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!

 

Christ is All!

Colossians 3:9-15 – January 15, 2017

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“Christ is All!”

Did you ever get a brand-new suit? A lovely new dress? Were you dressed in new clothes from head to toe? What about when one or your children or grandchildren was dressed in a wonderful new outfit? That can cause a person to feel brand new, all over.

That’s what the Apostle Paul is talking about, here in Colossians 3, verses 9 and 10: seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self.” That is exactly the word picture Paul is using, about taking off an old shirt or coat, and putting on a new, clean garment.

Paul not only is talking about our new selves and our new identity. He is also alluding to what happened at baptism. He makes mention of it in the letter to the Galatian church, and he mentions it here, too.

In the early Church, people often got baptized as adults. They would go through a several-week period of preparation, teaching and study, and finally be pronounced ready to be baptized. After the time of baptism, which often took place on Easter, the newly-baptized person would put on a new, clean white garment. This would show everyone that they were washed clean and ready to claim their new identity in Christ.

Some people might be wondering what I am doing up here, with no robe. I wanted to show everyone what Paul was describing here. See, I am just plain old me. Nothing special, nothing to write home about. But, now, I am going to take off the old self. Take off my old jacket. What is it that Paul said, again? I put on—we put on the new self. Like, right now, when I put on my robe. I am clothing myself in Christ. We all have done this, already! It has already happened, and is a blessed reality!

However, there is a problem. Paul reminds us about that. Did you know we can fool ourselves into thinking that this has not happened? Paul says exactly that, in verse 9: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices.”

Paul knows how easy it is to lie. Maybe not tell big whoppers, but certainly bend the truth. Some people lie a little, and others lie a lot. Whether it’s a lot or a little, whether it’s lying to other people or lying to ourselves, some people can act like they still have their dingy old clothes on, and haven’t put on their brand new Jesus garment yet. Some people can talk like they haven’t had much of an acquaintance with Jesus, either. Jesus is not affecting them much at all. Not in the way they talk, or act, or think.

We all know how easy it is to stretch the truth to other people. It’s just human, after all! This might be a challenge for us to hear, but, let’s think about lying to ourselves. Yes, not acting or talking like we have put on Christ. What about when we fool ourselves a lot, or beat ourselves up? When we say, “no one will ever know!” or “I guess nobody ever expected much,” or even, “what’s the use? I never can measure up.” Settling for cut-rate, lying to ourselves that whatever we are doing is okay, or giving up, not even trying at all. It’s a really difficult habit to break.

That is a big, big problem! What are we going to do about such a state of affairs?

Sometimes, people do end up stuck in the middle. Right before the scripture passage we read today, in the letter to the church at Colossae, Paul mentions a laundry list of practices and other things that can get in the way. Things that come between us and God.

We believers may think we have gotten rid of the malice, impurity, even blasphemy that Paul describes in verse 8. Yes, Paul matter-of-factly ticks off bad habits and sinfulness from the list, but spiritually, these people haven’t put on their brand-new Jesus garment. Do you know people like that? I’m afraid some people are too focused on themselves, either in a puffed-up self-centered manner, or in a negative, self-defeating way.

I discovered verse 11 of this chapter a long time ago. Paul says, “you have clothed yourselves with the new self…. In that renewal, there is no longer Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”

One commentary I consulted was particular about the translation of this verse from Greek: “There is no such thing as Greek and Jew (the difference of privilege between those born of the natural seed of Abraham and those not, is abolished), [no such thing as] circumcision and uncircumcision (the difference of legal standing between the circumcised and uncircumcised is done away with)—and [no such thing as the difference between] bondman, freeman.” [1]

So many people just skim over this verse, not even considering the inclusiveness and social justice that the text implies. Instead, they are—we are—still focused on ourselves, as if we all are wearing blinders. They—we celebrate the day they were “saved”, but fail to do the work of God’s realm, including the removal of barriers. Those who are stuck halfway between their old, sinful clothes and their new, clean Jesus garment may even be creating new barriers.

Today is Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. In August 1963, he made his “I have a dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, on the Mall in Washington, D.C. He said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

That sentence resounds with the quality and the content of this verse from Colossians, as well as the similar verse from Galatians 3:28, which talks about neither male nor female, neither Jew nor Gentile, and neither slave nor free. All of us—that is, everyone—are one in Christ Jesus our Lord. Or, as Colossians 3 states: “Christ is all, and in all!”

Martin Luther King was highlighting people’s insides, not their outsides, and looking at the quality of their character, not the color of their skin. Or how nice their clothes look. Or how expensive their shoes are. Or whether they have been to college or not. Or which side of the train tracks they are from. Or what ethnicity or culture they grew up in.

“There’s a great line from a movie where two African Americans are walking past a whites-only church, and one of them says, ‘I’ve been trying to get into that church since I was a kid.’ His friend responds by saying, ‘That’s nothing, Jesus has been trying to get in there for a lot longer and he hasn’t gotten in yet.’” [2]

The larger church is hurting. Most believers have witnessed divisions and separation both inside and outside the church. Hurt, grief, anger, dashed expectations, frustration, fear…. a mass of emotions. Hurting people, hurting each other.

Jesus will help us. He will not leave us alone, hurting and separated from others. He will not leave us wearing old, dirty, sinful clothes, but will help us to put on a brand-new, clean Jesus garment. Jesus will come alongside of each one of us. He wants all of His children to come together, to love each other, no matter what.

I close with the words of Jesus from the Gospel of John, chapter 15: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” No matter what. How much did Jesus love us? He loved us this much. (spread out arms) Alleluia. Amen!

[1] http://www.ccel.org/ccel/jamieson/jfb.xi.xii.iv.html  Commentary on the Whole Bible (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, 1871). When

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday18ce.html “Real Life in Christ,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

 

Until He Comes

“Until He Comes”

 

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(My friend Pastor Gordon preached at St. Luke’s Church this morning. Here is a shorter meditation I preached, from the first week of December 2012.)

1 Corinthians 11:26 – December 7, 2012

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” This popular Christmas song blares from PA systems at malls, restaurants and grocery stores across the United States at this time of year. This song talks about caroling, mistletoe, snowmen, good cheer. These Christmas-themed songs blare for more than a month before Christmas, long before the Thanksgiving turkey is on the table.

But what about what comes before Christmas? What about Advent? Who remembers Advent, in our popular culture? Advent is a time of preparation. A time of waiting. A time of anticipation. But Advent is not honored or valued much here, especially in this country’s culture. Not in this society of flash and noise, of macho and posturing, of glitz and glamour. Let’s face it. The quiet, reflective season of Advent is just not as exciting as Christmas.

Seriously, from one point of view, Christmas has it all. Angel choir, big miracle, special effects, even some VIPs—the Magi. It even has some aspects that certain segments of society today would consider inclusive—featuring a marginalized people-group, starring a young, single mother, even society’s downtrodden outcasts in the shepherds. And the music! Just think of Christmas carols and music from your childhood, from concerts you’ve attended. Yup. Christmas has it all.

But what of Advent? Not so much. Advent is a waiting time. A time of anticipation. We wait for the coming of Christ, the birth of the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. For four weeks we wait, and watch, and pray. During the reflective Advent season, we hear many prophecies foretelling the coming of Christ. Both the first coming—in Bethlehem—as well as the second coming.

Often we consider the Old Testament prophecies as foretelling, as promises, as forerunners to Good News of great joy, which shall be to all people. But what about our Scripture text for today? Our text comes from 1 Corinthians, from the writing of the Apostle Paul. At first glance, one might think it has little to do with Advent. But let’s look at verse 26 of chapter 11 one more time. “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” That sounds like Advent to me!

Each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we remember the second coming. We are anticipating the coming of our Lord. Yes, we remember the story of Jesus and His love, that happened two thousand years ago. But we also look forward to the time when our Lord comes in the clouds, with all of the angel chorus. Talk about special effects! Hollywood won’t be able to hold a candle to this one!

We are told to be ready. Like the Boy Scout motto, Be Prepared! And part of our preparation is to remember—to look backwards. And also, at the same time, to look ahead! We anticipate, we get ready, we remember. Both backwards and forwards, at the same time.

And if that is not enough—we celebrate. Praise God, we are invited to the table of our Lord. Let us thank God for these gifts we are about to receive.

Alleluia, amen.

 

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)