It’s Thursday, and whether you are at work, at home, at school or on holiday, I hope you’re having a good week.
As I have said in a previous podcast, I am a mum to 3 children, a qualified secondary school teacher, the manager of a nursery, and have worked with children and families here at STC Sheffield for the past 10 years. Given that teaching and investing in children has been such an important part of my life over the last 20 years, you would expect me to say that we should pay close attention when Jesus talks about children…….so that is what we are going to do today.
The Bible passage is Mark Chapter 9 verses 33-50, focusing on verses 42 and 50, which show us just how important children are to Jesus, and challenge us to make them our highest spiritual priority too.
“If anyone causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung round their neck and they were thrown into the sea…..Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves.”
In Tuesday’s podcast we saw that at the Transfiguration God said, “This is my Son, whom I love, listen to him!”
Jesus talks about children a great deal – so there is a lot to listen to!
Jesus welcomes children and says that we are to do the same. Children are involved in a number of his miracles, showing that they can directly experience God’s blessing and power. Jesus says that the kingdom of God belongs to children, and that we ought to be like them if we also want to enter this kingdom. Jesus raises the status of children, saying that those who are lowly will be considered the greatest by God; and he speaks passionately about the fact that children can experience salvation for themselves.
Some of the first teaching that Jesus does after the Transfiguration is all about children. But what he says is definitely not easy listening…..
In verses 42-48, Jesus says that it would be better to be drowned in the sea, to have a hand or foot cut off, or our eyes plucked out, than it would be for us to cause a child to stumble in their faith.
Jesus leaves no shadow of a doubt that our responsibility towards the spiritual growth of children is something that we should be particularly concerned about.
As I said, this is not easy listening.
So, here is the challenge, how salty are we when it comes to our children……and I don’t just mean children we have given birth to?
Are we the salt – the taste and the flavour of Jesus – to our own children, to the children on our street, the children that we see at church, the children of our family and friends? How are we showing particular concern for their spiritual growth?
When we are in the presence of children, is there salt amongst us? What example are we setting? What Christian values are we teaching? What behaviours or attitudes of ours are copied by the children we know?
Because if we lose our saltiness with our children, or we cause them to stumble in their faith and become less salty themselves, then, as verse 50 says, it will be very hard to change this in future.
Having heard the challenge in Jesus’ words, how can we respond?
Here are a few suggestions:
- If you are a parenting a child aged 0-16, and you haven’t done the Raising Children course here at STC Sheffield – sign up today! Our next course starts in June. Spend 5 evenings reflecting on the present and investing in the future of your family. If you have done the course – do it again! Things change and need reviewing as kids get older. If you have children at the very top end of this age bracket, definitely sign up…..parenting teenagers is a challenge and everyone can always learn something new.
- Come to church regularly with your children, not just one in 3 Sundays, or once a month. If you have kids, and you would love them to continue to be part of church when they leave home, then start by setting a great example when they live in your home. Don’t cause them to stumble in their faith and relationship with Jesus. Instead, let them see you investing in your relationship with God, and putting it as a priority – so that they are encouraged to do this too.
- How salty are we at church? When it comes to family worship and kids songs, do we do the actions? It might feel out of our comfort zone, but as adults we need to make sure that our body language does not demean or devalue the type of worship that children enjoy, and instead we should do everything we can to encourage and develop their praise of God.
- How can we make our homes a place where children are welcome, even if we don’t have kids ourselves? We don’t have toddlers at home anymore, but we have kept some toys and books for younger kids to play with, and we still have a portable highchair, so that small children can always eat around our table. Popping into a charity shop to buy a few bits like this, and keeping a packet of fish fingers in the freezer won’t break the bank, but it will help build relationship and community with the children around you.
- How can we bless those who work with our kids – at church or in the world? How can you bless Nikki, or Jack, or any of the Sunday kids team? How could we regularly bless any teachers that we know? The prayer group at my daughter’s school make cakes for the entire staff team every single Friday, and have done for many, many years. I know that it has a spiritual impact on the staff room, and that as a result of this the openness to Christianity and the church has increased.
- Pray regularly for children that we know, but also, pray with kids and encourage them in their own prayer life. Next time we have a Prayer Day at church, come along to one of the under 5, kids or youth slots, and hear what is on the hearts of our young families, children and teenagers.
There are many more things that I would love to say, but time is short. Instead, let’s return to the questions that we started with:
How are we the salt – the taste and the flavour of Jesus – to the children that God has placed around us? And how are we practically engaging with or being concerned for their spiritual growth?
Let’s listen to Jesus this week, and ask him to speak to us all about how we can respond to this challenge.
Heavenly Father, we thank you that children are a gift from you. We ask that our homes and our lives would be welcoming to them, and that our relationships, attitudes and behaviours would all help to show them Jesus. Amen.
READING: Mark 9:33-50
They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’
He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’
‘Teacher,’ said John, ‘we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.’
‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said. ‘For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.
‘If anyone causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung round their neck and they were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where
‘“the worms that eat them do not die,
and the fire is not quenched.”
Everyone will be salted with fire.
‘Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.’