Sermon September 23, 2018
On Friday, I took a trip to Mexico with a friend. For me, it was just a chance to get away. Jan was up in Flagstaff helping our daughter take care of the grandchildren. It was good to spend the day with another person and just talk. On the way we passed through the town of Why, Arizona. It is a small town located near Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. We started chatting about what people were thinking about when they named the town. Were they asking themselves “Why did I come to this place?” Did they wonder, “Why did God create this place?” Or was it just the only name they could think of.
When I thought about Why, Arizona it made me think of the comedy routine that was made famous by Abbott and Costello, “Who is on First”. So, I can imagine asking someone from the town of Why, “What town do you come from?” And the answer is Why. Well I just want to know how to find you? Why. I think we could make up our own comedy routine that used the town name Why. The confusion could last forever
Later, I learned that the town was named after the intersection of two highways that formed a Y when they came together. In Arizona, a town name must be at least three letters so they named the town with a question Why.
My friend said the town named Why reminded him that children ask Why over and over again. Why is the sky blue? Why do I have to go to school? After a while parents can get tired of hearing that question
Jesus mentioned children in the Gospel lesson we read. Children can be difficult to deal with sometimes but they also bring us great joy.
Jesus encouraged us to pay attention to the children for he said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Let’s reflect on that verse, asking ourselves what it means to welcome a child or any other person. I think the best place to start is to remind ourselves that we are welcomed by God.
God created us and God loves us. God has mercy and compassion on us. And God forgives us for what we have done. We can find God’s forgiveness so many times in Scripture. God forgave King David for his sins. God forgave Paul for persecuting the followers of Jesus and turned him into an apostle. God’s love was so complete that God sent Jesus to be with us.
We know that Jesus welcomed many into his life. Jesus visited with Gentile women and a woman who was bleeding. He healed lepers and people with demons. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus brought the children to sit with him, even though his disciples tried to chase them away. Everyone of the examples I have given you are people who were outcasts. Jesus forgave people when they had sinned. Even as he hung on the cross he forgave those who were killing him. It was another way that Jesus welcomed people.
Please know that Jesus welcomes you. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what you have done or what you look like. I hope that you find comfort in this welcome from Jesus. I hope that you can feel acceptance in the arms of Jesus.
We read in Scripture that we are children of God. We sometimes refer to God as Abba, a loving father. Yes, God welcomes each of us. Sometimes, just like children, we ask God questions. Questions like, Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God allow people to go to war? Why did Jesus have to die? I wonder if God gets tired of hearing our questions. What we know is that regardless of our questions and our doubts, God accepts us for what we are.
Why did Jesus welcome the child? Professor of theology, Elisabeth Johnson, said “In any culture, children are vulnerable; they are dependent on others for their survival and well-being. In the ancient world, their vulnerability was magnified by the fact that they had no legal protection. A child had no status, no rights. A child certainly had nothing to offer anyone in terms of honor or status. But it is precisely these little ones with whom Jesus identifies.
How are we supposed to care for the children? Professor Johnson said it this way, “True greatness, Jesus says, is not to be above others, but to be least of all and servant of all. It is not to ascend the social ladder but rather descend it, taking the lowest place. It is not to seek the company of the powerful, but to welcome and care for those without status, such as the child that Jesus embraces and places before his disciples.
When you come to church, I hope that you feel welcomed by God, by Jesus, in this place. I hope that you feel welcomed to come to the altar for communion. In response to God’s welcoming, we try to welcome others. We often say about the Episcopal Church that all are welcome. We try to live that welcome when we greet folks who visit and when we offer God’s peace to others during the service. We seek to welcome others with our outreach programs. We welcome those who have been here for many years because that is what Jesus taught us.
In the letter from James, the author expressed concern about divisions in the church. James wrote that we covet something we cannot have so we enter into conflict and disputes. Our works are to be done with gentleness born of wisdom. We are not to harbor selfish ambition in our hearts. God’s righteousness is found in those who make peace. This letter encourages us to ask God for what we need and as we do we are able to welcome others in peace.
Some of you probably know a hymn composed by Marty Haugen in 1995 that speaks of our welcome. The first verse goes like this.
Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions. All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.
It often seems easier to surround ourselves with people who are successful. We certainly shouldn’t avoid them. But Jesus told us to welcome the child. In doing so, he wanted us to welcome all who are outcasts. In our society we glorify youth and vitality. The outcast might be someone who is older. It might mean welcoming someone who comes to the church alone. It could be someone who is sick and cannot attend on Sunday. The outcasts certainly include prisoners and homeless people.
Welcoming also gives us the opportunity to learn from others. I know I learned from people in Honduras and El Salvador who were poor and yet maintained a positive attitude, people who were joyous for the little things they had in their lives. I feel that I have learned from people who come to food kitchens where I have helped hand out food. Most of these people are thankful for the little that they have been given. It is encouragement for us to be thankful for all we have received.
While children may not be as low on the social ladder today as they were in Jesus’ time, they are still at risk. Jesus didn’t really tell us what we can learn from children. Still, I think there is much we can learn from children. Children have a love of life that some of us have lost. Children are inquisitive, a trait that many of us could use. Last week, at the 10:00 service, a child came walking up to the front of the church as we started communion. I loved her joy and determination and curiosity. Children are loving, it means so much to me when my granddaughter speaks to me over the phone and shouts, “Good morning, grandpa”. I hope that each of you are thinking about ways that children have taught you something. It is from the least, the smallest, the unempowered that we sometimes can learn something important. What might you grasp from those people this week?
I encourage you to leave church today remembering that you are welcome because you have receive the love, mercy and forgiveness of Jesus. And I encourage you to reflect on how you can share God’s mercy with someone who needs it, welcoming them, giving someone the comfort and care that is only possible through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
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