A sermon by Robert Browning, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Frankfort, Ky.
August 11, 2013
Recently, the Pope met with a large group of Italian and Albanian schoolchildren. After mingling with them for a few minutes, he set aside his prepared speech and invited the children to ask him questions.
For thirty minutes the children asked their questions, and he answered each one candidly and thoughtfully, making each child feel special and important. It was obvious he felt completely at ease around the children and enjoyed this encounter. He concluded his time with the children by saying to them, “Don’t let anyone rob you of hope.”
I get the feeling Jesus was as comfortable around children as Pope Francis. Today’s text certainly indicates this.
Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Unlike most pilgrims, he was going with a heavy heart.
The authorities were upset with him because of the unconventional way he went about ministering to people by walking through villages and spending time with anyone who needed his attention. In addition, his message, which was openly critical of the religious leaders who were selfish and power hungry, did not sit well with them.
On more than one occasion, the authorities threatened Jesus or even tried to kill him. In his heart, Jesus knew this trip to Jerusalem might be his last, for the authorities would stop at nothing to arrest and silence him.
Perhaps this helps you to understand why the disciples tried to prevent the children from getting to Jesus that day. It was not that they disliked children or were insensitive to the needs of their parents, but they were trying to protect Jesus. They knew his heart was heavy and wanted to shield him from distractions as much as possible.
Jesus intercepted the disciples, though. “Let the children come to me,” he sternly told them, and they did. I can see Jesus now with kids sitting in his lap, pulling his robe and chatting with him. I can also see a smile on his face as he enjoyed every minute of it.
Children were important to Jesus. In a society where most children were kept in the background, Jesus ushered them to the front of the line. “The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these,” he said with kids sitting in his lap or standing by his side. “I tell you the truth; anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
Yes, children were important to Jesus and very much a part of the kingdom of God.
Children are important to us at First Baptist, very important. Our students contribute so much to the life of our church and make us healthier and stronger.
So, on this day when we bless our students as they head back to school, let me pose this question. What do our children and their parents need from us at First Baptist?
It is obvious the children and their parents in our text needed some face time with Jesus. They needed Jesus to notice them, affirm them and offer a prayer on their behalf. At a time when the infant mortality rate was extremely high and many children never lived to adulthood due to disease, famine and war, parents brought their children to Jesus because they heard of his healing touch.
What do our children need from us?
To begin, they need us to pray for them.
They need us to ask God to help them see their potential and the importance education plays in achieving it.
Our children need us to pray God will help them to take their school work seriously and do their best each day.
They need us to pray God will give them the confidence they need to accept big challenges and accomplish their goals.
Our children need us to ask God to help them make wise decisions so they do not sabotage the bright future which is unfolding for each of them.
They need us to pray God will bring good mentors into their lives as they extend the warm hand of friendship to all around them.
Our children need us to pray God will protect them from harm and safely watch over them each day.
As you leave the service today, you will be handed a slip of paper with a student’s name on it. Make a commitment to pray for this child every day during this school year. I know of no finer gift you can give them.
Our children also need us to love them unconditionally and let them know it. We need to make sure our children at church know we love them not because they are smart, pretty, handsome, talented or high achievers, which they are, but because they are created in God’s image and are a part of our family of faith.
Certainly, we love them when they do well, but we also love them when they do poorly, make mistakes or fail to achieve a goal. Our love is never contingent upon them living up to our expectations. There are no conditions.
Our children need us to interact with them and get to know them. It is easy for children to get lost in a crowd and feel insignificant. This is why they need us to know their names, what their favorite subjects are, what their interests are outside the classroom, and what struggles they are facing.
They need to know they matter to us and are missed when they are absent. They need to sense our pride when they do well and our grief when they face disappointment and setbacks.
Our children need us to provide a safe place for them to explore the mysteries of life and faith by asking questions and sharing their stories. As a church, we need to provide the kind of environment which encourages our children to be curious, search for truth, think for themselves, ask questions, wrestle with tough biblical passages and voice their opinions. Just as Paul encouraged the Philippians to “work out their own salvation,” we must move our children beyond the faith they have borrowed from us to one that is authentically theirs.
Finally, our children need us to be good role models. We must do more than tell our children how to live a life of faith, but show them. They need to be able to look at any of us to understand how people of faith arrange their values, list their priorities, handle adversity, treat their neighbors, respond to their enemies, and earn and spend their money.
Values are not merely taught; they are also caught. Words which are not backed up with vivid examples of being honest, compassionate, humble, respectful, tolerant, patient, merciful, gracious, unselfish, generous, forgiving, encouraging, hard working and self-disciplined send conflicting messages which lead to confusion and disillusionment.
In just a moment, the children of this church and community will stand before us. Lots of pictures will be taken as proud family members grin.
Let us all thank God for these children and make a commitment to do whatever is necessary to support these parents and nurture their children along this fascinating journey. In the words of theologian Jurgen Moltmann, “Let us be apostles of possibility” and give our children a “wide open future in God.”
I know of no greater challenge God has given us. May God help us to be faithful.