Be Young at Heart

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The idea for today’s service came from my wife – she bought a CD of Sunday School songs a while backand, listening to it brought back memories of my own Sunday School days.  Some of the songs are still sung quite regularly in Church – but there were several I’d not sung for many years.  I hope you’ve enjoyed singing them this morning.

It brought back memories, for me, of Sunday School all those years ago.  Back then, we accepted what we were told by the leaders without questioning.  We knew there was a God and that Jesus died for us.  We didn’t ponder about the intricacies of original sin.  We didn’t realise that, as we grew up, we would hear people arguing that our beliefs were wrong; we didn’t know that we would sometimes have to defend them.  As a child, if you were like me, it didn’t take a strong willed faith to believe – we were told something and we accepted it as indisputable fact.

OK, children don’t necessarily agree with everything they’re told – I certainly didn’t, but Sunday School held a special place – it was very reassuring – safe – and we heard things that made us feel special.

It sometimes seems a pity that we have to grow up – a pity that we start to doubt, to challenge things we once accepted without question.  It was so much simpler back then.

Nowadays, we’re expected to understand some of the intricacies of theology – we try to work out how God can be three separate people – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – yet one God – all at the same time.  The Holy Trinity is an impossible puzzle if we think too hard.  Oh, so much simpler when we just accepted it.  Trying to work out heavenly things within an earthy perception and understanding will always lead to tears.

Jesus said, in our Gospel reading this morning, “I assure you that unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven.”

Become like children.  I don’t think Jesus means totally regressing to our childhood and immaturity.  I believe he means we need to have a faith that can accept things that may contradict what we’ve learnt during our years; accept that there are things way beyond our comprehension – things for which we have no frame of reference to either prove or analyse.

Our OT passage may help to illustrate.  The Lord called Samuel, still a boy.  He had no previous experience talking to God and assumes it was Eli; three times he made that mistake – until Eli realised who was calling.  And Samuel accepted Eli at his word; when God next called, Samuel answered Him.  Samuel didn’t argue with Eli; he didn’t use his past experience to get in the way of his future experience.

We’re sometimes too clever for our own good.

But, accepting Jesus as though we were a child doesn’t mean we stop thinking.  Children ask questions – interminably.  They want to know about everything: What’s this? What’s that? Why something else? How does that work? Children ask questions and so should we.  As children we need to grow and mature.  As children we need to gain a better understanding and a more fulfilling relationship with our Father.  Grow spiritually; we’re in this world with all its own puzzles and contradictions but we mustn’t let it constrain us.  We need to retain that trust in our Father – what He says may not always make sense at the time but, if we have the child’s trust in his or her Dad, we should know that He’s right and we’ll understand it more when we grow up.

Become like a child in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven – accept what we don’t understand and then ask question upon question to build up our understanding.  There will be things we can’t quite grasp – that doesn’t make them untrue – we just need to go on asking.

When we grow up, we often become cynical; we look for motives, delighting at the hint of anything other than altruism.  Any reason for doubt becomes an insurmountable obstacle.  We reject a message because we don’t believe the messenger 100%.  Any excuse.  People reject the entire Bible because there’s one or two passages they find difficult or impossible – in their own worldview, of course, forgetting that God just might have a different one.

We want the full picture – the logic behind it – we can’t stand something we don’t understand.  If we don’t understand it, we often reject it.  We need to return to that childlike trust.  Accept that we may not have the full picture – we may never (in fact, certainly never) get the full picture in this life.

Now, don’t take all this as a longing for a return to the “good old days”.  We can never go back and relive our past – nor should we want to.  We’ve each built up a wealth of experience that would be wasted.  There are certainly things I wish I’d done in my younger years but I wouldn’t sacrifice what I HAVE done for them.  My experiences and memories are precious to me – they make me who I am today.  But I’m not going to dwell in the past – that’s gone – live today for the present.  But we can all shed some of that cynicism we develop.  We’re taught that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.  Well, it’s sometimes good to forget that.  Use our full life experience if necessary – good things DO happen.

When having a drink [hold up glass of water – half full] a pessimist will think it’s half empty; an optimist will say it’s still half full.  Both are technically right, but the optimist is the one who will appreciate it the more.  As children, it was far easier to see the good, the opportunities; we tend to lose that as we grow older and wiser - I’ll agree that we know more – but are we really wiser?

I hope today’s service has helped some of you to recall what it was like all those years ago (longer ago for some than others).  Remember how we grasped at what we were told; how we marvelled at the stories and felt that, yes, Jesus loves me!  We don’t have to leave that wonder behind – we can become like a child with Jesus – we need to become like a child.

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