Two Rivers Pastoral Charge
September 23, 2018
Scripture Reading: Mark 9:30-37
So this week, we have a story about Jesus and a little child – there are several stories about Jesus and children scattered through the gospels. And who doesn’t like a good story about children! My Instagram and Facebook feeds are full of pictures of my friends’ children – especially a couple of weeks ago when everyone was taking First-Day-of-School pictures. Last month, I was delighted when my sisters came from Ontario to visit me, but I was even more excited to see my niece and nephews. And we love to ooh and aah when children say cute things in church. When my sisters were here, one of them even offered to have her baby laugh on cue if I wanted some baby laughter during our worship service!
And the image of Jesus with children has inspired so many artists over the years. When you think of Jesus with the children, what do you think of? Maybe a favourite stained glass window image like this:
Or maybe “Sunday School Jesus” surrounded by cute children like this:
Or maybe a peaceful rural scene like this one:
But I wonder if you could imagine a scene like this associated with the story we just heard?
In case you don’t recognize this scene, these pictures were taken last spring, in a detention center on the US-Mexico boarder where children were separated from their parents and detained in cages. “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
In order for us to get the full impact of Jesus’ teaching, we have to understand that in the time and place where he lived, children were not understood in the same way that they are today. Children in Jesus’ world were not sentimentalized. They were not considered to be people yet. They were more like not-yet-people, or potential people; and any value that children had was related to what they might be able to contribute to the household in the future, if they lived to adulthood.
The result of this was that children, as not-yet-people, were outside even the margins of society, along with others who were considered not-people like slaves, or those with illnesses that made them ritually unclean. They were vulnerable, just as children in our time and place are vulnerable; but they were beyond vulnerable because they were not considered to have any value by the society in which they lived.
And yet Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
I do think that any society should be judged, not in how well it treats the wealthy and powerful in that society, but in how well it treats those on the margins of society; those who are not valued by the wider world, those who have no power. In Jesus’ time and place, that list would have included children, and slaves, and anyone who was ritually unclean.
Who are the vulnerable and powerless ones in our society today? I would suggest that children are still vulnerable in our society, even though we value children more in our time and place. But who in our society – here in New Brunswick in 2018 – would be right on the margins our outside of the margins of society. Who is powerless and vulnerable in our world? Go ahead – shout them out!
(If needed – fill in with suggestions: refugees, immigrants, prisoners, Transgender people, people with addictions and mental illnesses, people who are homeless, people who depend on social security, people with disabilities, people with dementia…)
I find it serendipitous that this reading falls not only on the first day of Sunday School here at Two Rivers Pastoral Charge; but also on the day before election day here in New Brunswick.
Because our faith is political. Now I’m not talking party politics here – no party politics from the pulpit! But with readings like the one we had today in Mark’s gospel, we are called to be engaged politically.
The question that Jesus’ disciples were debating was which one of them was the greatest, the most important, the most powerful. I can almost see Jesus shaking his head and saying, “Guys… C’mon here… you’re missing the whole point.” Jesus says that it’s not about us, that it’s not about personal power, that it’s not about what is best for us. Instead, Jesus says that if you want to be the greatest, the best disciple, you must serve others. It’s not about puffing ourselves up – it’s about what we can do for others.
And then to drive his point home, he says that it’s not just anyone that we are to serve. It is the most vulnerable, the most powerless people that we are to serve. Jesus draws the most powerless, most vulnerable person to him and says, “Whoever welcomes this vulnerable and powerless one in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
It’s almost like Jesus is telling us to flip the current power structures in the world upside down. Those of us who are in positions of power in the world are to give up our power and become like servants; and those who are powerless and vulnerable are to be welcomed as if we were welcoming Jesus.
Jesus calls us to care. Jesus calls us to care for those who are powerless, those who are marginalized, those who are vulnerable. Jesus calls us to serve and to welcome those on the margins.
Choosing not to vote in an election is an act of not caring. It is saying that I don’t care what happens to my neighbours in this province. When we vote, we are saying that we care. We care what happens to the vulnerable in our society. We care what happens to our neighbours. We care what happens to the weak and marginalized.
And so if you have already voted in the advance polling – thank you. Thank you for caring. If you didn’t have a chance to vote at the advanced polls, tomorrow is election day! If you are still unsure, copies of our “Provincial Election Toolkit” can be found at the back of the church. Our faith is political because it calls us to care for others.
And so political engagement is one way that we can live the gospel in the world, but how about closer to home, in our church? How can we as the church not only welcome but value people who are vulnerable, marginalized, or powerless? A year and a half ago, Two Rivers Pastoral Charge made the decision to become an Affirming Pastoral Charge, to publicly affirm that all people are not only welcome, but are fully included in the life of our pastoral charge. While the outward focus of this process is usually on people of different sexual orientations and gender identities; and yes it includes this, but in reality it goes beyond.
How do we value all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, age, race, economic status, and differing abilities both physical and mental in our church? This goes deeper than putting up a rainbow flag, and building a ramp in to our sanctuary, though both of these are important. This involves more than dropping food off for the Food Bank or clothing off at the Clothing Bank and patting ourselves on the back for helping out. This goes beyond smiling at the cuteness of the children in the congregation then shuffling them off to Sunday School.
When we welcome and when we include those whom society pushes to the margins, we are welcoming Jesus; and when we welcome Jesus, we are welcoming the God who sends Jesus.
Let us pray:
God of endless love,
your love is not only endless,
but it is all-encompassing.
Help us to know that we are included in your love,
and let your love flow through us
so that the whole world knows
that they are included in your love.
Turn the world upside down,
so that those who are on the margins
are welcomed in your name;
and those of us who have power
become servants of all.
I pray all of this in the name of Jesus Christ
who proclaims to us the message
of your topsy-turvy kingdom.