Sermon October 4, 2015
“Caring for the children” by Rev. June Fothergill Mark 10: 2-16
A Sunday school teacher began her lesson with a question, “Boys and girls what do we know about God?” A hand shot up in the air, “He’s an artist” said the kindergarten boy. “Really? How do you know?” the teacher asked. “You know- Our Father who does art in Heaven”
The other day Jim and I got to go to the ribbon cutting for the Schutte’s farm’s new corn maze. Since the ribbon was cut we decided to try it out. We had fun! Figuring out the map, finding each clue station, solving the game, getting my shoes all wet, enjoying a beautiful day! I really enjoyed being a kid!
I believe that we have a child inside. A child that has experienced joy and laughter and play and still can. Most of us also have a child inside who experienced various traumas of growing up. No matter what the particular configuration of our child inside, our scripture today tells us that Jesus loves that child and wants to heal and bless us.
I need that word today because the same day that I had the opportunity to play and enjoy my inner child, I also heard about the shooting in Roseburg and that it took place in the very space Jim used to teach. So close, so sad. Today during our prayer time we will light candles remembering them and also the six persons in our own town who have been murdered since May. Our hearts go out to all the families and traumatized survivors. How could I have so much fun and so much sadness in the same day?
That is our lives. As human beings from the very beginning of our lives, we experience connections with other human beings, connections which bring us joy and sadness, comfort and fear. It is when we don’t have those connections which nurture our lives and selves that we suffer and sometimes cause others to suffer. And this all starts in childhood. Jesus taught us to care for the children.
The passage from Mark today tells us at least three ways Jesus teaches us to care for the children- actual children in our lives and world and just perhaps too the child still inside us.
One way to care for the children is to build strong, respectful relationships. The passage about divorce we read today has caused much pain when it has been interpreted as a set of rules or a ways judge others. Yet, when looked at in light of the practices around marriage and divorce of the time and the next passage about children- Jesus is surely giving us a word about the importance of building strong, loving and just relationships in families.
He told the Pharisees questioning him that they had divorce laws because of their hardness of heart. In those days a man could put away his wife for any reason and cause her great hardship. Jesus points to the bonds based upon commitment and love that will hold together families not just the financial arrangements of his time. And then perhaps to the surprise of the Pharisees, he includes women in the picture. In his discussion of divorce, Jesus is inviting us to find ways through the brokenness toward respectful, caring and committed relationships that can nurture each other and the children of our lives.
We care for the children when we help couples find ways to have mutually caring relationships. We care for the children when we as a community support families to have the housing, the work, the daycare, the community support to be strong. We care for the children when relationships break up for whatever reasons, we put the needs of the children involved first. Supporting and building strong families in our community isn’t about judging others and hardness of heart but teaching and fostering loving relationships.
This is the work of the church all over the world. For example, the United Methodist Women fund community centers all around the nation which teach parenting skills and provide support for hurting families. I know that we have multiple resources which churches use every day to help persons learn how to love and care for one another. When I served at Boise First, I helped with a training on human sexuality for teens and their parents that fostered loving communication between teen and parent. As a church and as individuals, we have opportunities to live out our faith by how we tend and care for our relationships. Some of you who are still married after 50, 60 years inspire me to keep working on my own marriage.
Secondly, Jesus shows us to care for children by welcoming and nurturing them. Right after dealing with the Pharisee’s and disciples’ questions about divorce, Jesus notices that the disciples are trying to keep people from bringing children to him. Jesus is upset! We don’t see Jesus upset very often but this is one time. Clearly children matter to him. As his church we are thus called to introduce them to Christ and his love for them and to care for them, welcome, include and bless them as he did.
So it is imperative that we not just have a Safe Sanctuary Policy on a shelf somewhere but that we work together to make our church community truly a safe and nurturing space for all children. We do this by doing whatever we can do to be sure they are safe and that their lives, personhood and boundaries are respected. And when we do this for the children in our lives, we also are doing this for each one of us when we are vulnerable and need safe community.
I have noticed that this church not only as a Safe Sanctuary policy, but has a long tradition of caring for youth and children. When we pay our share of World Service, we support work around the world that cares for children. We have a well stocked nursery; I have found at least five rooms that clearly used to be “youth rooms.” In a couple weeks we will once again host the Interfaith Families Shelter and care for those children with food and safe space. Our meals don’t draw lots of families with children but when they come we put them at the head of the food line. We are even today collecting small gifts for a new mother and baby in our neighborhood. And I notice how much many of you care for your grandchildren! I have heard over and over in my ministry stories from younger people coming back to church that it was a influence and witness of their grandparents that made all the difference!
We never know when God is going to bring us children or families with children who need our welcome and embrace! Jesus reminds us to keep our hearts, doors and minds open to their arrival and to welcome them with open arms.
Finally, we care for children when we not only welcome and nurture them but receive their gifts. Jesus shows us that the children themselves have gifts to give. The children show us the way to enter the Kingdom of God! How can we honor and respect children and the gifts they bring? This means that we listen to and include their ideas and inspirations. Jesus said to us that it is the children who will lead us to the Kingdom of God. “A little child will lead them” said the prophet Isaiah. Jesus understood that children, as those who have the least power and influence in his society, have a special place in God’s heart.
One of the ways we care for children as a church is through our camping program. At Suttle Lake camp this summer Camp Chaplain Anna Salas challenged the Elementary Discover Adventure campers to make prayer beads that represented their own version of the Lord’s Prayer. The campers connected deeply with the idea that just like the best way to know your friends is to talk to them and listen, we must do the same thing with God. The prayer beads made the prayer easy to remember and a tangible spiritual practice for campers to take home. The prayer they wrote went something like, “Howdy God. You are awesome! Make earth more like you want it to be. Give us the things we need, not just what we want. Forgive us for our wrong choices and help us to forgive others. Help us to be more like you because it is all about you. Thanks for listening. Amen “(Go Camping.org summer 2015)
So, how can we do this when our church right now has few children? Of course we can listen to and respect the ideas and personhood of the children you do have in your lives. We can listen for what they teach us about God. We can invite the families you know with children to come and join us in life and worship. We can work and volunteer as advocates for children and their rights. And finally, we can listen to the child inside. What does that experience of being a child teach you about life and faith, letting go and embracing, joy and need for healing? Does that child inside need the healing or forgiveness of Christ? Does that child inside need comfort? Does that child inside need to play? Does that child inside need to dance and sing and create? As you come to communion today, glance as the candles and at the pictures of us as children and remember: Jesus welcomes all of us children to come to him; he takes us into his arms and blesses each one!