Concordia Catechetical Academy Symposium–"Keeping Our Children in the Faith"
Thursday, June 16, 2016
In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit
In the kingdoms of this world, privilege usually comes with age–you can drive, or order a glass of wine at a restaurant, or get a specialized job when you’re old enough, when you’ve met all the necessary standards and requirements. But in the kingdom of God privilege comes with youth. What is necessary is that you’re young enough, before you can even begin to point to any personal merits and accomplishments or try to justify your behavior. “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
This is something that our sinful nature despises. Of course, we like the imagery of little children; we’re not so harsh as those disciples, of course. What we don’t like, what we rebuke, in fact, is the idea that our resume and the entrance application that we’ve worked up isn’t what gains us acceptance into the kingdom. Our flesh still wants to believe that our own credentials and the status that we’ve earned must play at least some part in making us suitable to come to the Lord. But Jesus is greatly displeased at this thinking. Repent of it.
Hear what Jesus is saying with His words, “Let the little children come to Me.” It’s not that they’re innocent–parents of little ones know that well enough. It’s not even that they’ll believe pretty much whatever you tell them. To be as a little child, indeed as a nursing infant, is to be completely dependent on the care and providing of another, to be utterly helpless apart from the Lord, to have nothing to give and everything to receive from Him. For Jesus has everything to give. “He took them up in His arms and blessed them.” “To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? (Is 53:1)” but to such little ones, even to those whom the world considers foolish and weak.
This also is how the fruit of the womb is a reward and a gift that is not to be hindered or despised. God helps us to be as little children by giving us little children to teach raise and to learn from–to see the faith again through their eyes. For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
Some have wondered why it is that we baptize infants before teaching them but teach adult catechumens before baptizing them. There is no pretense in an infant at the font; there may be with an adult. We catechize those who are older first, in part, to make sure that they’re young enough, that they receive the kingdom of God and the Word of God as if they were a little child. So it is that this Gospel reading is used at a baptism regardless of whether it is an infant or an adult who is being baptized.
This is also why we all are urged to return to our baptism daily. That exhortation is nothing else than a call to go back to being little again before the Lord, to humble yourself before Him that He may lift you up in His arms and bless you with His mercy and life. To repent is to be turned from your self-indulgence and your self-justifying pride and to be brought to Christ so that He may be all in all for you. It is as John the Baptizer said, “He must increase, I must decrease.” In decreasing like that, John was declared by Jesus to be the greatest, for Christ was everything for Him.
It is only in becoming small that one becomes great in the kingdom of heaven. In fact it is only by becoming nothing, dying to ourselves that we truly live. God has chosen the things which are not, Scripture says, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should boast in His presence (1 Cor. 1:27-29). It is out of the barrenness of Sarah’s flesh, and Abraham who was as good as dead, that God brought forth life and carried on the promise.
The little children of God’s kingdom are those who have been born again by God’s doing, from above, by water and the Spirit.
Martin Luther famously said in the Large Catechism, “I am a doctor and preacher, yes, as learned and experienced as all those may be who have such presumption and security; yet I do as a child who is being taught the Catechism, and every morning, and whenever I have time, I read and say, word for word, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the Psalms, etc. And I must still read and study daily, and yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and am glad so to remain.”
Keeping our children in the faith, then, has to do with helping them to remain children in the faith. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. No matter how much one grows in the faith, this beginning of humility and reverence for the Lord can never be left behind, or there is no growth at all. When we’re always going back to the beginning, we’re always going back to our dependency on the Lord who made the beginning, and who is the beginning and the ending, the Alpha and the Omega. He alone is the one who does the keeping, as we say in the Benediction.
For Jesus is the One who made Himself small for you–not only when He was a little child in the arms of His mother–He even made Himself nothing, humbling Himself to the point of death on a cross to redeem you as His own. Depending entirely on His Father, entrusting His spirit into the Father’s hands, He was fully confident that He would be vindicated in the resurrection. Now the Son is taken up to the Father’s right hand where He lives to intercede for you. In Him who is in the bosom of the Father, God blesses you and keeps you.
It has been observed that when we near the ending of our lives, there is a similarity to the beginning of our lives, when we need to be cared for, when we become more dependent on others. That feels like a curse, and it certainly is a result of the fall. But in Christ, who tasted death for us, even this is redeemed. The Lord teaches us here once again to become as little children, not grasping for control of our own lives, but entrusting ourselves into His hands, like an infant at the baptismal font. In death we are entirely as little children in the Lord’s strong arms, awaiting the blessing of the resurrection of the body.
Jesus prayed, “I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in your sight” (Matthew 11:25-26). So then, little children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21). As newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the Word that you may grow thereby, now that you have tasted that the Lord is gracious (1 Peter 2:2-3).
In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit