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.

All Saints Day (Psalm 149)

All Saints Day I, Wassily Kandinsky, 1911

Praise the Lord!

Sing a new song to the Lord;
    sing his praise in the meeting of his people.

Let the Israelites be happy because of God, their Maker.
    Let the people of Jerusalem rejoice because of their King.
They should praise him with dancing.
    They should sing praises to him with tambourines and harps.
The Lord is pleased with his people;
    he saves the humble.
Let those who worship him rejoice in his glory.
    Let them sing for joy even in bed!

Let them shout his praise
    with their two-edged swords in their hands.
They will punish the nations
    and defeat the people.
They will put those kings in chains
    and those important men in iron bands.
They will punish them as God has written.
    God is honored by all who worship him.

Praise the Lord! (New Century Version)

Most of us are aware and in touch with how imperfect we are. Sometimes we view our imperfections as failure, weakness, or sin. But how does God see us? In what way does the eternally perfect, infinitely strong, and sovereign Lord feel about us?

The Lord is happy with his people, he is pleased with us. And because God is delighted with people, the Lord saves the humble in heart, beautifies the unlovely, and turns the sinner into a saint.

Throughout the ages, the faithful have experienced the love of God. Even now, they are rejoicing, singing for joy, and celebrating the ways God changed them to make the world a better place.

On the Christian Calendar, November 1 is the day each year to remember the saints who have gone before us, to acknowledge that God has always taken pleasure in using imperfect broken people to impact the world.  

Today is meant to be a day of remembrance – a way of not forgetting the people, friends, and family, as well as the long-dead historical saints, who have made a significant difference in our spiritual lives.

All Saints Day is more than simply acknowledging extraordinary persons; today also highlights the work of ordinary Christians who faithfully lived their lives and persevered to the end. We give thanks for the gift of how they daily lived their faith.

We remember today that:

  • Christians everywhere and throughout time are united and connected to one another.
  • God’s good pleasure saves and redeems all sorts of people.
  • Underprivileged and underserved people are noticed by God and God’s saints.
  • Influential people in our lives, now in the presence of the Lord, can be honored through emulating their faith and perseverance.

“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.  Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7, NIV)

The saints of the past are an inspiration to us in the present. They serve us as a model of faithfulness in persevering in our Christian lives. Through biblical stories of very human persons being used of God, as well as reading biographies of godly people who were dedicated to God in service, we gain motivation and patience until Jesus returns.

All Saints Day II, by Kandinsky, 1911

Who went out of their way to communicate God’s love to you with both words and actions? 

Who wrestled in prayer for you so that you and others might know God? 

If any of those persons are still around, and you know where they are, remember them. Drop them a note. Express to them a simple thank you for their influence in your life. You will not only encourage that person – it will help you remember and re-engage with something in your life you may have forgotten or have just taken for granted for too long.

We truly stand on the shoulders of faithful and wise people those who have gone before us. We will continue to persevere and thrive in faith by remembering them; and also by allowing people now, presently with us, to join us in our journey along the road of faith.

It is sage to recall events of rescue and pull them forward into the present so that all God’s worshipers can taste and see that the Lord is good.

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:2-5, NIV)

God uses symbols as a means of revelation and remembrance. We need both special days and ordinary events;  shared meals and silent fasting, tangible signs and necessary endings, active rituals and passive observances, iconic images and iconoclastic nonconformity.

We need both words and sacraments – to have days set apart for gathering together and expressing our verbal gratitude and love for each other, as well as giving our nonverbal gifts of food, fun, and friendship.

Our shared spiritual history connects us to God, to one another, and to all of God’s people who have gone before us. We remember that history by energizing our time together with words and symbols of care and redemption.

Christ told the disciples about his upcoming death and provided symbols which reinforced the words: 

“Take and eat – this is my body…. Take this cup – drink from it, all of you.” (Luke 22:7-20)

The taste of real bread reminds us of the physical incarnation of Christ, and Christ’s humiliation and death. Drinking from the tangible cup reminds us of the bodily sacrifice of Christ, the drops of blood which Jesus sweat in Gethsemane, and the beatings, floggings, nails, and crown of thorns that caused the bleeding. Tasting the bread and cup when celebrating communion reminds us that our sins are forgiven, we are united to Christ, and we are united together. 

There are past historical events which are now presently forgotten. Yet, there are also past actions that ripple and linger with continuing results into the present. The incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification of the Lord Jesus are past redemptive events which continually exert powerful force into the here and now.

The saints throughout church history moved the message of Christ along and demonstrated for us that the past is alive in the person of Jesus Christ. Along with them, we proclaim:

Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ is coming again.

And God has something planned for those who have gone before us, along with us, so that together we will experience the perfect righteousness of Christ forever. (Hebrews 11:39-40)

Remember and celebrate, eat and drink, taste and see, that the Lord is good.

May we remember the Lord’s people and never forget their example of godly living.

Our spiritual ancestors in faith continue to praise the Lord, to proclaim that God is our refuge and strength, our ever-present help. Let us follow in their footsteps.

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical Body of your Son: Give us grace to emulate your saints by living virtuous and godly lives so that we may share the joy you have prepared for those who truly love you, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns as one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Luke 12:32-40 – Don’t Be Afraid to Give

The Good Shepherd by He Qi

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near, and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (New International Version)

The most oft repeated command in all of Holy Scripture is, “Do not be afraid.” The Lord says it 365 times. It seems like we are meant to be reminded of this every day of the year.

The particular stating of the phrase by Jesus is in the context of money and possessions. Christ is telling his disciples to not fear about personal resources. Since we have a kingdom inheritance, we ought to freely give what we have to the poor without fear of being in need ourselves.

And it isn’t something we ought to procrastinate about – because the Lord could return at any time; and he doesn’t want to have to go looking for us underneath a pile of money and possessions in order to find us.

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

Dale Carnegie

Fear is a real thing. Fear, at its core, is being afraid of losing what we have and getting hurt. Fear can be a helpful emotion, meant to protect us and keep us safe from harm. The problem, however, is that our fears can lead us to some 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 compulsively, afraid that I won’t have worth, meaning, or purpose without helping.
  • Achieving or winning, afraid that I will be irrelevant or unwanted, if I lose.
  • 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.

“Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”

Yoda

All of those unhealthy practices keeps us at arm’s distance from the poor and needy. Getting close to poor folk creates fear with some people, that is, being afraid they might hurt me, or afraid that they will get my money.

“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

Faith is the opposite of fear. Faith tethers itself to the promises of God and frees us to be generous. And faith allows us to confidently minister and build relationships with all kinds of people, especially the poor and needy.

One of the great preachers in church history, St. John Chrysostom (the fourth century Bishop of Constantinople) lived in a large city full of both rich and poor. He lamented the large class difference between them. He said this about poverty and wealth:   

“To deprive is to take what belongs to another; for it is called deprivation when we take and keep what belongs to others.  By this we are taught then when we do not show mercy, we will be punished just like those who steal.  For our money is the Lord’s, however we may have gathered it.  If we provide for those in need, we shall obtain great plenty. 

This is why God has allowed you to have more, not for you to waste on… indulgence, but for you to distribute to those in need….  If you are affluent, but spend more than you need, you will give account of the funds which were entrusted to you… for you obtained more than others have, and you have received it, not to spend it for yourself, but to become a good steward for others as well.”

“Whenever you see anyone longing for many things, esteem him of all persons the poorest, even though he possess all manner of wealth; again, when you see one who does not wish for many things, judge him to be of all persons most affluent, even if he possess nothing. For by the condition of our mind and spirit, not by the quantity of our material wealth, should it be our custom to distinguish between poverty and affluence.”

The point that Jesus makes of selling possessions and giving to the poor is not to elevate poverty over wealth – or the poor over the rich – but rather to lift generosity as a significant mark of the Christian life.

In the same way, the watchfulness Jesus commands is not an anxious hand-wringing anticipation of the apocalypse. Instead, it is an eager expectation of God’s final act of doing away with all injustice forever.

In other words, Jesus is extoling a faith that frees us to be generous; enables us to leave fear, worry, and anxiety behind; and that creates in us confidence about how the future is all going to shake-out in the end.

The Lord’s Table is meant to remind us that God is hospitable and generous.

Communion together is meant to show us that we are not alone in faith.

And the Eucharist allows us to celebrate a future we know is coming, that as often as we eat and drink the elements of bread and cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he returns to judge the living and the dead.

Like the feeding of the 5,000, there is plenty of bread for all – and the cup will never run dry. That’s because the Lord we serve is a God of abundance. And when we are near to such a generous God, we feel safe and secure, and are able to freely share what we have with others – without fear and without panicking that there isn’t enough. There’s always enough because God is enough.

Generous and gracious God, You came to honor the least, the forgotten, the overlooked and the misjudged. You came to give first place to the last, those left behind, and those who are misunderstood and undervalued. You came to give a warm welcome to the lost, the abandoned, and the destitute.

Help us to be your ears to listen to their cries. Help us to be your voice speaking out love and acceptance. Help us to be your feet walking beside those in need. Help us to be your hands to clothe, feed and shelter them. You came for the least, the lost and last of this world. Lord, hear our prayer. Amen.

Luke 13:31-35 – Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord

Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord, by José Luis Castrillo

At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you – you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (New International Version)

King Herod of Judea, who was in the pocket of the Roman Empire, was issuing threats against Jesus. And those threats had some teeth behind them. Herod had recently beheaded Christ’s friend and cousin, John the Baptist (Luke 9:7-9). Yet, Jesus seemed unconcerned by the warnings. He made it clear that he was going to keep doing what he was doing, unfazed by Herod’s bluster.

Jesus had no intention of halting his travels, even because of a credible threat by the governing powers. Christ emphasizes his words by assuring his listeners that the work he is doing will be done today, and the next, and the day after that—building ultimately to his greatest work of securing redemption through his crucifixion and resurrection. 

I hope to be always journeying towards Jerusalem with a heart full of compassion that will not waver in the midst of violent killing and injustice. That isn’t easy, yet I know that my humble pilgrimage with Jesus will be worth it all, in the end.

Yet, for now, I need to make a stop in Bethlehem. I must follow the star to the place where Christ the newborn king is lying in a simple stinky feeding trough. The juxtaposition of that reality could not be more pronounced. The rightful Lord of all, far more powerful than old King Herod or the Roman Emperor, comes to earth not to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:42-45)

What’s more, Jesus deliberately donned the clothing and postured himself as a lowly servant throughout his earthly ministry. Whereas Herod acted the predictable part of a power hungry worldly ruler, squelching all rivals to the throne, Jesus shared his authority with others, along with a promise of continual presence. (Matthew 2:16-18, 28:16-20)

“Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; So that, at the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal.” 

Book of Common Prayer

Jesus is down for the struggle. He knows that injustice and systemic evil must be carefully rooted out. He understands that hearts and minds aren’t changed overnight. It will take time. Yet, Christ is in it for the long haul. The Lord is patiently, and sometimes imperceptibly, using divine power and authority to preserve the good and weed out the bad.

It will take a long time, and will be an extended process, because there are so many hard hearts. Jesus was ready, willing, and able to gather people together, as a mother hen gathers her chicks – yet there was an unwillingness to it. And Christ isn’t in the business of twisting arms and manipulating others, like Herod.

Jesus invites. He doesn’t squeeze people like an orange to get their juice. Christ carefully prepares a meal. He sets the table himself. He gives of himself. Like some wildly potent superfood, a bit of wine and morsel of bread is more than enough to fill the hungry soul and thirsty spirit.

There is always room at the Table.

There is room for you and for me. There is room for every kind of person – from every nation, race, gender, ethnicity, class – no matter the distinctions and no matter the past. It is the love of God in Christ, not the judgment, which brings people peace and salvation. It comes through a baby, not some wily old fox of a ruler.

Eventually, the phrase will be uttered, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Jesus pulled this phrase from the Old Testament psalms. He did this, knowing quite well the context surrounding the verse:

The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes.
The Lord has done it this very day;
    let us rejoice today and be glad.

Lord, save us!
    Lord, grant us success!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. (Psalm 118:22-26, NIV)

The chicks might scatter and refuse to be gathered. The builders may reject the crucial cornerstone and still try to build. Yet, it will not always be this way. As we celebrate the first advent of Christ in his incarnation, the second advent is continually in view. Christ is coming… again. The time is near….

Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven.
    And everyone will see him—
    even those who pierced him.
And all the nations of the world
    will mourn for him.
Yes! Amen! (Revelation 1:7, NLT)

The triumphal entry of Jesus on Palm Sunday is followed by a triumphal entry into my heart, and the hearts of many. And there is coming yet another triumphal entry, back to this earth. All things will made new….

“There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. The old things have disappeared.” Then the one who sits on the throne said, “And now I make all things new!” (Revelation 21:4-5, GNT)

May it be so, to the glory of God.