31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
July 21, 2019
Matthew 18:1-5, 19: 13-15
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them.” (Matthew 19:14) Elm Street Congregational Church says, ‘If your child is restless during worship, please feel free to accompany them to other areas of the church.” Basically, take your child anywhere but here.
These words, printed in their worship bulletin, stood out to me because the month before our family had attended our nephew’s bar mitzvah, and every time I tried to walk into worship with then 21 month old Jack, I was politely diverted into the “nursery” where I could hear the service but not see.
That same summer, our family also attended a concert at Tanglewood, the famous outdoor music venue where people bring picnics to enjoy on the lawn during the concert. Tanglewood gives free lawn tickets to those 17 and younger, but if you happen to bring a child, you must enjoy the music and your picnic from the rear half of the lawn, behind the access road.
Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them.” (Matthew 19:14) but our society, including our religious communities, says, ‘let the little children be someplace else’.
Because children talk and make noise. Children laugh and sometimes cry. Children move and touch, explore and ask questions. And that feels disruptive when we are trying to worship God.
And yet, Jesus, God in human form, said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” (Matthew 19:14)
“For it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” To children. God’s kingdom belongs to children. It doesn’t belong to the powerful. It doesn’t belong to the rich. It doesn’t belong to the quiet, the serious, the well behaved, or well dressed. God’s kingdom belongs to children – and to those who behave like children.
When Jesus’ disciples are arguing about who is the best, who is the greatest, Jesus answers by placing a child in the middle of them and saying, “Truly, I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
We spend a lot of time trying to get children to behave like adults. We spend a lot of time trying to “domesticate” them, to tone down their imagination, to hold back their friendliness, to curb their generosity, and it turns out we have it all wrong. God isn’t calling us to change children into adults. God is calling adults to change into children – to be humble and live in the moment, to be generous, to make friends and build community, to sing and make a joyful noise, to use our imaginations, and to live with joy. To play and live with joy.
When was the last time you played? Really played? When was the last time you laughed so hard you couldn’t stop? Sang at the top of your lungs and didn’t worry how you sounded or who was listening. When was the last time you were truly silly?
“Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) Jesus is serious about play. Jesus is serious about joy. Jesus is serious about creativity and laughter. And science backs him up. Increasingly, science is finding that acting like a child has enormous physical, emotional, and mental health benefits. We are happier and healthier when we act like children.
Holding on to our child-like enthusiasm and joy isn’t only our path to a better life on earth and new life in heaven, though, it’s also our path to making the world a better place.
The gospel writers often used kingdom of heaven and kingdom of God interchangeably, so Jesus might have said, ‘unless you change and become like children, you will never build God’s kingdom, God’s community here on earth.’
Yesterday, I attended a prayer breakfast to pray for our city. Those gathered shared what we saw as problems in our city and world, and then we prayed for those situations and prayed to be guided in finding solutions.
The concerns shared are ones I know are on your hearts, too: for the unstably housed, for children, for those struggling with addiction and mental health needs, for parents and families, for our churches, for an end to racism and division.
For me, each concern shared could be connected back to a need to know you are loved – by God and by others. For me, each solution came back to the need to create God’s inclusive and welcoming community for all.
Creating God’s kingdom, God’s community, here on earth is serious business that can only be achieved if we follow Jesus’ advice and become like children.
Imagine what the world would look like, be like, if we all laughed instead of yelled or held in our frustration. Imagine if we let go of our worry and perfectionism and colored outside the lines. Said yes! let’s try digging a hole to the other side of the earth or traveling to the stars or dancing with joy. Imagine if we said, I have enough, you can share my goldfish crackers. Imagine if we were all bold and open and asked others to play and then called them ‘friend’ – even if we only knew them for 10 minutes.
Imagine what the world would look like, be like, if we all were more child-like? Might God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven?
Over these summer Sundays, we are going to explore the different ways Jesus calls us to be like a child. I hope you will hear them as an invitation to include more play, more joy, more generosity, more open-heartedness, more peace, and more creativity in your life. I hope you will hear Jesus’ words as an invitation to transform your life and to transform the world, building God’s kingdom, God’s community for all.