiar and comfortable and casting out everything weird, improper, and sometimes difficult makes us completely miss the Jesus point: Children have the best and most complete faith; their greatness comes from their innocence and youth.
Children are the great among us because they are children.
Today we recognize the Sunday school teachers for lifting the children up, presenting a path for them to Jesus, clearing the stones from that path, and guiding them down the path. We thank them for embodying the message Jesus gives here: welcome the children and encourage their faith.
Thank you! Full stop.
We need to remember that adults can do more than teach children and instruct them; we can also learn from them. May we, as cynical, grumpy, rigid, frozen people learn the joyful love and faith of the children again and allow them to bring out our youth and make us big children in adult bodies. Amen.