Sermon: Children, Come

October 7, 2018
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 10:2-16

I started last week’s sermon with these words, and they seem like good ones to begin today as well: My goodness, what a week. Are you doing all right?

A number of us spent time in the church kitchen, or in a car, or in a covered common area down in Puna this week. Some of us poured heart and soul into making all that happen, and my deepest thanks and appreciation goes to Gloria Kobayashi for overcoming all the information gaps, the uncertainties, and the sheer size of the challenge: for covering the details and making it all happen.

At the national level, it has been a difficult week for other reasons. We’ve seen financial revelations and we’ve read reports of growing camps to imprison migrant children and we’ve heard the anguish of sexual assault survivors. Internationally, reports began to come from Indonesia, struck by earthquake and tsunami, and the head of Interpol is being held in China.

What a week. Are you doing all right?

Now we get confronted with a tender spot in the Gospels: Jesus responding to questions about divorce. Divorce, he said, was permitted in the law because of human hardness of heart.

Indeed, you needed to harden your heart to divorce your wife in the first century – Jewish women could not divorce their husbands, though Greek and Roman women could. As David Lose writes, “When a woman was divorced she lost pretty much everything – status, reputation, economic security, everything – so how can they treat this as a convenience, Jesus asks, let alone a debating topic.” A husband who divorced his wife deprived her of a home if her birth family would not or could not take her in. She lost her place in the community. As we see in the book of Ruth, widows suffered terribly in ancient days. Divorced women suffered more.

Instead of hardness of heart, Jesus said, marriage was supposed to be a union of equals – what a radical statement that was in the first century. What a radical statement it continues to be in the twenty-first century. I think newly wedded couples see that union of equals as a goal much more today than they did in Jesus’ day.

I also suspect that disappointment about not reaching it might be the greatest contributor to marriages ending in divorce today, as couples discover that hardness of heart did not end in the first century, or in the twentieth. There’s a range of hardness of heart, with abuse, neglect, and infidelity at one end and the inability to live with a spouse’s habits at the other. Justice and compassion demand that some of these marriages end, when they threaten the health and safety of one of the people involved. Some marriages might endure if the couple can find a way to soften the hard hearts. Others may not.

And there are divorces that have nothing to do with hardness of heart. They’re simply about people who find themselves moving in different directions, different directions impossible for “one flesh.” In the first century, however, Jesus could not speak of these in a way that anyone else could understand.  A marriage of equal partnership was strange and radical enough to remember, and they could not imagine ending a marriage because that goal wasn’t attained.

After telling the story of Jesus’ words on marriage, Mark moved on to this seemingly unrelated story about the disciples trying to keep the parents and their children away from Jesus. This is one of the very few times that Jesus is recorded as being “indignant” with people, and it wasn’t with the parents who wanted him to bless their children.

Jesus got indignant with the disciples who were trying to give him a quiet moment.


I think it’s hardness of heart again. Women and children – they were the powerless ones of first century Judea. They might be valued (the parents valued these children enough to bring them to Jesus) but they weren’t regarded as fully capable, certainly not as capable as adult men. They weren’t worth the Teacher’s time. The Teacher had more important things to do.

Well, the Teacher didn’t have more important things to do. He didn’t use the phrase, “hardness of heart,” but he didn’t have to, did he? His friends had hardened their hearts toward these parents and their children. Even if they did it because of their soft hearts toward Jesus, they’d hardened them toward these parents and their children.

“Soften your hearts,” Jesus didn’t say, but he might have. “Let the little children come to me,” he did say, “do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

Not to the kings and emperors. Not to the landlords and the wealthy. Not to the teachers of the law or the male heads of households. To the women. And the children. Children, come. Receive the kingdom of God.

That’s the real message of this passage. It’s not about keeping people in abusive relationships or hard-hearted marriages. It’s about softening the heart so that people can receive the realm of God. Jesus told the self-appointed gatekeepers not to keep the gates. The blessings of God already belonged to those they were trying to keep out. The children were not trespassers, but landowners.

So hear this, children of God. Pay no attention to anyone claiming to keep the gates of the kingdom of God.

Children, come. Come if you’re young, or come if you’ve been a child for decades. The realm of God is yours.

Children, come. Come if you’re single, or married, or divorced, or trying again. The realm of God is yours.

Children, come. Come if you’re powerful, or pretty able, or if you need help getting through the day. The realm of God is yours.

Children, come. Come if you’re well fed, or if you’re hungry. The realm of God is yours.

Children, come. Come if your path has led over land, sea, and air, or if you’ve seen little beyond your home. Come whatever language you speak, or whatever songs you sing. Come whatever your physical condition or state of health. Come if you identify as male or female or something else. The realm of God is yours.

Children, come. This is World Communion Sunday. The table, the feast, the grace of God, the realm of God: all are yours.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

The recording includes references to the trio of Muscovy Ducks that visited Church of the Holy Cross on October 7th. Pastor Eric didn’t know they’d be visiting until they did.

Photos (of preparing food for Puna evacuees on Friday, October 5, and of the Muscovy Ducks on October 7) by Eric Anderson.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on October 7, 2018

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