Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Kingdom of Heaven is for Children

The Kingdom of Heaven is for Children
 by Fr. John-Brian Paprock
From the Sermon delivered Sunday, July 28, 2013 at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin

photo by JBP 2013 - all rights reserved
In the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 18, there is a simple little moment when Jesus talks about children. He talks about children and about us the same way.
He says, “truly I say to you...” and whenever He says “truly” in the Bible that means “pay attention, this is much more important than anything else.” He is also saying “truly” to say that it is of the truth.
In Matthew’s Gospel, He says, “Truly I say to you, unless you change, and become like little children, you shall not enter” you shall not enter, “the Kingdom of Heaven. And whoever, therefore, will humble himself like this little child shall be great in the Kingdom of Heaven. And he who will welcome one like this little child in my Name welcomes me.”

He is saying three different things here that I want to point out: two of which are about us, and one is about others. Notice that He doesn't take away, or suggest we treat other people differently than we would ourselves.

This first point that He makes is: unless we change and become like little children, we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This idea of changing and becoming like little children is not easy. We know what it is to change and become adults. We know what it is to grow up, and we often have different experiences that tell us, or clarify for us - either through our society, our culture, or in our own lives. There's always this point at which we can say, “now I'm an adult.”

In America, we have a legal standing of adulthood, which is when one is eighteen years old.  But that's not necessarily the same thing as feeling like you're an adult, with all the responsibilities, living independently, and maybe even being married and having kids, etcetera, and etcetera.

Jesus says in Matthew, rather than grow up in this world and become an adult in this world, we need to change and become like little children. Little children are innocent, but they also have great joy as they live in the present moment. They're not worried about the future, and they don't dwell on the past.
So, to get to the Kingdom of Heaven, we have to be in the present. I have brought this teaching to you previously, which is the idea that we cannot meet God any other place than in this present moment. This present moment becomes precious full of life and spiritual goodness, and all the other things we seek. In other words, it is the time of Kingdom of Heaven.

And another place, early on in the Gospel, both John the Baptist and Jesus proclaim, “repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” [Matthew 4:17, NCSB]. Repent, in Greek, means 'metanoia' which literally means “change your mind.” So, another translation could be: “change your mind, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” And, as I have taught before, there is your hand. How close it is indeed.

The second thing that Jesus points out in the Gospel reading (as if it wasn't totally clear about what it means to become like a little child): “therefore whoever will humble himself like this little child shall be great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
A little child is completely dependent upon others for everything. That is a humility that understands how dependent they are, and how precious the people around them help them. That's the humility that's being spoken of by our Lord. So again, this humility will make us great in Heaven.

What is meant by “great in Heaven?” When you're large in Heaven, you feel as though you are part of the entirety of everything. That you are one with God, and instead of just being a little small body that houses a little heart area, you become like a big cathedral that can be filled with God, filled with the Spirit. And that's what is meant by “great in the Kingdom of Heaven,” not that you have greatness like a king, a pope, or a president, but that you have greatness in a spiritual way. But you need to be humble like a little child.

The third thing Jesus teaches is related to other people.  Jesus says, “one that welcome this little child in my name welcomes me.” In other words, when we treat other people as though they are children in need of care, concern, patience, tolerance, love, and even guidance perhaps, we will find that we are actually not just treating them that way, and welcoming them, we are also welcoming Jesus.

Now often people say they don't want to welcome children because “child are noisy,” and they just don't want to be worried about children, and distracted by children. But what Jesus is saying is one who “welcomes one like this little child,” not that bad child behaviors are part of it at all. That means welcoming those people who are living the God-ward way.
Then He says, in Matthew’s account, another point which is similar: “and whoever misleads these little ones who believe, it would be better for them that [they just go basically die - my paraphrasing, of course].”  His point there is simply that the little ones and children need trust, they need to be in trustworthy places, and around trustworthy people.
So Jesus is saying that if you're not going to welcome them, then don't be untrustworthy. Don't mislead them. Don't let them believe things that aren't true. Take care of them, but, if you're not going to take care of them, then it is better that you just go away and die.

That seems kind of harsh, but then Jesus says something a little bit later to clarify this. In verse ten of Matthew 18: “See to it that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, their angels always see the face of my Father in Heaven.”
So, for those who act in that way, and are able to humble themselves in that way, and if you welcome those who are like that, you will be able to see God in them. And angels, that is to say those powers that help us in our day to day activities, and those who intervene for us, can see God, and those people who humble themselves are like those little children with the face of God. And so in our welcoming of them, we will be able to see God clearly.

Then Jesus goes on to say, in verse eleven: “for the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.” And many people in America and in the world today, as they get older, becoming more adult, they lose the very thing that they need to be with God, which is a certain innocence, and humility.
God calls us to be in the present moment with Him; so we can have the joy, peace, well-being, and goodness that exists in the present moment with God, or Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. By doing so, by welcoming them, we also welcome God into our lives.

So here I am, a very weak and sinful servant of God who, of myself, am nothing. I understand the Spirit of God sustains me, and whatever ministry I am able to do is by the grace of God alone. This mission has been here all these years, by the grace of God, and it is God's mission. So I come before God, and ask, “God what is your Will? This is Your mission. Help me who am weak. Help me who am sinful. Help me who falls short of all the good things that You wish to do.”
And, very often, I hear a small voice that says, “be like a little child. Trust. Be innocent as best you can. Keep trusting in the way that a child trusts. And keep understanding that you are incomplete without God. You cannot do this alone. You cannot even live your life without God's help, let alone do any ministry, or any kind of good without His help.”
It comes down to a simple choice, am I willing to be with God in the present moment? Or do I give up God to be an adult in this world?

I think there may be a way to do both. But if it comes down to a choice between the two, we should always choose to be like a little child in the present moment, in the awe and wonder of what God has given to this world, both in His creation and to all of us. And be filled with His love by being in the present moment. Even as I say this, I can hear an echo of children giggling in the goodness of God’s love, because they're so willing to be in the present moment.

And so we are called by God to be as little children: to be with Him as His children; to view Him as Father; to be filled with His love. So that we may have joy and peace, and know that we are safe and sound as long as we trust in Him.
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