To Such as These
Mark 10: 13-16
13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
James 2: 14-17
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
Every year we at JMPC joyfully open our doors to the children of our surrounding communities for Vacation Bible School.
This year was no different.
We had 144 kids who came to us to learn about Jesus and have fun with music, crafts, water and color, all organized by a volunteer staff of about 30.
If you want to know who all was involved, just look at the list in the bulletin.
On Monday morning church was neat and tidy and nicely decorated.
By Tuesday, it had succumbed to the chaos of the happy kids.
By the end of the week, the volunteers were pooped out, and the church was in need of a good scrub.
All the planning, execution and reconstruction required a good deal of work.
But the kids are worth every bit of the energy we put into VBS.
Why do these kids come to JMPC for VBS?
Most don’t attend church here.
Some don’t attend church anywhere.
It’s also not because they home telling mom and dad that they needed to learn about Jesus and so needed to go someplace to do that.
“Let’s get in the car and find a VBS!”
Virtually all of them came because their parents told them they were coming.
They had no choice in the matter.
Some are different from denominations and some from no denomination.
Some have different beliefs, and some have no beliefs.
Some recognize our Bible stories, and some have never heard them before.
Some are like us, and some are different.
And we open our doors to all of them so that we can give them a week of Jesus.
Which brings us to our reading from Mark.
Jesus calls the little children to him.
It’s a story most know, though I am not sure we all know what it means.
Because I think the context of the story is not well known.
So, let me fill you in.
Jesus was traveling around Galilee and Judea teaching people about God.
For many, Jesus was a wise rabbi.
Who were his students?
Basically, adult Jewish men.
That was who would got to learn at the feet of a rabbi.
Jewish women, gentiles of both genders and children were not welcome.
They were considered non-persons.
In our scripture reading, Jesus is teaching.
But something a bit unusual was happening.
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them …
It was unlikely the men who were bringing the kids.
These were probably mothers bringing their children to Jesus.
Jesus was a great rabbi who spoke with such authority that when he said something, it happened!
These moms wanted Jesus to bless their children’s lives.
The kids did not ask for this.
Like the babies we baptize, the blessing is a gift arranged by the parents.
So the moms brought their kids!
But the disciples wanted none of that.
These were children!
They were a nuisance.
There was no place for them in Jesus’ presence!
So, the disciples were just shooing them away!
The disciples want to have them sent away without the blessing.
Jesus scolds his disciples for keeping the children away.
Jesus says, “No!”
“Bring them to me!”
And they get Jesus’ blessing.
What is the lesson Jesus teaches here?
Everyone is welcome into Jesus’ presence.
Particularly the children.
In fact, when it comes to children, Jesus says we should be “like them”.
We should be like those children …
It is to such as them that the Kingdom belongs.
We at JMPC take this to heart.
That is why we let anyone and everyone come to VBS.
We want to let the children come to Jesus and be blessed.
And it’s awesome.
But there was one thing I struggled with this week.
Not our VBS kids.
They were a joy.
No, because of other kids.
Kids in the news.
Kids on the border between the US and Mexico.
I got an email from my son.
AJ is a nurse who started out his career as a pediatric intensivist.
He goes to Nigeria every year to help surgeons operate on kids with hernias.
He really likes kids.
AJ told me he was distraught about the situation with the kids at the border.
Particularly about the kids who were not with their parents.
Little kids who have been brought here or sent by their parents and had no say whatsoever about the journey or destination.
They were simply told they were going and so they went.
And now, today, many are living in overcrowded rooms, sleeping on cement floors, no soap, no toothbrushes, no bathing facilities, no recreation, no education, insufficient food, and insufficient health care.
Those who were here this past week can tell you what it looked like to have 160 people in this sanctuary for just a few minutes a day.
Imagine what it would look like to have 300 kids in this sanctuary, all day every day, for weeks.
No soap, no toothbrushes, no bathing facilities, no recreation, no education, insufficient food.
You want an image?
And our government takes the position that this is somehow OK.
A lawyer for the U.S. Justice Department even argued in court last week that the government should not be required to provide these children with toothbrushes, blankets and soap even though current law requires these kids to be given a safe and sanitary environment!
But it’s not just the Executive, right?
What is Congress doing?
Playing politics while the children suffer?
How do you think these kids are going to feel about our country when they grew up?
Will we be safer?
I can’t tell you how long this has been going on, and frankly I don’t care.
I can’t tell you who is responsible for this awful situation, and frankly I don’t care about that either.
What I do care about is these children!
I know that the issue of immigration is a complicated one.
Somewhere between open borders and a big wall there exists a good deal of agreement no one seems willing to admit.
It seems like everyone says that we need immigration reform.
Let’s get after it.
But until then, we need to take care of the children.
We can’t act like the disciples who shooed the kids away from Jesus because they were a problem we did not want to deal with.
Because when we treat the children like they are vermin, like unwanted non-persons, we should be ready to be scolded by Jesus.
What did Jesus say?
‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’
If we claim to be Jesus’ disciples, we need to heed his command to let the children come and be blessed.
And we need to do it in Jesus name.
That is the Jesus way.
Which brings us to our reading from James.
James is always a good place to go in these circumstances.
He says, as James always does, “Don’t just send thoughts and prayers, though those are a good thing, but DO SOMETHING!”
So, what do we do?
That is what we tried to teach the fifth and sixth graders at VBS this week.
We took them on Mission Days.
Mission Days to SHIM, Meals on Wheels, Clean up at Simmons’ Parka and Wiltshire Park, and Duquesne Pres.
They kept journals about what they learned.
Their entries were pretty consistent.
What did the kids learn?
And that all are welcome into his presence.
Loving God and loving neighbor meant that we must welcome and care for those in need.
We need to give them clothing (particularly diapers), food and generally make the world a better place.
We need to do that with these border children.
I think we can all agree to that.
My son supports an organization by the name of KIND.
It’s an organization funded in part by the Microsoft Corporation that provides legal services to unaccompanied children at the US border.
This is what they stand for:
We ensure that no child appears in immigration court alone without high quality representation.
We advance laws, policies, and practices that support children’s protection and uphold their right to due process and fundamental fairness.
We encourage durable solutions to child migration that are grounded in the best interests of the child and ensure that no child is forced to migrate involuntarily.
To me that sounds a bit like Jesus!
KIND might not be an organization everyone here can support but there are other organizations that care for children and certainly we all can support one.
Save the Children
There are many others.
My point is that we should all be looking to see what can be done to help the children.
As I was writing this message, I was also preparing for the funeral of Ruby Gregg.
Ruby, a longtime member of JMPC, died this past week.
Her funeral was yesterday.
Ruby was the epitome of what Jesus calls us to do.
Through her, and her family’s, extraordinary effort, she welcomed 141 foster kids into her home over the course of four decades.
She had two kids of her won and adopted two more.
These kids were like the children at the border.
They bore no responsibility for their circumstances.
They just needed someone to take care of them.
To feed them, clothe them, heal them.
And Ruby did just that.
If Ruby could help 141 kids, everyone here should try to help some, or even one.
Call your Congressional Representative, call your Senators, call the White House.
Make a donation.
I recognize that not everyone will agree on the cause or the solution to the problem we face at our border with Mexico.
Now is not the time to place blame.
Now is time to take care of the children.
Jesus welcomed the children.
So should we.
Jesus calls us to bless the children.
Children should not suffer because of our political, cultural and national differences.
We must find a way to care for these children.
It is to them that the Kingdom of God belongs.