This sermon is a combination of two themes – the reality of experience for countless children in our country and in our world…and the absolute commitment of the Church to the welfare, the spiritual growth and the unique worth of children – and what that commitment might require of us if we are to be serious about it.
“ Unless you become like a little child, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”
ACCORDING TO THE MOST RECENT
UNITED NATIONS REPORT
BRITAIN IS THE WORST PLACE IN THE DEVELOPED WORLD
TO BE A CHILD.
IN TERMS OF POVERTY,
FEAR OF VIOLENCE,
IS THE WORST COUNTRY IN THE DEVELOPED WORLD
TO BE A CHILD..
“ WHAT DO YOU MEAN “ WE CAN’T SEE HIM”?”
What do you mean – you won’t let us see him?
Did he say that?
Did he say he wouldn’t see us?
Did he say it?
No, I didn’t think so.
Does he even know we’re here?
Well, tell him.
And our children are here
And we want to see him.
Tell him! “
Hell hath no fury like a mother whose children’s interests are being baulked and blocked by officialdom or bureaucracy.
You can understand the disciples’ viewpoint.
It had been a long day
He was tired.
It was just some kids
Who probably hadn’t a clue who he really was anyway
It wasn’t as if it was anyone important.
And anyway it was kind of fun being the gatekeepers
With the real power.
“Sorry mate you can’t park there.”
The power surge
Of the squash club receptionist…
Are you members?
Do you have your card?
Or the bouncer on the night club door..
“Sorry mate – no jeans.”
Same power complex…
“Sorry – ladies, the great man’s too busy.”
It was only some kids.
But he wasn’t too busy.
On the contrary
He was angry at the patronising tone
The we’re in charge arrogance
“Let the children come to me.”
In his book
They were precious, special, wonderful.
In his view,
They were signposts to heaven.
I was standing in the school corridor
Chatting with the headmaster
And a class of little Primary Ones snaked past us
Fresh innocent faces..
We seemed to share the same
“What goes wrong…
Where does it all go wrong…
Where does that innocence and trust go
And when do eyes and souls
Become clouded with suspicion and self interest?”
And what happens to the child in us?
The inner child who used to be capable of
And brave trust….
Children who were once pioneers and adventurers
Now concerned with safety- caution, suspicion:
There used to be a restlessness –
now there is complacency.
Time was we were hungry for ideas
- now we are resistant to change, afraid of innovation.
- Then it was asking all the questions – thousands of questions..
- Now it’s knowing all the answers.
- Where did it go.. how did it happen
- Where are the children we were ?
- Where are we?
- Once it was child-like trust
– now its suspicion and a pride that won’t bend.
- It used to be love, open arms, generous eager hugs
- Now its fear of being hurt and a pride that won’t submit!
- Time was there was energy and spontaneity,
- Now there is boredom and listlessness
- Then our imagination ran free – now the vision is jaded and jaundiced.
- What has happened
- How did it get like this?
- How did we get like this?
Once there was an kind of intuitive feel for spiritual things, an openness to something beyond ourselves -
Now there are structures, and rigidity and the formalities of religion.
We used to travel light – with little accumulated baggage
Now we are weighed down with things, intellectual pretensions, material commitments that tie and bind us…
Time was there was no agenda
Now there is a whole raft of agendas…
Then there was awe and wonder – now there is routine and taking it all for granted…the wow factor crushed by busyness and preoccupation and self image needs.
Maturity- if such it is – clearly has its price..
We lose a lot when we silence our inner child…
So that maybe indeed, there are things to learn from and appreciate in the children –
Things to mourn when the cares of maturity – respectability,
The pressures of keeping up appearances
Rob us of the child like graces.
Not, ironically, that the children have it that good
In our world
In our times…
The child as victim is the vicious litany of the last century
As it was the one before…
The vulnerable crushed under the wheels of history
And never more so than in the lifetime of people here today.
A visit to the Yad Veshem memorial to the Holocaust
Is an unforgettable experience
And to spend even a brief moment in the memorial for the children who died..
The one and a half million Jewish children who died
Stays with you for the rest of your life..
Mirrors reflect a million and a half pin points of light
And the names of the dead children
Are repeated over and over again…
The dreadful photograph
Of Kim Phuc -the Vietnamese
Scalded by Napalm
Running for her life
From a burning village…
Ironically a classic war photograph
Seen by generations
Revealing the vulnerability of the children
While men play their war games…
Why is it that the pictures of
The fly covered children
Sticks of bone
Grubbing in the dry earth
Are the ones that rebuke us so fiercely
Babies sucking in vain on the empty slack breasts
Of their hungry mothers…
There plenty more vivid images…from the 20th and 21st centuries..
They’ve been pretty rubbish centuries
For the children
The orphanages of Rumania
The dying rooms of China
The dead toddlers of Palestine caught in the cross fire
The abused children of the Nazaereth homes in Glasgow…
The slave- carpet maker children of India…
But, hey, who cares?
They’re only kids!
“ I care”
“Put the children at the centre
Because they matter.
In their vulnerability,
in their fragile dependent existence
It’s all the more urgent that they find the nurture they need
The protection and affirmation
That will allow them to blossom… to live.
Not because of the possibilities
The potential for the future.
And therefore we should somehow make allowances for them
As some kind of long term investment…
They matter now
For who they are now.
Therefore as a community and especially as a church
We need to make allowances, adjustments
Provide the investment…
They deserve our love and attention and support
Indeed, unless we re-discover the gifts and worth
And understand the sacredness of children
We won’t be able to understand how God work!
How he sees things..
How he sees us!!
The children are not the future hope of the church
But the present blessing…
And they are signposts to how it all works…
“ Unless you become like a child you won’t receive the kingdom
because you can’t!
Until we learn from them
The simple dynamic of
Learning to rest in God
With the sense of dependence and utter trust
That the child has
Gladly receiving as free gift
The love that pours out on us…
Trusting him to meet our needs…
Until we learn to lean on his love
Putting pride and intellectualism and self- sufficiency
to one side
And placing our hope our confidence in his love
finding our deep peace in his love…
And out of that security
Celebrating with all the delight and spontaneity
That children find themselves capable of without shame or reserve…
If we see God as the frowning law-giver out to catch us
And who must be feared and appeased…
Then our worship will be that of the anxious cringing sycophant…
But if we are simply resting in the joyful gifts
Of the goodness and grace of a tender Father’s care
Then there will be joy and wonder and serenity
In what we do
And laughter and naturalness
In how we do it…
We will feel no need to win
Our Father’s love
Because we know we have it.
No need to persuade him to love us
Simply to rest in the absolute truth and beauty
That he does love us.
The psalmist David understands this when he writes:
“ Lord, I have given up my pride
and turned away from my arrogance.
I am not concerned with great matters
Or with subjects too difficult for me.
Instead I am content and at peace
As a child lies quietly in its mother’s arms
So my heart is quiet within me.
Trust in the Lord now and forever.