Saturday, October 3, 2009

For the Children

This is my attempt to get ready to preach tomorrow. Please share your comments below or contact me by email or however you desire.

God has a thing for kids.

In tomorrow's gospel Jesus says that the only way you and I are going to be part of God's kingdom is as a child.

That doesn't mean we need to be baptized as little children or get to know Jesus when we're young, though we want our kids to know Jesus as soon as possible. What Jesus says here is that to be with him, to be part of his kingdom, we need to be like children.
  • Children don't have rights.
  • They aren't independent.
  • They know they can't get by on their own.
Jesus is calling us to realize we're really the same as kids.

Back in Mark 9:35-37, which is near the beginning of this section of Mark's Gospel,
Jesus sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Children need to be welcomed. And if we're going to be part of God's family, we need to recognize that we are weak, that we are poor, that no matter how long we've been part of the church we don't have any rights either--except the rights that are given to us by the grace and mercy of God. And one of the places where we realize that the most is in our marriages, as we are loved and tolerated by someone "until death do us part." We are always people who need the grace and forgiveness of God.
Last Sunday afternoon, as I spent time beside Jack ____'s bed, I said to him, "You and I are brothers." Neither of us has got it in with God any better than the other. No matter how many times we've succeeded or failed, it's all level ground at the foot of the cross. We come as beggars. We come as children. We come as people who need to let down our guard, let down our pretend goodness, and just let ourselves be welcomed by the one who knows absolutely everything about us from beginning to end and who gave his life for sinners. For sinners like me.

That's what it takes to be welcomed into the kingdom of God. Knowing we have nothing to brag about. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones, you and me... to him we belong, we are weak, but he is strong.

We want our kids to know that. We want them to know Jesus' love. That's what we hope for. We want them to be secure in Jesus' love. We want them to trust God like Timothy trusted God in the Bible, so when Paul wrote to him, he just said, stay with the faith and with the scriptures that you've known since you were young. You learned them from your mother and your grandmother. Stick with them. Remember you are a son, a daughter, a child... of God.

But some kids live with pain. Some children live in situations that make it very hard for them to trust. Someone wrote me a note like this:
I have been in tears most of the evening thinking how adult selfishness and selfcenteredness (?) can tear a marriage apart. Today's society has become so "fix me quick" so I am happy...
This friend of mine was writing and saying that what we do in our marriages affects children so much... She went on:
We are all 100% responsible for our half of a relationship and because we want what we want NOW many times the big picture gets overlooked. Children are the ones who get uprooted and thrown into chaos with the opinion that they will bounce back, they are good at adapting... but why should they have to? It is soooo hard to watch fun loving happy joyous children turn into hard hearted rebellious beings who are afraid of getting hurt again... afraid that daddy or mommy might forget them when one of them is asked to move out...

What has happened to good family values, is it old fashioned or passe'...

God's purpose for marriage--this connects us with the first part of our gospel reading and God's original plan in creation--God's purpose in pushing us to work on our marriages--God's purpose in commanding men to love their wives like Jesus loves us and in commanding women to do their best to respect their testosterone driven husbands--God's purpose in bonding men and women together for life in marriage is to make a good, safe, loving, nurturing place for children to grow up.

Not only is this clear from God's plan for marriage in the Bible--the Bible has always connected marriage and sexuality with children and family life--sex--hear me now--sex is never just about two people!--whenever we think about sex we should be connecting that with our future or current family... Not only is it clear that sex and marriage in the Bible is connected with children and family--but it's also obvious to people who work with children--teachers, pastors, youth directors, counselors, mental health professionals, police officers and juvenile workers--it's obvious to us that children suffer so much when mom and dad aren't getting along.

I'm not meaning that there is such a thing as a perfect marriage--there isn't--but when mom and dad aren't doing their very best to be kind to each other and to stay together, the ones who suffer the most are the kids.

Children who live with brokenness in their home life feel much more insecure, have a hard time trusting, and are more likely to have problems of every kind. So the message is, for you and me who are sinners by nature, is that we are called, by God, to do everything we can to keep our marriages strong, to work on them, to seek help when things are hard, and to do all we can to avoid divorce.

Sometimes staying together requires separation--sometimes long term separation--but when the man and woman in the separation understand that they are still married and are working toward reconciliation--even if it takes years and years that is better than just moving on.

One reason that God makes us one in the sexual act, connecting us to our husband or wife physically, emotionally, spiritually and in every other way--it's to make of that union of male and female a place where new life can be brought into the world and cared for with love. And that's why God calls sex outside of marriage adultery and sin. And that's why God hates divorce.

Here's what the prophet Malachi says in chapter 2 of his Old Testament book:
13 ... You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor at your hand. 14You ask, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was a witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15Did not one God make her? Both flesh and spirit are his. And what does the one God desire? Godly offspring. So look to yourselves, and do not let anyone be faithless to the wife of his youth. 16For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless.
Now this should not be interpreted to mean that we should just put up with harshness or cruelty or abuse or yelling or constant pain in our homes. Whenever we see our marriages falling apart--whenever there is more pain than joy in the relationship, we have a responsibility to take it as seriously. When we are tempted to throw in the towel and go off with someone else--or when we think we're going to hook up sexually with someone who is not our husband or our wife--our Lord would have us remember that his commands about marriage and his commandments against divorce connect so intimately with the good of the children, the ones who need us and our love.

Is there forgiveness available for those who have failed in marriage? Do you really need to ask? Hasn't Jesus made clear that he has removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west? He did that on the cross! But this does not mean that we should bless or encourage failed relationships. We are commanded to love one another in our church family no matter what our failings are. We just cannot teach others to do what scripture clearly tells us is wrong--even though there is forgiveness available--and unconditional love from the cross as wide and as deep as the sea.

If you and your wife or your husband are having a hard time in your marriage, please don't wait too long to get help. Come and talk with me or with a Christian friend who will be kind and who will care. If you have begun again in a new marriage, make it the best it can be. We are sinners, and we need to admit our failings every day, admit our weaknesses, and always, always come to him for forgiveness and new life. Not because we deserve it, not because we can somehow justify our sins and errors, but because Jesus died and rose again to give sinners new life. Like I said to Jack - we are brothers - on level ground at the foot of the cross, covered by his blood, covered by his sacrificial love.

We come to Jesus always like children, with no rights at all, and he welcomes us, takes us in his arms, and blesses us, no matter who or what we are.

When my friend wrote to me about the pain that so many kids suffer, I wrote this back to her:
I grieve so many times just as you are grieving now. Marriage is a calling to look beyond one's own self to the good of others. It is so tragic when people look at marriage as just another "kick" to make them personally happy. Marriage IS for the protection of children. That's why it's there. Working at a marriage for the sake of the children is noble, good, and so important for kids. There are ways to make any marriage better if there's a willingness to work at it and get help. But it does take that willingness, and God is the only one who can give it.
The willingness to work at marriage, or any difficult relationship, including the difficult relationships that we experience in the church, is to realize how much we owe to the gracious love and mercy of God. And then we can share it, with our wives, with our husbands, and with the children God loves so much.

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