People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’
Who has heard someone say ‘children are the Church of the future’? How does it make you feel? The issue is, they are the Church of now! So often in churches we seek to keep children in their place, we view them as projects to be managed and minds to be shaped until they come of age and can take over from us! Because of course, we have all the answers and we know best……
Jesus’ disciples were chastised for thinking they knew best where children were concerned. They decided that Jesus did not want to be bothered with them and were trying to get those bringing them (most likely the women) to go away.
Like adults, children are co-creators with God. Like adults, children can encounter God and find faith. They do not need to be put in their place, but allowed to be equal partners on our journeys where we can bless and inspire each other and faith can flourish.
Jesus’ teaching reminds us again and again that there is a different way, a way that encourages, builds up, loves unconditionally- a way that builds up God’s kingdom here on earth. And he reminds the disciples and those encountering the Gospel words for the first time, and us too, that to be able to receive the Kingdom we need to be like children.
How do we experience that? Jesus reminds his disciples that the Kingdom belongs to the children: those without status and self-sufficiency. Being received into the Kingdom is a gift of grace, not something earned or striven for. We can only receive the Kingdom if we are prepared to acknowledge our dependence on God (and others) and let go of our need for power and position, and allow God to help us live a faithful life.
Children have a lot to teach us. Let us listen to them, really listen to them. Value them. Love them. And be prepared to learn from them.
Lord Jesus, you love the little children, the old people, the wise, the foolish, the powerful and the weak. Within that love, help us to learn from the children we encounter and take heed of their reliance on help, support, and love. May we accept it graciously, too. Help us to let go of our need for power and status, as we seek to embody you through our lives. Amen.
The Rev’d Jenny Mills. Newport Pagnell URC and West End United Church, Wolverton. Convenor of the URC Children’s and Youth Work Committee.