One of the benefits of my vacation for you is that my sermon box has a fresh deposit of new stories. This one is about a young boy. I don’t know his name. He was of Hispanic background and probably 8 or 9 years old. We were in Glacier National Park and had pulled off at one of the lookout points. After taking my pictures, I walked over to the sign that explained what we were seeing.
Already there was this young boy and his father. The boy was reading the sign out loud. When he felt my presence, he turned, saw me, and immediately stopped. I encouraged him, “No, please, go ahead, keep reading.” He looked at his father, who nodded, and he returned his attention to the sign, and continued to do his best to read about the geology of the glaciers before us.
He didn’t get all the words right, and I’m not sure he understood what he was reading. When he was done, I praised him for his great job.
It is not easy to read out loud in front of strangers. There are adults among us who don’t like to read in front of people they know, so a youngster in front of strangers, with big new words, deserves a gold star in my book, and I said so. The little boy wasn’t quite sure what to do with my enthusiasm, but the father beaming, said, “Thank you.”
Sometimes it is just nice to know that you have been seen and heard. “Whoever welcomes one such child…”
I bet Jesus saw a bunch of eyes roll when he picked up that child, especially if it was a girl, and when he said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
Young children were a nuisance in Jesus’ day. They ate your food, required your attention and did very little, if anything, of value in return. But we like children. We adore their antics. We gravitate toward the idea of needing to have faith like that of a child; so, Jesus’ words don’t strike us the way they would have the disciples. They don’t draw from us that eye roll, or catch us up short, or make us do a double take and wonder if Jesus has finally lost his mind.
If this story were played out today, I’m not sure it would read as it does in Marks gospel.
Oh, there would still be the conversation about who is the greatest. There will always be a need to settle the question about who is the greatest and best – reality tv shows and sports competitions will see to this.
But instead of calling to himself a little child, I think in today’s setting, Jesus would put himself in the middle of a nursing home, or a community of persons with dementia, or a prison population, or a group of people in wheelchairs, or persons with other disabilities. Sadly, in today’s world, some people would be stunned if Jesus were to put his arms around a Muslim, a Jew, a person who is gay, transgender, black, Asian, or undocumented, and said, “whoever welcomes one such person in my name welcomes me.”
I’m going to ask you a question. You can keep the answer to yourself, but I want you to be honest with your answer. Who is “the least of these,” the person or persons, beyond the walls of your comfort zone. If Jesus said, “whoever welcomes one such as this in my name welcomes me,” who are the people to draw a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding eyeroll from you?
Who would cause you to declare, “Now Jesus, you have gone too far?” Who would cause you to think twice about continuing to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?We are all human beings and, as such, I’m willing to say we all have someone, or some group of people, we find hard to embrace. For our sinful haughtiness we must seek God’s forgiveness and ask for hearts to recognize the value in all people.
All people deserve to be seen and heard.
“That everyone is valued.” This is the first core value that the council identified as being necessary for us at Saint Mark to maintain order and be successful. It sounds like common sense. It seems an obvious truth. But just because something is obvious, does not mean it comes naturally. Just what does it mean to have as one of our core values: everyone is valued?
You will hear some of what this means for us at Saint Mark as the council rolls out our vision and goals for the coming year at the congregational meeting. Jesus also has something to say on this topic and he spends his life saying it with his actions – picking up a child, touching lepers, healing on the sabbath, allowing those labeled unclean to touch him, eating with sinners, giving sight to the blind, finding the lost, giving voice to the mute, raising the dead, showing mercy, serving when he deserved to be served, taking the time to see and hear the castaways, treating the least as if they were of the greatest value. It is Jesus who puts forth the challenge.
“You want to be great? You want to be successful?
“Serve others as you would serve me, as if you would serve a child. Leave no stone unturned, no person unseen, no one unheard. Don’t just say what you mean, mean what you say. For whenever you welcome one such as these in my name, you welcome me.”
One last question. Who will you welcome into your life this week?