The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s139g12  Sunday 27  7/10/2012

'whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it'   Mark 10.15

Both of these sayings of Jesus would have been startling to those who heard them.   Jesus treated husband and wife entirely equally when it came to marriage.   The man who divorces his wife commits adultery against his first wife.   That a woman might divorce her husband was unheard of.   The difficulty with divorce is not that God is scandalised, but that the partner is offended.

And not only were women treated equally but children were recognised and blessed.

I do not know how a conservative evangelical squares the fact that Jesus treats women equally to men here with the subordination of women that is supposedly biblical.   And similarly I wonder how a conservative evangelical squares the need for mature faith with Jesus blessing the children.

In both of these examples, Jesus speaks about the sacredness of others, the marginalised and the alienated.   The Pharisee's question was not about the woman and her feelings, it was all about what Moses would allow Pharisees to get away with - or not.    The Pharisees weren't interested in regulating divorce and remarriage for anyone else.    As far as they were concerned no one else really mattered because they were condemned anyway.  They wanted to know if a person could still remain a devout Pharisee if they divorced their wife.   It was a religious question about their own status and salvation.   Similarly the disciples who would have kept the children away from Jesus, only to find that he was indignant.   It was supposedly about Jesus' status but really for the disciples it was, by osmosis, their own status that was in question.   But Jesus' actions said that children were sacred as well.

Jesus calls us into life, and to stop thinking about ourselves.   So just as the Pharisees weren't interested in regulating divorce and remarriage for anyone else, Jesus wasn't interested in regulating divorce and remarriage for those in his 'holy huddle' - he tells them to look outside themselves - for this is where life is found.   Life indeed for ourselves, but life for others as we contribute to community and allow the community to contribute to us.

The little child does not enter into life by earning it.   The child enters life by being born.   We are part of the kingdom, along with everyone else, because we are the most sacred thing that there is.   We enter the kingdom simply by being, and allowing that others are also part of the kingdom because they are.   We cannot enter the kingdom by earning our entry, or by avoiding doing things that would prohibit our entry.   Neither can anyone else.

And Jesus welcomes the little children, because children have nothing to offer.    Jesus didn't welcome the children to get the parents to become his followers.   We are not welcomed for what we can contribute, we are welcomed because we are loved.   So often a diocese and parishioners rate a parish and clergy according to how many children attend Sunday School and a Youth Group.   People quickly realise when they are loved because of the contribution they make for the perpetuation of someone else's edifice.

Recently I was reading the epistle of James and the words: 'If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?  (James 2.15,16)   This is a lovely expression of the sacredness of others.   But as I thought about it I realised that parts of the church would not just say ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, but also 'don't use contraception', so that (millions) more brothers and sister will live lives of poverty, sickness and premature death.   If we make these sorts of demands on others then it is no point complaining that others like governments, more wealthy than the church, can't alleviate poverty!   When will these parts of the church hear the cries of despair of so many millions?   When will the sins of the Fathers cease to be visited on the children to the third and fourth generations?

The scandal of 'children are to be seen and not heard' is not that everyone can't get up in a pulpit and preach, but that the legitimate desire for a decent life is so often not heard by some church people.   And this causes me to recall an earlier question as to why on earth did Jesus return to Jerusalem, to those who didn't want to hear him, to those who would have him killed.   In that sense God cannot stand idly by while the divine heart is used to marginalise, alienate and condemn others.

Here I have to acknowledge my favourite preacher who, a couple of weeks ago rightly drew my attention to the fact that the children that the disciples sought to protect Jesus from, were other people's children.   (Thank you Mary :-)  But of course!   Had they been their own children or Jesus' own children, they would have expected Jesus to welcome them!   Jesus did the surprising thing and welcomed other people's children, much to their chagrin.    And I suddenly realised that, of course, Jesus welcomed other people's children.   And the risen Jesus continues to welcome the children of other parents, children of Allah, Buddha, even orphans, children with no parent.   He welcomes to bless, and again, often to the chagrin of the 'disciples'.

So when Jesus says 'whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it' means that we are to receive the kingdom as a gift not as a right, so others receive the kingdom in the same way, as a gift, whatever they may or may not be able to contribute to 'the cause'.