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October 12, 2003 (Children’s Sabbath)
Children’s Sabbath is an event coordinated by the Children’s Defense Fund, Marion Wright Edleman, founder and president. This year's special emphasis is on the importance of quality child care and early education.
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15; Psalm 90:12-17; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31
God of all generations, you have blesed us with families of birth and families of faith, you sustain parents and bless us with children. Help us to worship you by doing justice for children, loving kindness as we care for the young, and walking humbly with you, through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.
The F.R.O.G.S. (Families Revering Our God in Song) sang three songs for the worship service.
Children of God, grace be unto you and peace from God our loving Creator and from our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
There is a story about a reporter covering the conflict in the middle of Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, and he saw a little girl shot by a sniper. The reporter threw down his pad and pencil and stopped being a reporter for a few minutes. He rushed to the man who was holding the child and helped them both into his car.
As the reporter stepped on the accelerator, racing to the hospital, the man holding the bleeding child said, “Hurry my friend, my child is still alive!”
A moment or two later the man said, “Hurry my friend, my child is still breathing!”
And then still a moment later the man pleaded, “Hurry my friend, my child is still warm!”
Finally the man said in desperation, “Hurry. Oh, God, my child is getting cold!”
When they finally arrived at the hospital, the little girl was dead. As the two men were in the lavatory, washing the blood off their hands and their clothes, the man turned to the reporter and said, “This is a terrible task for me. I must go tell her father that his child is dead. He will be heartbroken.”
The reporter was amazed. He looked at the grieving man and said, “I thought she was your child.”
The man looked back and responded, “No. But aren't they all our children?”
And the obvious answer is “Yes, they're all our children.” Why? Because they’re all God’s children, and God has entrusted us with their care whether they live in Sarajevo, in Baghdad, in Palestine or Israel, in New York City, or even in Honolulu, or whether they live as children in this faith community.
Today in conjunction with the national observance of the Children’s Sabbath we lift up the children of our congregation along with the children of our nation. This year’s theme is “Providing What God Requires and Children Need: Justice, Kindness, and Faith.”
Even the appointed Scripture readings for this 18th Sunday after Pentecost cooperate with the theme of Children’s Sabbath. They speak of justice and the use of our money especially for the poor.And just before our Gospel reading for today, we hear these familiar and welcoming words from the lips of Jesus:
Perhaps if we bring these themes together we can ask the question, “What are we doing with our resources in regard to the care of our children? What are we doing with our resources to promote justice, kindness, and faith for our children?”
The first line of our Gospel indicates that Jesus was setting out on a journey when a man ran up to him and asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Where was Jesus going? In the Greek, the word for “journey” is hodos, which literally means road or path, but it can also take on a figurative meaning...for instance, one’s way of life. In fact, hodos became a title for believers in Christ, who were people of the Way.
Was Mark also implying that the way of Jesus is the way of the cross and that Jesus was journeying toward that very end? If you look at the context of this passage, you will find that it’s sandwiched within three passion predictions. In those predictions Jesus tells us that he's going to Jerusalem to be handed over to the authorities and be killed.
If Mark intends the word hodos to remind us of the way of Jesus and his journey toward the cross, then we have a wonderful contrast in our story this morning. On the one hand, we have Jesus who is going to give up all...his very life for the sake of the gospel...and on the other hand, we have the rich man who can’t part with his many possessions.
If we are people of the Way, then Jesus invites us to think how we ought to live faithfully in a material world. The way of the cross teaches us that we are created to be generous in spirit and to become more holy in every aspect of our lives.
How then do we live with what we have? Or in keeping with our theme for today, how do we live up to our calling to be generous saints on behalf of all our children...especially those children in great need.
If we look at one day in the life of American children, we will discover that 3 are killed each day by abuse or neglect...five will commit suicide...8 will be killed by firearms.
381 children will be arrested for drug abuse...1,243 babies will be born to teen mothers...1,455 babies will be born without health insurance...2,104 babies born into poverty...and 4,261 children will be arrested.
And where’s the public outcry? It’s time for new choices that invest more in tools of life than in weapons of death. We’re spending millions of dollars waging war and reconstruction in the name of freedom and democracy.
We’re spending huge sums of money fighting terrorism because we’re a fearful people, but we can’t marshal the needed resources for children who are daily terrorized by poverty, violence, hunger, and homelessness? What’s wrong with this picture?
As I mentioned in The Heart Beat, Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “The test of a moral society is what it does for its children.” In many ways our nation is flunking this test. But you know that. I’m preaching to the choir this morning, and many of you are just as frustrated and disgusted as I am.
What can we do? On the table in the courtyard is information about the Dodd-Miller Act to Leave No Child Behind. This is not to be confused with the single-issue, under-funded No Child Left Behind Act pushed by our president.
This legislation is much more comprehensive to lift every child from poverty, to end hunger, provide affordable housing and health insurance for every child, to protect all children from neglect, abuse, and violence, and to help them become successful for life.
There’s no reason why we can’t be doing this as a nation, and so I urge you and beg you to pick up a copy of this legislation, become informed, and contact your elected officials.
Closer to home we have a preschool with approximately 50 children. With our capital fund campaign Gifting Growing Serving we want to improve their facilities with a new playground, bathrooms, kitchen, and a director’s office.
Last week I mentioned an image suggested by Roy Helms...the image of an oasis...an oasis for our pre-school children and the children of the surrounding community. There’s any number of possibilities right here if we take ownership of such a vision.
I’ve suggested that since music is a strength of this faith community, why don’t we provide a ministry of music education and choral music for the children of the congregation, the pre-school, and also invite children from the neighborhood to join us? Perhaps a remodeled and improved courtyard would make this more feasible. But the point is, with some creativity, this, indeed, can become an oasis for children.
I also urge you to become involved in the lives of children and youth in our church family. Because we're a small church, it isn't that difficult to learn the names of all our children, hold them up in prayer, and learn about their lives.
Because of our size, all of us can parent and be mentors to the children entrusted to us. We can stand by them and with them and remind them that they’re a beloved child of grace...held securely and firmly in the tender and compassionate arms of God.
This summer, during an adult class, I shared a video, which featured Rev. Paul Hill, a speaker at our synod assembly last May. He spoke about the need for “Triple A” adults in the lives of our children. “Triple A” adults are those who are authentic, available, and affirming.
Then he told a story about Gene, and every time I hear this story I weep. Gene was a gruff old carpenter from Chicago who had two fake hips and a fake knee. He loved kids and he loved working with kids.
Gene life’s was not without tragedy. He watched as his 11-year old son flew a remote controlled airplane into a power line and was electrocuted. Another son...18 years old...was killed in a motorcycle accident when he was coming home from basic training. But that’s not the story.
When he lived in Chicago, he also did some gymnastic coaching on the side. One gymnast was pretty good, and another coach came and asked Gene if he would work with the kid. He was only a fifth grader, but he was very talented.
In fact, he was so talented that he won a gold medal at the Olympics held in Seoul, South Korea. His name was Bart Connor.
After winning the medal, Bart came back to Chicago and there was a big victory celebration. During the festivities Bart Connor gets up on the stage, and among other things, he asks, “Is Gene Kurz here?”
Well, Gene hobbles up on the stage, and then Bart takes his gold medal, places it on Gene’s neck and says, “Half of this belongs to you.” But that’s not the story.
For then Gene says to Rev. Paul Hill to whom he’s telling this story, “What would it be like if we had kids who came up to us, and took the cross off their neck, and said, ‘Here, half of this belongs to you.’”
That’s the gift and the privilege we’ve been given in regard to the children of this congregation and children throughout the world. They’re all our children.
O God of the children of Afganistan, Pakistan, and India
O God of Black and Brown and White and albino children
O God of the child prodigy and child prostitute
O God of children who can walk and talk and hear
O God of beggar, beaten, abused, neglected, homeless, AIDS,
O God of children of destiny and despair, of war and of peace,
Copyright © 2003 David Barber and Children’s Defense Fund
Comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org