Monday, October 5, 2009

Pentecost 18

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 10:2-16
Bror Erickson

[13] And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. [14] But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. [15] Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." [16] And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. Mark 10:13-16 (ESV)

This is a verse that has adorned the rims of many a baptismal font. This or one of the versions coming to us from the other synoptic Gospels, Luke or Matthew. “Suffer the children to come unto me, and forbid them not.” “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them, for to such belong the kingdom of God.” Matthew changes kingdom of God to Kingdom of heaven. All the same. (By the way synoptic gospels, is a way of referring to Matthew Mark and Luke. These three Gospels are very similar, which is what synoptic means, similar. Mathew, Mark and Luke, refer to the same events, follow a basic outline that is similar, and basically read as straightforward histories of what Jesus did and said. John is different, John is perhaps more theological in approach attempting to explain the history, and following a different outline, while filling in a few gaps recording things that the synoptics did not. The synoptics are so similar that it is thought in some circles that they either copied from each other, expanding, or summarizing what the other said. I tend to believe that Mark and Luke were well aware of Matthews Gospel in any case. Matthew being the one I believe came first. Some liberals think they all copied off a now lost manuscript they have no evidence of called Q. They spend a lot of time trying to reconstruct Q, as they deconstruct the gospels themselves. But I find the idea of Q, to be a little ridiculous , and would rather spend my time just reading the Synoptic Gospels, rather than trying to figure out who copied from who. So back to the text.)
On first blush it seems a little strange that this verse should be the one found on so many Baptismal fonts. It doesn’t seem to mention Baptism. It talks of little children receiving the kingdom of God, and adults receiving the kingdom of God in the manner of these children for whom Jesus had such an affinity for. But Lutherans being Lutherans like to bring these verses recording this event into the mix when arguing for infant baptism. And we have good reason to do so. How else are children brought to Christ, but by baptism? How else do they receive the kingdom of God in the N.T. Uuraas Saarnivaara brings this point home quite well in “Scriptural Baptism” which is a book I think every Lutheran ought to read. It just came back into print, with a forward from my college mentor and friend Rod Rosenbladt. Let me know if you want a copy. I’ll put in an order. It is written in dialogue form. As two men debate about baptism. Great book. Well there is a plug. The point is ever since seeing this verse etched in German on a baptismal font in Jerusalem, I can’t read it without thinking about baptism. Though I like it better in the king James, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not.” Something poetical about the use of suffer there.
Suffer the children, we are to suffer them because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Suffer the word here means to allow, permit, endure, and bear. Children one has to suffer them at times. Like to think they are screaming the praises of God in unintelligible tongues of angels. But often those unintelligible screams of praise give the same reaction as fingernails on a chock board for us adults. Yet I would rather suffer them through the Divine Service then not to see them in church at all. So would Christ. I hate to see parents so embarrassed with the antics of their kids that they no longer bring them to church. What a joy it is to see their smiling faces in church. What a joy it is to suffer them to Christ, bring them to Christ, and have Christ bless them with Christian baptism. To these little children, the Greek texts even explicitly indicate newborn babies, belongs the kingdom of God, which only belongs to adults when they receive it in the manner of a little baby.
Perhaps though we should spend some time on this phrase kingdom of God. What is it? We pray for it to come when we pray the Lord’s Prayer. And one is tempted to think that we pray for the end of the world, and for Christ to come back in all his glory to judge the living and the dead. And though I do tend to believe that is definitely an aspect of this prayer. It doesn’t make much sense to see the kingdom of God solely in those parameters when talking about the fact that it belongs to little children. As cute as they are they do not own God, His glory, or His kingdom in that sense. The Catechism, some of you may remember, says that “The Kingdom of God comes when God gives us his His Holy Spirit so that by his grace we believe his Holy Word, and live Godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” Kingdom of God in other words is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, bringing us to faith in his word, the forgiveness of sins, by which we lead Godly lives here in time, and there in eternity. We live God lives by the grace of God, who forgives our sins, through faith. The kingdom is a kingdom of grace, a reigning of grace. God is King, Lord of Lords, and he rules over us, reigns in our hearts with grace constantly forgiving sins, our sins. And such grace belongs to little children, who believe. For te kingdom of God, the forgiveness of sins, grace and salvation can only be received by faith.
[22] the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: [23] for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, [24] and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, [25] whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. Romans 3:22-25 (ESV)
Romans you can’t read it and believe in anything but justification by faith alone. The third chapter of Romans has a way of causing trouble in the church. It awakened St. Augustine, John Huss, and Luther to the reality of Justification by faith alone. The church is full of sinners, and it is natural for sinners to believe that they have to make up for sins. Our Old Adam telsl us we have to do something. It won’t let go. It racks us, and tortures us with the law, abuses us with it even. Yes, our old Adam, our sinful nature, the perverse fellow that he is, who tempts us to sin, he also is the one who tortures and abuses us with the law. No sooner does he convince us that divorce is a good idea, then that he starts quoting God’s good law against us, the very law he told us to break. “He who divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” Perhaps I need not explain how that haunts me at night. I know so many divorced people tortured and abused by that. God hates divorce. So do I. So do most people who suffer it. And suffer it they all do. Some innocently, some suffer it of their own accord. But whether they instigate it, or are the ones who are sinned against, they all suffer it. There is nothing but suffering in divorce. In most cases I think it is better to stay together if at all possible. But that isn’t always possible either, and in some cases it is very inadvisable. When your life is in danger for instance. I think God would rather you suffer divorce then watch you kids be molested and abused, as you yourself are beat around the living room and threatened with death. And yet how many women abused by their husbands, are also abused by this verse at the hands of their old Adam? The law would be a great thing if we could live by it. If everyone could live by it. But no one can. By the law we die, because we are guilty sinners. So it is that the righteous, those to whom the kingdom of God belongs, live by faith. They live by faith, because by faith they receive Jesus Christ, the propitiation for their sins. By faith.
The Old Adam would though even twist this teaching into a perverse law. You have to have faith to be saved. You have to believe. Now this is true enough. We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone who forgives our sins. But then he would make you believe that faith, believing is something you do, something you have to do, as in be conscious of faith, be able to recite the creed, audibly confess sins you know of, make a choice for Jesus, and turn your back on sin. Repentance and faith. They are infact one in the same, no one who believes does not also repent. And no one repents, not in the Christian sense of the word, without also believing. But we confuse repentence with saying sorry for something and promising not to do it again. Repentance is confused with giving up the bottle for instance. Yet many give it up without repentance, without Christ. But the Bible speaks of repentance differently then this. It speacks of repentance itself as a gift from God just like faith. Acts 11:38 “Then to gentile also God has granted repentance that leads to eternal life.” or 2 Timothy 2:25
“[25] correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 2 Tim. 2:25 (ESV)
God grants repentance, that is gives, repentance too being a gift. It is not the same as worldly greif as is pointed out in 2 corinthisns 7:
[10] For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 2 Cor. 7:10 (ESV)
But the Old adam in us would confuse all this and make repentance and faith our work, and not the work of the Holy Spirit in us, a gift of God. Do you see? And based on this the argument goes, Children can’t believe, and therefore Children shouldn’t be baptized. But the kingdom of God that belongs to these little children, yes that kingdom is the gift of the Holy Spirit who works in us faith and repentance that leads to salvation without regret, that leads to eternal life, a knowledge of the truth that is Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins. And God be praised that he has not only granted this repentance to the little ones among us, but has also granted that we too would receive the kingdom of God like little children.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord Amen.

1 comment:

Brigitte said...

Here is something for you and all. The book, returned to me on Sunday after lending out, just opened "miraculously" to this:
from our Pastor Luther:

"The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken and contrite spirit. O God, you do not despise a broken and sorrowful heart."
Psalm 51: 17

"David talks about 'a broken and sorrowful heart.' In other words, this is a sincerely humble heart that is almost dying out of despair. David is saying that God doesn't hate a broken and sorrowful heart, but rather accepts it with joy. The message we proclaim brings life and God's approval to us because it strengthens us and fights against sin and death. In fact, the gospel demonstrates its power when we are sinful and weak. It's a message of joy that can only be experienced when sorrow and distress are present.

But we want to have the message of life and joy without any sorrow or death. What fine theologians we think we are! We must learn that as Christians we have to live with death all around us, with regret and a trembling conscience--between the teeth of the devil and hell. In spit of all this, we must hang on to the message of God's kindness. Then in all circumstances, we can say, 'Lord, you want only the best for me.'

In this psalm, we read that God finds no sacrifice more pleasing than a broken heart. The tax collector exemplified this attitude when he said, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" (Luke 18:14). the tax collector offered the Lord the most desirable sacrifice, a sorrowful heart that trust in God's mercy. This is a comforting way to think about God. God's true nature is to love people who are troubled, have mercy on those who are broken-hearted, forgive those who have fallen, and refresh those who are exhausted. This psalm calls us to trust in God's mercy and goodness alone. It encourages us to believe that God is on our side even when we feel abandoned and distressed."