Children Need God

By October 27, 2015 No Comments
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B, 2015 – Job 23:1-9,16-17; Psalm 22:1-15; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31

“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer; and by night, but find no rest.” (Ps. 22:1-2)

This is a striking psalm to sing for the baptism of a young child. Yet this is what we do today. And I can begin, then, on this simple note: Children need God. They need God not only as a survival mechanism – as children fleeing from war today in Syria and Iraq need God, surely; or children living on the streets of Toronto need God. More than this, children need God to the depths of their soul. Survival, yes; but survival of being, of human personhood; of standing at all as a creature. They need God to the depths of their soul, and for the sake of their soul.

In this sense, we can say first that children need God because they are from God.

We know how the Psalmist also writes: “For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb… Wonderful are thy works! Thou knowest me right well; my frame was not hidden from thee, when I was being made in …Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance; in thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:13-16).

Children need God, because they are human beings, and stand as the bodily image and reality of human creaturehood in its starkness: coming from the womb, barely alive, a wonder in being formed at all and coming to be. Anybody who has held in their hands a newly born infant knows this; and if they pause, they shudder as they realize that children are simply who we all are, as creatures.

Given being and life from God, we live, as it were, on the knife-edge of nothingness, by sheer grace.

“Thou turnest man back to the dust, and sayest, “Turn back, O children of men!’” (Ps. 90:3). All human beings – you and I! — not only were once children; but because we are alive at all, we are children of the must wondrous and vulnerable form. “Children of men”, David calls us.

Yet children need God insofar as they look out onto a world in which they are not alone; however much they may feel forsaken, and in fact be forsaken, it is only because of others that this is so, out of their sin and hardness of heart. Have children been the cause of their own Syrians and homelessness? But this is only because children have never been alone, simply by being born; and they cannot be, and cannot be allowed to be alone. In coming to be, children reach out for others beyond themselves. The very truth of God’s creative love is played out in the form of other human beings who have been chosen as their vehicles for birth, nurture and growth: parental care, of one kind or another. Look how today’s Psalm, for all its beginning in a sense of abandoned lament, stops short and confesses to God:

“Yet thou art he who took me from the womb; thou didst keep me safe upon my mother’s breasts. Upon thee was I cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me thou hast been my God (Ps. 22:9-10). To have a God, is to have a mother. That is, You have been my God, because you have placed me in a family – a family of human persons who themselves are the work of your hands; mothers, fathers, siblings – children need God because those among whom they live and upon whom they depend need God also, being themselves children of God. So much depends, then, on the nature of this society.

Hence, children need God because God, as their creator, has given himself to his people as the place where all children – young and old, families that is – find their creaturely lives manifested. Children need God among God’s people.

You remember how, slaves in Egypt, the Hebrews frighten Pharoah with their robust birthrate, and he orders that their sons be killed at birth. Why the fear? Because families and peoples matter, for good and ill.The infant Moses’ mother can no longer hide him, and so puts him into a reed basket which she sets adrift in the Nile, as she hopes some Egyptian might find and save him. It is Pharoah’s own daughter who discovers the basket. As Exodus puts it: When she “opened it she saw the child; and lo, the babe was crying. She took pity on him and said, “‘This is one of the Hebrews’ children’” (Exod 2:6). And Moses is saved for the sake of others. A child, from a people, in search of a people. The Children of Men, as the Psalms put it, become the Children of the Hebrews, who, in their gathering up by God through a saving Exodus, a formative life in together in the wilderness, and struggle to live by the gift of the Law, become the Children of Israel.

Children need God because it is they who form the very stuff, the life, of God’s people in all their giftedness and need. Israel, light to the nations, to whom, Paul says, “belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; … the patriarchs” (Rom 9:4-5): this is not simply a people, a gathering of like-minded and similarly committed proponents of a creed…. this is a people created by God, genealogically connected, sustained, disciplined, rescued – these are children, the “children of Israel” as Hosea calls them (Hos, 3:4-5).

And, oh, how the Children of Israel need God! Standing in the ruins of Jerusalem, of the gifts God has given them, but that, like infants, they have misused and broken and destroyed, they see themselves reduced to their abject childhood of helplessness: “Arise, cry out in the night”, Jeremiah laments, looking at his people after the Babylonians have burnt Jerusalem to the ground – and like many peoples in the Near East today — “cry out at the beginning of the watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint for hunger at the head of every street” (Lam 2:19)

So, today, the Psalmist sings out to God, like a child peering from between the legs amid the crowds of his own people, “In thee our fathers trusted; they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. To thee they cried, and were saved; in thee they trusted, and were not disappointed (Ps 22:4-5).

Are we not your people? he asks. Did you not treat us as such, over and over, among my parents, among their parents, among their grandparents? Are we not still your children? Do we not still need you? Here is a child, in whom is embodied the deepest needs of the Church of God.

Children need God from the depths of their soul. And what shall we call this soul of a child? An empty vessel, waiting to be filled – by education, maturation, reason and skill? An unformed mess of needs, awaiting fulfilment? From newborn child to the children of Israel, that soul is under constant threat and in constant turmoil. Yet its form is given the most wondrous contours and deepest base of all: for the children of Israel, to whom the law and promises are given, Paul writes, have yet one more gift to offer: “of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ. God who is over all be blessed for ever. Amen.” Of their race is born… Jesus, son of David, son of Abraham, as Matthew begins his Gospel (Mat. 1:1), son of Mary of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Christ (Matt. 1:16). There you have it: the Children of Israel offer to the world, “the child Jesus”, as Luke describes him (cf Lk. 2:27).

Children need God, from the depths of their soul, and for the sake of their soul. Hence, “we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son” (Heb. 4:14), who is the very “Child of God” (as the disciples call him [Acts 4:30]). Children need God. And hence, this Son has passed through the heavens as he was taken up by his Father, a “child” to a parent, a “male child”, born to a mother, who, we are told, threatened by all the forces of the world arrayed against it, “was caught up to God and to his throne (Rev. 12:5). We have, indeed, a child priest, “high” because he is a child taken, and thus one who can “be touched with the feeling of our weaknesses; [and] was in all points tempted like as [we are]’, so that we too might approach “the throne of grace” where there is “mercy” and “help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16).

Children need God; and so God became a child, and took as his own their very soul.

Thus, as we sing Psalm 22 – My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? – we sing the song of the Child’s soul, the soul of Jesus, the soul whose being takes up the soul of every child and lifts them up.

When we sing our psalms in church, we leave out the opening titles that our Scripture gives them. “A song of David”, “A song of of the Korahites”. “To the chief musician.” “A song of ascending” and so on. And who wants to sing a title? In this case, Psalm 22 actually begins in the following way: “To the choirmaster: according to Aijeleth Shahar – a Hebrew phrase meaning “The Hind or Deer of the Morning”. It is a strange title. Some of have thought that aijeleth shahar or “Hind of the Morning” was a well-known melody; so that the psalm was to be sung according to this tune. But most Jews and Christians, from the early church to the present, see in the “deer of the morning” a name pointing to a Child. As one Anglican commentator wrote in the last century (Andrew Fausset): “The morning dawn [in this Psalm’s title] represents joy bursting forth after affliction; Messiah is alluded to, His deep sorrow (Psalm 22:1-21) passes to triumphant joy (Psalm 22:21-31)”.

“Messiah” is alluded to. And so, indeed, Messiah, the Christ, says from the cross: “”Eli, Eli, la’ma sabach-tha’ni?” that is, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”(Mat. 27:46). He says this, to take up all forsakenness, of child-crying, all needing and fearing loss, and to render it God-received and hence God-healed.

The hind, the deer of the morning dawn – Messiah! So he, the child of Mary, caught up by his Father in heaven, sings. “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God”, sings Messiah in Psalm 42. “ My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? (Psalm 42:2), he goes on. Though “my tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me continually, “Where is your God?”, yet still I pant after you, O Father. Jesus the Child, the thirster, the desirer… the soul within our soul.

Children need God, from the depths of their soul, and for the sake of their soul. I think that is why Ariana is here this morning – thirsting and desiring truly; and that is why we to are here to stand beside her, children of men, become children of Israel, become children of the living God who stand upright at all because of the one Child of God who has gone before us. And who has somehow managed to get inside of us, so that our souls might be snagged by His. “Or”, as James tells us, “do you suppose it is in vain that the scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us”? (James 4:5). No, she is his, and will be taken by Him, every forsakenness become a divine embrace, even as we are with her, gratefully with her, telling her, day by day, of how we trusted and were delivered, trusted and were not disappointed, trusted as children and now crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”, a “perfect praise” flowing from the “mouths of babes and sucklings” (Mat. 21:l5, 16), such as she is and such as we are. Ariana has thirsted for the living God, as have we; and with her, we come to the One who has first thirsted before us.

“Children! How hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God!”, Jesus says, today to his disciples (Mk 10:24). Yet not so hard as that; for he has just told them, as we heard last week, “truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mk. 10:13).

It is good for the children of God to gather today with Ariana. She is our figure, telling us: Receive like a child; speak openly like child; be taken like a child; be like a child; for the soul of a child – and perhaps only the soul of a child — belongs at its very root, to the soul of Jesus.

Sermon was preached by Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner at St. Matthew’s Riverdale on the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, a service of baptism, October 11th, 2015.
Ephraim Radner

Ephraim Radner

Ephraim Radner is Professor of Historical Theology at Wycliffe College, an evangelical seminary of the Anglican tradition at the University of Toronto. Before moving to Toronto in 2007, he served as an Anglican priest in Burundi (Africa), Brooklyn (NY), Cleveland, Connecticut, and Colorado, where he was engaged in a wide range of pastoral and teaching ministries. Ephraim and his wife Annette Brownlee (Wycliffe College’s Chaplain and an instructor in Pastoral Theology) live in St. Matthew’s neighborhood, and relish the excitement and diversity of Riverdale. He assists the parish in leading worship, preaching, and teaching, (and sometimes with some music) and has been blessed by the witness and friendship offered by St. Matthew’s members.