……….but Jesus said, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." (Mat 19:14 RSV)

The text which was just read is one of those familiar passages in the Bible which have an emotional appeal to virtually every one. Maybe it is because it deals with children and even as we read it now we can just imagine little innocent children crowding around Jesus for a blessing.

Or perhaps this appeal is because of Jesus – because of his display of love and kindness and his caring for children even at a time like this. Jesus knew that his end was imminent; he knew that he was on his way to Jerusalem to meet this fate: at the same time he was being harassed by the religious officials who wished to trap him so that they could bring some charge against him and have him put to death.

But for all this – what we would call stress - Jesus had time for children.

Indeed the disciples sensed that something was not right and they thought that he needed his space and some time to be by himself. Because of this they sought to protect him from too many people crowding in on him, especially people who were not too significant – namely children.   Thus they tried to prevent them from coming too close and bothering him.

But they were very wrong.  Jesus had time and as special place for the children, for the insignificant.

Whatever is the reason for the attachment to this verse it has a message for parents and it makes a very strong statement about children and child like qualities.

For parents and adults it provides the clearest instruction on how to raise children. It calls upon them –upon us - to let the children come to God – encourage the children to know and to come to God. It called upon grown-ups to make the conditions right for children to come to Him.

The words of Jesus may have been harsh but he was reacting to a situation in which he saw barriers being placed in the path of the children and by none other than his disciples. And so Jesus informed the disciples, as well as the adults in the crowd that one of their responsibilities was to bring children to Him.

 I think it is true to say that all parents know of their responsibility to do things for their children until they are themselves able to do them for themselves – to make decisions for them until they are able. It is commonplace for parents to feed, dress and shelter their children especially when they are infants.

As commonplace as this is though sometimes the onlooker is forced to wonder how some parents could give their children certain foods to eat and dress them in styles which are more appropriate for adults. I need not say anything about the cultivation of social skills.  Indeed in this respect these parents are creating barriers – barriers to good health, barriers to appropriate behavior and barriers to their proper development as young people and adults.

But the passage indicates that it should also be commonplace for parents raise  their children to know about God and Jesus so that they may eventually come to know God and to enter into a personal relationship with Him in Jesus Christ. This is a responsibility for all parents but it is an obligation for christian parents.

And it is perhaps in this area that modern parents are failing.

Some modern parents seem not to encourage children to know about God. It is sad the number of children who get no exposure to Christian stories and Christian values. And we must not that these children are not near to us – they are on our very door step in the St Paul parish – not too far away. We see and know, and sometimes even talk with them.

You just need to visit the schools in this parish and there you will find too many children who are not getting a chance to achieve their full potential which is only possible in Christ.

Some parents create barriers directly when they fail to provide children with the knowledge they need to form Christian values and to lead Christian lives – they do not tell them about God; they do not teach them how to pray and to give God thanks as only children can; they do not read the bible to them and encourage them to read it as well. They are effectively shutting God out of the lives of these  young ones. 

But the tallest and most effective barriers which parents erect are those related to their own life style – the indirect barriers. The lives of some modern parents seem to be so consumed with getting material possessions even when they cannot afford them that there is little energy and time left to care for children in a Christian way. There is too much emphasis on making money and getting things.

At one level then the text reminds parents, and all adults generally, but especially Christian parents, of their obligation to encourage and assist children in coming to know and to love Jesus. There is a special place in the Kingdom of Heaven for children.

On another level though Jesus is saying to his disciples, and to those adults around, that if they wished to be part of the Kingdom then they should become more childlike – they should seek to possess those childlike qualities of trust, obedience, forgiveness if they want to see the kingdom of heaven.

Sadly it is qualities like these that are becoming scarce in a modern world.

Today as a community of faith we are being true to the command of Jesus as we join with these three sets of parents to remove any barriers to their children embracing the gift of love which God has given us – God’s gift of grace.

For these children, even though they are unaware, this is the most important day in their lives. It is the most serious and yet the most joyous day of their lives. It was so for us too but it is unfortunate that we never really celebrate it as we get older. I am sure that if I were to ask for a show of hands if you knew the date of your baptism not many hands would go in the air.

I shall not ask though so do not fear.

But among our many promises to day – and I speak to Godparents especially – should be one that we shall remind these young infants of this day and of its importance in their lives every year until they come to confirmation. And we shall celebrate its with them yearly.

This day is important, serious and joyous for these infants because on it they begin  a new life – a new life in Christ – they enter like we did into eternal life. Paul in writing to the Romans puts its clearly when he says that:-

4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom 6:4 RSV)

At our baptism we die to sin as Christ died to sin. Sin can no longer have a grip on us. Indeed we shall have occasion to miss the mark, to fail to reach God’s standard – in other words to sin - but we will not be lost in sin because of the grace of God which He freely bestows upon us in baptism and his forgiveness when we ask.

In baptism we are also raised, as Christ was - to a new life in which we grow and mature as we continue to live.  Baptism begins for us a life long journey – a journey of living with Christ. A journey in which through the support of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us we are able to achieve our full potential.

What then shall we tell Giovanni and Janae and Shaniah as they grow about this day. We must tell them that we were scared that we made some of the most serious and long lasting vows on their behalf on this day. But we were also very happy. We were happy because we knew that we were doing what God wanted – we were bringing them to Him so that he could also bestow His love upon them. 

And finally what about us? How is our journey with God in the new life we entered at our baptism? Are we not still struck by the seriousness of the promises but joyful that God has called us to be on a journey to Him

Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven. May these children continue to grow in God’s favour and may we too become more trusting and obedient to God as we continue on our journey of to God. The Reverend Allan Jones

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