Sermon – September 20, 2015 – Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Pentecost 17 B
Pastor Bob Rasmus

I’ve got to tell you,  I walked all around this Gospel lesson this week. I looked at it from up and down and sideways, just as I was trained to do. I listened for the voices of the characters. I found the connections of other places where the disciples were afraid and didn’t understand. And I was trying to write a sermon about getting it wrong, about glory and our need to be great. And, I suppose some of that might come out with where I ended up going. But all I could see when I read this text, all I could see when I heard Jesus words, “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me,” the vision that came to mind when I heard those words was that little refugee boy who had drowned and washed up on the beach in Turkey. A little boy taken with his family as they fled death and destruction in their Syrian homeland. Trusting in his mom and dad, loaded onto a crowded dinghy and set to sea.  As the boat took on water, “He slipped through my hands .  . . .” said his father. They later also found the bodies of his five your old brother and mother.

He is not the first child die in these wars and won’t be the last, but the image of him makes this real for you and me.  His name was Aylan. He was three years old. He is one of 2 million kids who are now part of this sea of refugees running from death and destruction in their home country. As I read Jesus words today I wondered, “is this what he means?” Are these children, and others like them the ones that Jesus calls us alongside?   The answer has to be yes.  Jesus uses the little and the least to show himself to us.

We can take some cues for that from a child in our story today.  The child was an unexpected prop.   First century Palestine people were not emotional or sentimental about children. They were simply property.  There were no Gerber babies in Jesus time.  No cute and cuddly and clean babies.  No, babies then had very little chance, very little hope.  30 percent of them died at birth, 30 percent of the survivors died by age six and 60 percent of those died by age 16.  Didn’t pay to get too close to a kid.  Pretty good chance they wouldn’t be around.

As a result of all this children had no status, they were on the same level as slaves. . .  just property .  Yet, Jesus lifts up this child and holds him to his heart and says you will find me here among the small and vulnerable.  So, to teach the disciples, Jesus doesn’t turn to the heroes of the faith like Elijah, or the winners like David, or the popular like John the Baptist, nor the learned and revered like the leaders of the synagogue.   No, he uses a lowly child to make his point, one of the little people, children and cultural pariahs like a SyroPhoenician women, in the nameless friends who lower their suffering colleagues through a roof for Jesus healing, a widow that gives all she has,  . . . these little people show us the way.  They are our markers.

Through them we are invited to wonder, “who is the child among us today that will reveal to us face of Jesus?” Who is the little one, who are the little ones we are called to serve that mask the Son of God? How do we even know? What do we do?  This calls out of us a sense of urgency and in the face of such tragedy, we may feel helpless or even ashamed that it has happened on our watch.

Well, at the risk of falling into the, “aren’t we the greatest,” trap let me share with you some of the ways that your church is trying to respond to this very invitation, to let you know how you are already helping. We recognize the suffering of these refugees.  We don’t look past the Aylan’s out there.   Lutheran World Relief is a prominent partner in a coalition of churches and service agencies that are providing food and water and shelter and relief for the suffering masses. We are sending hygiene kits, clothing, blankets to Serbia right now to help protect these folks.  The youth and families of this congregation will take an evening in a few weeks to prepare some of those kits and package them up in cooperation with some other churches around here. St. Matthew has committed $1000 of our benevolence to help underwrite the costs of serving these refugees. That’s what it looks like. In the process we may not only save a child like Aylan, but together we might encounter Jesus, have our faith inspired, and are way made more clear.

Let me share another church wide ministry of which we have been a part that is making a difference. (show DVD of the malaria project) the rate of deaths from malaria has been cut in half. That’s what it looks like to meet Christ in the middle, in the least.

Being invited into these relationships of these possibilities is liberating. Not just for those whom we serve, but it frees us from the constant struggle to be the best and the greatest. Getting up every day and trying to prove ourselves to some standard is just exhausting. Instead we’re invited set that aside, and find Christ in the places where he told us he would be revealed.   He has left us markers.

In doing so, we are led to continue to grow in compassion and understanding and love.  Without this growth in understanding and the learning of Christ’s  wisdom, we will inevitably keep placing ourselves at the center of lives seeking singular success and accolades.   Only when we are willing to constantly bathe in the waters of baptism and apply our minds to the wisdom of scripture and our hearts to the task of compassion, will we find the love and life and compassion on which love and life depend.  The only test of our love of God is the love we have for one another, and we only love God as much as the person we love the least.

Facebook post this week, “When you find yourself in the position to help someone, be happy and feel blessed because God is answering that person’s prayer through you.  Remember; Our purpose on earth is not to get lost in the dark but to be a light to others, so that they may find their way through us.”

To love and serve the least is to act in the love and wisdom of Christ and through that he is revealed and known.   Jesus says we can see him more clearly, understand him more deeply, walk with him more closely through the children, the least.

I guess that should finally come as no surprise to us.  After all, friends, that’s how he found us, as a child or child-like in our faith.  We were his marker so he gathered us into his arms, saved us, served us, sacrificed for us, called us his children.

Thanks be to God.