Monday, January 05, 2009

As Little Children

At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,

And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
(Matthew 18:1-6)

Once upon a time, as a chaplain in a hospital, I had occasion to minister to a couple whose little baby was dying of liver failure. She was scheduled for a liver transplant, but her continual infections precluded the possibility of surgery. As time ran out for their precious little girl, the couple asked me to baptize her. The baptism was scheduled so that the four pairs of grandparents could also be present.

This illness was only one of the causes of pain in this family. This gathering allowed for an application of God’s grace not only to the little baby, but to the entire family. In the time of preparing for the baptism, I addressed the more prevalent family issues from the perspective of God’s will for the family, His good and gracious will for healing and forgiveness and peace through the merits of Jesus. The reason for Baptism was explained and all present acknowledged the Scriptures and what they declare concerning Baptism. Many tears were shed and arms reached out for hugs.

Then God received this precious baby through the Word laden water that I poured over her. One more dear saint had been washed into the Holy Communion. A few days later this new little saint would breathe her last on this earth. Her parents had to make the dreadful decision to grant permission for the artificial respirator to be removed. But they did so in the knowledge that their baby was safe in Jesus. I stood with them as they held their precious little one. Together we watched her turn the various terrible shades of death, turning bluish, then that horrible yellowish pale green, then finally that mournful ashen gray.

I was asked to preside over the funeral.

I visited the home of the parents and their other three little children. While Daddy and Mommy were busy with various phone calls and preparations, the little ones visited with me. They asked many questions. I explained further about their sister and what God had done for her in her baptism. They understood. They were glad for their baby sister.

Then they began asking about various characters in the Bible. They knew about many stories. However, they tended to blend the stories together and have people from more than one Biblical account together. But they wanted me to explain for them.

Mommy came in and was puzzled. She wondered how the children knew anything at all about these accounts since they were not a church going family and they never had devotions. One of the children went to the book shelf and brought back an illustrated Bible Story book that they had discovered. What they knew of God and of the Bible they had eagerly learned from this book, apparently relying on whatever reading skills the elder child possessed. Of all the books on the shelf, this was the one they used together and this is what they wanted to have explained to them. Mom had forgotten about the existence of the book, yet the children gathered to it.

At the funeral I gathered all the young ones together and explained to all the cousins as well as the adults what God had done through this Baptism. The children understood and for them the day was one of laughter and play and rejoicing. The adults heard and received the joyous good news, too, and they marveled at the children.

Truly, the joy of heaven belongs to those whom the Holy Spirit converts to be as the little children. Nothing can steal this joy from God’s children of faith. To make certain of this He has ordained His means of grace for His little flock on earth. To those who receive His means of grace as He has given them, the joy of His Holy Communion is as natural as life itself.

Truly the least are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Those who hear the Gospel and believe it have all the wonders of heaven opened to them. They do not question God’s promises, for they know that God does not lie. God speaks and they hear. God declares them righteous through Baptism and they rejoice in His righteousness. God calls them to His table to receive the body of unity and the blood of life and they eat and drink and commune with God and live in His forgiveness and mercy all their days. How much greater can anyone ever hope to become? How much better life could anyone ever hope to live? How foolish the greater and wiser ones are to imagine any other way.

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