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SOUNDING BOARD

Sermon gives overview of need to respect children

Lynda Maraby

Lay preacher in September at Salem Lutheran
master’s student in Religious Studies at Gonzaga University

In Mark 9, Jesus took a child in his arms and told his disciples, “Whoever welcomes a child in my name welcomes me.”   What does that mean? Who wouldn’t welcome a child?  Why the fuss? 

We have heard the proverb, “A child should be seen but not heard.”  While children today are often in the forefront of gatherings, it was not always so.  The proverb was to discipline unruly children, who spoke out or made a scene in public.

 In Jesus’ day, such behavior would have been nearly impossible.  In the Roman Empire, a child had about the same status as a slave.  There was no talk of children’s rights.  A child, even the heir to a family estate was considered not yet fully human. 

In some places even today, things have not changed.  Children are still being abused, abandoned and even killed.  Although they now have rights, those rights are often ignored. 

• Almost five children in the U.S. die every day from child abuse—75 percent under the age of four.

• From 60 to 85 percent of child fatalities from abuse are not recorded as such on death certificates.

• A report of child abuse is made every ten seconds.

• Ninety percent of child sexual abuse victims know the perpetrator, and 68 percent are abused by family members.

• Child abuse occurs across socio-economic levels, ethnic and cultural lines, religions and education levels.

• Thirty-one percent of women in U.S. prisons were abused as children.

• More than 60 percent of people in drug rehabilitation centers report being abused or neglected as a child.

• About 30 percent of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children, continuing the cycle of abuse.

Why is this happening?  Is it because children, though seen, are still often anonymous?  Is it because abusers have lost their memory of how it feels to be a child?  Could they be so lost in their concern over their own status that they pick on those more vulnerable?  Why is a child so unwelcome?

Jesus uses a child as the symbol of greatness and power.  Those considered great in worldly society may not have high status in God’s kingdom.  Rather, those who welcome the least in the kingdoms of this world will be great.  To welcome a child is to acknowledge greatness.  When they do so, they welcome Christ and God.

Perhaps another reason why Jesus chose a child as the symbol of a model citizen in God’s kingdom is that children have a sense of wonder.  They are born with a certain attitude toward truth.  They take the world at face value, treating others, both human and animals, as fellow citizens of the world.  They aren’t put off by a dirty face or a creepy bug, and they treat their environment as if they and all other life forms belonged there.  Only after they experience hurt or rejection do they begin to feel otherwise.  From the adult world, children learn fear and the need to feel imperious.

The writer of Mark doesn’t think much of the disciples’ spirituality.  Like many adults, they seem to have lost that sense of wonder.  In the shadow of a great man, it is perhaps natural for them to succumb to status and power, but Jesus is grieved by their lack of understanding.  So he teaches them by asking them to welcome a child.

Kosuke Koyama, professor emeritus of ecumenical studies at Union Theological Seminary in New York asks, “Can the ‘way to God’ be expressed in such a simple form?”  Having witnessed the bodies of burned children in the bombed-out rubble of Tokyo in 1945, Kosuke says that “to welcome a child ‘in Jesus’ name’ is to proclaim the gospel of reversal.”  Welcoming a child reveals God’s generosity and the mystery of creation “in the midst of an idolatrous power struggle.  Jesus, taking the little child in his arms, demonstrates the way of nonviolence in this violent world.  Hope is to be found in the arms that hold, not guns and missiles, but a little child.”

Disciples must learn the path to God’s kingdom lies not in power and status, but in humility.  Jesus knows he is going toward the cross.  His disciples will not understand until they flee, alone and afraid, like orphaned children.  Then there is no question of status when their Lord is dying the death of a criminal, crushed by the most powerful empire in the world. 

They have only his promise on the evening of his arrest: “I will go before you to Galilee.”  Their final lesson is in their betrayal.  Earlier, when people brought their children for Jesus to bless, the disciples tried to turn them away.  Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.”  Now the disciples were like frightened children.  Would Jesus keep his promise to welcome them? 

That is our hope.  As Koyama says, “If human pain and divine pain are separated, Christian theology becomes irrelevant.”

As congregations honor teachers, let us remember Jesus’ instruction to welcome the child, for in doing so, we welcome our Lord into our midst.  Let us both hear and see the children around us, for they are emissaries of God’s kingdom.  Let us cultivate once again a child’s sense of wonder, for it is the way to show gratitude for our lives and for all of God’s creation. 

Let us learn, as children do, that the most important lessons are the simple ones shared by Robert Fulgum in Everything I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten:  share, play fair, don’t hit, put things back, clean up your mess, don’t take things that aren’t yours, say you’re sorry, wash your hands before you eat… live a balanced life—learn, draw, paint, sing, dance, play and work some every day—hold hands and stick together in the world and be aware of wonder.

In Dick-and-Jane books, the first word is: LOOK.  Everything we need to know is in those books: the Golden Rule, love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.