God's Power Made Perfect in Weakness #3: How God speaks to us through children
2 Samuel 9:1-13
Today is the last sermon in our three-week series on God’s power being made perfect in weakness. The first week we looked in detail at 2 Corinthians 12 where Paul wrote about this concept. We learned that when we are weak, then we are strong because when we turn to God in our weaknesses, God fills us with God’s own strength. Last week we talked about this concept in the context of Jesus being bombarded by people seeking healing. We learned that in the busyness of life, we are weak. When we turn to God for strength, then we can respond like Jesus, with compassion because it is God’s strength working in us, not our own strength.
Today we will be looking at how God speaks to us through children. I wanted to speak particularly about this because I had the rare opportunity to be a stay-at-home Mom for several years. I know that for some of us it was the norm for women to stay home, but for my generation it is not the norm. For those of us, mothers and fathers, who choose to stay home, we often worry about whether we will be able to enter into our careers again when our kids go to school and we often worry that we are not developing our professional skills. If I could go back and change one thing about my choice to stay home, I would not worry about those two things. Today I want to share with you what God taught me through my children.
This is important for the whole concept of God’s power being made perfect in weakness because it is often the powerless people in society who get ignored. But God works through them in profound ways to show us God’s character and the depths of God’s love for us. We are going to talk about this today by going through our Mark passage because we see Jesus being ever so patient, again, with the clueless disciples, and he makes his main point with a child.
Our Mark passages starts in chapter 9, verse 30, “They went on from there and passed through Galilee. [Jesus] did not want anyone to know; for he was teaching his disciples.” At the beginning of this passage we see that Jesus wants some privacy. He has something on his mind that he wants to teach his disciples and it’s the kind of thing that he does not feel comfortable talking about in front of the crowds. I think that we can all relate to this. There are some things that we only feel comfortable talking about with a small number of people. For me, it’s the kinds of things that I feel emotionally fragile about. What are those kinds of subjects for you? … Let’s find out what it was for Jesus.
Continuing in verse 31, Jesus said “to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’” Ok! That makes a lot of sense. We know that going to the cross was something that made Jesus sweat blood because he was so stressed about it. This was the kind of intimate thing that he wanted to talk about with the disciples without the pressure of the crowds. He wanted to talk about it with his inner circle, with people who he trusted. Who knows what he was looking for, but the human side of Jesus was probably looking for commiseration, encouragement, comfort. Poor Jesus, he didn’t get any of that. He didn’t even get understanding. It says in verse 32, “But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.” So, he says this and gets basically no response from his disciples.
Jesus can handle getting no comfort or encouragement, but at a very basic level, this information is also very important for his disciples to understand because it means that Jesus, the Son of God, is going to put himself in the greatest position of weakness for others. He will make the greatest sacrifice, humble himself the most, in order to bring blessing to the whole world. This is the core of what it means to follow Jesus. As Paul says in the letter to the Philippians, “He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on the cross, so that God will highly exalt Him.” And then Paul makes the argument that as Christians we should also live with humility, following the example of Jesus.
So, going back to Mark, the disciples were silent in response to Jesus, but not amongst each other. Do you know what they were talking about on their journey, right after Jesus tells them that the core of his mission and ministry is the ultimate act of humility and sacrifice? In the verse 33 it says this, “Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another [about] who was the greatest.’” [Face palm] We might be tempted, in response to this, to say that they were acting like children. But actually, they were acting like adults who just don’t get it. And we know this because, as we will see, Jesus uses a child to tell them what they should be like.
In response to their cluelessness, Jesus is so patient and compassionate. I pray for the same patience and compassion that Jesus had; we all should! He does not get mad at them or tell them that they are stupid or give up on them and get new disciples. He doesn’t throw his hands in the air and stalk out of the house.
Let’s see what he does. In verse 35 it says, “He sat down.” Sitting has this calming effect. The verse continues, “He sat down, he called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’” Jesus just responds to what they were saying. He doesn’t bring up the past, “When I was talking about this you ignored me, and now you just don’t get it!” No, he simply said to them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” And they don’t respond to him. So then he sits down. Now imagine this house that they are in as being like the narthex during fellowship hour. If I was to sit down on the floor I would take myself out of all interactions with adults. And who would I have eye contact with immediately? The little children. Jesus, in response to this argument about who is the greatest, removes himself from the adults and sits down where the children are (he’s already having eye-contact with the kids). He calls the twelve to him, and says to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” He has perfectly positioned his clueless disciples for an object lesson. Sitting on the floor, they are all having eye contact with and seeing the world from the perspective of the least important people in the room: the little children. But to Jesus, the little children are the most important.
We see this in verses 36-7 where it says this, “Then [Jesus] took a little child and put it among them;” and this is not hard when you sit on the floor with the kids - they just come to you, “and taking [the child] in his arms, [Jesus] said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’” This means that the greatest among the followers of Jesus will spend time on the floor with children.
I can tell you from personal experience that God’s power is definitely made perfect through weakness when I think of all that I have learned about God through my children. But I wasn’t able to learn it right away. I got a spiritual director during those years and through those meetings I learned that God wanted to speak to me through my children, but I wasn’t taking the time to listen. I was too wrapped up in whether I would be the greatest. I was so concerned with whether I would get a job in the future or lose my professional skills that I wasn’t paying attention to what God was doing in my life in those moments. And so, I tried to do what Jesus did. I sat down. I took life more slowly. I tried to stop thinking only about myself and my own concerns and instead tried to focus on each moment, welcoming my children into my life so that I also welcomed Jesus into my life through them and enabled myself to receive the gifts that God wanted to give to me through my kids.
God has spoken to me profoundly through my children. Just two simple examples to start. One time I was parallel parking with Micah in the back in his car seat. I used to use negative language to talk about myself all the time, and so I said, “I’m terrible at parallel parking.” Meanwhile the parking was going just fine. But Micah said to me, “Yeah, Mom, you are really bad at parallel parking.” And in that moment, I realized that when I made the negative comment about myself, I expected the other person in the car to contradict it and say, “No, you are good at parallel parking.” I realized that I needed to speak the truth about myself and break the habit of always saying negative things about myself. That negative image is not who I am in God.
The second simple example, happened one morning, when I was lying in bed caught in a cycle of thinking negative thoughts. And Junia came in my room seeking a snuggle. Her presence distracted me and I forgot the negative thoughts. It was as if God sent her in the moment as God’s own angel to help me out of the habit of negative thinking.
The most profound lesson I learned from my children is about God’s amazing love for me. God loves us deeply, and endlessly. God is always ready to forgive and always ready to give us another chance. I learned this through my children. They love me no matter what. I can have a really bad parenting moment, and take out my stress on them, and when I finally realize I was in the wrong and apologize, they give me the gift of the most pure forgiveness I’ve ever experienced in my life. When I am feeling down or sad, they give me a hug and tell me how much they love me. In those moments when I have trouble loving myself, they are completely mystified because to them, I (and Brett) are the best things in their lives.
The love of children is precious and wonderful. It is a gift from God that we often squander and miss. Through children, whether they are our own, or children that we get to know in another way, like through the church, through children, God teaches us about God’s unending and profound love. It proves the point that Jesus is making, that in order to be the greatest, we have to be the servant of all. Taking care of children is definitely being a servant. When we welcome children into our lives, truly, we welcome Jesus into our hearts in a new and profound way that enables us to receive God at a deeper level than we’ve ever known God before. In this way, the words of Paul are absolutely true, that God’s grace is sufficient for us because God’s power is made perfect in weakness. When we humble ourselves and welcome children, we will find that we are identifying with the weak. And as Paul says, by the power of Christ dwelling in us, when we are weak, then we are strong. Amen.