Learning From Children

 Mark 9:30-37

I haven't preached for two weeks, so I'm really wound up today.

Learning from children. Usually we think of it as the children learning from adults. We know that they do learn from adults, certainly. And as adults we need to be very aware of that. Children are always watching us and they will imitate our behavior, our thinking, our words. Parents are always mortified when their child repeats something they said which they never intended anyone else to hear, or even worse a particular person. When I was in grammar school (that's what we called it back then in the dark ages) the school got its first male teacher and I was in his class. He told all the boys they had to wear gabardine slacks to school-no more jeans or khakis. I told my mother and she said, "Well, you can tell him he knows where he can stick those pants." Of course she never intended that I would tell him that, and I didn't, but that isn't what I told her. I told her he asked and I told him what she said. It's the closest I ever saw her come to fainting.

But we also know that we do learn from children. Very often we say 'out of the mouths of babes' and we mean that they have uttered a truth that we either wouldn't admit to, or were to busy to recognize.

And that's just it. We adults are so busy being adults that we don't listen to children and especially not our own children because we have our own agendas that we want them to follow. In order to LEARN from children, we need to WELCOME children.

In the Gospel today, Jesus says, "Whoever WELCOMES one such child in my name, welcomes me." He says this to illustrate a point to his disciples, who were being very petty and argumentative. He asked them what they had been arguing about. They were silent, ashamed, because they had been arguing about who was the greatest (these disciples had flaws just like all of us-they had egos, too, that gave them big heads like some folks do today when they are chosen for something over someone else).

But Jesus brings a child into their midst to make his point. Children, especially in those days (and maybe even today when we hear words like "children should be seen and not heard") were not looked upon as having anything worth while to contribute except, if you were a boy, to be the proud specimen a father could parade in front of his friends. That's why the men in the Temple were astounded when Jesus, as a boy, had such an understanding Scripture. They expected him to be able to have memorized the Torah, but not understand, not explain it.

So Jesus brings a child into their midst. He says they must be able to welcome the child in his name. That means the child would have equal status with them. But it means even more, which we hear Jesus say elsewhere, and that is, they have to be totally trusting, totally accepting just as a child would be, in order to enter the kingdom of heaven (that place of new understanding within us.) In order for any adult, then or now, to understand and accept what Jesus was saying, they had to start from the same place as a very vulnerable, open, trusting child. They had to trust totally in Jesus, and we can only do that through the Holy Spirit who guides us from the kingdom of heaven within us.

Parents and other adults hate the stage of a child that's their 'Why?' stage. No matter what answer you give, there is always a 'why' as a further question. And it drives us crazy-why? Because we just want to dismiss the child with one answer. We don't want to take the time to go on and on with 'why's'. And yet they are perfectly GOOD 'why' questions. In order to really answer all the 'why' questions, we really have to KNOW. We have to learn the answers and most of the time we don't want to take the time to find out the answer. Those are very innocent 'why' questions. And they TRUST that we are giving them the truth in answering.

But to learn from a child, we must welcome them. We must totally welcome them, especially in worship. I know when I first came here to Trinity and loved having the children be part of the service, still do, I heard folks say things like, "I'm going to stop coming to worship; the kids are just too unruly; he (meaning me) shouldn't be encouraging brining children to worship if they can't be quiet." Well, no one ever left. And over and over, the child grew through whatever stage and loved being at worship because they felt welcomed. Some folks simply moved from where they usually sat if there were children that disturbed their concentration. That's great. I think we have come a long way toward welcoming children. But we have a ways to go yet.

I learned some things from Pastor Fernandez. I thought I was so welcoming, but what did I really do to show children that they were part of the service except to have a children's sermon? Nothing really. So we added the part regarding the children's response during the Psalm to let the children and youth know that worship INCLUDES them. They are WELCOME at worship and we want them to be PART of worship.

We have so much to learn from children, but unless we welcome them we will never learn. Children cut to the chase, go to the core. That makes some folks angry. True, there are some children whom we would call 'smart alecs' who talk back in disrespect, but those aren't the children I'm speaking of. But I will say that children do respect adults who respect THEM. So often I see adults speaking to or treating children with disrespect. Children may be small, but they're complete human beings. They just haven't learned all the things that adults have that will take away their total trust in God. They haven't learned the disrespect that adults show to each other. But they DO see right through the false statements of adults-they DO know when adults are being two-faced. And they do FEEL hurt when they are excluded and perceived as not having any worth or anything to contribute.

I'll tell you this much. I know I have lots to learn from children and youth and I know I have more to learn about welcoming them. But I can't to do it all. We have so many new, young families. We have so much to offer them, but what we have to offer them lies within each of you. The Holy Spirit is waiting for each of you to step up to the call. You are ALL receiving a call one way or another. For those already involved, it is not a call to GET OVER INVOLVED. What good is that? Who does that help? The call is to get others to respond. The call is to get others to help you get others to respond. No one can sit idly by.

Lastly, this is to the children and youth. Are you listening, those of you who are here? And those of you who are here, you need to tell those who are not here, and you need to get those children and youth to BE here. To the children and youth who are here-YOU need to listen to get to know the adults who come to worship. You need to hear their stories. You will be amazed at their stories. These adults are part of the generation who brought you every benefit you enjoy-all the technology, all the modern improvements, all the things you take for granted, they are part of the generation who advanced civilization.

You, children and youth, you need to listen to the stories. You need to get to know these adults. Most of you don't even know your own parents' and grandparents' stories, or the stories of your aunts and uncles.

First, though, we have to make the children and youth feel welcome. And do you know why? Because JESUS says, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."

So if you want to ignore children and youth, if you want to disrespect them-if you are going to be like that-you will find that the children and youth of the world will disrespect you. They can FEEL. They know.

And so does Jesus.


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