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.

A Parable On Being Right with God (Luke 18:9-14)

The Tax Collector and the Pharisee by Peter Gallen

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (New International Version)

There’s a lot to observe in Christ’s parable for today. Notice six observations of the story….

1. We Cannot Make Ourselves Right with God

I’m convinced that most Gentile Christians, standing two millennia apart from Christ’s telling of this parable, are much too hard on the Jewish Pharisees: “Well, I’m certainly glad that I am not like the Pharisee in this story!” so many tell themselves. It seems to me the Pharisees get a bad rap because of our own predilection to justify ourselves.

After all, we can only really criticize something we are already familiar with.

A temptation which every individual and community faces is the seduction toward self-justification, instead of being justified by God.

Way back in the day, when I made treadmill belts for a living, I was in charge of quality control. It was my job to make sure that the quality department provided the shipping department with a finished product, free of defects, and could stand the test of continual use. I justified the belt as being a treadmill belt of integrity; the belt did not, nor could not, justify itself, hide or fix its flaws, or make itself right.

To think that a treadmill belt could justify itself is in the same sort of crazy that believes we can make ourselves right. No, it is God alone who justifies the sinner.

The paradox of Christ’s parable is that the real sinners are those who claim to be righteous, while the truly righteous are those who recognize they cannot justify themselves and need God to make them right.

2. We Need to Be Honest about the Right Thing

In order to hear the good news about God’s ability to justify and make right, we must also hear the bad news about why we need justification to begin with. An honest look into the mirror reveals that we have been hiding behind a cosmetic façade of self-justification.

Our illusions and delusions need to be confronted and shattered. Because only then can we receive grace and realize the peace and harmony of God’s justification.

Since God justifies, I don’t have to!

I don’t need to defend myself, make myself look better than I am, nor fool myself into believing that the false façade is the true self.

The parable of Jesus is a contrast between the Pharisee who justifies himself, and the tax collector who looks to God alone for his justification.

3. The Put-Together Guy Wants to Make Himself Right

Jesus uses a Pharisee as a character in the parable because the guy represented someone who everyone else looks up to as the model of a spiritual and religious person. Christ is inviting his hearers to look beyond the façade of what we see with our physical eyes.           

We need to use our spiritual eyes to notice below the surface. Look at the attitude. The smug self-justifying disposition is flat-out sin. What’s more, self-justification is a root of all sorts of sins.

Judging ourselves to be right means that others are wrong. That attitude creates division, separates people into bad and good, fosters disharmony, and is an affront to God. 

To try and obtain what is already provided by grace is plain old-fashioned sin.

4. We’re Obsessed with the Right Lines

Adam and Eve were told by God that they could eat from any tree in the garden but were given strict instructions not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:15-17) So, why avoid that particular tree?

Because it was a tree which spiritually and socially blinds people. Adam and Eve ate from it and their eyes were “opened” to a different reality – which was actually a “closed” view of reality that changed the way humanity deals with one another. From that point forward, people began drawing lines down the middle and placing themselves on the “good” side while vilifying those on the other side, the “bad” side.

“Apple Picking,” the fall of Adam and Eve, by Vittorio Canta

Adam and Eve immediately began justifying their actions, their attitudes, and their behavior. (Genesis 3:8-13) Adam drew a line: “That woman, Eve, gave me the fruit; she’s on the other side; it’s her fault!” Eve drew a line: “The serpent made me do it; that wasn’t really me, I’m basically good….” And ever since, the quest of making ourselves right has never stopped….

Today, we draw all sorts of lines. A popular religious line is this: “We’re good; they’re bad. Our theology is right, everybody else’s is wrong. The Bible says….” (insert a kooky interpretation of Scripture, based in self-justification and separation of people into good and bad groups)

People draw class lines, race lines, gender lines, ethnic lines, economic lines. We want clean lines, vertical lines, horizontal lines, perpendicular lines, thick lines, thin lines, any kind of line; just give me a line! Let’s go line dancing. Maybe take an airline. There are offensive lines and defensive lines. By the way, what’s the line on the Packers? We even judge the lines themselves: Long lines, short lines, front lines, back lines, and DMV lines are clearly evil, right!?

Why are we so obsessed with drawing lines? So that we can take self-justifying sides. Violence, war, and most every other sin of the world comes from the original sin project of trying to make ourselves right: “I’m okay; you’re not.”

The Pharisee (really a representative of us all) drew a very clear line between himself and the despised sinful tax collector. Notice that self-justification always compares itself with others. Those who obsessively draw lines are compulsively concerned about other people; they believe they have a right to know what’s going on with them. They remain vigilant to keep the lines drawn and distinguish themselves from those on the other side.

5. God Is On the Other Side of the Right Line

The Pharisee found that every time he drew a line, God was on the other side with the “sinners.” That makes perfect biblical sense. If God alone justifies sinners and makes them right; and if Jesus identifies with them in his life, death, and resurrection; then God is to be found on the other side of our line-drawing.  

A self-justified person sees no need for God’s justification. Therefore, God is not on their side; God is on the other side, justifying sinners by making them right.

6. The Unraveled Guy Wants To Be Made Right

“O God, Be Merciful To Me, A Sinner,” by Ronald Raab

The tax collector’s only concern was for God to show him mercy because he is a sinner. In contrast to the proud attitude of the Pharisee, the tax collector, a sinner by anyone’s definition, humbled himself and sought justification from God alone.

  • Justification by God makes us right and:
  • Lifts the curse upon humanity and reverts everything back to its original design. (Revelation 22:1-5)
  • Erases the lines. (Romans 4:7-8)
  • Restores our souls are and strengthens our faith. (Acts 16:5; Romans 4:20)
  • Enables us to rest in Christ’s finished work. (John 19:28-30)
  • Does not condemn us. (Romans 8:1-2)
  • Eliminates comparisons because Christ is sufficient for us. (Colossians 2:13-14)
  • Replaces the anxiety and fear about how we look to others with the contentment and satisfaction of God’s love in Christ. (1 John 4:16-18)

Conclusion

Self-justification separates us from people and creates distance and division. But God’s justification connects people in love and crosses the arbitrary lines created by others.

The bad news: Many religious folk, when confronted with their self-justifying attitudes, do not change. Instead, they label the person as bad and place the offending person on the other side of their line so that they can maintain their façade of righteousness.

The good news: Jesus can be found on the other side of the line because justification is a gift. Yet, until we go to him, outside our little camp, we will continue in vain to make ourselves look good and be on the right side of everything while making others look bad.

The good and the right is to humbly – and with much flavor – cry out to God for mercy because only the Lord can save us from our plight.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner, and grant me your peace.

Just and right God, by your mercy we were created, and by your mercy you redeemed us through your Son, the Lord Jesus. Your mercy is the light by which all people – both sinner and saint – return to you. Your divine justice and your divine mercy exist together so that you refuse to punish us as we deserve.

Lord Jesus, it was not enough for you to take on our humanity; you died for us as well. So, we humbly and gratefully receive your gracious deliverance from sin, death, and hell. Amen.

The Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8)

“The Persistent Widow” by Ronnie Farmer, Jr.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (New International Version)

“God desires of us nothing more ardently than that we ask many and great things of him, and he is displeased if we do not confidently ask and entreat.”

Martin Luther

God wants us to pray! Prayer happens from a place of faith because to pray, one must believe that God is good and answers prayer. Conversely, prayerlessness is faithlessness. A person of little faith prays only a little. A person full of faith cannot stop praying.

Today’s Gospel lesson is a parable about not losing heart, about justice, and ultimately about faith.

Be Persistent In Prayer

For the Gospel writer, Luke, the widow, along with orphans, the diseased, and the handicapped, represent those who are dependent and vulnerable. And so, Jesus took a particular interest in them. (Luke 20:47, 21:3)

Widows are also presented by Luke as prophetic, active, and faithful. The widow in Christ’s parable, much like the other widows mentioned by Luke, is persistent and persuasive enough to get the justice she demands – even from an unjust judge. Her persistent petitioning is held up as a lesson in prayer.

Don’t lose heart and give up praying when your prayers are not answered as quickly as you want. No matter the prayer, we typically hope for and even expect them to be answered quickly. And if they don’t, we may get upset or discouraged.

“We must patiently, believingly, continue in prayer until we obtain an answer… Most frequently we fail in not continuing in prayer until the blessing is obtained, and in not expecting the blessing.”

George Müller

We pray daily for a variety of situations as individuals and as a congregation. Not all those prayers get answered in the ways we expect. Many times, it can seem like nothing is changing, or things are just getting worse. It is possible for us to despair in those moments and give up.

Yet, even if we do not immediately see an answer to our prayers, we need to keep praying. Even if we are suffering and seeing darkness all around us, we should not stop crying out to the Lord. And the content of those prayers is important.

Be Persistent In Justice

The parable is like a sandwich. The two pieces of rye bread are prayer and faith, with justice being the ham and cheese between them. The meat of the parable is in the ingredients of the prayers.

The widow is the vulnerable justice-seeker, and the powerholder is the unjust judge. The powerful and just God replaces the unjust authority’s reluctance, granting justice to vulnerable people who cry out to him day and night.

We are to persistently and passionately pray as Jesus instructed us:

“Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
    for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation….”

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:2-4, 9-10, NIV)

Jesus said, “Seek his kingdom, and these things [food, clothing, basic necessities] will be given to you as well. 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.” (Luke 12:31-34, NIV)

Be Persistent In Faith

Christ’s parable ends with a question: When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? In Luke’s Gospel, there are several folks whom Jesus commended for their faith:

  • A Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant, being confident that Christ could do so without even being present to do it. Jesus commented, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith, even in Israel.” (Luke 7:1-10)
  • A “sinful” woman anointed the feet of Jesus with perfume and her tears, loving the Lord despite the judgmental people around her. Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50)
  • Friends of a paralyzed man dug through a roof to get him access to Jesus, knowing that Christ could heal. When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 5:17-26)
  • An unclean woman, because of a chronic issue of bleeding, touched the edge of Christ’s cloak, believing that even this small touch will heal her. Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” (Luke 8:43-48)
  • A Samaritan leper cried out for mercy, recognizing that Jesus is the Christ who could heal him; and then fell at his feet in profound gratitude. Jesus said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19)
  • A blind beggar called out to Jesus, seeing with spiritual eyes who Jesus really is. Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” (Luke 18:35-43)

So, will Jesus find faith on the earth when he returns?  Yes, he will, but it may likely be in unexpected places — not among the religious professionals or the ones certain of their own righteousness, but among the outsiders, the unlovely, the unclean, the ones certain of their sinfulness.

Perhaps the best sign of faith is a willingness to persist in prayer, like widow who persisted against all odds in her struggle for justice with the powerful judge.

Conclusion

We must have faith in Christ, and not in faith itself.

If we are honest, every one of us who has made a difficult prayer request, mustering-up all the faith we can, and then being disappointed when it did not happen, has been hurt. The unstable person vacillates when this happens, playing the “God-loves-me, God-loves-me-not” game. The person of faith, however, believes God answers prayer, and that if it is not answered when I want, God knows what’s up and will answer it in God’s own good time and grace.

None of this is about the amount of faith. Maybe you have told yourself, or somebody else has said to you, that you don’t have enough faith, and that’s why your prayer was not answered.

“The value of persistent prayer is not that God will hear us, but that we will finally hear God.”

William McGill

Know this: positive thinking is not the same as Christian faith. Faith is neither a matter of optimism nor of sending $19.95 to some hack preacher who promises to give you the secret of answered prayer, along with a free gold cross.

Taking a lesson from Christ’s parable about the persistent widow, we can put aside tepid, milquetoast, mumbling prayers with hunched shoulders (i.e. “Well, God, if it is your will, could you help me?”) and instead, because of our union with Jesus Christ and our redemption in him, pray confidently and boldly. In Christ, we have the privilege and authority to do so.

Blessed heavenly Father, we praise you for the grace we possess through the Lord Jesus Christ. We rejoice in Christ’s teaching, the gift of faith, the privilege to approach your throne with boldness, and the victory you have provided for us through Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. 

We pray your mercy over our sins, the sins of other believers, and the sins of our world. We confess the sin of prayerlessness, faithlessness, apathy, complacency, and indifference to your concerns for righteousness and justice. We acknowledge the wickedness of our world through injustice, oppression, and exploitation of others.

We recognize that the kingdom of darkness has laid strategies against us, trying to keep your people from faith and prayer. So, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we claim our place as children of God. We smash and pull down all the strongholds which Satan has erected against humanity – and pray that the power of Christ’s resurrection would hinder and frustrate the plans formed against us. 

We, your people, accept the role of standing in the gap for others in prayer. In Christ, we are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. So, we bring all the work of the Lord Jesus Christ – his incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and glorification directly against all of Satan’s power in their lives.

By faith we pray for fruitful lives of spiritual abundance, social justice, and sanctified relationships in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Luke 18:18-30 – A Rich Man’s Question

A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”

“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (New International Version)

The sorts of questions we ask say a lot about us. We might classify all questions into genuine curiosity and self-justification. This includes the tone of voice and affect in which the question is asked.

The wealthy man in today’s Gospel lesson asked a question. Rather than his tone being one of truly seeking to know, and his affect reflecting an authentic desire to know, instead he had his nose held high with a sanctimonious sounding expression. The man was mostly after a divine sanction of his lifestyle and his spirituality.

It doesn’t take the Son of God to know that this guy was pompously trying to angle for some kudos from Jesus about his superior life. But Christ, rather than blowing off the rich man or just blasting him for being a peacock, answered his question and led the man to what is most important.

One way of looking at the interaction between the rich man and Jesus is that it was an intervention. The rich man was addicted to wealth and money, but he didn’t see it. And he wanted validation that his way of life was sanctioned by the Almighty. 

The rich man believed himself to be quite godly and spiritual – an upstanding citizen, a religious man, attentive to God’s law. It’s a sad story because he walked away un-transformed by his encounter with Jesus and refused to follow him. He didn’t see himself as hopeless and desperately needing to change. He held to his denial.

We are all addicted to sin.  If you want to push back on that statement and are thinking, “Well, I don’t have as much money as _____” or, “So-and-so really has a problem with this…” then you are practicing what we call, in terms of addiction, denial. 

Truth be told, all of us are in some sort of denial about how much we really trust in paychecks, bank accounts, investments, and a wealth of stuff. Even people who are truly in poverty can also be addicted to wealth by always thinking about money and wishing for it as the answer to their problems, as if wealth is the highest good to attain in life.

Jesus put the problem out there for us all to see by communicating to us that sin cannot be managed – rather, sin needs to die. 

The good news is that by honestly facing up to our own addiction to things we can find grace. Grace always has the last word. Grace trumps addiction to money, stuff, and anything else. 

God’s love and acceptance is not conditional. Both the wretched sinner and the pompous peacock will find Christ’s forgiveness through the cross. Jesus put sin to death. We are simply invited to bring it out in the open, confess it, and follow Jesus.

One question that delights the heart of God, and reflects a humble and penitent spirit from us is this: “Will you forgive me, Lord?”

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.