September 19, 2015 by jmar198013
Tomorrow at Central Church in Stockton, CA will be a special service to dedicate some of our children. So I will not be preaching my regular sermon. Instead, I will have a dedication presentation and a short homily at the end of service. I am posting transcripts of these beforehand. I am redacting the names of the children and their families for privacy purposes. The texts for tomorrow’s service will be Proverbs 31.10-21; Psalm 1; James 3.16-4.3; and Mark 9.30-37.
Dedication of Lou and Sterling Velvet
The Kentucky farmer-poet Wendell Berry once said: “To treat life as less than a miracle is to give up on it.”
How do we acknowledge a miracle? We welcome a miracle, don’t we? We are in awe of a miracle. We celebrate a miracle. We embrace a miracle.
One of the church’s vital missions in our world today is to be a people that welcomes life well. That embraces and celebrates life as a miracle. As a gift we did not create. A grace to which we are not entitled. A position we have not earned. To be alive is to be gifted.
Jesus said that the way to embrace life is to welcome it as a gift and a miracle. We heard this in our Gospel reading today: Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me isn’t actually welcoming me, but rather the one who sent me. In other words, to welcome a child is to welcome the God who creates life. To welcome a child is to welcome life itself.
To be given the gift of a child is to be given the gift of a future. Whenever a child is born—whenever we see new life—God is telling us, No matter how hopeless things look down there, I haven’t given up on you people. To welcome a child—to welcome life—is to acknowledge that miracles happen every day.
God has not left us without hope.
And so, Ozzy and Lita—these children who are with you, Sterling and Lou—they are gifts. They are God’s embodied hope for the future. They are miracles. Don’t ever forget that. Any hospitality, any nurturing, any kindness, any love you give to them is gratitude to God for the gift of life itself.
We are here as a church to dedicate ourselves to Lou and Sterling. To welcome them as God’s gifts. To Lita and Ozzy. To Sid and Joan. As these children grow, we are dedicating ourselves to stand alongside them and their parents and grandparents. To be open arms. Helping hands. Listening ears. Buffers for heartbreak and loss and all the other scary stuff that goes along with growing up. People who will cheer them on and celebrate them. We are dedicating ourselves to welcoming and embracing and nurturing the miracles of their lives that God has given.
So church, I’d like for as many of you as can to come and gather around this family, to officially welcome Sterling and Lou into our midst, as we pray to God on their behalf.
Father, we have come to thank you for the miracle of Lou, and the miracle of Sterling. We ask that you would make us a church that always welcomes life well—however that life comes to us. Father, we pray for your hands, which formed us from the clay, to shape the lives of these children. We pray for your Spirit, which breathes life into everything living, to always animate the lives of Lou and Sterling. And we pray for your love and wisdom and courage for Ozzy and Lita as they continue to learn what welcoming and embracing their children as miracles means each day. Finally, Father, we pray that as a church, we would be a faithful and nurturing family for these children, their parents, and their grandparents. Never let us forget that each life you bring us is a miracle.
And the whole church said: Amen.
Short Homily: Whoever welcomes one of these children (Mark 9.30-37)
In our Gospel reading today, we heard about more challenges along the way. Mark tells us that on the way they had been debating with each other about who was the greatest.
The way is how Mark talks about the journey the church is on. The journey every disciple of Jesus must take. The journey that continues until the end of the age, when the new heavens and earth are finally revealed.
Mark knows that there will be friction between disciples along the way. Jockeying for position. Comparing and contrasting our accomplishments and righteousness to others. Problems of leadership. Mark tells us that Jesus has already addressed those problems.
Jesus reached for a little child, placed him among the Twelve, and embraced him. Then he said, “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me isn’t actually welcoming me but rather the one who sent me.”
Through Mark, we hear Jesus tell us that the leaders, the heroes, the movers-and-shakers in God’s eyes are the ones who pay close attention to the needs of children. Who welcome them. Embrace them. Listen to them. Take them seriously.
In Jesus’ day, children were at the very bottom of the social order. This would have been perhaps especially true for the poor Galilean peasants Jesus grew up and worked among. A child was an inconvenience. A strain on the family budget. A child became valuable when they could contribute something to the family.
The little child Jesus hugged close to himself was not yet able to contribute anything. In the eyes of the culture, she had little or no value.
This would have been especially true for the unexpected child. And if you’ve ever read the stories of Jesus’ birth in Gospels of Matthew and Luke, you’ll remember that Jesus was himself an unexpected child.
So Jesus already had a model for leadership in this new people, the church, he was gathering: his own mother, Mary. The one who welcomed an inconvenient life.
Jesus calls his disciples and his church to be people who welcome and embrace life—even inconvenient life.
Whenever we welcome and embrace and nurture the people who can contribute nothing to us—at least from the world’s perspective—we are welcoming Jesus. And when we welcome Jesus, we welcome God.
So whenever we, as a church, embrace a child—whether it is the child born to us, or the poor child across town that our politicians and neighbors tell us is inconvenient and a burden—that’s a gesture of hospitality to God.
And so again, church, let us hear what Jesus said: Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me isn’t actually welcoming me but rather the one who sent me.
Whenever arguments arise—and they inevitably will—about what the church should be doing, what we should look like, where we should be going, how we should be organized, perhaps this passage should be our starting point.
Whoever and whatever makes for the welcome and support and nurture of the least of these is probably where God wants us to begin. The rest is details.