Jesus Blesses Little ChildrenMark 10:13-16 (NRSV)
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
Have you ever noticed that, at a certain age, we stop playing and wondering and imagining and we focus all of our energies on our responsibilities and on our worries and on the things that we think need to get done? Now, don’t get me wrong: responsibilities are important. We need to go to work or school. We need to pay our bills and do our homework. We need to clean our rooms and take care of our things, but we can’t let those things be our sole focus. We need to find a sense of balance because sometimes we need to simply let go and have fun.
When I was in seminary, I took courses in the Old and New Testaments. I took Hebrew and Greek. I took theology and ethics courses. I took preaching courses and courses on church administration, pastoral care, and spiritual and faith formation. But my favorite class–and to be honest the class that I think has helped me the most in my years of ministry–was an elective called “Keeping Your Soul in Ministry.” Now, I know that I have talked about it before with some of you. It truly changed my understanding of ministry.
Every week in class, though at the time, it sometimes felt counterproductive and more than a little silly, we used our imaginations and our creativity to create things, to listen to music, and to write, not about what was in our heads or in the books that we read, but about what was in our hearts and in our imaginations. Our professor referred to it as “Holy Play,” and he also published a book by the same name. He reminded us each week that it was important to take time to wonder and to look at the world around us through the eyes of possibility, excitement, and hope, not looking for what could go wrong or worrying about looking silly, but by being amazed at the beauty and the awesomeness of the world around us.
It was like looking through the eyes of a child. You see, children live their lives with authenticity, vulnerability, laughter, tears, and pure joy. They freely indulge in whatever is around them, taking it all in and enjoying every moment of it like it is the greatest gift that they have ever been given.
Now this week in Oldtown, because it is Halloween, we have invited everyone to wear their Halloween costumes, with the caveat that we aim for fun rather than scary. So to all of our visitors our there, no, I don’t usually dress like this! Now in many churches, Halloween is frowned upon because it “celebrates all that is evil and bad and scary and broken in the world.” And it did originally come from an ancient Celtic “non-Christian” festival. But honestly, if Halloween was celebrated back in Jesus’ day like it is celebrated today, I think Jesus would be a fan. Because if we take a birds-eye view of our present-day Halloween celebrations, we see a celebration of creativity, fun, and a glimpse of the peaceable kingdom.
Now I know, you might be thinking that this whole “peaceable kingdom” idea is stretching it a little. But how many times do our communities come together to plan fun, safe family events? Or how often do your neighbors open their doors to greet one another and share special treats even with strangers? Folks, when we look at Halloween through the eyes of a child, we see the joy of imagination and we experience the best of our community.
In many ways, Halloween is just like the Christmas season. I know it may again sound like a far stretch. But during Christmas, we get a glimpse of the world through the eyes of a child again. And we see and celebrate the Hope and the Peace and the Joy and the Love that is all around us. We long to give to others, and we begin to believe that there truly is goodness in the world again. If you think about it, the same is true for most holidays because that is when we allow ourselves to take a step away from our busy schedules to celebrate and to have fun. It doesn’t even have to be a holiday. Have you ever gone for a walk outside with a small child? They notice every leaf and rock and crack in the sidewalk, let alone the ants climbing on a stick, a lone dandelion, or if you’re lucky a wooly bear caterpillar!
When we begin to look through the eyes of a child, the world becomes magic, amazing, and filled to overflowing with gifts! Now, Jesus knew that children have the wonderful ability to see the good in things. He knew that rather than getting weighed down with worries and concerns, children are better at seeing the joy all around them. That is why Jesus welcomed children, even when others tried to turn them away. He even said, “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Friends, did you hear that? “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
Now don’t worry. That doesn’t mean that you need to shrink, or go back to kindergarten. You don’t need to start eating dino chicken nuggets and blue box mac & cheese, and you don’t need to move back into your parents’ house. But what it does mean is that you need to open your eyes and your heart. And instead of looking for the problems, you need to start looking at the joy all around you!
Church people often worry that Jesus would disapprove of Halloween because it celebrates the devil or the evil that is in the world. They worry that it doesn’t fit in the formal box of tradition and reverence, and so it does not belong in religious places. But Jesus didn’t worry about religion. On the contrary, he focused on relationships. Loving your neighbor–whoever your neighbor might be–was far more important to Jesus than fitting in. And he didn’t weigh people down with feelings of guilt and judgment. Instead, he healed them, and freed them, and filled their lives with goodness and grace.
So friends, in the week ahead, of course, take care of your responsibilities. But then, take the time that you usually spend worrying about what might happen and open your eyes to the joy and the wonder all around you. Pay attention to the tiny details, and don’t be afraid to laugh and have fun. Because you just might begin to realize that the kingdom of God is not some faraway place, but instead, it’s all around you!
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!