Mark’s is the earliest, shortest and most terse Gospel, it moves the story of Jesus on at a rapid pace and omits much that Luke and Matthew find room for and it contains none of the later theology of John.
Today’s passage from Mark 9 is the lovely bit where Jesus puts a child centre-stage and tells the disciples that they had better shape up, stop quarrelling, forget about rank, and welcome children. Paul doesn’t mention children much, so we don’t hear about them in the Early Church, they were counted as just property for many centuries and the Victorians required that, if seen, they should not be heard.
It was, however, in Victorian churches that provision for children was first made in a big way through Sunday Schools. NCH Action for Children began in 1869. William Booth and the Salvation Army in 1865, started rescuing children from prostitution.
Go to occupied Palestine today, take a child from the streets, any child, observe the dirty clothing, the untreated cuts, the matted hair, the wariness about the eyes; not an attractive child. It takes a remarkable person, like 23 year old Rachel Corrie, to recognise the angelic importance of such children and to give her life under a bulldozer to defend them; or Jesus of course.
So, why are so many of our congregations today without children? Why do churches even lack the generation which can provide stimulating activities for them? On Sunday mornings you will find children all over the country being cared for by enthusiastic young men and women giving their time freely after a working week in tennis coaching, in football clubs, cricket clubs, rugby clubs, in swimming pools and gymnastic studios. Children are learning loyalty, endurance, techniques, the importance of turning up, the necessity to take care of their equipment; all vital life-tools. They are just not learning these things in churches.
Churches have not changed with the times; that is the problem. We are still teaching the few children who remain about Noah and Moses; about David and Goliath; about Jonah and a whale; about a blond preacher with blue eyes in Palestine. The way we tell it has no relevance to their lives. We have not put children at the centre of our churches; we insist that they fit in round the periphery.
The more we make our churches suitable and convenient for the aging congregation, the more we make them unsuitable for children. There is, maybe, time to change.