THE CHILD IS THE FATHER OF THE MAN
A sermon based on Mark 9:30-37
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
September 23, 2018
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
I have a confession to make to you this morning. As I prepared the sermon this morning, I have done it with no small amount of uneasiness. This gospel passage from Mark is one of those well-worn texts that are familiar to a lot of church goers. I imagine that you have all heard this passage read and preached a number of times. I know that I have heard plenty of sermons on this passage over my lifetime. It is a popular text to use whenever the church is celebrating their children’s ministry or during perhaps an emphasis on the family.
You know the story in today’s text. Jesus’ disciples are arguing among themselves as to who is the greatest. Our Lord beings a child into their midst and says that the one who welcomes a child in my name welcomes me.” In other similar passages, like in the next chapter (Mark 10:15), Jesus goes on to say that, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
Most of the sermons that I have heard on these passages tend to focus and extol the virtues of small children. Children in these sermons are usually characterized as being trusting, innocent, being utterly dependent on their parents, and showing unconditional love. The point seems to be that children are essentially guileless. (And amazingly…some of the same ministers that I heard preach these kinds of things from the pulpit actually had several children of their own. You would think that they certainly would have learned better than that from their own experience as a parent…) The kinds of sermons that I am talking about are usually warm and fuzzy; they are often syrupy and sweet; and they are always overly sentimental. I can remember that, as I listened to those sermons over the years, I honestly never felt as if they were overly connected with reality. Now that I am a parent of two adult children, I KNOW that those sermons were not connected to reality…(!) Because while those sermons mention qualities that may sometimes characterize children, children often exhibit other—shall we say—less desirable traits. Here’s a story that illustrates what I mean:
Years ago, I was serving on the staff of a church with a pastor who had fairly recently become the father of twin girls. He related to me a story of what happened on the girls’ third birthday. Both of the girls were very excited to receive the plastic tricycle called “Big Wheels” as gifts. (Y’all remember Big Wheels?) He told me that he was out with the girls as they were riding their Big Wheels in the driveway a few days later. At first, everything was going fine. But then he said that he noticed that one of the girls got a certain look in her eye. He said he knew what was coming next, but he did not have enough time to intervene. One of the girls sped alongside of her sister and then, all of a sudden without warning, she turned sharply and intentionally crashed her Big Wheel into her sister’s, knocking her over in the process. The pastor/father told me that, at one time, he did not believe in the doctrine of original sin—that is, until he had kids of his own. Having three year old children changed his mind about it. He became a true believer…
So today’s sermon will not follow down that well-worn and, frankly, maudlin path of idealizing what it means to be a child. Instead we are going to look at some other meanings that perhaps Jesus had in mind when he said that his followers were to enter the Kingdom of God as children. These are characteristics that should be true of all his followers…
The title of this morning’s sermon is “The Child Is Father to the Man.” The line is from a poem from the pen of the great 19th Century English poet William Wordsworth. It is one of his best known lines. The poem from which it is taken is called “My Heart Leaps Up,” which he wrote in 1802. It goes like this:
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound to each by natural piety.
The simple meaning of the poem is that Wordsworth believes that people should maintain their sense of childlike wonder of nature throughout their whole lives—right on into adulthood and then even as they advance into old age. Many times children experience the natural world with a sense of wonder…and awe…and insatiable curiosity.
I certainly witnessed that as I have watched my boys grow up. That was particularly true for my younger son, Raleigh. When he was in kindergarten, I can remember when he would stop on a sidewalk, stoop down, and become completely absorbed in watching an earthworm crawling on the ground. He was utterly entranced by it. He was fascinated by the miracle of a simple earthworm. Wordsworth suggests that we should all seek to continue to cultivate that same sense of feeling of wonder of the world around us even as we get older. Indeed, he goes as far as to say that he would rather die than become so jaded and cynical that he lost the sense of amazement at the ever-unfolding beauty of nature.
I think that this is the first characteristic of being like a child that is important to the follower of Jesus. Wordsworth was enamored with the wonder of nature. Jesus wants his followers to become—and to remain—enamored of what it means to be a child of God.
Many Christian poets through the ages have been humbled when describing what God has done for us in Christ with words of wonder and gratitude. Consider these words from our own hymn book that you have doubtlessly sung before:
From an anonymous 19th Century American poet—“What wondrous love is this, O my soul! What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul.”
From the pen of 17th Century German pastor Paul Gerhardt—“What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest Friend, /for this thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?/ O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,/Lord, let me never, never outlive my love for Thee.”
From 20th Century gospel song composer Charles Gabriel—“I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus, the Nazarene,/and wonder how He could love me, a sinner condemned, unclean./How marvelous! How wonderful is my Savior’s love for me.”
Three poets in a span of around 400 years—one anonymous, one Lutheran pastor, and one Methodist layman—and yet the central theme of their songs is an unabashed reverence and awe in the face of what God has done for them through his son Jesus Christ.
Those poets—and many, many others beside—are simply echoing the feelings of amazement of the New Testament writers in their awestruck wonder as they pondered how God entered into his creation and suffered and died to bring us into his family. It is not hard to hear and feel the wonder expressed in such passages as, “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ when we were dead in our transgressions…God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us…God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Such wonderful good news ought to stir our hearts and souls every time we hear them, that the great and bounteous God has shown his love for us in such dramatic fashion. It should create a sense of wondrous gratitude and thankfulness when we stop to consider what it means that God’s love has reached out to us this way. One definition of being a follower of Jesus is that of simply falling in love with God—and falling in love with God over and over and over again throughout the course of a lifetime…
In the New Testament, Jesus calls us to enter into the Kingdom of God as children. A second characteristic of children is that they are not static. They grow and develop and mature physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally. Children are not supposed to stay children. They are supposed to grow up.
In John 3, Jesus famously told Nicodemus that “You must be born again…No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” Here’s the thing: in the natural world, people are not born as fully formed human beings. They are born as tiny infants. And over time through nurture and the loving care of parents, children eventually grow into fully formed human beings.
It is the same way in the kingdom of God. Followers of Jesus do not spring fully formed from the womb of the Spirit. Being born again is not the end result of our search for God—and of God’s search for us. NO—instead, being a citizen of the kingdom of heaven is a process. It is the beginning of a lifelong journey in which we are walking with Jesus—learning from him, becoming more like him in our thoughts, our actions and in the way that we love God and that we love others.
Christians are to be lifelong learners in the school of Christian discipleship. In this school, God uses the means of prayer and meditation, Bible study, regularly worshiping with other believers and ministry in the larger community to effect the change that he desires in our lives. And we also work together in cooperation with the Spirit to enlarge the Kingdom to those who do not yet know the goodness of our Christ. These are the ways which the Holy Spirit uses to grow us to become more Christ-like.
And it is a lifelong process. Nobody ever graduates from the Spirit’s school of discipleship. No one. It does not matter if you have been a follower of Christ for six months or for fifty years. It does not matter how much you have studied or how many degrees that you earned. No one ever arrives at the place where they can just simply rest in the Spirit because they have become all that God intends for them to be. We all have room to grow regardless of who we are, what we have done, or what we have been. We all have areas in our lives in which we can become more like Jesus. There is always more to learn about the ways of God. There is always more to experience in the realm of the Spirit. They are always more spiritual depths to explore—more spiritual mountain heights to scale—in our relationship to God.
Which leads us to the question that closes this sermon this morning. How about you? Are you a better disciple of Jesus than you were a year ago…five years ago…ten years ago? Is your relationship to God vibrant and growing…or has it become “old hat” and stale…lifeless…routine…or quite frankly boring? Is there an excitement about the things of the Spirit?
“The child is father to the man.” It is who the child is that determines in large part who the adult will become. May the joy of discovering and uncovering what it means to be a child of the King continue to live in your heart and spur you on to the deeper, more fulfilling, more satisfying, more abundant life that Jesus offers his followers. That is my prayer for you today…and in the days and years ahead…
To God alone be the glory! Amen.
 Those of a certain age may also recognize it as the title of the debut album by the 1960’s jazz-rock band Blood, Sweat and Tears…
 #177 “What Wondrous Love Is This,” #178 third stanza of “O Sacred head, Now Wounded,” and #512 “I Stand Amazed in the Presence.”
 Ephesians 2:4-5, Romans 5:8, and 2 Corinthians 5:21.