Jesus Beyond the Jordan (March 15, 2020)
Mark 10: 1; 13-16
Jesus Beyond the Jordan
We are now across the Jordan. Jesus has crossed the Jordan River and is on the East Bank. He’s now on his way down to Jerusalem; toward his Passion. And there are many stories that happened on the East Side of the river, but one of them is this famous story of Jesus welcoming the little children. Jesus is gathered to people to be taught by him, and people try to bring their children to him, and the disciples are pushing the children away. Jesus says “no, no, no, no, no, let the children come to me.” And the children come up, and he lays his hands on them, and he blesses them. And we know that story.
But if you’re just reading through the Gospel of Mark, looking at the story that is happening within the Gospel of Mark, at the very least you might be frustrated and scratching your head. A lot like Jesus seems to be in this passage. Because less than a chapter ago, Jesus took a child in his arms and says, “If you welcome a child such as this, that’s how you welcome me. And if you welcome them you welcome God the Father; the one who sent me.” A clear message, right, to welcome the least of these. Don’t leave anyone out. Don’t push anyone away.
And so as a reader of the Gospel of Mark, you now encounter this story where people are bringing literal children to Jesus and the disciples, having just less than a chapter ago heard this from Jesus, are pushing them away. Or at least to push them to the margins. “Jesus, we’re welcoming them, just asking them to stay over there on the edge of the field, away from you. Don’t worry, we got your back. We’re protecting you.” WHY? How could they be so blind? But then I wonder what would our response have been? And are we sometimes blind to what we’re doing, and the ways in which it doesn’t quite match up to what we’re taught?
There are times in our lives where we just react; we don’t think what we’re doing, we just do things by second nature. We saw this on full display this past week from all the public officials all over the country; all virtually telling us the same thing about the Coronavirus: wash our hands, don’t touch your face in public, etc. And you can go online right now. There's a video of these health officials saying “don’t touch your face in public,” and then touching their face in the same press conference; sometimes during the speech. My favorite is the woman who says that and then licks her finger to turn the page in her speech. Because she’s not thinking in that moment. I guarantee you I’ve touched my face during this service, maybe even during the sermon and I don’t even know. Actually I do know it, because I was paying attention to it and knew this line was coming up. But you may not have even seen it because it just happens, right? We’re not thinking. Maybe these disciples were not thinking. They’re not thinking about Jesus teaching them to welcome the children, they are thinking about how to protect their master, their Rabbi, and trying to keep the crowds as far away and as non-suffocating as possible.
But I’ll tell you, one thought dominated my mind this week. In fact, it was the first thought I had as I read the Scripture this week and was beginning to think of what God was wanting to say to this church (and by the way, “this church” includes me). What does God want to say to you? And the first thing that popped into my mind was not the end, which is what we typically preach on: how you can only receive heaven if you receive it like one of these. Rather, the thought was “what ways do we keep children from coming to Jesus?” And quickly off of that came the question “why were the children coming to Jesus anyway? And what impact does it have that they were held back?” What is happening here, and what lessons can we learn from it?
Now, we know that celebrities have people flock to them all the time. That continues to this day. And we want our children to meet the celebrities. We go out of our way we push the children forward toward anyone who comes by from Taylor Swift to the Pope. It doesn’t matter. We want to get close and to get our children to meet them. The experience of a lifetime! That probably wasn’t that different back then. And I can imagine that the disciples are saying all these people are bringing their children to meet the celebrity rabbi, and we have to keep them back so the rabbi can teach. We wouldn’t want the children to disrupt the rabbi’s teaching. I can understand the thought process going in the disciples mind. But that’s not the only reason people would be bringing their children to see this particular celebrity.
Because this one, this Jesus, he had a reputation as a healer. And I can also imagine a parent or two trying to bring their child who is sick or lame and trying to get that child to Jesus. I wonder if maybe one of those four friends that brought the paralyzed man to Jesus was actually his father trying desperately to get their child to Jesus. And I wonder if that was the case for any of them. What does it do to the parents’ opinion of the disciples and their opinion of Jesus? And I don’t know if that’s why these parents were here or if they just here trying to meet a celebrity rabbi that was coming through town. But what I do know is the Scriptures do not indicate that the disciples ever asked why this person was here. They just saw a crowd and they tried to keep it away from their master.
Parents do crazy things to try and get help for the children when they feel helpless. And I can tell you that if it feels like something is in the way from getting their child help, those parents hate and they fight the thing that’s in the way. And if the disciples, or if we as a church, are holding someone back from something that can help them, do you think they’ll ever listen to us or respect us again? It was a sobering, sobering thought. And I know that I at least would never want to do that: I would never want to hold someone away from Jesus or push someone away from Jesus. But that question kept coming back: how do we do this? In what ways are we, like the disciples, keeping children from Jesus?
We keep our children from Jesus by not making church and learning about Jesus a priority. And by that, yes I mean not making it a priority in their lives, such as by not bringing them to church on Sunday morning instead of sleeping in, and not occasionally skipping a sporting event or not signing up for a sporting event and includes things on Sunday morning, and not bringing them to VBS. We do not prioritize when we do not make sure that at least one of the 17 weeks of camp in the summer is at church camp at Camp Chippewa. Do we make it a priority in their lives?
But I also mean do we not make it a priority in our lives. Children, and grandchildren, are really good at watching us and imitating what we do. So we need to make Jesus a priority in our lives as well. If we want to teach that the church is a priority it has to be a priority for us.
Likewise, the Church has to go into the rest of the week. Our children and grandchildren cannot go to church with us and hear about kindness and the importance of being kind, the importance of loving, the importance of forgiving other people when they have wronged you be preached; and then go to lunch with us right after church and watch us not forgive the waiter or waitress for messing up our order. Our children have to see us practice what was being preached. The number one thing I hear from my generation is the church is not practicing what they preach. Be that referring to what they believe being loving means in relation to a few of their friends, what they believe me being accepting means in relation to some of the friends, or if it’s just all the youth who recognized by the time they graduated high school that only to youth were doing mission. Sometimes we drive our children away from Jesus by not letting him impact the rest of the week.
When parents do manage to gather all the children together, get them all washed and clean and ready to go, and get them in the church; how do we treat them when they get here? To be welcoming means more than just having one designated person shake their hand at the front and say “we’re glad to see you here!” and then entire rest of the time they are completely ignored. Or worse, when we have that parent who brings in the child is not exactly silent and is not exactly still in the pew, we give that little side eye. Or just flat out look at them (I’m trying to make sure I’m looking at the wall and not any people right now). That’s not welcoming. The kids are going to see that. The parents are going to see that. It’s going to drive them away from Jesus.
And that’s one of those things where I think we just subconsciously do and we don’t even know we’re touching our face in that moment. And yet you are. And I’ll tell you I was one of those kids who would never sit still on the pew. My mother had to bribe me with Dairy Queen to get me to sit still in the pew for 40 minutes of worship. My son’s not that way either. Fortunately, the church I grew up in did not drive me away from Jesus. I beg that there is a church for my son that will do the same. And for all your children and grandchildren who enter our door.
And then lastly I wonder if there are people who are over the age of 18 but who God would still consider to be his children. And if maybe all this talk about driving children away from Jesus shouldn’t be limited to those that are under a certain maturity or certain age. I wonder if all the lessons I just described need to be extended to every single person, every single child of God, who walks in our doors. How do we keep the children of God away? And more importantly how might we draw them in? Think of that. Amen.