Welcoming All God's Children

September 21, 2015

 

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

 

Elaine was a church goer—her husband wasn’t.

        She had two active boys under the age of three, and she wanted them raised in the church.

        But Elaine was worried about their behavior—they were a handful. 

How would people accept them?

 

Elaine finally took the plunge and visited a church nearby.

        Her boys were predictably squirrelly—

        the cheerios she had brought quickly disappeared for the older one

        and the younger one fussed because he wanted to nurse.

                They were esp noisy during the sermon,

        and Elaine got a few ‘looks’--  they had disturbed others around her.

 

Red faced, Elaine tried hurry out the door after worship when an older woman stopped her.

        Oh, no, here is comes, thought Elaine, fully expecting to be chewed out for her boys’ behavior

                “My name is Esther,” the older woman said with a smile.

                “I am so glad you are here!  You know, I raised three boys myself…”

        And that did it.

Elaine, who had been ready to bolt and never come back, made Esther’s church her church home.

 

Elaine’s story is just one of many that illustrate how important it is to welcome children.

It turns out that Jesus felt that welcoming children was important, too.

It happened like this:

 

On their way to Capernaum, the disciples had been arguing about who was the greatest among them.

        I can imagine the exchange:

                Andrew: Jesus called me first…

        Peter: he told me I was the rock on which he’d build his church…

And another: Hey, I brought him the loaves for the feeding of the five thousand…

 

Jesus, sensing their competing egos, seized the teachable moment and gave them an object lesson.

        He put a child onto his lap and said:

“Whoever welcomes one such a child in my name welcomes me.”

 

It seems like such a warm and fuzzy thing to say, almost 2000 years later.

        We have in our heads a gentle Jesus, surrounded by groomed and well behaved children.

But it was actually a shocking thing to say in that day and age.

 

 

 

Children in that day were viewed as a bit of a gamble.

        Infant mortality rates were as high as 30 percent.

                Another 20 percent died before the age of 5.

                        That meant people were careful about how much emotion they invested in their child.

                        They were a practical consideration: a source of labor and a means of social security.

                When resources were scarce, children were at the back of the line.

        Children had no legal rights in that day

So When Jesus equated welcoming a child to welcoming him,

 he was likening himself to someone at the bottom of the totem pole.

 

And then Jesus took it a step farther:

        “whoever welcomes one such a child in my name welcomes me,

        and whoever welcomes me welcome not me but the one who sent me.”

                This was the clincher.

        Because according to Jesus , welcoming a child wasn’t just about welcoming a person—

        the child or Jesus—

it was the measure of one’s welcome to God.

 

Jesus’ words make me take stock in how well we welcome children in this day and age.

We view children as precious, often going to great lengths to advance their lives and make them happy.

Yet at the same time it can be easy to overlook how a child experiences the world and our welcome.

 

I remember when I started my kids in preschool, the adults were taught how to set up our homes

to foster our child’s independence.

        We put hooks down low in the mudroom and closets, so that ouR kids could hang up their backpacks

                we gave them a special a dustpan and little broom for them to use

        We stocked the lower cupboard with plastic cups and dishes

        and placed healthy snacks within reach in the fridge.

I was surprised that if I thought of myself as kid-sized

I could teach my children self help skills that would and set up them for success in life

and help me manage the home.

By putting myself in their shoes, I created a much more welcoming environment for them.

 

I think this is a good exercise for our congregation.

         Have we looked at the space through children’s eyes? 

        They are full members of Body of Christ as a result of their baptism.

When are we treating them that way?  Can we improve on that?

Do we need to modify our space to include them?

 

At one time we staffed a nursery.  Do we need to do that again?

We have provided child friendly items, like coloring books, children’s bulletins, signs on songs.

 How do we keep children connected when families are busy

and don’t come to church as often as they used to? 

 

How do we include our children in the ‘work’ of the church? 

I always like it when I see an adult pass on the leaf blower to a grade school aged kid at clean up day. What would you need to do to include a child in the ministry in which you participate?

 

This putting ourselves in children’s shoes is such a good exercise—

thinking about what it means to be a bit of an outsider in the adult world.

        But what about other people who might be outsiders in our community?

                Sometimes it is actually an adult without children—especially single adult.

        Our church communities can be so family oriented that young people or folks who never had kids

        feel left out.

        What about our elderly or people with accessibility concerns?

        What about someone who has never been in church before?

What would we change about the way we do things if we looked at our life together through their eyes?

 

Jesus’ welcome of the children was challenging to his disciples.

        It is actually a challenge for us, too. 

                Can we think of our welcome more broadly:

                        for example, right now there are migrant children in Europe—

                        our country has pledge taking in 10,000 Syrian refugees, many of whom are families. 

        Last summer we had our own crisis with migrant children coming from South America

What can we do to welcome these children?

There was a time when this church resettled a refugee family.  Would we do that?

How could we welcome the immigrants who are already moving to this town?

 

When Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me”

 he could be speaking about any child today.

        Our welcome of the least of these is the measure of our welcoming God into our midst.

                We learn about God through our relationships with others.

                        And so the work we are already doing is a place to start.

                Our work with our Sunday school, which by the way, could use two more teachers.

        Our work in taking seriously the gifts that our children bring to worship and the work of the church.

        Our gifts to the ELCA Hunger Appeal, that educate children around the world

         so that they can break the cycle of poverty.

The work 6 members of our church are doing to set up Family Promise, ministry with homeless families,

and the 30 plus volunteers who will be involved in the new year when we host our first families.

 

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

Taking Jesus’ words to heart mean practicing seeing the world through the eyes

of the people lowest on the totem pole.

It means joining them, learning about them and from them, and making a place for them.

It is welcoming Jesus in our midst.  Amen.

 

 

 

Children’s sermon

Different harvests. Show a basketful of ugly and wormy veg/fruit and a basket full of great looking fruit. 

Which would you like to eat?

 

Show a pot with dirt.  Then take signs out one by one and ask: what would you like to plan in the garden?  Have  signs to stick out of the dirt like seed packets for the different “fruits”: a set of bad fruits; Bitterness, envy, selfish ambition, etc; and a set of good fruits, Purity, peace, gentleness, willing to yield, etc. 

 

If we plant in the garden of our hearts these qualities, we get a good harvest, like the good looking food.  James calls it ‘a harvest of righteousness.’  Listen in our second lesson for these words: A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

 

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