It is good to have children in worship this morning! It is good to hear them sing!
Children, according to Jesus, represent the very kingdom of heaven.
Unless you change and become like children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, he said. How can we understand what that means unless they are among us to study and to ponder? Let the little children come unto me, and do not forbid them, for to such as these belongs the kingdom of heaven… Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. And again, in stronger language this time, If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.
It’s especially good that children are here on a day we call Palm Sunday. And this is not because they are adorable or innocent. It is, as Jesus said, because they are a sign of God’s kingdom; they have power to teach those of us who are no longer children how to live as people of God.
Over and over, Jesus teaches us that we can’t have it both ways; we must choose. Every day we decide again which we will serve: the Kingdom of God, or some other Kingdom.
Jesus entered the capital city of Jerusalem making a statement. If he had been a general in the Roman Army he would have ridden into the city on a war horse, a symbol of strength and experience and power. Instead, he rode in on a colt that had never been ridden. In other words, this one who would be welcomed as the long-awaited new king was trusted by this young horse—or donkey?—an animal that had little life experience and no experience at all in supporting a rider. It is as Jesus taught: Weakness and inexperience more than power and control can be signs of God’s kingdom.
Last week I went to see the movie The Hunger Games. This is a film that has captured the imaginations of the younger generation in our day. It’s the story of an empire that has created a reality show something like Survivor in our own day; it’s a wilderness competition that results in one winner. But The Hunger Games are not a competition among adults. Instead, 24 young people—12 boys and 12 girls–between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected at random. These young people train together but eventually compete with one another to the death. There is only one survivor at the end, one person who is showered with wealth. The Empire is in control and everything about the Hunger Games is designed to remind everyone of that fact.
But the Empire starts to lose control when love shows up. Two of the Hunger Games contestants are in love and refuse to kill one another. It’s clear by the end of the movie that something has shifted. Love threatens the power of Empire.
The Empire in today’s reading starts to lose control when love shows up. At first the people of Jerusalem and surrounding areas are ecstatic, filled with hope when Jesus rides into the city. But within a few days they will show that their hearts are still subject to the ways of Empire and the values of the world. Having just welcomed Jesus as king, they just as easily turn on him and demand his death.
Children are crucial in the Christian community as signs of God’s kingdom. Jesus protected, defended and celebrated them. Think how different this is from the ways of Empire. Every empire practices child sacrifice. Whether it’s ancient empires that killed their children in bloody religious rituals, empires in our own day that send their young people off to war, empires that favor the rich and powerful, or a fictional empire on the movie screen that kills its young people for entertainment–empires all require the death of young people.
The kingdom of heaven celebrates and protects the young and the vulnerable. God’s people are invited each day to decide which kingdom we will devote our hearts to.
The kingdoms of this world don’t know what to do when love shows up. It was true when Jesus rode into Jerusalem. It was true even when Pontius Pilate, the very symbol of Empire, was trying to get Jesus off the hook, it was true when the Roman centurion at Jesus’ death said what no one else could say, “Truly, this was the Son of God.” It’s true in our own violent society, as well. The kingdoms of this world don’t know what to do when love shows up.
The symbols we use and the priorities we choose proclaim to the world either our allegiance to the kingdoms of the world or to the kingdom of God. Our job as Christians is to see that love shows up–love instead of hatred. Love instead of despair. Love instead of fear. More than that, we are to point to where God’s love is showing up all around us, all the time. One of the easiest ways to do that is to place the highest priority on welcoming children—signs of God’s kingdom–as full members of God’s family and full participants in our communities of faith.