Did you hear? Jesus tried to correct the kind of ageism that thinks only “adults” have wisdom or understanding of what matters. This remains still today a common presupposition in many cultures - as it was in the time and place of Jesus. Though perhaps in our culture we seniors may not feel treated as the wise ones! The Matthew scripture today cites Jesus telling of children signaling the need for joy, the need for mourning – and adults ignoring them.
As I think about children I have known, I remember their trust, their spontaneity, their joy, their love. I help lead a weekly experience called Talk Time at the Everett library. It is opportunity for English language learners to work on hearing to understand more, and on speaking to be understood better. Two sessions ago a mother from Mexico arrived with her 8-year-old who has Down’s Syndrome – father was out of the country on business and school for the year has ended. Only option, bring the child to Talk Time. He was clearly listening and sat between me and his mother playing - occasionally reaching over to my white pad where I was writing words that came up – he would touch the word and repeat it. As we ended he reached toward me and toward a couple other participants– to exchange hugs or a high five. His was spontaneity and love modeled for us by doing, not words.
Jesus said: “Wisdom is proved to be right by her works.” (Matt 11:19c)
You will also remember that at one point, the disciples were shooing the children away from Jesus – I imagine them assuming Jesus was too busy, that the children were unimportant, and that parents bringing them for a blessing was bothersome. Jesus was indignant when he saw this. To Jesus, children mattered. We read in Mark, chapter 10, that Jesus “grew angry and told the disciples, ‘allow the children to come to me. Don’t stop them. It is to just such as these that the kindom of God belongs’…and Jesus took the children … and blessed them.” (Mark 10 excerpts vs 14 & 16)
Jesus was not the first in his Jewish tradition to name children as important and sometimes called by God to lead. We have stories of the boy Samuel, and the boy David. In the famous prophecy of Isaiah 11 we read of a peaceable and just society emerging with a child showing the way : “The spirit of God shall rest on him, a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of planning and strength… he shall not judge by what eyes see nor decide by what ears hear but will judge the needy with righteousness and decide with equity for the meek…the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard with a young goat… and a little child shall lead them…”(Isaiah 11:2-6 excerpt) Given the time this was written it implied the boy David would be a just leader after an earlier terrible time for the people of Israel. Later it was considered to refer to Jesus – who was named as in the line of David. We also read in the gospels of Jesus as a boy wandering off from his parents who had brought him on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem – where did they find him? In the Temple discussing God’s will with Temple leaders – adults – important people.
We may not be able to be lawyers, doctors, parents, pastors or some other professions until we are adults but all people, of all ages, are welcomed and loved by Jesus and contribute to the well-being of God’s planet and our cultures when we let them. Yes, children need nurture and advice but they are not less important or less able to contribute to community than we who have lived longer. And it is sad that growing up too often looks like the destruction of trust, spontaneity, joy and love, their gifts of God, that need nurture not suppression, because if allowed to grow they will help us- together - produce a more loving, just, peaceful and joyous world.
Theologian Richard Rohr has said, “Jesus tried to change people by loving and healing them. His harshest words of judgement were reserved for those who perpetuated systems of inequality and oppression – and who, through religion itself, thought they were sinless and untouchable.” I agree.
Too often, Christianity has tried to define itself with rules that did not allow for the wonderful ever-changing diversity of God’s creation. The disciples and synagogue leaders often were shocked at the unexpected words and deeds of Jesus that led away from expectations of their day and their culture. Today’s story was about children. In other stories we also hear about Jesus’ acceptance, and love, for all!! Through Jesus’ teaching we know, for example, that we can learn from persons of other cultures and from women. The story of the good Samaritan has as the role model a man from a culture and religion looked down upon. The story of Jesus with the woman at the well in the Gospel of John, or stories of Martha and Mary in Luke and John all show Jesus approving learning and leading by women. Jesus was shockingly counter-cultural, calling for transformation and change.
If God sent such a one as Jesus to promote change that could lead to new cultural, political and religious understandings in his time, we cannot be surprised to discover that Jesus still matters and offers wise leadership now. Do we not see and feel evidence today of some of the same social ills? - except now perhaps even worse, because technology has made it possible to destroy practically everything and self-centeredness and greed seem so prominent.
We Jesus followers are still called – but not just us. I am delighted to see the young again in action, young folks of many identities and backgrounds. As a young adult during during struggles for civil rights, women’s rights and more, whose family had been anti-slavery, prohibitionist and pacifist – I was immersed early in the understanding that seeking the common good was our God-given goal and purpose, not just being self-serving. But it was achievable as part of a movement – many people working together.
Perhaps you have read the memoir Walking in the Wind, by former US Senator John Lewis about his 20 years in the civil rights movement. One story in it (adapted here) comes from when he was four or five years old:
“About 15 of us were outside playing in my Aunt Seneva’s dirt yard. The sky clouded, the wind picked up, lightning flashed and suddenly I wasn’t thinking about playing anymore. Aunt Seneva, the only adult around, herded us all inside. Her house was not big and it seemed even smaller with so many children squeezed inside – small and surprisingly quiet. The earlier shouting and laughter outside had all stopped. The wind was howling and the house started to shake. We were scared. Even Aunt Seneva was scared.
Then it got worse. The house began to sway. The wood plank flooring beneath us began to bend. Then a corner of the room started lifting up!! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing…The storm was actually pulling us toward the sky…
That was when Aunt Seneva told us: “Line up and hold hands,” and we did as we were told. Then she had us walk as a group toward the corner of the room that was rising. From the kitchen to the front of the house we walked, the wind screaming outside, sheets of rain beating on the tin roof. Then we walked back the other direction, as another end of the house began to lift. Back and forth – fifteen children walking with the wind, holding that trembling house down with the weight of our small bodies!” End of story.
Stress – challenge. Doing what is possible with the resources at hand. This story gives a metaphor for a way to confront challenges. Not just one adult and not just the children – but all were needed and all had to work together. If we are to live out the love Jesus modeled and taught – if we are to confront the fears and dangers we hear about daily in the news, if we are to live to bring true justice and peace – or to accomplish any goal at all, we also must start where we are, assess the possibilities, join with others around common goals and do our best with resources we have, as Aunt Seneva did.
Last weekend our denomination, the United Church of Christ, held its national General Synod with the theme “A Just World for All.” The new General Minister and President, the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, is both black and a woman. The UCC has finally recognized that besides the four historical churches usually named as those who combined to form the denomination, there is a fifth stream – the Afro-Christian Convention. A new Pilgrim Press Book lifts up that part of our history. (show book) Powerful Synod speakers were diverse. Over a dozen good resolutions were passed to spark us to join with others for change for the good of all. The current national call is to “Join the Movement.” At the UCC website, you can find those resolutions including ones focused on: plastic pollution, solitary confinement as a form of torture, reparations, confronting white supremacy, abortion as health care, Hawaiian Language Education, human dignity of gender diverse persons, gun violence prevention, Indian and Hawaiian Boarding Schools, and more.
Right here in the Pacific Northwest Conference we struggle with realities of racism, poverty, homelessness, violence and more, but we of the PNC also are in partnership with Peacemaker bodies in Colombia. For fifty years the Afro-Colombians and indigenous people we relate to there have lived with competing forces stealing land and resources, and using violence indiscriminately to get there way. Yet Justapaz founded by Mennonites and Sederpaz founded by Jesuits and the Peace Commission of the Colombian ecumenical association refuse to give up hope, refuse to hide, refuse to stop their efforts to transform Colombia, so it might treat all its residents with respect, justice and compassion. This, they say, is their calling from God. They cite Romans 12. “Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good…rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer…rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep…if it is possible live peaceably with all… do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” In the commitment to do their best to live this way for the good of all, they find joy and hope, despite often deadly danger and daunting challenges. Next summer, we in the PNC plus our Disciples of Christ partners in Global Ministry, will host a couple of these Colombian partners to hear their story and learn how best to partner with them. I hope you will join your own Rick Russell to get involved.
Yes, we are part of a movement, and it has many branches of concern. I know your own pastor has led deeply around environmental concerns, and other of you have led on other issues. Let us walk together to keep the momentum going in ways that are wise, ways that are the ways of God taught by Jesus and by many since Jesus. Whatever our ages, whatever our ethnicities, whatever is dominant in our identities, together, with God at our side and leading, we can make a difference. We also can claim hope and joy - and thank God for letting us be part of God’s work, here and now, in this current time of transformation. Thanks be to God.