Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
I love stories where the disciples’ humanity shines through. These twelve faithful followers of Jesus were walking along not listening to Jesus, not debriefing something Jesus had said, not coming up with great questions to ask Jesus. Instead of any of these things, they spent their time arguing. What do the disciples of Jesus argue about you might wonder? They argued about which one of them was the greatest. The good news for us today is that, despite actions like this, Jesus never gave up on the disciples and Jesus never gives up on us. We mess up just like the first 12 and there is forgiveness and another chance.
The Scripture tells us Jesus sat down. …Here’s how I see it. Jesus sits down. Palm to forehead, maybe he shakes his head for a few moments. He sighs a big sigh and then spends a few minutes doing some deep breathing. He doesn’t immediately go to the next lesson. Nope. Sometimes, we all need a minute to think about what we have done and what we should have been doing. When he is ready and hopefully when the disciples are ready to listen, Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
Now, I picture the disciples shaking their heads, sighing, and trying to figure what this means and why things are so backwards. They wanted to be first, best, greatest, and Jesus is telling them to be last and a servant. While they are still trying to understand his words, Jesus does something even stranger. He welcomes a child into their midst. He offers a big extravagant welcome to a child. Jesus keeps surprising the disciples even when they should know to expect the unexpected from Jesus. Jesus welcomes tax collectors, prostitutes, people with physical disabilities and mental illnesses, women, and now children. One could almost assume that Jesus is telling his disciples then and his disciples today that we are to welcome everyone.
Picture these scenes playing out in the sanctuary…
A mother brought her children to church regularly. One Sunday, this mother asked to speak with the pastor. She was crying as she told the pastor how someone had asked if her family could sit elsewhere because her children were distracting and making it hard to worship God.
A child is so excited that it is time for church. He runs as fast as he can to get to the sanctuary. An usher stops him to remind him not to run in God’s house.
6 children would arrive at church each week, all related, all delivered to church by an extended family member They joyfully sang and participate in worship. People began to talk about them because they needed to brush their hair, wear season appropriate clothing, and bathe more often. One woman didn’t join in the judgment or gossip. Instead, she started inviting all the kids at church for special hair time before worship. She brushed and styled anyone’s hair who wanted. She didn’t single out the ones who others thought needed help. She welcomed all and loved the children. What if the other two stories I told you had an ending like this one?
What does it mean to say we welcome children here in this place? It means we welcome their questions before, during, and after worship. It means we encourage them to lead worship. It means we sing songs they know and love. It means that sometimes we will hear crying in church. It means that sometimes someone might be so excited that he or she runs in church and instead of scolding that person why don’t we notice and appreciate the joy? It means that hymnals may get dropped on the ground and children may stand on the pews to see better. It means that any of us may be asked to hold a baby or sit by a child, so a parent can take a break or lead another child to the bathroom. It means that younger eyes will be watching to see what we do. It means that there will be energy in this place, sometimes through wiggles, sometimes through noises.
This struggle with how we all worship together is not new or unique to any one church. A few years ago, an article entitled Dear Parents with Young Children by Jamie Bruesehoff was passed among the pastors I know. I recommend reading the whole article. Today, I’ll share with you one paragraph about why parents need to bring their children to church and to worship and why we as the congregation need children here with us. “When you are here, the church is filled with a joyful noise. When you are here, the Body of Christ is more fully present. When you are here, we are reminded that this worship thing we do isn’t about bible study or personal, quiet contemplation but coming together to worship as a community where all are welcome, where we share in the Word and Sacrament together. When you are here, I have hope that these pews won’t be empty in 10 years when your kids are old enough to sit quietly and behave in worship. I know that they are learning how and why we worship now, before it’s too late. They are learning that worship is important.”
Not only is what we are doing important, we promised to do this. At baptism, we are asked, “Do you, who witness and celebrate this sacrament, promise your love, support and care to the one about to be baptized as he/she lives and grows in Christ?” And the congregation responds with these words, “We promise our love, support, and care.”
During baptism, we entered a covenant with many, many children who need our support and care. And although many of us don’t remember our own baptisms, these promises were made to us too. We are part of a long line of people of God who promised to care for each other when we are young and when we are old and all the times in between. Here at this church, we take seriously these promises. So seriously, that we have a Safe Sanctuary Policy that protects our children, youth, and all who work with them. This is a church-wide policy. Even if you do not work with our children or youth, you still need to know our policy. By working together, we can keep each other safe, help each other grow in our faith (no matter what our age), and be Christ to each other.
How do we live out the promises we made in baptism and keep our Safe Sanctuary Policy promises? Look around. Adults, what children and youth do you not know? Take a moment today after worship to introduce yourself and to ask his or her name. Next week, when you see your new friend again, greet him or her by name and learn a bit more about your friend. Put in the effort to form a relationship with someone who is different from you in age, interest, hobbies, etc. Youth and children, think about how the adults, and other youth and children can make you feel more welcome here. If you want to shout out an answer now, go for it. If you’d prefer to tell me later, that is a-okay too. Parents and Guardians, thank you for bringing your children. We know it is hard and you have other places you can be. We want you to know that you are welcome here. Let us know how to make you feel even more welcome here.
Here are some questions we all need to ponder-How can we be open to wonder, joy, enthusiasm and joy? How can we let go of our plans for perfection and watch/listen for the Spirit moving in our midst? How can we be question people? How can we broaden our definition of worship to include what others need?
Friends, we are on a journey together. It is messy. Sometimes it is loud. Some days our journey is easy and peaceful and somedays it is hard and sad. We are on this journey together. And together is how we can live into the baptismal promises that we made or were made on our behalf. Together is how we can ensure our church is a safe sanctuary. Together is how God called us to live and learn.
Let’s join together and pray for ourselves, those who are our neighbors, and those who we will hope will join this faith community in the future.
Loving God, Sometimes we don’t understand your what you are teaching us. That is why you gave us a faith community where we can learn, struggle, question, and grow. We pray for the children whom you have entrusted to our care. We ask your blessing on them as they grow and learn and experience your world. Give them patience with us when we are too busy to listen or wait for them to pick one more flower or ask one more question. We pray for the youth whom you have entrusted to our care. We ask your blessing on them as they discern their gifts, listen for where you leading them, and feel like they are rushing from one thing to the next. Give them patience with us when we push them too hard, when we don’t take their problems and heartbreaks seriously, and when we are too busy to be present. Thank you for everyone who makes up this faith community. Help us to bring our gifts and to receive the gifts that everyone else brings. Together, we can make your love known to everyone in our neighborhood and our city. Amen.