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October 15, 2006 (Sunday 28 • Time after Pentecost)—Children’s Sabbath
Interim Pastor Steve Jensen
(Webmaster’s Note: Because of the earthquake in Kona and subsequent blackout in Honolulu on October 15, the LCH celebration of Children’s Sabbath was curtailed somewhat. The celebration was completed on November 12 when children and youth served as deacon, subdeacon, lectors, and ushers. They also provided music throughout the service. Follow this link to see pictures from the November 12 celebration.)
Some time ago I told you about my Marine unit’s assignment to the area just below the demilitarized zone of South Korea. I mentioned that it was so cold, our small shovels were bending and breaking as we attempted to dig foxholes for protection from both North Korean infiltrators and freezing winds. I suspect I also told you that it was one of those rare occasions when I was thankful for the rum-flavored fruit cake in our C-rations because I was able to light it in our tent and provide a bit of warmth.
No matter how much we bemoaned our situation, we could not help but feel blessed when we visited the Christian Powha orphanage in the closest village of Chorwon, in the area made famous by the “MASH” TV series reportedly in Uijangbu.
Orphans, at least at that time, were relegated to the lowest caste and were felt to be undeserving of support from the government or community. In fact, it seemed to be permissible for villagers to steal what meager food the orphanage was able to grow.
While we were wearing everything we could find to keep warm, the vast majority of children we met there were without footwear, and many had only light, ragged sweaters. The buildings were cold and drafty and in dire need of repair. Food was in short supply, and medical supplies were non-existent. Yet clearly the direst need was for love.
Our Marines and Sailors impressed me with their response. Most were sending the majority of their pay home, but they used what remained to them to care for the children. One young private sought permission to bring two of the children into the village to buy them shoes and boots that would last the year. Two sailors pooled their funds and purchased pots and pans that would work over a charcoal stove. Happy to use their specialties, others provided medical and dental care, strung barbed wire, fixed roofs, installed running water, and more. Every man reduced his food intake and saved it for the children.
Several wrote home to their families, churches, and schools to ask for supplies and were more excited when they received boxes for the children than when they received “care packages” for themselves.
It was they who asked that the children be invited to be our guests at our Thanksgiving feast. All the traditional American foods were served, and military members explained to the translator what the foods were and what they represented in our family customs. While you normally do not want to stand between a service member and his food, the men ate sparingly to ensure there were plenty of leftovers to send back with the children.
The children certainly enjoyed such unusual tastes and full stomachs, but they especially appreciated the undivided attention they received that day.
The relationship between the orphans and servicemen blossomed over the next several weeks. When the men were not on duty convincing the North Koreans to stay on their side of the border, their main desire for their free time was helping at the orphanage; and soon plans were being made to make Christmas an even better celebration for the children.
Under normal circumstances, Christmas would be a day deployed servicemen would sooner forget. Despite the language barrier, love ruled the day. There were gifts and food and carols and a Korean/English worship service. The children had not spent this special day alone, forgotten and lonely—nor had the men.
Although the children had little, they wanted to respond to the genuine, sacrificial love that had been shown them. They needed to let these men from another land and culture know that the love communicated had been understood and that they understood, especially that day, the source of that love. No matter how impoverished they might be, they taught us that they had something to give as well.
So the children gave what they could. One girl took the only item remaining from her mother, a cheap blue plastic barrette out of her hair and did her best to clip it into the short hair of a normally gruff, macho Marine—as tears ran down his cheeks. Another could only offer a smile, and nose pressed against a Sailor’s nose, taught him how to lift his frown and beamed until he could as well.
And then as Ms. Kim clapped her hands, all the children raced to get in rows by height and gifted us with the song they had practiced. The smallest began with the most beautiful, clear voice I’ve ever heard, and the others soon joined in. We couldn’t understand a word, but we were mesmerized.
Ms. Kim explained that the song told of the love of God they were better able to understand was theirs because these angels in uniform were sent by the Father to demonstrate it for them. ALL children are God’s children, and ALL are loved equally. An innocent babe in a manger had shown what is possible from such poor surroundings when God is the ruler of our hearts.
The love shown them by these warriors was going to be with them the rest of their lives, and no one would be able to convince them they were worthless or abandoned by God. They were not orphans; they were children of a loving Father and members of the family of Christ.
“After all these years, Padre, I finally get Christmas,” I was told more than once. “I want God to use me more, Chaplain. There’s no feeling like it; it’s the best way to live.” “It was so fulfilling to use our training to create things and perpetuate life,” gushed another.
These same people and others like them joined me in doing much the same for a Negrito tribe in the Philippines’ New Cabalon territory. The government was slowly and methodically wiping them out, but we built a school and did much the same for them as for the Koreans. We were told that they may not be able to persevere against those who treated them as less than human, but for as long as they lived, they would know there was a God and he cared, because we had cared. Once again we knew the joy and contentment in sharing our faith through our actions and trusted that Christ and the Spirit were directing us.
All such efforts, however, did not have the same result. The local government took advantage of our generosity by encouraging us to assist their Filipino orphanages with equal vigor, which we did—only to discover as I returned days later that they had stolen what we had given the children and sent them back to the streets to fend for themselves. And so we were reminded that we are called to be faithful, not successful.
Despite that disappointment, when we were sent to Mombasa, Kenya, Thailand, Singapore, and China, we again had a sense that God had a hand in our assignments and wherever we went, there would be opportunities to care for God’s children—even if others misused and abused our efforts.
Yet it is not just in foreign lands that such needs exist. One does not have to look very far in the United States to find children in dire need of medical care, food, clothing, a home, or love. Clearly Oahu, from the Waianae Coast to the beach at Kahala, is a daily reminder that we in the islands have children of God who need Christ’s ohana to see them and find ways to demonstrate our love for them.
You’ll understand from what I have just shared with you, I trust, why I tend to get more exercised over the Angel Network and youth ministry and Lutheran World Relief or even chapel for the pre-school than more mundane issues of parish administration.
In today’s Gospel, the rich man who approaches Jesus seems to believe he has essentially lived a life in accordance with the commandments and that God has justifiably rewarded him with wealth, a portion of which he has likely contributed to the temple. Yet he senses after watching and listening to Jesus that there is yet more to fulfilling God’s expectations and receiving the ultimate reward of eternal life.
Jesus, however, essentially tells the rich man that you cannot earn eternal life by your own devices. It is not true that your wealth comes to you because you are so righteous. God loves his children equally. Your wealth has been given you so you will be a proper steward of it. Eternal life has a cost only I can pay, and I will gladly pay it. In response to this gift of love, live a life that will show your appreciation to God and that will demonstrate the good news. But alas, we know from his response that his treasure has a strangle hold on his heart and he cannot follow Jesus.
Others of us regard our talents or our time as our treasure, our most prized possessions, and we often ration them out.
Mother Teresa once said, “Prayer in action is love, and love in action is service. Try to give unconditionally whatever a person needs in the moment. The point is to do something, however small, and show you care through your actions by giving your time.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., asserts: “Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
Even the great Lutheran theologian Josh Graber has been quoted as having said: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Our Children’s Sabbath emphasis is identifying the needs of children—ALL God’s children—and doing what we can to respond to them in love. It may be that we begin small, like dedicating what we would spend on chewing gum for the year to feed real hunger. But let us each begin somewhere to daily seek to make the life of at least one other child of God a bit better.
Pray with me in the prayer of St. Francis:
Lord, make me a channel of Thy peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are reborn to eternal life. Amen.
Copyright © 2006 Steven Jensen
Comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org