Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost October 2-3, 2021
“Little Children” Mark 10:13-16
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
It’s fun to be a kid. They can play all day long. They can do things that make us grownups chuckle and smile. They exhibit cute smiles, daring attempts and sheer determination. Watching a kid is almost as fun as watching a puppy or a little kitty. It’s fun to be a kid.
Dr. William Willimon, some 25 years ago, wrote, “Everyone gets to be small someday.” I hope so. Sometimes it is really boring being a grownup. Sometimes joy leaves when you get too old – we’d like to return to our childhood. I hope that Willimon is correct when he said that everyone gets to be small someday.
But maybe he should have said that everyone needs to be small someday. That is what Jesus said. You need to be small. You have to be small. It is necessary for your spiritual health to become small – just like a child. Here are some pointed words:
- I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. (Mark 10:15)
- At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4)
- Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3)
Becoming a child again, having a childlike faith, is not just something that we hope will happen, it is something that has to happen. But I don’t think that everyone wants to stay small. Everyone wants to grow up. We want to do things ourselves. We want to be independent and self-sufficient. Even at the tender age of two, a young child will tell their parents that they can do it themself. When someone turns 16, or so, suggestions from others about matters of life are not readily received. But such independence doesn’t leave after 2 or 16, for some of us, no matter what the age, we bristle when someone offers help. “I can do it myself, thank you.” “When I need your help, I’ll ask.” Stubborn. Independent. Self-Sufficient. Our pride has taken over.
This independence can also be in matters relating to our faith. This can be how we are towards the work of God. It is difficult for us to be needy, or to ask, or to seek the answers that God alone can give. Have you come to the place in your life that you know that you don’t have all the answers? Have you peeked into the soul and find that all too often it is empty? Who can take care of the mess we have made with our life? Or, maybe this quandary is in relation to the life with your spouse or your family. You have more questions than answers concerning your health. Maybe you have found out that you aren’t the smartest, strongest, most handsome or beautiful person in the world. Maybe you’ve found out that Jesus was speaking the truth when He said that unless you give up your pride and arrogance that you’ll never truly have life. It is a great revealing truth that everyone gets to be small someday.
The next reading that we find in Mark’s biography about the life of Jesus is the encounter Jesus had with a rich young man. He came to Jesus and asked about how to receive life after death. Jesus said, “You know the commandments: Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.” He replied, “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. Jesus said, “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (See Mark 10:17-23) Why was he sad? Everything that he built his security on had fallen. He was secure in his wealth and Jesus asked him to find a greater security – one that really had stability. This man who had everything just couldn’t accept being weak, dependent or needy.
Everyone gets to be small not just someday, but right now. Small. Needy. Seeking. Dependent. Empty. Lowly. “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Jesus by praising the smallness of children was running counter to what society said about children in the first century. Jeff Gibbs said of this, “The classical world placed a high value on reason. Consequently, children were regarded as inferior because they were not guided by rational thinking. As those who are physically weak, subject to the will of adults, and susceptible to sickness, children were not admirable.” (Jeff Gibbs, Concordia, Matthew 11:2 – 20:34, Pg. 891, from an article “When Children Became People”, O.M. Bakke)
You and I get the joy of being small when we come to God, asking for our needs to be filled by His generosity. We get to be small and needy when we ask for forgiveness of sins, not because we are worthy to receive that gift, but solely because we are not worthy. We come to him “wounded, impotent and blind” and know that in Jesus we are made cleansed, whole and become immortal. Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? It the one who is the least and will trust fully on the merits of Jesus for their security and eternity. It is like John the Baptist who was fully confident in saying, “He must become greater and I must become less.” (John 3:30)
This question about being the greatest was a constant conversation with the apostles. When you read the accounts of the life of Jesus it pops up often. Late in Matthew’s gospel, Salome, the mother of James and John, boldly came to Jesus and made this demand, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” (Mathew 20:21) What audacity!! This mom had an eye out for her sons. She made sure that the other 10 Apostle’s wouldn’t get what her boys deserved.
But Jesus wasn’t done teaching how life in His kingdom – how one gets in and how one lives within it – is different than how folks normally live. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28) Everyone gets to be small someday – not just in coming to faith but also in living that faith among everyone. We are small and remain small by living a life of service to everyone God allows to touch our life.
Who is the greatest? The one who is the least. The lowest. The servant. I’m talking about Jesus. Isn’t that what we see in all of this? Jesus not only tells us that everyone needs to get small someday both for salvation and for living a full human life, but He shows us that He was small, the least, the lowly, the servant, the slave and He did that fully for us. Paul says this about Jesus: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8) The Lord of all, the great “I Am”, became small and stayed small for our eternal good.
I have a goal for you and I today. It is the same goal that Jesus has for us. Get small. Stay small. Amen!!