All the Children of the World

“All the Children of the World”

jesus loved-children-clive-uptton

Mark 10:13-16 (10:13) – October 7, 2018

Today, the first Sunday in October, is World Communion Sunday. Today, we celebrate the holy practice of Communion, along with the millions of Christians in thousands of churches and gathering places all over the world. I know I asked already about the many different Communion services we all have been to, in different churches. I would like to go back further, before the Passion Week, before the time Jesus instituted Communion at that Passover dinner.

We have a little, short Gospel reading today. This situation is not long before Palm Sunday. We are not exactly sure how long. A number of days perhaps, or a few weeks before Jesus and His disciples enter Jerusalem for that last week, that Passion Week.

What is the Rabbi Jesus doing here? Teaching, as usual. Also, arguing with the Pharisees and teachers of the Law of Moses. These smart guys were always testing each other, to see whether each of them could give wise answers—and correct answers. A lot of the Gospel writings were responses of Jesus to these questions. He had just finished one of these verbal duels with the Pharisees when this particular situation with the children came up.

“People were bringing little children to Jesus to have Him touch them.” Both in the first century as well as in later centuries, it was common for parents to bring their children to rabbis for a blessing. This was a very common thing, often done. However, the disciples here rebuked the parents. “Children should not be allowed to disturb the teacher and his students.” [1]

They considered themselves more important. Rabbi Jesus was doing very important teaching, teaching His Very Important Students, the disciples. We can see they just did not get it. The disciples completely missed the point of Jesus and His ministry. Again.

We have one group of men—the disciples of Jesus—and another group of men—the Pharisees—bickering and arguing about who is right, and who is more important, and who gets to listen to the Rabbi. Then, we have a third group, probably mothers and maybe grandmothers, bringing small children for a blessing from the Rabbi Jesus.

Let’s come at this from a different point of view, and look at the feelings, emotions and the power struggle going on.

A snooty, self-important group of Pharisees have been asking Jesus challenging questions, again. As is always the case, Jesus answers their questions well. The beleaguered disciples are probably relieved that they have finally gotten rid of the Pharisees, and finally are able to sit and listen to their Rabbi’s teaching by themselves, for a change. Some women with small children in tow come to the door of the house, tap-tap-tapping. They would like a blessing for their young kids, if it isn’t too much trouble. Can you see the picture?

A couple of the disciples poke their heads out the door. “What? Now? Come in and bother our Rabbi? He just got done with the Pharisees, and He’s doing some important work right now. Get lost. Take off. The Rabbi doesn’t have time for you, anyhow.”

But, Jesus finds out. I don’t know whether He overhears the disciples, or what, but Jesus gets upset with them.

In English, we usually need to use special words for emphasis or to show something is really important. The language the New Testament was written in, Koine Greek, has specific verb tenses, the aorist active imperative tense. Jesus uses one of these verbs right here: “Let—or, permit—the little children to come to Me.” Jesus was particularly urgent and intense, here. He caught His friends in the middle of turning these moms and kids away, and publicly rebuked the disciples. In front of the women and children. Jesus really meant what He said!

What is more, in the act of shoving away the unimportant folks Jesus capped that rebuke of the disciples. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

The view of children in the first century was radically different than today’s view. Modern readers or listeners of this Gospel lesson often romanticize children. Oh, how innocent! Oh, how accepting a child is! However, “ancient societies lacked such romantic notions of childhood. Jesus directs His comments to adult male disciples who are shoving away the ‘non-persons.’” [2] The child in ancient culture was not even considered a “person.” Children belonged to their father, and were dependent and subject to him even as adults.

Do we understand how radical the words of Jesus are, yet? If we see the children of the first century as totally dependent on their father, we can take His words one step further. Jesus tells His disciples they need to become like children—become totally dependent on their Father in heaven. The disciples—and by extension, the followers of the disciples, that is, us!—must understand we are totally dependent upon God’s grace and care and welcome.

And, after Jesus gives this stinging rebuke to His disciples, Jesus then turns around and blesses the small children. He takes them up in His arms, and holds them. What a picture! Can you imagine holding a little one in your arms, perhaps smoothing back their hair, smiling back at them, maybe even tickling their tummy—and then blessing them? That is what Jesus did. He cared for them. He blessed them. And, probably blessed their moms, too.

Children were considered “non-persons,” not yet adults, not yet important like the Pharisees or rabbis or priests or teachers of the Law. And, certainly similar to the status of women, who were often considered “non-persons,” at best second-class citizens, if that. Not males, not the important ones. Who might be considered “non-persons” today? Would the handicapped be considered “non-persons?” What about the mentally ill? What about the homeless, or the street people? Are they all “non-persons?”

All of these individuals are important to Jesus. He reached out to children, to women, to lepers, to the blind and lame, to foreigners, to ritually unclean people, and the mentally ill. Jesus was not exclusive, but radically inclusive. Jesus raises the social standing and the self-worth of all individuals. His welcome transcends all barriers, all boundaries, all colors, all separations of class and language and ability.

What a marvelous welcome each of us has on this World Communion Sunday. Our Lord Jesus bids us all come. All are welcome here.

Amen, alleluia.

(Postscript)

  • The image of Jesus gathering up the children has me imagining Jesus gathering up those most vulnerable among us — particularly now those whose memories have been rendered raw by the necessity of reliving their most traumatic moments in these last days. Who among us most needs the safety of that divine embrace? And what does it look like, what does it mean for you and me to extend it in Jesus’ name?
  • The National Sexual Assault Hotline number is 1-800-656-4673. If you have need of it, use it. If not, pass it along. Indeed, may we continue to hold close in prayer those whose suffering is ongoing. And may we keep on seeking to shape a world where such a hotline is no longer necessary. [3]

[1] Perkins, Phemie, The Gospel of Mark, New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. 8 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 647.

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://dancingwiththeword.com/jesus-gathers-the-most-vulnerable-into-his-arms-then-and-now/  Pastor Janet Hunt has served as a Lutheran pastor in a variety of contexts in Northern Illinois. Currently she serves as pastor at First Lutheran, DeKalb, IL.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

 

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Every Blessing in Abundance

“Every Blessing in Abundance”

2-cor-9-7-thanksgiving-word-cloud

2 Corinthians 9:7-12 (9:8) – November 13, 2016

At this thanksgiving time of the year, people are more liberal with their donations. Soon the Salvation Army kettles will be out in front of stores and supermarkets, and we will hear the ding dong of bell ringers asking for gifts. The food pantries and clothes closets appreciate extra donations, and all manner of other charities will receive additional gifts, too. The holidays are a time to give liberally to all kinds of organizations and charitable institutions.

This brings me to our Scripture passage for today. This giving time of the year reminds us of what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. In the paragraphs before today’s reading in chapter 9, Paul asks for a collection to be gathered together. This collection of money is to be given to the persecuted, needy church in Jerusalem.

It’s then Paul tells more about giving, in general. How to give, and why. How not to give, too. People have all kinds of reasons to give: giving to provide for others, in a righteous kind of way. Giving to help others, in a loving way. Or, giving out of obligation, in a grudging way. There are many different kinds of ways to give, and attitudes to have while we contribute. The Apostle Paul talks about a few of them in this reading today.

God loves a cheerful giver. Paul says so! In the verses just before today’s passage, Paul praises the believers in Corinth for such a bountiful gift for the persecuted church in Jerusalem. So generous! They understood why the money was needed, certainly.

We have a proverb of Paul’s day included here, in our first verse: “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Here Paul is including a common saying of the day to illustrate his point. Talking about bounty, about being generous, and about grudging giving—being stingy.

What is all this about sowing and reaping? To us, in a 21st century, urban context, most of us are not very familiar with planting and harvest, sowing and reaping illustrations. Some are—those of us who have green thumbs, plant lovely gardens, and reap a bountiful harvest. You will more easily understand what Paul is saying here.

We have it in a little different fashion, a verse later. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion.”

Let me give an illustration. Better than that, let me show you what Paul is talking about here. I have some bookmarks with 2 Corinthians 9:7 printed on them. I will take the liberty of passing them out.

(I pass out the bookmarks, first, reluctantly. With a somber face, not looking people in the eye, sighing, rolling my eyes, and not very pleased to be giving out bookmarks at all. Halfway through, I change my demeanor. I pass out bookmarks with a cheerful smile, with a happy attitude, and wishing people the best as I give them bookmarks.)

Did anyone notice a difference? What was that difference?

Was I a reluctant giver of the bookmarks, at first? “I can’t believe I have to do this.” And “I wonder whether I can leave soon?” Rolling my eyes, and sighing. I did not show a very good attitude, at all!

How about the second half of the bookmarks? The second half of my giving? How was that? Was I a cheerful giver? Was I kind and welcoming?

How did you feel receiving the bookmark from a reluctant giver? How about the cheerful giver? Which kind of giver would you prefer? Which kind of giver do you think God prefers?

We will read this verse once more: “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” These are wise words from the Apostle Paul. This giving cannot be done reluctantly, or under compulsion, because then it isn’t for real. The reluctant giving is grudging. Out of obligation, and a heavy, unpleasant responsibility.

Paul would tell us, “No! That isn’t that way God wants you to give!” Instead, we are to give in cheerfulness, with joy in our hearts. We are to give freely and positively. God will love us for that positive, cheerful attitude. What is more, the whole action and the whole feeling of the heart will then be framed by love. God’s love! God will express love toward us, and each of us will express love toward our fellow people in need. And, whomever else we need to give to.

But, wait! There is more! Paul goes on to talk about what more God will do. If we have this generous attitude towards giving, being open-handed, positive and cheerful, then God will bless us abundantly with every blessing.

You can kind of see this from the way the sentence is translated into English, but Paul is making sure his readers know that God will absolutely, abundantly provide. God will certainly multiply all with great abundance. If we have generous attitudes, God will provide every increase, so that we will abound in every good work.

Let me caution everyone here. God is not talking about purchasing salvation. That is not even being discussed. We are saved already.

We have been justified by God, and we are now and always God’s children, beloved and cherished. However—as we know from our own children, beloved children are not always cheerful and generous. That is just Paul’s point here!

God wants us to live abundant lives. God wants us to be kind and cheerful and generous. God wants us to be abundantly blessed, and have heavenly gifts rain on our heads. What is the hinge, here? Giving. If we have a kind, cheerful and generous attitude towards giving, God is essentially giving us a high five!

We will live abundant lives, blessed and enriched in every way.

What a marvelous promise. What wonderful words. And, this is not “maybe,” or “I hope so,” but it is a blessed promise from God! This is not only for our gifts of treasure, for our gifts of money. But, this blessing is for our gifts of time and of talents, as well.

For the person who comes and volunteers on Sunday mornings to start the coffee, stuff the bulletins in the hymnals, or turns on the lights in the sanctuary and lights the candles—thank you, so much. For the person who bakes a cake or makes a table decoration or repairs the church building—thank you. Those are the gifts of time and of talent, and God is so pleased with that. All of those things, and many, many more.

Paul’s final words from this reading today: “11 You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12 for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.” See? Our cheerful, generous giving supplies the needs of the saints. The needs of the local church.

We end as we begin, with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving to our fellow church members, to our friends and neighbors, and ultimately, to God. Thanks be to God for God’s abundant blessings. And, thanks be to God for the indescribable gift of salvation.

Alleluia, amen!

(Thanks to Pam Auble and http://www.ucc.org/oghs_resources_2013-resources_activities for the excellent suggestion of a reluctant giver and a cheerful giver.)

A Blessing from Jesus

“A Blessing from Jesus”

Mark 10 Jesus blesses the children

Mark 10:13-16 – October 4, 2015

Who doesn’t love babies and small children? A small minority of people do not care for them, but by and large, babies and toddlers bring a smile to many people’s faces. Take social media, for example. Facebook, or Instagram, or Twitter. Do you want a lot of “likes” or “retweets?” Put up a photo or a picture of a darling baby or toddler, and watch how many people share or retweet your post.

We see, today, pictures of Jesus welcoming small children, even babies. Wonderful scenes! Darling, adorable, even touching pictures. However, I caution you—modern ideas of the innocence of children and the freedom we in 21st century America associate with young ones is not consistent with the first century understanding of children. But I’ll get back to that, later on.

This week’s sermon is a continuation of last week’s sermon. Last week—I’m reminded of my summer sermon series, which I compared to a radio serial. “When last we left Jesus, our intrepid hero—!” As I was saying, last week we talked about how much the disciples just didn’t understand the point Jesus was talking about.

In last week’s sermon, to make His point with the disciples, Jesus brought a small child into the middle of their group. Mark tells us that Jesus took the child into His arms. Then said, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes Me does not welcome Me but the One who sent Me.” Here, again, same story. The disciples are really dense. Very similar situation in this case, and they just don’t seem to understand what Jesus is saying.

Let me set the scene for today’s reading The Rabbi Jesus is teaching, as He so often does. He does not discriminate! He doesn’t only teach to men, but also to women. And the women, often being moms, grandmothers, aunts or older sisters, sometimes bring their children with them to the open-air teaching sessions.

I suspect that Jesus was one of those people who loved and cared about children. Was good with little ones. Can’t you imagine Jesus as being welcoming towards babies, toddlers, children, adolescents? All the kids! Just from His brief interactions with children in the Gospels, I get that feeling. And, I bet moms and grandmas could tell that about the Rabbi Jesus, too.

So, when women try to bring their children to the Rabbi Jesus for a blessing, what happens? Our reading from the Gospel of Mark says that the disciples rebuke those who are bringing the children to Jesus. As I looked at alternate translations, one had the disciples censuring the adults for trying to pester their Rabbi! That’s a strong expression of disapproval!

Hadn’t these guys learned anything from their recent discussion with Jesus? When Jesus brings a small child into the middle of the circle, lifts the child in His arms, and says, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes Me.” Are these men that dense? I guess they are, because in today’s reading Jesus gets really upset with them when He finds out that the disciples are turning parents and children away.

Now, I want everyone to think of our 21st century kind of warm, fuzzy, frolicking idea of childhood, the concept where every child is lifted up as an individual, special, unique and loved. Is everyone thinking of that idea? That idea is absolutely true. However, I have news for you: the first century had no such idea.

I’ll give you a snapshot of two competing but similar ideas from the first century. One, the Roman view. The father—and by that I mean the oldest brother in a family—was the top dog. He ruled the roost. He was the head of the whole extended family. That means younger brothers, and their wives, sisters, and any other dependents. Like elderly relatives, or babies, children, or young adolescents. He was the head of the family, or in Latin, the pater familias.

Children were on the very bottom of the ladder, socially and in terms of that culture. The pater familias could decide whether a baby or small child would be accepted into the family group! So, a baby, a child, did not have any standing in society. At all.

But Jesus and the disciples lived in Palestine. On top of the Greco-Roman culture, they also had Jewish culture to deal with. The Jewish concept of the patriarch was somewhat similar, but not exactly the same. Children were seen as a blessing from the Lord. But, again—the position of children was vulnerable. In both cases—the Greco-Roman culture as well as the Jewish culture, children were dependent, even disregarded. Children were very much counted among “the least of these,” that expression Jesus used in Matthew 25. The ignored of society, overlooked, left out, less than.

All very interesting, you might be thinking. But what has that to do with you and me, in the here and now?

What about these children? These little ones, the downtrodden of society, the overlooked? Jesus rebukes His disciples for their poor treatment of children! In essence, He tells them off! And then, Jesus welcomes the children to Him. I bet He even took them into His lap. Mark tells us He held them in His arms, certainly. And blessed them.

What about last week, when Pope Francis was here in the United States? What do you think parents and grandparents thought when the Pope—personally—blessed their children? I understand that Pope Francis has a special place in his heart for children and young people. I think Jesus did, too!

I have a further question. Does Jesus love only Jewish children? That’s who He was blessing, here in Mark. Do you think Jesus also loved Samaritan children? What about Greek children? Roman children? What about children from all over Africa? Or, from India? Or China or Mongolia? Or children from Gaul (now parts of France and Germany)? Or, across the ocean, indigenous American children? Or indigenous Australian children?

You remember the song “Jesus loves the little children, All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” It does not matter what a person’s culture is, or social standing, or any other ranking system. Jesus still wants to embrace them, bless them, and welcome them. That goes for children as well as for adults. Multi-ethnic? Jesus welcomes you! Multi-cultural? Jesus welcomes you, too! No matter what, no matter where, no matter who.

A minister, who used to post to a sermon discussion group I sometimes look at, put up this entry a few years ago. “One of the greatest joys of my ministry is that I serve a church which welcomes children of all ages to the Table. It is so meaningful to serve children as their parents help them break off the bread and dip it in the cup. True communion, true welcoming. … As I invited people to come to the Table, I realized that no one had told me they would be helping me serve, so asked, “Who will help me serve today.” An 8 year old boy who was already up and ready to receive to communion, said, “I will” “Oh dear,” I thought, “what will people think if I have him serve?” I was sure most would be okay, but I thought some may take exception. But I realized there was no way I could refuse such an eager heartfelt offer. So he stood beside me and offered the bread. … I’m certain it was a meaningful experience for him— it certainly was for me. I realize that the “legalities” of some would have said no to his serving, but I know that our Lord said, “Let the little children come to me…”

Here’s a final thought. Jesus transforms children from their lowly, insignificant, disregarded state into wonderful examples for the disciples to follow. Jesus here tells us we all ought to approach Him in the same way as little children do. Wonderful examples for us adults to follow today, too.

When we come to worship, and when we come to communion, we are to come as little children. Trusting, dependent, vulnerable. We do not give ourselves grace and mercy. Instead, Jesus freely offers grace and mercy to all who come to Him. We can praise God for the boundless love and the radical grace extended to each of us, each day.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!