Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who with the Holy Spirit are three-in-one
Today we celebrate with God and His work with our Sunday school. We have installed teachers to carry on the incredibly important task of training up a child in the way (they) should go so that when they are old they will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6).
My advice to you teachers is to listen closely, because some of the greatest lessons learned will not be ones that you have taught. They are lessons that only a child of faith can teach. The lesson of pure faith, not yet corrupted by the world, the faith that shouts JESUS at the top of its lungs when someone asks who the Savior is, a faith where doubt and fear have not yet stained the soul and where the Devil has no firm grasp, the faith of a child.
I have to remind myself that, when I was young, I also had a childlike faith. When I got my first Bible, I remember how excited I was. My own Bible filled with lots of stories and pictures about Jesus. I must have been five years old and I can still remember clearly, walking up to the front of the church to get it. It was awesome and it even had my name in it. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it and I couldn’t wait to get home so I could begin exploring its pages.
I looked at the pictures and I was so excited to see a picture of someone with the same name as me, Daniel, standing in a lion’s den. I imagined that he was really me and how scared he must have been, because I would have been terrified. I saw Jonah being swallowed by a big fish and David standing over dead Goliath. I saw Jesus sitting with children, just like me, surrounding Him and He looked so happy.
But I was very young then and as I have grown older, it’s no longer so easy to be inspired by pictures. I’m sure many of you can relate. It seemed it was easier to believe then than it is now. I wonder why that is?
How did we adults lose our childlike faith and optimism? At what point did we move on? When did the world first start to captivate us and lead us away from Spiritual things?
Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14) Just what do children possess that grant them the keys to the kingdom? It is their faith uncorrupted. Jesus was teaching His disciples that it was people who have faith like a child that are going to inherit the kingdom of God!
So, adults, why did our faith start to erode? Could it be because our childlike fantasies that had to do with Santa and the tooth fairy wore thin when reality set in and we wondered if we should stop believing in everything?
Could it be because some of our prayers to God weren’t answered in our time? Could it be because we have limited God by shaping Him into our image instead of the other way around? Or could it be that we have become so content with simply going through the motions that our faith rarely gets challenged to the point that we eventually become as complacent as our attitude?
At some point, our faith was tested and we gave in, despite God’s attempt to carry us. When God challenged us to walk in faith, we took a different path that led to doubt.
Our Gospel lesson has to do with childlike faith. Let me set the stage for you. Peter, James and John have just witnessed the transfiguration of the Lord, which means they saw Christ change in front of them revealing His glory. Jesus has healed a mute boy possessed by a demon who the disciples had no power to heal because of their lack of faith. They have moved to Galilee where Jesus is talking to the crowds and the topic of who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven comes up. I don’t think Jesus gave them the answer they were expecting.
Maybe many of you grew up in Christian households where the perception of Christianity was an extremely long set of rules. One mistake we make as parents is that we get so caught up in the rules of faith that we lose the beauty of it, and we squeeze the childlike faith out of our children with warnings to do this or else.
We do what we should, by enforcing right and wrong, but we sometimes get so bogged down in legalism. As Lutherans, we can be especially susceptible to this.
When we put so much emphasis on the rules, we forget that faith is about relationship. It’s an action word. In our attempts to bring up our children in the faith, we portray God as some kind of dictator, a God that keeps a naughty list. We don’t properly portray a God who loves us so much that he gave His only son to die for us, a God who cares and a God who guides, not with a whip but in love by His Word.
Earlier in the story we have the disciples; in this case there were nine of them because three had been on the mountain with Jesus. We’re told that these nine disciples were arguing with the scribes. When Jesus asked what they were arguing about, in our story someone speaks up, the father of the boy Jesus healed, and He tells them he came to get his son cured but the disciples were not able to help.
The religious leaders were probably telling them that they had no authority to do the things they were being asked to do and the disciples were defending themselves despite their inability to make a difference in the young child’s life.
This reminds me of one more thing that can rob us of our childlike faith, failure. Here the disciples are trying to do what is right, but they are failing. We can imagine that they were a little humiliated at not being able to do what they attempted to do for the boy, heal him.
Each mistake and blunder we make, each piece of bad advice or wrong decision we give, each time we try to share our faith with little or no response, chips away at our childlike faith.
When facing the demons of failure, we must remember that failure is an event, not a person. God doesn’t expect that we will be nothing but successful in everything we attempt, even those things we attempt in His name. He knows our weaknesses and He knows that, because of our sinful nature, we will make mistakes. What He is looking for from us is growth. Sometimes, as Paul reminds us, we are made strong through our weakness because it is during those times that we learn the most. It is also those times when we more often reach out for God. It is in our weakness that we see the most growth.
Some of you probably know what it feels like when your child is desperately sick or injured and how powerless you felt when there was nothing you could do to help.
When the dad sees Jesus, he is probably at the lowest point of his faith. People had given him hope with the promise of a cure if they visited the disciples, but no miracle was to be found. His son was going to remain in the devil’s clutches. By now, he is a skeptic. As our text goes on Jesus asks him how long the boy had suffered and the father replies, “since he was very small.”
The suffering and the hope of a cure had taken their toll and the disciples offered only another roadblock. He has come here because he is at the end of his rope and has tried everything else and now the answer is the same, “there is nothing we can do.”
Jesus then reminds the father that anything is possible for those who believe. This is the first principle of regaining our childlike faith.
Childlike faith believes in a God who can do anything. It is a faith that recognizes that accomplishing the impossible is not about OUR ability or Our strength…. It’s about GOD’s power and GOD’s strength. The faith of a child expects the impossible to happen with God. Phil 4:13 says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
A person with childlike faith asks for help. Childlike faith is not perfect faith. There is room for doubt but the doubt doesn’t win, faith does! God doesn’t expect perfection, but he does expect honesty. He wants his children to come to Him in their struggle and to rejoice with Him in their victories. He wants them to always reach for greatness.
Here is how Jesus answers the question of who is the greatest, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles Himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives Me. But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
Children are precious to God, not just because He created them, but because they are the closest people to being what He has created all of us to be. People who trust in God without question and who have the passion to shout Jesus at the top of our lungs when someone asks them the way to salvation. We have a lot to learn from the children in our church.
God is inviting you to bring the seemingly impossible to Him and watch Him work miracles in your life. Despite your questions, despite your doubts, pursue God with a childlike faith. Don’t allow your past to rob you of what God wants for you in the present.
Our Father in heaven is only a prayer away. In my last church, a young girl wanted me to see her sister pray and when we asked her sister to show us her prayer, she eagerly started talking to Jesus. It was the most honest and lovely prayer I think I’ve ever heard. She spoke to Jesus as if He were her friend. She included things that one friend would say to another. It was so honest and beautiful I got misty eyes. That’s the kind of faith I want, an honest faith, an open faith, a faith unconcealed ……. a childlike faith.
This week we celebrate both the start of Sunday school and the start of our pre-school and kindergarten. May we all take the chance to see childlike faith in action and be changed somehow. My God work in our own heart that same childlike faith, the kind of faith that shouts “JESUS” for everyone to hear. Amen