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Another sermon for Proper 20/Ordinary 25 Jesus receives a child

August 30, 2018

“Whoever receives one of these receives me.” Words from today’s gospel

In the name…..

 

Many of us recently witnessed the induction of a new vicar.

 

Some will soon witness the enthronement of a new bishop.

 

 

 

Back in 1999, John Baptist Odama was enthroned as Archbishop of Gulu, in northern.Uganda.

 

at the height of insurgency:,.

 

For 23 years, a group calling themselves the Lord’s Resistance Army had waged war against the Ugandan government;

 

terrorized the civilian population, burning villages, killing and maiming,

 

During this time, over 23,000 children had been abducted to be trained as soldiers.

 

 

An installation of an archbishop is very serious business.

 

In attendance were other powerful dignitaries:

 

the president of Uganda,

 

bishops, ministers and a host of others.

 

Archbishop Odama took a child in his arms and asked the child, “Do you like war?”

 

The child turned his head from side to side “no.”

 

He then asked the child, “Do you like peace?”

 

The child nodded enthusiastically “yes.”

 

still holding the child in his arms, he turned to the congregation and said, “This child has defined for us our pastoral ministry. I commit myself to work ……to eliminate war, build peace for the sake of this child, … so that the full humanity of this child might grow and flourish.”

 

Since then, he’s had endless meetings with the Ugandan government and the rebels

 

For four nights, together with the other religious leaders, he slept with the children on the street.

 

He keeps Thursdays for prayer, fasting and adoration

 

bringing the children, and indeed all humanity, before God, and straining to hear what God has to say to him on behalf of God’s people.

 

He calls the children ngini ngini

 

the name of the tiny ants that are almost invisible and are thus readily stepped on and crushed.

 

And wherever the Archbishop goes, the ngini ngini come running to him and flock around him, holding onto his purple robes

 

He received the 2004 Niwano Peace Prize for interfaith workers

 

I reckon he offers a good example of what the Gospel today is talking about –

 

“Whoever receives one of these receives me.”

 

 

Imagine that toddler from Capernaum climbing all over Jesus,

 

stepping here and there,

 

reaching out for his beard,

 

sticking fingers in Jesus’ mouth.

 

Was it a boy or a girl?

 

What was his name?

 

How old was she?

 

Quite small if Jesus took her up in his arms.

 

In later life, when he was not so little any more, did that child remember what had happened on that day?

 

Because it was quite significant.

 

It was the way abandoned infants became a part of a family.

 

picking up such a child and taking it home,

 

a person assumed the role of its legal guardian.

 

This mirrored the ritual in which a father would pick up his own child immediately after it was born,

 

thereby acknowledging it as his own and pledging to raise it.

 

If, however, because of some scruple, he refused to lift the child, it would be abandoned.

 

Like 20-40% of children then.

 

 

 

So when Jesus takes the children in his arms, lays his hands on them, and blesses them,

 

these are the bodily actions of a father

 

designating a newborn infant for life rather than death,

 

for acceptance not rejection.

 

 

 

Some scholars think there was a debate going on in the early Christian community

 

about whether to adopt abandoned children,

 

with some leaders staunchly opposed.

 

Mark aligns Jesus with adoption.

 

Jesus was good news for children.

 

 

 

Why would some oppose?

 

Well, the Bible generally has been bad news for children:

 

Proverbs 13:24 “He who spares the rod hates his son”

 

and “You shall beat him with a rod and deliver his soul from hell” 23:14

 

 

The doctrine of original sin was bad news for children.

 

Thomas Aquinas taught that in a fire a husband was first obliged to save his father,

 

then Grandma, then his wife,

 

and then if he had time save the children.

 

During famine children were last to be fed….survival of the greatest.

 

 

 

The ancient world had no middle class.

 

Most of the wealth was accumulated at the very top of the social structure,

 

and the bulk of people found themselves poor.

 

Within the elite world, honour was incredibly important.

 

The components of honour and shame were common:

 

“The upper classes emphasized, for everyone to notice and acknowledge, the steep, steep social structure that they topped” Roman Social Relations: 50 B.C. to A.D. 284 – Ramsey MacMullen, 109

 

The rich wanted to associate only with other rich,

 

they would intentionally insult and demean those who were slightly less rich,

 

and hoped to accumulate favour with those who were above them.

 

Against such a backdrop, the words of Jesus in Mark’s gospel stand out.

 

Saying that the way to gain honour is to receive those who are without honour goes against the logic of the ancient society.

 

When Jesus tells the people to become like little children, he insults them,

 

he insults their culture,

 

he insults their values.

 

 

 

 

The Kingdom of God assesses and assigns value differently than the human realm.

 

God will receive those who receive the child.

 

This will give access to true power, the power of the one who sent Jesus.

 

 

 

The church has been greatly affected by this passage.

 

It has fed the hungry, housed the homeless, cared for orphans, provided medical care to the sick,

 

taught people to read,

 

The church has loved the helpless and the hopeless.

 

However, the church needs to be constantly reminded of Jesus’ call to welcome “little ones.”

 

Some are tempted to curry the favour of the wealthy and powerful in the hope that they will fund our ministry

 

We are tempted to minister to beautiful people and to ignore the unlovely.

 

We are tempted to build churches in the suburbs and to ignore the inner city.

 

Some are tempted to covet titles such as “influential church leader.”

 

If the original disciples needed to repent for arguing among themselves who was the greatest v. 34, we also need to repent.

 

How do we welcome the child?

 

How do we welcome our Lord?

 

The marginal status of the child as an insignificant and unwelcome member of society

 

Points us to those marginal in today’s society:

 

What Korean theology calls the minjung – the little people?

 

Benefit claimants, asylum  seekers, refugees, modern trafficked slaves;

 

The desperately poor in third world countries affected by climate change,

 

Their homes flooded, their land eroded.

 

 

 

The kingdom of God is about learning to receive

to welcome – the ngini ngini in our midst.

For only as we do do we ourselves become ngini ngini,

As we learn to receive, to embrace the precious, weak and most vulnerable members in our own communities,

we learn to embrace the precious, weak and vulnerable core of our own identity;

we learn to embrace the ngini ngini within us.

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