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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Feeling downright child-like

Can you recount some of the people who were brought to Jesus for his help? We have the friends willing to peel back the roof of a home, lowering their buddy on a stretcher into the midst of the crowd surrounding Jesus inside that home.  Their determination to get their friend into Jesus' presence was indeed commendable and something I hope we all have in friends in our lives.  We have the nobleman whose son was taken ill.  Although he could not bring his son on the journey, his earnest attempt to connect with Jesus and get Jesus to go with him to his home was also recorded as one of the first miracles of Jesus.  His faith was commended and as the man returned home, servants greeted him with the news that "while he was on his journey home" the child was healed.  Then we have the mother of a girl from the region of Syria Phoenicia who was possessed with an evil spirit.  The earnest plea of this mother on behalf of her daughter was for her to be "free" from the evil which plagued her day and night.  Whether we look at the heart of the parent toward the child, the people of status humbling themselves to seek the help they cannot find anywhere else, or the tenacity of friends willing to lay it all on the line for a friend, we see one common theme - they came, called out, cared enough to lay it on the line.  We need this kind of faith in approaching Jesus, my friends!

One day children were brought to Jesus in the hope that he would lay hands on them and pray over them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus intervened: “Let the children alone, don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s kingdom is made up of people like these.” After laying hands on them, he left. (Matthew 19:13-15 MSG)

Today, we explore this group who were "brought" - not with a specific purpose of healing - but probably more with the intent of the "great teacher" touching and praying over them.  The children were brought to Jesus - for anointing. Perhaps the parents or grandparents brought these children because they hoped for some imparting of miracle power, or maybe even the anointing which would make their child the next great "prophet" for the nation.  We don't know the specifics of what they sought in this "laying on of hands", but this is consistent with the practice of the time.  Those who sought anointing were hopeful for the call of God - to be used by him to save Israel - to bring a fresh word to them from God - or to be the one God used as a "redeemer" from those who persecuted them down through the ages.  Perhaps the parents were merely looking for Jesus to pray a blessing over these children and to see their lives prosper in every regard.  Either way, they were brought to Jesus.

Our first reaction to the actions of these parents might be the same as the disciple's - to discount the importance of the parents' faith and to send he kids away without their "blessing" or "anointing".  Perhaps we might see this as a little bit of an intrusion into the "important work" of the "great teacher". After all, he was a wise teacher, healing those who came to him, and setting his world on fire all around him with the gospel message - would it make sense for children to interrupt this important work?  The other reaction we might have is to become a little concerned about the "enthusiasm" of the kids and attempt to intervene to get them to "settle down" because after all, they ARE in the presence of greatness (much like we think kids have to hold still, sit quietly, and listen intently to the sermon in church).  Don't get me wrong, the sermon is important.  What is more important is that the child gets to see how his parents interact with others who know, serve, and follow Jesus.  They get to see how they worship and lift praises in reverent awe of his presence. They hear the words spoken, but if they don't sit perfectly still, is it a real biggee?  I would have to say, "NO"!

The kids come and bound in with enthusiastic energies most of us adults only remember from our youth.  Their interests are peaked by this or that, but soon wane in search of the next thing which will captivate their attention for just a little while.  Isn't it awesome how a child's mind works?  To be so carefree and uninhibited is certainly a blessing.  It isn't until much later in life, through learned behavior, that the child "curbs" that enthusiasm and becomes the "stale" adult we see before us in so many churches today.  Yes, we want respect for the message and the messenger.  Yes, we want honor in the worship service.  But...nothing thrills me more than to see the wee ones jumping up and down, or clapping their little hands (even though not in time with the music), enjoying themselves immensely in the presence of Jesus. Even the adult who has never progressed beyond the mental age of a child celebrates the presence of Jesus with such joyous interaction.  So, why is it we feel we must "curb" this joy, "settle" this enthusiasm down, or "restrict" this intentional interaction with Jesus?

Jesus was a great story-teller.  We have chapters and chapters of his parables and stories.  He used what connected with those who came to him - because this connection was the most important part of what he came to earth to accomplish.  To the disciples, the children didn't "fit" what they saw as the "mission" of Jesus.  To me, the children "fit" perfectly the mission!  They are enthusiastic, uninhibited, innocent, and eager to crawl right up into his lap. They are attentive to his words, not afraid to ask questions, and creative in their own special ways.  Maybe we can take a lesson from the children around us.  Perhaps we need a little more enthusiasm - something which has been curbed by the "norms" of "church-goers" down through the ages, demanding we worship only this way or that.  Perhaps we need a little more innocence in our approach to Jesus - willing to be vulnerable and open to asking questions which are not "theologically-based", but which will help us understand Jesus and his plan for our lives better.

Over the years, I have been the "stuffy" church-goer, demanding the right amount of "reverence" in church service, almost frowning on those who come with such innocence and enthusiasm.  I have also come around to seeing life from a different perspective - that of the child.  I think the most liberating place to be in life is that of the child - the enthusiastic innocence and exuberant thrill of just coming into the presence of the one who makes "connection" with those who come.  If we look at those who came, or were brought to Jesus, they all came with a purpose - they all came for this "connection" with Jesus.  They wanted to just touch the hem of his garment, to have him lay hands on them, to just have him focus his attention for even a little while upon them and their needs.  This is what Jesus wants of us more than anything else - the deep desire to connect with him.  This is what the children exemplify.  We can learn no greater lesson than to become like a child in the presence of Jesus.  Just sayin!