The baseball season is now in full swing, and Facebook pages are scattered with pictures captioned, “Junior’s first Twins game!” Those one-year-olds often don’t look as thrilled as the parents about the experience. They’re frightened by the cheers, the shouting, and the flying food and drinks from exuberant fans. They don’t understand what is going on and probably won’t remember it, and yet parents see value in taking the children to ball games.
The best family activity is bringing children to the Divine Service. This can be a frightful exercise, not for the kids, but for the parents. The potential for kids’ shouting, flying Cheerios and sippy cups, and all the wiggling in the pews makes for anxious times. There certainly are appropriate times to take a noisy child out temporarily to reprimand or offer a moment to cool down. However, with that real need comes the temptation to regularly remove the child from the Divine Service, whether it is to play with toys in the nursery, to send them out to hear Bible stories and color in “children’s church,” or not to take the children at all. After all, we don’t want to distract other people from their worship, and parents feel that they can get more out of church if they don’t have to give half their attention to wrestling Junior.
Contrary to parents’ fears and concerns, children, as part of the body of Christ, belong in the Divine Service long before they understand all that is going on. Jesus’ words recorded in Luke 18:16, “Let the little children come to me,” are evidence enough. Jesus wanted them to come to Him so that He might bless them. Two points are important for us to examine further. The first is God blesses through His Word, and the second is faith receives God’s blessing.
First, Jesus blesses children and all in attendance in the Divine Service through His Word. Christ’s Word carries the blood-bought blessings of His sacrifice on Calvary. He liberally dispenses the treasury of His heavenly blessings through His Word. He blessed the children by water and the Word through which He brought them forgiveness of all their sins and entrance into His eternal kingdom. He commanded Peter, “Feed My lambs,” and still today, through the preached and taught word of the pastoral (shepherding) office, Jesus nourishes and feeds His little lambs, blessing them with that same forgiveness and life.
Second, recognize that faith alone receives these blessings. Rational capacity or attentiveness are not conditions for receiving God’s blessing. When Jesus commanded the disciples to let the parents bring their children to Him in Luke’s Gospel, it says that the parents were bringing specifically their infants (βρέφη) to Him. Jesus didn’t require them to have certain rational capabilities or to stop wiggling first. But Jesus held those wiggly, noisy children and blessed them. And blessed they were, for Christ gives His heavenly blessings and faith alone receives it. Luther contends that children are better candidates for faith than adults because they lack reason, “for reason is diametrically opposed to faith” (AE, Vol. 68, p. 22). Since children can have the gift of faith, St. Paul could say of Timothy, “from infancy, you have known the Holy Scripture, which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). Christ’s Word is not spoken to children in vain, for His little lambs are part of His flock and they hear His voice.
Bringing children to the Divine Service is more than just giving them an experience that we value and find worthwhile. It is even more than creating in them the vital habit of regular church attendance. It is recognizing that Jesus and His proclaimed Word are for them. By bringing them to the Divine Service, parents bring them to Jesus that there they may be blessed by Him. It’s not easy wrestling, disciplining, and teaching them. Patience wears thin. You don’t get to pay attention as well as you would like. But it is a sacrifice that God commands parents to make, and it is worth it. You are bringing your children to gather with you and the baptized family of God and to sit at the feet of Christ. And there, at Christ’s feet, old and young alike are blessed by the Word that is Spirit and Life (John 6:63).
Reverend Joshua Skogen
Hope Lutheran Church