The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s137g06 Sunday 25 24/9/2006
'whoever welcomes (another) .. welcomes me, and .. the one who sent me.' Mark 9.37
It might be stating the obvious but we welcome little children simply because they are little children. We do not get anything back from them except their love. We accept little children for who they are, not for what we can gain from them.
I have spoken before about paedophiles who 'love' children when really they only want to dominate and manipulate them. They prey on the propensity of little children to trust older people. But it is not love at all. And I have paralleled this with the Church that, it sometimes seems, only wants to love others for the money they can contribute to 'keep the show afloat' or their support so that our tradition might continue and grow. This too is not love but a pretence that deserves a similar distain. It is only when we allow others to make their contribution, a contribution that may eclipse our own, that our love might be considered genuine.
Recently I have heard of the L'Arche Community and their concern for the intellectually disabled. One of their main perceptions is that the intellectually disabled have a vital ministry to the world a mutuality theirs is a ministry of the importance of relationship above all else.
One of the websites I visit religiously every week is that of 'AnglicansOnline' based in the United States which has links to all dioceses throughout the world, all the new articles as well as a 'front page' editorial each week, which is always interesting to read. In the latest offering it encourages Anglicans to 'bring a friend' to Church, a laudable exhortation. However when I look at the parishes I've been involved in, they are all too concerned with maintaining the tradition, and anyone new can as much be a threat to that tradition as a supporter. Too often I have seen people turned off because 'gatekeepers' preclude any new contribution that alters the tradition even in the most miniscule way. And I thought about the cool reception St Paul had when he first visited Jerusalem after his conversion. The words in Acts 7 are: 'When Paul had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus.' (26,27) For, of course St Paul did significantly alter the tradition of the Church, even so soon after it had been formed. How much poorer the Church would be without St Paul's contribution, and how much poorer our churches are because of their steadfast adherence to what has gone before, as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen?
But as I thought about this passage, if this is the quality of our love for little children, and by extension to others around us, then it is also characteristic of our love for Jesus and for God.
If our 'love' for Jesus is entirely based on what we might gain from the relationship personally, then our love is fake. If our 'love' for God is entirely based on what we might gain from the relationship personally then again, this love is fake. It is a charade. These are about trying to manipulate and dominate Jesus and God and have nothing to do with love at all.
If God is God, then the love God has for us can be no more and no less than the love God has for others, all others. So God cannot, by definition, favour us over others.
If our prayers for healing are really prayers so that we do not have to follow the advise of our doctor, then we cannot expect that our prayers for healing will be answered in the way we want.
If our prayers to God are that everyone else will believe in God in 'our' terms, then again I do not think that we are likely to find that God will answer this question in the way we want.
So part of our own Christian training is to welcome God as God really is rather than the way we might like God to act. It is to welcome this Jesus as Jesus really is rather than the way we might like Jesus to act. And it is to welcome others as they really are rather than the way we might like these others to act and believe and worship.
Those who opposed Jesus, opposed him enough to have him killed, were those who were the most ostentatious in their devotion to God as they thought God was, but this was just who they thought God to be someone who favoured them over others and not as God really is. They opposed Jesus because he showed them that God loved people as they were, rather than the way the opposition to Jesus thought these other people should act and believe and worship others should act and believe and worship like them!
So our welcoming of Jesus and God is based on how God and Jesus truly are, otherwise our love is a delusion, and this immediately propels us to love others for who they are, not for how they believe, act or worship.
In the Reith lectures 2006 Daniel Barenboim, Music Director of the Berlin State Opera and, until recently, Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra said these very profound words: 'people very often ask me .. this is a wonderful example of tolerance, and I say no I don't like the word 'tolerance', because to tolerate something or somebody means you tolerate them for negative reasons. You tolerate somebody in spite of the fact that he or she is ugly, you tolerate somebody .. in spite of the fact that he or she is stupid. And therefore tolerance is used, and I would say misused in today's world, and in the press very often, is a very misleading word. The French Revolution gave us three much more important and powerful ideas, or concepts - liberty, equality and fraternity. But these ideas of the French Revolution are not only right in themselves, but they are so because they come in the proper order. You cannot have equality without liberty, and you certainly cannot have fraternity without equality. The importance of this I learnt from music, because music evolves in time, and therefore the order inevitably determines the content. And I have never had to ask myself the question, can't we have equality before liberty.' I can but heartily agree, though it is significant to me that music rather than God revealed this to Daniel Barenboim. For me I would say that God revealed this through music to Daniel Barenboim as an eternal paradigm that God uses other means other people and other things because it is more important to God to train us to look around us for inspiration rather than plead for God alone for help.
The time sequence that Daniel Barenboim points out leads me to wonder if this does not have significance for the evolution of humanity and the reason that we cannot simply bring out proof texts from scripture to justify our rage and revenge on our enemies.
This 'welcome' of little ones I contrast with the unwelcome of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah towards Lot, his family and his occasional visitors. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah had a vested interest in making sure that everyone who came there recognised just who was boss and who they had to obey. Indeed they attempted to use physical and sexual assault to make their point -- and loving gay and lesbian couples quietly trying to express their intimacy one for another have been alienated and marginalized ever since, often by 'christians' showing these people just who is boss in this community, in this state, in this country.
Our welcome of little children also needs to be more than having the Sunday School come and entertain us with a play before Christmass, or on fifth Sunday services, to give the congregation a break from the Rector's sermons! This seems not far removed from using others for our own purposes.
'Whoever welcomes (another) .. welcomes me, and .. the one who sent me.' In other words, when we are at one with others, we are at one with Jesus and we are at one with God. If we set ourselves above others - we separate ourselves from Jesus and we separate ourselves from God.
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