Let the Little Children Come (Luke 18:15-17)

People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (New International Version)

I happen to believe that kids are closer to the kingdom of God than most adults.

Us big people have developed a lot of baggage over the years. And all that stuff tends to obscure God’s kingdom and the light of Christ within us.

Kids, however, especially small children, still haven’t discerned any veil between the seen and unseen worlds. They freely move between them both without any problem.

So, of course, Jesus wanted to be around children. If he had any homesickness at all, I’m sure the presence of kids made him feel at home more than anywhere else on this earth.

Jesus is our Immanuel, God with us.

The kingdom of God is here within us.

The disciples of Jesus had some difficulty with Christ’s branding of the message because it was not exclusive enough for them. They wanted limits on the us part.

Kids are part of that mass of people that God is with. Children deserve as much or more attention than adults. More than simply saying that we care about kids, we need to be like Jesus. He let the children come to him and was intolerant of anyone preventing kids from doing so.

Since the disciples were, ironically, still living in a small world, they rebuked those who brought little children to Jesus.

We aren’t specifically told why the disciples rebuked the adults bringing children to Jesus. Maybe the children were making a lot of noise and were being a nuisance in the middle of Jesus’ teaching. Perhaps the disciples had Jesus on a tight time schedule and this bringing kids to Christ thing was causing a delay. It could be that the disciples simply saw children as an interruption to the “important” work of ministry. 

I tend to think that the disciples simply failed to appreciate the children. The dominate view of kids in the ancient world was to see them as potential adults. Kids were pretty low on the ladder of society. The disciples likely saw no reason for children to be involved in what was happening.

The babies and toddlers and small children were brought so that Jesus might place his hands on them and pray for them. That still seems to me to be the best reason to bring kids to Jesus. 

“This story teaches us that Christ does not receive only those who voluntarily come to Him of a holy desire and moved by faith, but also those who might not yet be old enough to realize how much they need His grace….  From this we gather that His grace reaches to this age of life also….  It would be cruel to exclude that age from the grace of redemption.”

John Calvin

“Jesus does not only save repentant adults; he also saves dependent children and all those whom we think are incompetent to respond to Jesus.”

Frederick Dale Bruner

Jesus flat out rebuked his disciples for hindering the little children from coming to him. He wanted just the opposite of what was taking place. Why? Because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such little people as these. 

As mentioned, children were at the bottom of the societal pecking order in the ancient world. Their place in that society was to be respectful and quiet, to speak only when spoken to, and to never interrupt an adult.

Yet, Jesus took the time to touch them and pray for them. He invited this interruption to his schedule. Christ bluntly told his disciples that they were the ones being the hindrance, not the kids.

I baptize all sorts of people, including kids and babies. Why? Because in baptism, I recognize that the smallest ones among us can come to this holy sacrament. I understand that in baptism the Holy Spirit begins and initiates the process of salvation that will take that little one from infancy to adulthood and eventual death. I discern that, ideally, the child grows to live into their baptism by recognizing by faith that Jesus died and rose from the dead and grants grace and forgiveness to all who come to him. 

In that process of salvation, of coming to know Jesus, we have the sacrament of the Lord’s Table to strengthen our faith and demonstrate to us that the saving work of Jesus that has been accomplished. It is a Table of grace for all the members of Christ’s Church. 

In my Reformed Christian tradition, we believe that Jesus is not physically, but spiritually present at the Table.  Because Jesus is present, we are able to receive the grace available to us as Christ’s members. So why, in light of this reality, and the words and practice of Jesus toward children, would we ever hinder and prevent the smallest members among us from participating at the Table?

Here’s a thought: If Jesus himself were serving communion in a church, and a group of 2-year-old children came toddling up to the Table to see Jesus, would you stop them from doing so? Or much like the disciples, would you rebuke those bringing children to Jesus?

As for me, I’d rather not be rebuked by my Lord.

Jesus gave children the three gifts they most need: time, touch, and prayer. Parenting and teaching are holy vocations, and we have the wonderful privilege of bestowing these same gifts on our children, grandchildren, and students.

Time, touch, and prayer are ways we bless children. And, what’s more, as God’s children, we are all to approach Jesus and spend time with him, allow him to touch us, and interact with him through prayer. 

May we all have the humility to bend down at eye level to the littlest among us so that we and others will know that the kingdom of God is among us.

Get Up and Pray! (Luke 22:39-46)

The Garden of Gethsemane by He Qi

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” (New International Version)

The prayer of Jesus and the sleeping of his disciples presents a contrast of approach when severe stress is upon us.

The Prayer of Jesus

Christ’s prayer expresses the tension all devout persons face: expressing our own wishes while seeking to submit to the Father’s wishes.

However, what is not the same, between our own prayers and the prayers of Jesus, is that we too often believe that if we are intense, wordy, and insistent enough with God, that our prayers will be answered.

While only feigning a few words about God’s will, we put our real efforts into lawyer-like presentations of why the Lord should answer our prayers in the way we want them answered.

Thus, prayer can too easily become a willful imperative that God grant our demands based in a very limited understanding of the big picture.

There is a big difference between willfulness and willingness. We must embrace the latter and eschew the former.

Jesus clearly stated exactly what he wanted: to have this terrible suffering, especially the pain about to be experienced, taken from him. Yet, he asks this with a willingness to accept the Father’s will for his life. Although an angel comes to bring comfort and strength, Christ’s request was denied. And Jesus was good with that.

We can, following the example of Jesus, unashamedly express our anguish, while at the same time, accepting God’s will for us, no matter what it may be.

Christ in Gethsemane by Michael O’Brien

It was God’s will for Jesus to suffer. And Christ not only suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross; Jesus experienced the full range of human suffering throughout his life. He knew what it felt like to face continual adversity and hardship. 

The suffering of Christ helps us make sense of our own suffering. We can only truly be free from our stubborn expectations by embracing that which makes us suffer. 

Some suffer through the death of a loved one; some through cancer or a serious health issue; other believers right now throughout the world are suffering due to grinding poverty and la ack of food and clean water; many others suffer through violence done to them or their families.

Because of this reality, some of us may not even express our anguish to God in prayer. After all, what is a harshly worded e-mail, or trying to lose a few extra pounds, or an unexpected car repair, compared to starving children in the world? 

It’s good to keep our life situations in proper perspective, but it is also not good to tell God what he should and shouldn’t care about in this world. 

If the only things that matter and qualify as hardship and difficulty is human trafficking or the terrors of war, then you will soon find yourself plastering a smile on your face and nodding over-enthusiastically whenever someone asks you how you are doing…. Good grief…. I find chronically happy Christians to be insufferable (pun intended).

The sufferings of Christ qualified him to be a compassionate high priest, able to help us (Hebrews 2:5-18). A priest is one who stands in between the person and God, making things right with God. Christians possess a union with Jesus Christ because of his suffering, death, and resurrection. He is our champion. He stands with us in our suffering and temptations.    

The Sleep of the Disciples

Even though their Lord told them to pray, the disciples nod-off in a stress-induced sleep. Jesus wanted them to remain awake, and he was talking of more than just physical alertness. The disciples needed to keep watch so that they didn’t fall into temptation.

Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus had been warning them that his cross will lead to their own cross to bear. They, too, will have times of trial, so intense that it will be emotionally and spiritually overwhelming. Christ desired the disciples to follow his own example of offering anguished prayer which is thoroughly submissive to God.

So, our great task is to get up and pray!

Get up and pray so that no temptation can overtake you! (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Get up and pray so that you can endure hardship! (Hebrews 12:7)

Get up and pray for the enemies who persecute you so that you may be children of your Father in heaven! (Matthew 5:44-45)

Get up and pray so that you can encourage others and build them up in the faith! (1 Thessalonians 5:10-11)

Get up and pray so that you can be joyful in hope and patient in affliction! (Romans 12:12)

Get up and pray so that you may have peace in this world of trouble! (John 16:33)

Get up and pray so that you can submit to God and resist the devil! (James 4:7)

Get up and pray so that you will not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good! (Romans 12:11)

Get up and pray so that you can submit to one another out of reverence for Christ! (Ephesians 5:21)

Get up and pray so that you can be the salt of the earth and the light of the world! (Matthew 5:13-16)

Get up and pray so that you can proclaim that the kingdom of God is near! (Matthew 10:7)

Get up and pray so that you can preach the Word with great patience and careful instruction! (2 Timothy 4:1-2)

Get up and pray so that you can have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. (Hebrews 13:17)

Get up and pray!…

The Kingdom of God Is Here (Matthew 10:5-15)

Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge:

“Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.

“Don’t think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light.

“When you enter a town or village, don’t insist on staying in a luxury inn. Get a modest place with some modest people and be content there until you leave.

“When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way. You can be sure that on Judgment Day they’ll be mighty sorry—but it’s no concern of yours now. (The Message)

“People can’t observe the coming of God’s kingdom. They can’t say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ You see, God’s kingdom is within  you.” Jesus, from Luke 17:20-21, GW

When Jesus told his followers that the kingdom of God is here, he didn’t simply mean that it all of a sudden showed up. No, it’s already here. It always has been. We just haven’t paid attention. And we haven’t noticed because we keep looking for a location, somewhere outside of ourselves. But, as it turns out, we already have what we’ve been searching for.

Christianity, at its core, is about following Christ. And that journey with Jesus is first and foremost a journey into oneself. This is why the Lord tells the disciples not to go first to outsiders. There’ll be a time for that. But now, the journey to their fellow Jews was to be an internal walk into the very depths of their own souls and the soul of a nation.

The singular message of this particular mission was to proclaim that the kingdom of God is near. It is here. In fact, it is so near and here that it is actually within you. But the disciples needed to discover this for themselves by going out and removing all obstacles to awareness of God’s light.

Jesus sent the disciples out and told them not to take anything with them because they already had what they needed. The kingdom of God is already within them.

A Byzantine fresco of Jesus sending the disciples, 12th century

So, they were to leave all their baggage and their stuff behind. The disciples were to be stripped of all their trusted outer resources so that they had the ability to see themselves, to others, and human need – and then to be moved in their hearts with compassion, just as Jesus is. 

Whenever we take all our pre-packaged stuff with us into relationships and the doing of Christ’s mission, we already assume we know what other people need. If we have nothing with us, then we are able to see people for who they actually are; we can genuinely listen to what they are saying. 

You have freely received compassion from God, so freely give it away. Not everyone will respond, but that’s not your business; they will have to deal with God on that later.

Compassion is to be our response to human need. Yet, we don’t always respond with compassion because of the obstacles within our own hearts and lives prevent us from seeing others and their needs.

The following are a few of obstructions which hinder us from compassion and perceiving the kingdom of God within us, and how to deal with them:

  1. Contempt. Contempt breeds contempt. Unacknowledged and unresolved anger produces bitterness. Hatred feeds more hatred. Our environment makes a difference. For example, if you find you have to check your heart at the workplace in order to do your job, then you need to either you quit your, or bring forth the kingdom of God by tirelessly advocating for compassionate treatment of people.
  2. Busyness. I’m referring to an unhealthy pace of life. Many of us work too much and do too many things. We cannot have compassionate hearts by moving so fast that we fail to see other people’s needs. Slow down. No one is going to come to the end of their life and wished they had been workaholics. Make a thoughtful plan to slow down enough so you can tune into the needs of others and have emotional energy for them.
  3. Resentment. It’s possible to become coldhearted by excessive and unrelenting caregiving. This is the same sort of problem as an unhealthy pace of life; you give so much that you actually begin to resent the people you care for. Caregiving has to be meticulously balanced with self-care. There’s a time for everything, including rest and recuperation.
  4. Inaction. Only receiving and not giving is what I call “spiritual constipation.” It’s when a person listens to hundreds and thousands of sermons and podcasts but doesn’t listen to their neighbor. They have no intention of putting anything they hear into practice.

However, with nothing restricting or obstructing God’s kingdom within us, we can see the divine image within each person and within ourselves. We can begin to radiate that divine presence and be transformed by it’s inner light.

Like Jesus, transfigured before the disciples on Mount Tabor, we too, become transfigured by God’s energy of love touching our hidden divine energy as image-bearers. That energy now comes forth because we have left everything behind to follow Christ and experience the generosity which, ironically, only comes from having nothing.

This is a spiritual walk we cannot take alone. The road we travel is the way of community. Just as God is community – Father, Son, and Spirit – always in a unity of love, so we, as God’s image-bearers with the divine light within us, must strip ourselves of everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

We are to fix our eyes on Jesus and see him, the pioneer of our faith, the Light of the World, the Living Water, and Bread for the world, who endured all things for the redemption of humanity and all creation.

Almighty God, you sent your Son Jesus Christ to reconcile the world to yourself: We praise and bless you for those whom you have sent in the power of the Spirit to proclaim that the kingdom of God is near. We thank you that in all parts of the earth a community of love has been gathered together by their prayers and labors, and that in every place your servants call upon your Name; for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen.

Luke 8:22-25 – Where Is Your Faith?

One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So, they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.

The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.

In fear and amazement, they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” (New International Version)

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.”

Louisa May Alcott

The opposite of faith isn’t little to no faith – it’s fear.

Fear, at its core, is being afraid of getting hurt. Fear is an emotion which alerts us to some danger that may break my heart or my body.

Being afraid, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad. It’s more about why fear bubbles up for us.

So, what makes you afraid? Why? How does fear influence your life?

Fear is often at the root of unhealthy behaviors such as:

  • Vilifying another, afraid that others I don’t know or who are different from me might harm me, my family, or my community.
  • Hiding my emotions, afraid my weaknesses or failures will be exposed or exploited.
  • Serving others, afraid that I won’t have worth, meaning, or purpose without helping.
  • Achieving or winning, afraid that I will be irrelevant or unwanted.
  • Smiling and being upbeat, afraid of facing and feeling the deep sadness within me.
  • Procrastinating projects, tasks, or conversations, afraid of being disliked or rejected.

Today’s Gospel story has Jesus at the center of the storm. The wind and the waves, the storm, is not the central element of the story. Jesus is. And that’s an important distinction, because whenever we put outside circumstances as the central elements of our own stories, anxious fear is the inevitable result.

“Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

The disciples were surprised that even the wind and the waves obey him! They were afraid because of the furious storm. Yet, Jesus was sleeping, not the least bit fearful. The disciples woke him, and in shallow breathed words of anxiety stated they all were going to drown because of the extreme conditions.

In my mind’s eye, I imagine Jesus slowly awaking and lazily rising from his slumber, simply rebuking the wind and waves, with neither any anxiety nor any hurry, and then chiding the disciples for their inability to place their faith in him.

Jesus Calms the Storm by the Benedictine Sisters of Turvey Abbey

The disciples’ expectations of and faith in Jesus were way too low! That’s what fear does. It diminishes faith. Like Chicken Little, who thought the sky was falling and all was ruined, we become chickens of little faith.

Many people believe God hears and answers prayer. Yet sometimes, our faith can be so small that, when God answers those prayers in ways far superior to our expectations, we are slack-jawed and astonished by it. Luke’s Gospel records several instances of people being surprised by Jesus: 

Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. (Luke 2:47, NIV)

They were astounded at his teaching because he spoke with authority. In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Leave us alone! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet and come out of him!”

Then the demon, throwing the man down before them, came out of him without doing him any harm. They were all astounded and kept saying to one another, “What kind of word is this, that with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits and they come out?” (Luke 4:32-36, NRSV)

I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”

The man immediately stood up in front of them and picked up the stretcher he had been lying on. Praising God, he went home.

Everyone was amazed and praised God. They were filled with awe and said, “We’ve seen things today we can hardly believe!” (Luke 5:24-26, GW)

Jesus was driving out a demon that could not talk; and when the demon went out, the man began to talk. The crowds were amazed. (Luke 11:14, GNT)

Jesus is more marvelous, wonderful, powerful, and awesome than we know. Jesus will take care of us; he will not let his people be destroyed. And, what’s more, he has the power and authority to heal us.

Whenever we truly grasp who Jesus is, and how much he loves us, there is no room for fear, only faith. 

Even though the disciples’ faith was small, Jesus still responded to it with grace because even small faith is faith. Grace is undeserved help. Our Lord helps anyone who approaches him, whether with little faith or big. Our small faith is no obstacle for Jesus in delivering us from the storms of life.

You might be presently experiencing a violent storm in your life. Please know that Jesus can bring peace.

Perhaps you have a besetting sin that dogs you every day. Jesus can deliver you.

It could be that depression follows you like a lost kitten wherever you go. Jesus can bring new life and fresh joy to your life.

Maybe there is an estranged relationship you have lost hope over. Jesus can restore it.

Perchance you think your neighbor, co-worker, or family member is too far from God to ever know Jesus. By now you know the response….

Ethiopian Orthodox Church depiction of Jesus calming the storm

Our expectations of Jesus are much too small! We can pray big prayers because we serve a big and powerful God who has the authority to command even the wind and the waves!

The Gospel of Mark portrays Jesus as the ultimate authority over everything, including powerful storms. Christ uses that authority to bestow grace, even in the face of the smallest of faith in his followers. Jesus cares about people and seeks to deliver them from the dominion of darkness.  

So, may we participate with Jesus in his agenda for this world.

May we submit to his rule and authority.

May we exhibit the same care, compassion, and concern for people as Jesus does.

May we find our faith, especially amidst the worst of situations.

Lord Jesus, Son of God, I believe all things are possible through you; help my unbelief! Take my small and seemingly insignificant faith and use it to calm the storms in my life and demonstrate your authority even over the wind and the waves. Amen.