(A sermon based on Mark 9:30-37 for Sunday, October 27, 2013, following the presentation of a children's musical)
Sometimes I stop to think about who I would really like to use my resources—my time, my energy, my money, my love—to help. I can’t do everything for everybody, after all, and I find myself thinking that I would really like to help those who can’t help themselves. Now, that’s a broad category. Even we able-bodied adults with reasonable intelligence, average common sense, and a decent work ethic sometimes need someone to reach out to hold us up or to help us out. I myself would not be standing here today had some gracious people not helped me out along the way when I was at the end of my rope.
When I get to thinking that way, my thoughts always come back around to children and animals (particularly dogs and cats). I guess I think along the lines of that Carpenters’ song from the early 1970s that prayed, “Bless the beasts and the children for in this world they have no voice; they have no choice.” They are largely at the mercy of how adult human beings choose to treat them—and we all know that adult human beings can always be trusted to be kind and humane!
Today’s text features no animals but it does prominently feature children. Jesus, who along with his disciples was headed toward Jerusalem where he would fulfill his mission, perceived that they had been discussing who was the greatest among them. He held a child in his arms and said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
That was a shocking act and statement in a cultural context in which social status was very important. Children were not given much consideration because they lacked status in society. Being way up the ladder was considered a good thing and children couldn’t get above the first rung.
But Jesus said that children were to be highly regarded and eagerly accepted and that when they were those who so regarded and accepted them were in fact regarding and accepting Jesus and the Heavenly Father who sent Jesus. The children, then—those who in that day and time had the lowest social status because they had the least to contribute—represented Christ. To welcome them was to welcome Jesus.
Now, while there are cultures in which children are not accorded high social standing, I would suggest that our First Baptist Church culture is not one of them. No, from the moment our children are born they become the most important people in our homes and extended families, and are equally valued alongside everyone else in our church. Indeed, we will devote more of our time and resources to them than we do to others. We let their schedules dictate ours. We put not only their needs but also their wants and desires ahead of just about everything else.
That is not to say that there are not children here in Fitzgerald who are not valued; clearly there are.
So it is a good thing to let these our children who have been before us this morning remind us of what Jesus said about receiving and welcoming “the least of these” in the church because “the least of these” represent Christ among us.
But who are the “children” in our society? Who are they in our setting? Who are those who can offer little or nothing and who are overlooked and undervalued but who therefore represent Jesus right here and now?
If Jesus were sitting right here in the First Baptist Church sanctuary today, he would not use one of these children to make his point that in welcoming those who are the least valued and the most vulnerable we are in fact welcoming him. So who would he put among us and take in his arms and say, “Whoever welcomes one such _____________ in my name welcomes me”?