“Act Your Age”
Pentecost 14, September 6, 2020
“Act Your Age”
Text: Matthew 18:1–20
For those of us who watch movies and pay close attention to the movie business, we know that the folks in Hollywood, when something becomes a big hit, will try and copy it as many times as they can, and still make money. Let me give you one example: Die Hard. A popular 1980’s action movie, it was a big hit for 20th Century Fox. It was so big, that in the years that followed we had “Die Hard:” at a school, at a mall, on a battleship, on a mountain, at a hockey game, on a bus, on a plane, on another plane, on the President’s plane (Air Force One). We also saw this occur with the body swap phenomenon starting in 1987. You know, movies where a parent and their kid “swapped bodies,” and hilarity ensued. It started with “Like Father, Like Son,” which was followed by: “Big,” “Vice Versa,” “Freaky Friday (more than one),” “18 Again,” “Dream a Little Dream,” “17 Again,” “13 going on 30,” and I could go on.
I thought about all that when I was preparing to write this sermon because in the Gospel today Jesus tells us that we must all become like children in order to be saved and enter heaven. Now I assume you know what He means by this, as when we were all little, we were dependent on our folks for everything, we were humble, trusting, knowing everything had to be done for us., etc. There may be times where we think it would be cool to go back and be young again, but I know that most of us would really not want to go back and do high school over, right? Now there are times that we may act in an immature fashion, and people will tell us to act our age. But really, How Hard Can It Be for Adults to Become Children of God?
Well, the answer is it’s very hard. There are some serious stumbling blocks in our lives to becoming children of God (v 7). In the first verse of our text, the disciples ask Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” This is an “adult” question. In our culture there is a certain Darwinian idea of the survival of the fittest, climb the corporate ladder or die, kind of thinking. I’ve seen illustrations of this with the folks at the top climbing over/on the backs of the folks they have “defeated.” Growing up, we’ve learned to be independent and, subtly, have absorbed the principle of survival of the fittest by, like the disciples, wanting to be the greatest.
Another thing that makes this hard for us is that as adults, we do not want to show any signs of weakness. The average adult in this country does not want to be seen as humble, like a child. That is a personality trait that people think is an impediment to making it big/rich. How many successful businesspeople or athletes are egomaniacal jerks? See? Not childlike. Remember Jesus said, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Another thing that we have lost as adults that we had when we were kids is that kids tend to be more trusting of others. This makes sense because the longer we live, the more times somebody has betrayed us or stabbed us in the back. Little kids haven’t had those experiences. Yet.
Certain teachings that are found in various churches may cause us to do faith with an adultlike thinking and reasoning. For example, there are churches that say that if you have enough faith and if you believe hard enough, God will bless you. That is saying that if we simply do our part, we will get “rich.” This is an adult way of thinking, that we get salvation the old-fashioned way…we EARN it. But that is quite the opposite of the idea of a child helplessly receiving whatever is given to them. Kids don’t do something to earn a diaper change or to get what they get to eat for dinner. Faith is not our work.
Likewise, churches that teach withholding Baptism from infants are saying by this teaching that children cannot yet believe, and this suggests that an adult’s “reason or strength” is necessary for and contributes to salvation. Again, this is earning salvation by works. But the Bible teaches that we are saved not by our works, and therefore faith cannot be a work or something we do. Luther said we are not saved by our “reason or strength,” but that the Holy Spirit has brought us our faith. Jesus makes clear that “these little ones . . . believe in me” (v 6).
When Christians argue that “children can’t yet believe” or “aren’t ready to be in church,” they have completely misunderstood the Gospel. Jesus implies that only children belong there, and that we must all become like them. Jesus said, “Let the children come unto me,” and He said to baptize all nations, as that Greek word means “everybody,” which includes kids. So we baptize babies. For this reason, one could argue that every Baptism (adult or child) is an infant Baptism, since from that place we become reborn as the children of God. The kind of trust present in a baby is the kind of faith toward which we should all strive. When you see me baptize a baby here, it is a reminder that every Christian is a tiny child in the arms of Jesus.
How Hard Can It be For Adults to Become Children of God? So hard that we have to become children of faith by God making that happen (vv 2–4). Our minds must be transformed by the word of Jesus (Rom 12:2). Jesus rejects the world’s way of thinking by His radical acts of valuing children (Kids are better seen, and not heard.) (vv 5–6). A lot of people in this country would say kids are important. But while there are a lot of people out there who say government policies have to take children into account, some of those same folks say abortion is ok, which I think is generally bad for children. Jesus makes it very clear how all kids and all people are important to Him. Most clearly, He himself became a child (You know, Bethlehem?) who was destined to die for the world. He came to search for, and give His life for, everyone: babies, kids, adults, everyone (vv 10–14).
The Holy Spirit reminds us how we, as dependent, weak, and helpless babies, are cradled in the arms of God. When our hearts and minds are reshaped by Word and Sacrament, we know this. Maybe you can relate to this: When I was young and would fall asleep in the car, my mother or father would carry me to my room. (VW Beatle) Otherwise, I would never have made it there. We are asleep and weak with sin, and the only way into heaven is by repenting of our adultlike ways and letting Jesus carry us, carry His children there.
We may, therefore, rejoice in the fact that in Baptism we are made children of God, and we do not need to be ashamed of that status, being labeled a “child.”. We have a new identity in the family of God: we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ! This is something to remember. And I hope that we are reminded of this, and how important it is, when we pray, “Our Father.”
Ok…summing up. Becoming children of God is indeed hard for us, no matter what age we are. In fact, it’s impossible for us to do it on our own, by ourselves. But it has happened, already. Jesus, the Son of God, the Son of the Father, makes us children of that same Father by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Maybe as an adult you have acted silly, like a food fight or a Nerf gun war and your spouse or parent told you to “Act your age!” We started today by talking about movies where kids get to be adults and adults get to be kids. The next time you see or do this remember, Jesus always wants us to approach Him as little kids. And what I mean by that is that we are: humble, trusting, knowing we need Him for everything that is good.
In Jesus’ Name.