There is so much that we can learn from the example of our children. Sometimes they teach us just as much as we teach them. And after all, why shouldn’t they? Children have the same value as adults in being created to bear the image of God. We have the practice in this church of extending the sacraments of baptism and communion to our children specifically because we want to declare that the covenant of God’s grace is just as powerful and meaningful for our children as it is for the rest of us. They are a part of the church body right now as they are. Children are not inferior members of God’s church, because they are not inferior members of God’s covenant promise.
There is a story in the gospels in which Jesus illustrates this point in particular. It is such an important scene that three of the gospel writers include this story. It is in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Today we are going to see this story from the perspective of Mark.
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
Children are not relegated to some diminished status. Jesus is not about to let that happen when he sees his disciples trying to push them back. In fact, Jesus elevates the example of a child and tells his followers that anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way and ask the question that this passage leaves hanging right in front of us. How do we receive the kingdom of God like a child? Is Jesus making reference here to a particular quality of children, or perhaps a list of qualities possessed specifically by children? Is there some kind of mystery to unlock here in order to figure out the nature of the kingdom of God? Let me say, I don’t think so. We could make a list of all kinds of qualities we see in children and ask if these are kingdom-of-God qualities that are necessary in order to enter. You know, maybe qualities like a willingness to simply trust and believe. But at the same time, children also seem to inherently possess some qualities that we could say are not qualifying for the kingdom of God. After all, children can also throw tantrums, or exhibit selfishness.
But in the case of this passage, Jesus is not pointing to any particular qualities of a child as necessary for entering the kingdom of God. Rather, Jesus is making a reference in this passage to the status of children as it existed in the ancient world of Jesus’ time. Everything I said at the beginning of this message about how valued and important children are in the church for us today would certainly not be the situation in the time when Jesus lived. The behavior of the disciples in this passage is not surprising. It is not one bit shocking that Jesus’ followers tell the kids to go away. It would not have been unusual for anyone in that time to agree that a rabbi like Jesus would should ever be bothered by giving his attention to anything as meaningless and insignificant as children.
In fact, the shocking part of this passage is that Jesus so harshly rebukes his disciples for their actions, and then he invites the children to come to him. That’s the surprising twist of this story that no one in that world would have ever seen coming. And so, the lesson Jesus makes for his disciples is a lesson that points out the marginalized status of children, and turns it around to make them the most welcome.
Jesus points out that the one whom society cast aside as the most insignificant and the most powerless turn out to be the most welcomed in his kingdom. When it comes to receiving the kingdom of God, there is no resume of accomplishments that will ever count, no merits of our own that will ever earn our way in. The only thing that counts is coming to Jesus like the children who rely totally and completely on the grace of his invitation. They come to Jesus without pretending to be anything more than what they are. They come to Jesus without anything to offer at all. They simply are who God created them to be.
So, what can we learn from these children? You and I come to church with our resumes. I am supposed to dress a certain way, look a certain way, behave a certain way, interact a certain way. Can we be honest with each other here? Let’s admit it. For some of us—especially those who have been Christians for a long time—this whole thing about living the Christian life just might be rather routine. Maybe this has all become very automatic. Am I right? Can we admit that?
One of the things that strikes me about Jesus in the gospels is that everywhere he goes people are in awe. Jesus just being who he is engages people with a sense of wonder and excitement and anticipation. Children do this well. Their lives are too young for everything about them to be routine and ordinary. Their lives are filled with discovery. Mat be we can pick up a few things from their example.
I love the imagination of children. Their ability to dream and create is inspiring. Sometimes when I was a kid I would get lego sets and not even follow the directions. Many lego sets build a particular model and it comes with instructions to use the pieces to build that model. Sometimes I skipped that part and went straight to dumping those pieces with all my other lego bricks so that I could build my own creation without any instructions.
As Laura and I have been unpacking moving boxes, some of the big wardrobe size boxes ended up downstairs after they were emptied so that Jacquelyn could make a fort with boxes and blankets. I saw junk that needed to go out with the recycling, she saw possibilities to create something. I saw something that served a practical purpose and now it was over, she saw something to create with new delight.
You see, imagination opens new doors. Imagination unlocks new possibilities. Imagination takes whatever it is you have around you to work with, and finds new purpose and new life and new direction. Imagination dares you to dream and wonder. Imagination pulls us into a world of awe. Children get that. Children know how to live like that. They know how to see the world around them awe and wonder and delight. They know how to see the world around them with possibilities.
Something happens to those of us who are older as we grow and mature. Somehow we tend to loose some of that raw imagination that all of us once had as children. Somehow we stop seeing each new day with eyes of awe and wonder and delight. Somehow we stop being amazed by new discoveries and new possibilities. Somehow we just settle into a routine of taking each day as it comes without exploring any potential of what new possibilities might be there. We no longer dare to imagine. I don’t think God meant for it to be that way.
Did it ever occur to you that God imagines? God has an imagination. God created everything that exist from nothing. The universe did not come from an Ikea store. There were no step-by-step instructions. No. God imagined it. God made it up. The mountains, the lakeshore, the flowers that bloom, the trees that grow, butterflies, elephants. All of this began in the imagination of God. From the tiniest microbe we can only see under the microscope all the way to the stretching expanse of galaxies flowing with colored light covers distances of lightyears, God created all of this from his imagination.
I don’t think we can ever underestimate the imagination of God. God himself put our world into motion from his own divine imagination. Creating a good and beautiful universe full of wonder and awe and delight is an act of divine imagination. And he shares that with us. God created us and places us within his creation. When our children stretch their imaginations to take delight and awe in the world around them, it resinates with a creative God who also takes delight in the wonder of his creation.
Let me take this idea of God’s divine imagination one step further. If it is a quality that God possessed to create the universe, then it is a quality that God still possesses. It did not go away. He is still an imaginative and creative God. We declare that every time we profess that Jesus will come again and God will make all things new again. He is still a God who creates. The apostle Paul declares and anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. God’s imagination did not vanish on day six of the creation. God is still very much in the business of creating. God’s divine imagination is still very much at work in this world yet today.
I saw a pile of moving boxes in my basement and all I saw was trash. These things no longer have a reason to be here and they should go out in the recycling. My daughter saw those same boxes and—because of her imagination—she saw something else, something new, something wonderful, something delightful.
You and I live every single day in a broken and sinful world littered with the used up trash of our own brokenness and our own sinfulness. We live in a world in which we are ready to cast aside and throw out everything that no longer serves our purpose. When other people hurt us, we push them aside. When relationships are strained, we cut them off. When we mess up and let others down, we often just want to walk away. When we struggle for a win and can’t seem to find success, we may just want to throw in the towel and quit.
But God doesn’t do that because imagines and sees a new creation. God sees what is damaged and broken by sin and he is able to bring new possibilities. Other people that we might just see as worthless trash, God sees as beautiful and bursting with potential. God’s divine imagination is still very much at work bringing new life and new creation.
How do we take something from this for today? Maybe the best step we can recognize today is to press into something that I’ll call kingdom imagination. You and I as Christians should very much be in the business of imagination. We should not let that quality go. You and I should always acknowledge that we have a creative God who is always at work in this world molding and shaping his people into new creations. You and I should be people filled with wonder and awe and delight. We should see the possibilities of what God can do with eager expectation for new discoveries of his grace and forgiveness in this world.
You see, if God is in the business of imagining new possibilities and redeeming new creations with new purpose and new potential, then we should should too. As followers of Jesus, we should also keep alert with kingdom imagination to see where it is that God is redeeming and restoring whatever is lost or broken in this world.
Kingdom imagination takes flight whenever we reach into our neighborhoods and into our communities and we strive to see other people the way God sees them. Kingdom imagination takes shape in our lives when we strive to see the wonder and awe and delight that God is working on right now. Kingdom imagination acknowledges that God’s grace and God’s forgiveness is always at work in our world unlocking endless new possibilities for people to be renewed by God.
God shares a glimpse of his kingdom in Jesus Christ. We see a picture of his new creation when we read about Jesus in the Bible. Can you imagine what that kingdom looks like in your world that is right in front of you right now today? Can you picture it with awe and wonder and delight? What is the kingdom possibility you can see for this week? It starts with a kingdom imagination.