For my Very Second Sermon, I was tasked to write something “apologetic.” The goal was to pick something in the tradition that needed extrapolating, struggling with, or added meaning. I decided to preach on Children, and the Christian obligation to nurture, give blessing, and uplift children. I chose Luke 18:15-17 for the text.
15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 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. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
The people were bringing babies and infants to Jesus to be blessed.
The disciples hold the children back from the blessing of Jesus.
They perceive adults to be more important, then Jesus tells them that they are fools: for the Kingdom of God is entered into as a child;
With the laughter of a child, With the wonder of a child, With the emotion of a child, With the sincerity of a child, With the rage of a child, With the love of a child
The disciples see the children only as something that takes away time from the healing of adults. But, Jesus tells them: “Do not hinder them. Let them come me–” to the abundant life of love, and they will become your teachers.
This is not unlike today. We too are holding the children in our community back from the blessing of an abundant life of love.
How do we hinder our children?
Kevin’s father told him that if he ever said a word about what he did to him at home, then he’d kill him. So Kevin never learned how to speak. He showed up to kindergarten on the first day and there were so many words, so many confusing words around him, and he couldn’t sit still with all of them flying around. There are thirty-five children all around him, and one teacher to herd them all, and he knows right away—he is the bad one. But he doesn’t understand. He can do whatever he wants here, and no one will get out a belt.
How do we hinder them?
Vicky is the queen, wherever she goes. Everybody she knows is terrified of her. She can tear someone down so fast, and build them up even faster, she owns every room she is in. Vicky even owns the teachers, because she’s faster and quicker than them, and she’s got words that can hurt everybody right away. Vicky knows how to see right through you, because she learned from the best. Every day, since she can remember, if she didn’t hurt them first, they were gonna hurt her.
How do we hinder our children?
Saleh, a noisy little troublemaker, dresses up as his mother in a preschool classroom, wearing a wig and parading around the playhouse with a one-legged black baby doll on his hip.
He wants, desperately, to be his mother—if he can only be his mother, he will not be so disappointed in her. If only he could be his mother, he can undo all the nasty insults that she loads onto him, undo all the times she looked away when his brother cut on him, undo all the times that she never fed his baby sister.
“I gotta get milk for my baby!” He shouts, the wind of his voice shuffling the dirty hair of the wig. “His daddy is no good, no good! The police came, and he be goin to jail—for drugs!”
And the white volunteer in the classroom cries, “We can’t talk about that in here!” And the teacher in the classroom yells, “Hush, you’re too loud!” And the parent volunteer in the classroom mumbles under his breath, “That boy dressin up like a girl, he aint right, he aint right. That aint right.”
And in ten years time, he is dead in a ditch by the high school, beaten to a pulp by his classmates, and they feel much better—vindicated, even, that the little dash of weakness, of womanhood, is beaten out of their lives.
Where there could be laughter and joy and, there is violence and fear.
Where there could be learning and wonder, there is chaos and exhaustion.
Where there could be nurturing and love, there is only hate and resentment.
Our children fear for their lives and they build up walls of words, walls of silence, walls of weapons. In our streets our children have guns and they think that they need them—and to survive, maybe they do.
In our homes our children are beaten, ignored, silenced.
Our schools are crumbling, their classrooms overcrowded, their teachers undermined, exhausted, unsupported.
The parents, mentors, grandparents and adults in the lives of our children, they are left on their own, to do as they please, to fight for a place at the table, in a world where they are not welcome. And they pass this to their children, they turn these children into little adults so that they can barely just survive.
Do not be mistaken. The gospel passage today tells us, this is not simply, the way things must be. It is wrong to blame this disaster on negligent parents—on those who are smaller and weaker than us. It is wrong to blame this disaster on global systems of poverty, on economies that shrink and contract—on ideas and things greater and stronger than us. It is wrong.
We are the disciples of Jesus: we are his followers, those who proclaim that we are to spread his blessings in the world, as he taught us to do.
Jesus speaks to us, now, through this passage: Do not hinder them! Let them come to me! Let them love and be loved, let them have blessing and bless, they are your teachers, if you ever want to see the Kingdom of God, do not hinder them.
To provide children with blessings is the duty of our religion. We are not Christians unless we care for children as Jesus did. We are not Christians until the children receive the blessings of the abundant life of love that Jesus proclaims. We are not Christians unless each child in our community—in our great community of this church, this neighborhood, this city, this country, this world—until each, individual child, is unhindered to play as they are, reflections of the Kingdom of God.
When the NYU Hospital generators failed, nurses carried twenty babies down nine flights of stairs while operating manual respirators.
A kindergarten teacher fights an uphill battle to educate all her thirty-five children equally, with love, even in a room built for twenty, even with all the terrors that come from their homes, even when she has nothing left.
On a street not far from here, a big brother spends his lunch money on his little sister, and with all the love in his heart, promises her that he will be there for her forever.