Sermon for Confirmation Sunday and a Reforming Church

Mark 10:46-52

46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

They came to Jericho. Then Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho. That’s how this Gospel passage begins.

I have Bible question for all of you. I don’t want to put the confirmation students on the spot now on their big day, even though I know they could handle it. Yes, I realize, some of you take a lot of pride in how you were quizzed in front of the congregation during your confirmation service. I’m not sure I believe the mythology about that, but, in any case, it’s a new day. So I’m going to quiz all of you about your biblical knowledge. Just shout out your answer to this question. What words come to mind when you hear about the city of Jericho?

Whether we learned it from the Bible or from a song, Jericho is famous, to most of us, for a battle. The book of Joshua tells us that priests circled the walled city blowing their trumpets and on the seventh day all the people shouted, and the walls came a-tumblin’ down.

Don’t worry if your recollection of that biblical story is a little hazy. It’s a problematic, violent episode, anyway. It’s one of those stories that give the Old Testament a bad reputation because what the people do to those residents inside the walls of Jericho is, well, pretty terrible.

But I want to bring to mind the battle of Jericho today because I think that our Gospel today is a kind of revision of that biblical story. It’s not intended to replace it but it refers to it in order to draw out a new message for a new time and place. That’s what biblical scholars do, after all, from the ancient prophets and rabbis of Israel to Martin Luther and his fellow reformers to confirmation students during Sunday morning classes. We, students of the Bible, aren’t just interested in what happened long ago. Instead, we ask, “what is God’s living Word saying to us now in our own lives?”

When Jesus and his disciples were leaving that famous city of Jericho, they encountered a man named Bartimaeus, who happened to be blind, and because he was blind, sadly, he was made to sit on the side of the road and beg for his survival. Now, right away, I want to say that I do not think that the big problem here is blindness. Bartimaeus was a perfectly capable person who could walk, talk, and speak his mind. The problem is a society that prevented him from living a full life. And we have more evidence that that is the real issue because as Jesus came by, people were trying to silence Bartimaeus. As if it weren’t enough that he had to beg for food, they tried to keep him from having any voice at all. Even in Jericho, a place that is well known for crumbling walls, the wall of privilege was intact, and it was even reinforced by Peter, James, John, and the others. Bartimaeus was walled off from his community.

So how would this Jericho wall come down? There were no trumpets in the city that day; and there were shouts from only one man calling out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And yet it was enough. Jesus stood still, turned toward Bartimaeus, and asked him the same question he had asked his own disciples just a few verses earlier, “What do you want me to do for you?” “I want to see again,” he said. “Go,” Jesus said, “your faith has made you well.” Your faith has saved you.

Now, again, I want to say that this is about so much more than just physical sight. Bartimaeus was a complete person even without that particular ability. What is miraculous is that he had the confidence that he was more than how others had defined him. He could see through the artificial walls in his life. He boldly shouted out when others silenced him. His name means “son of Timaeus,” but he knew that first and foremost, before anything he did or didn’t do, before any condition of his life, he was a beloved child of God. Where did that trust come from? It could only have been a gift, maybe nurtured by some other community. In any case, that confident trust made Jesus stand still in his tracks. He commended Bartimaeus for his faith, for his unswerving trust in God’s promises. He had a saving faith, a faith that made him well.

After that, Bartimaeus did not go away. He followed Jesus. His faith continued to inspire him to action. André Resner, Jr. reflects on this passage by saying, “Faith sits, leaning forward, ready to leap at the opportunity to answer God’s call…” That was Bartimaeus. He immediately let go of his cloak, all he had, and went with Jesus on his way into Jerusalem.

These confirmation students this morning also reflect the faith of Bartimaeus. They are ready to respond to God’s call. They are young people committed to service and justice and to be the church, just as they are right now. Isn’t that right? Let me see you lean forward a little in your seats. You’re ready to spring into action, I can see it. I know this about you. And that’s one reason for all of us to celebrate.

At the same time, you may have already found, there will be moments when you feel that your faith isn’t always quite as strong, when you have some doubts and persistent questions. Maybe you will have trouble identifying with the bold faith of Bartimaeus who knew just who he was and what he wanted from Jesus and was ready to follow him into Jerusalem. Well, don’t worry too much when you feel that way because you are still a child of God, and God will still use you.

You see, some of the time you’ll be more like the disciples–those disciples who had a wandering, self-serving, anything-but-perfect faith. Jesus nevertheless got them involved in this wall-demolishing healing. He told them to bring Bartimaeus to him, though he certainly could have walked to the side of the road himself. They did go to him and said, “Take heart; get up, Jesus is calling you.” And they were also blessed by this grace.

Confirmands, as members of the Church of Christ, this is part of what you are called to do: to offer the invitation, “Take heart; get up, Jesus is calling you.” Sure, you may not use those words exactly, but it’s the same task nonetheless. So when you see that classmate who has been bullied to the point of internalizing the hate he has experienced so that he really believes he is inferior, then you will convince him in your own unique way that he is in fact a beloved child of God. Take heart; get up. When you see a policy in your school or your government that is harmful to a group of people or to the creation God has made, then you will gather others together and you will, in your own unique way, assure them that God desires something new. Take heart; get up. When you see a friend grieving, you will sit beside her to remind her that she is not alone. Take heart; get up. When you yourself are being silenced either by others’ expectations or your own sense of unworthiness, for any reason, then you will remember this invitation for yourself. Take heart; get up. Jesus is calling you because you, too, are a child of God, with a voice that is very much needed in this world. You are loved and ready to serve Christ in your own unique way, just as you are.

The church, in its meandering path through history, has sometimes forgotten the call to listen to the diversity of voices within God’s family. Too often the church worries about imaginary walls—who’s in and who’s out, who’s got their doctrine right and who doesn’t, who’s the most moral or most generous or most pious, who’s the servant and who’s the one being served? But God isn’t interested in walls of separation. God invites us along the way of grace together, just as we are.

Confirmands, that’s the kind of church that I hope you will not only experience but the kind of church you will be, now and in the years ahead: a church without walls, a church made whole and set free by the grace of Christ to boldly share God’s love.

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Kickin’ Up Dust

Pastor Ingrid C. A. Rasmussen’s sermon from Sunday, October 18

The gospel according to Mark, the tenth chapter:

[32 They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; 34they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.’]

35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Word of God. Word of life. Thanks be to God.

Some of you watched the recent presidential debates. The rest of you heard about them. You and I now know something about the men sitting to our right: Donald, Jeb, Mike, Ben, Ted, Marco, Rand, Chris, Carly and John. And we know something about Hillary, Bernie, Martin, Lincoln, and Jim, those candidates sitting to our left.

It’s still early. News outlets are giving a lot of advice to the frontrunners: look more presidential, pick yourself up, be different, get on the map. And, most importantly, be great.

We need only turn on the television or open the newspaper to hear candidates give us compelling stories to prove their greatness. And although we’d like to say that its only presidential hopefuls who are preoccupied by the question of greatness, deep down many of us know that we are all asking it, too. It’s a question that we are trained to begin asking early and conditioned to ask the rest of our lives: Who is the greatest student in the classroom? Greatest violinist in the orchestra? Who is the greatest parent, or manager at work, or writer, or gardener, or volunteer, or activist, or cook? It’s a question that we ask ourselves in more situations than we’d care to admit.

But just as we tire of the Presidential candidates trying to prove their superiority, we too get tired in trying to prove ours. In order to appear great we are often forced to cover up other things like our hurts and uncertainties, our fears and powerlessness. At home, in the workplace, and even at church, we sweep these things under the rug, pretend like they aren’t there, or attempt to write them out of our story. We do whatever it takes to keep these parts of us at bay. In the end, it’s exhausting business—this trying to be great—because it forces us to hide our most fragile pieces.

We often romanticize the duties that the disciples had been given—spending their days with Jesus, being sent out with the power to heal, and traveling from village to village to spread the message. But the truth is that they were living a pretty tenuous existence. They had given up their livelihoods to follow a carpenter from Nazareth, and in doing so they had left their families behind. They didn’t always understand Jesus’ teachings or catch the gist of his parables. They weren’t entirely sure what Jesus meant when he said that the Son of Man would be betrayed, killed, and rise again on the third day. Not much was certain in the lives of these guys, so we can sympathize with their need for a reasonable amount of control and just an ounce of greatness.

Commentators are hard on them, saying this is yet one more example of the disciples not getting it in Mark’s gospel. But I think we ought to look again; I think that James and John are actually headed in the right direction. After all, they are beginning to understand that Jesus is inviting them into the center of the action. They are beginning to understand that they’re not simply passive observers. They’re not simply messianic students. They’re not simply Jesus’ henchmen of healing. We see them begin to understand themselves as what God made them to be: co-creators in the commonwealth of God. I think this is a moment of brilliance on the part of these two disciples.

But before they can even pat themselves on the back for having discerned the incredible invitation, they make the mistake that so many of us fall victim to—that is, they equate co-creator with ruler and begin to imagine themselves into a great kingdom marked by sedentary thrones and opulence for those in control. No surprise, it looks an awful lot like Rome. James will co-create on the Son of God’s left hand. John will co-create on the Son of God’s right hand. Or vice versa; they’re not picky. It’ll be perfect.

They’re differentiating, getting themselves on the map. You know, being great.

But Jesus says, “not so fast, big guys. If you want to be great, then you need to be a servant.” In Greek the word for servant is diakonos. A diakonos is defined as one “who kicks up dust by moving in a hurry, so as to minister.” I love that image.

After all, this is a different kind of kingdom, Jesus reminds them, another kind of commonwealth. Here, we don’t cover up our hurts and uncertainties, our fears and powerlessness. Here, there’s no right hand and left hand. This is the commonwealth that Pulizer Prize-winning author, Marilynne Robinson, says shows up most clearly not on debate stages, but most clearly in places like emergency rooms—where “the profoundly counterintuitive [Christian belief] that your neighbor is as worthy…as you are comes to life.” Doctors take swift action with patients. Nurses have the presence of mind to ask family members if they’re OK. Strangers in the waiting room offer one another candy bars from the vending machine.

After my husband Paul’s cardiac arrest earlier this year, our lives were messy. I was learning to live with the memory of doing CPR on the one I love most. Paul was coming to terms with a new medical reality.

Paul’s parents came to stay so I could do some work here at the church during Holy Week. My in-laws didn’t know what to do in between all of the doctor visits and all of the emotions. So on Maundy Thursday, they asked if they could clean the house. And they did clean—clothes, floors, bathrooms, kitchen, even windows. It was a tiny miracle in the midst of days I hope will be among my worst. They were diakonoi, servants, quite literally kickin’ up dust, so as to minister.

One theologian says that saying “yes” to this kind of servanthood—this kind of dust-kickin’ life won’t get you a posh throne or “any extra protection to your well-being; it may in fact make things harder instead of easier, with one important exception: you will [not] suffer from a shortage of high purpose in your life. You will [not] wonder why you are here or what you are for, because from now on you know both where you came from and where you are headed. Your feet are pointed in a certain direction—toward full communion with God and neighbor; away from evil and despair; toward justice and peace among all people, away from anything that might persuade you to respect the dignity of some [of creation] but not all.”[1]

It’s for this kind of life that Jesus came. And it’s into this kind of life that James and John, you and I are invited. Forget greatness; let’s kick up a little dust.

AMEN.

[1] Paraphrased for the sake of readability.

The Call of a Rich Man. Jay’s Sermon from October 11.

Mark 10:17-31

17 As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

A hand went up toward the back of the room, and a man asked a very reasonable and straightforward question. He and the rest of us had just heard a remarkable presentation by Jack Nelson Pallmeyer about Pope Francis’s recent encyclical on creation and our planet’s ecological crisis. Jack had affirmed the Pope’s urgent and prophetic call to repentance and to live more responsibly with the earth. We cannot ignore the problems.

Then the man in back of the room, a guest here at Holy Trinity, asked his question that probably many of us might have asked. He said, “All of this news about global climate change is overwhelming. What is one thing that each of us here can do in response?”

Jack said he couldn’t suggest only one thing but would offer two things. First, simplify. Every one of us could live a little more simply and sustainably, reducing our waste, consuming less. Some of you have worked hard at that already, but there’s room for more, I’m sure. So I took it as good news, actually. There is something I can do to ease the problem of global climate change, even if very small. Eat less meat. Change some light bulbs. Buy fewer plastic toys for the kids. I started making a mental list of goals to privately work on in my own life.

But Jack’s second recommendation wouldn’t allow me to keep my response to all he had laid out as merely a private affair. “Second,” he said, “Be civically engaged.” We’re in this together, after all. We need collective decisions, along with our individual ones. We need to be involved with community networks who can work together toward new economic and political systems. We need to join up with other concerned communities—other groups, other churches, other faiths and learn to find meaning in places other than consumption, waste, and unsustainable growth. The fact is that there are many of us who seriously want to live more sustainably on this planet. But I question our readiness to work together for the kind of change that is required. Cutting down a little on personal energy use is one thing, but how much of the rest of life are we willing to disrupt?

One day, a man had been listening to Jesus and raised his hand. He had a question about what was required of him. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” he asked, and I believe he was sincere in his asking. I haven’t always believed that. You see, there’s a heading in my Bible right before this passage that says “A Rich Man,” and somehow I’ve developed this assumption that because he was a rich man I should not like him. He must have been sneaky, mean, self-absorbed, only interested in tricking Jesus and earning another profit for himself. But there’s nothing here that says that. Now, maybe he earned his wealth on the backs of the oppressed; he was surely complicit in a system that did. But maybe he was also deeply dissatisfied with that system. Maybe he wanted to help other people and even sought a kind of “eternal life” that was about much more than just his own personal salvation. Maybe he was a good man. It’s my Bible’s editor, not the Gospel writer, who identifies him as rich at the outset. Mark simply calls him “a man.” He was a good and religious person like you and me who tried to obey God’s commands and wanted to know what else he might be missing. What else could he do?

Then Jesus looked at him and loved him. He loved him. He loved this man who was rich and had many possessions. Love was his first response and what informed everything else he said to him. With nothing but love in his eyes, Jesus told him, “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then come and follow me.”

It’s a call story. Jesus called him to be a disciple just like he had called Simon and Andrew while they were fishing and Levi while sitting at his tax booth. But this passage, as far as I know, is the only call story in all the gospels in which someone refuses to follow Jesus. A good and concerned person, a person like us, with bills and a job and a retirement account and other people depending on him, chose to walk away in the opposite direction. And the reason, to be clear, was money.

Former St. Paul bishop Peter Rogness tells a story about a time that he and some other bishops were in Washington DC meeting with lawmakers about issues of hunger and poverty. They were waiting in a conference room in the Senate Office Building, when a Senator stopped in to greet them. He said, “Thank you all for the great work you do. You take care of people’s souls, and we’ll take care of the rest.”

Well, in direct opposition to that Senator’s assumptions, Jesus seems to be saying today that “the rest” is a matter of the soul as well. We fool ourselves about that from time to time. We might think that Christian faith is just one aspect of life and has nothing to do with “secular” matters such as how we spend our money. Or we imagine faith only deals with the portion of money that we choose to give to others in need. We might seek our spiritual meaning in little acts of charity that we mistake for the commonwealth of God, while Jesus is still looking at us lovingly and asking us to follow with all that we have. But too often, many of us walk away, sad and grieving, because we think the call of Christ asks just too much.

This is a passage of scripture that has challenged me all week. To be honest, I’m still not sure what exactly it is saying to me, and so I don’t know exactly what it will say to you, either. But wouldn’t it be great if we could try to figure it out together? Could it be one of the gifts of Christian community that we would be honest together about our financial decisions and other life challenges and learn from each other about how faith can inform them?

Some of you visited the Iona Christian community in Scotland a few years ago. They are a community based on a Scottish island but also dispersed throughout the world. Its members, wherever they live, commit to just a few basic rules of community: daily prayer, regular worship and Bible reading, working for justice and peace and wholeness in the world, and meeting with others to account with one another for the use of gifts, money, and time. That last part seems to be the scariest, doesn’t it? Checking in with others about the personal financial and life decisions we’ve made? It does seem scary, but what a gift it could be also. The fact is that there’s no reason we should have to live these important aspects of life all alone. We’re in this together. It could really help to have a community of nonjudgmental trust—that is, a community of love—where we could be free of the shame, embarrassment, and isolation so often caused by money.

As I read it, it’s for the sake of community that Jesus lovingly invited the man with many possessions to follow him. Jesus could have just said, “Get rid of your stuff,” as there is certainly freedom in carrying a lighter load. But he also said, “Give the money to the poor,” so that new relationships with some other beloved children of God could have been formed. And he said, “Come and follow me,” where the commonwealth of God was being glimpsed along the way. Now, it’s true that the man couldn’t do it. Even those who did follow Jesus stumbled pretty significantly along the way. But the invitation is always open, and with God, who knows what’s possible?

Today is a celebration of Christian community. Every Sunday is, but with the baptism of Josef Francis and the welcome of new members, we have even more reason to give thanks for God’s calling us together to share our lives and faith together. No, we’re not a perfect group of disciples, either. But when we make our promises at the font, we are saying again that the task of raising a child is too important a responsibility for only one family. We are going to be family together and are pledging today to support you and to help you however we can. We’re in this together. And lest we sound too altruistic about all of this, we’re also saying that this kid of yours is too incredible a gift to keep to yourselves. We want to share in the joy, too.

The same goes for new members. We want you to share your gifts and strengths and celebrations with us, and we also want you to share your burdens and weaknesses and challenges with us. We pledge to do the same. We are travelers on the way together, and we can’t live our lives of faith alone.

Last week, I heard a friend and colleague in ministry, Grant Stevenson, say to a room full of clergy, “It’s not correct to say, ‘we are our brother’s keeper.’ We need to say, ‘we are our brother’s brother. We are our sister’s sister, and so on. We are family. If we suspect that we’re not, then all hell can break loose,” he said. “On the other hand, the most dangerous thing to systems of injustice in the world is for us to look at one another and say, ‘that’s my brother; that’s my sister.’”

I looked around the room of pastors—Lutheran, Baptist, Catholic, UCC, male and female, black, white, Latino, gay, straight—and I wondered, could we really share our joys and burdens as siblings? Could I ever really have the courage to share such things with them, despite our significant theological and sociological differences, despite my embarrassment about my own privilege and comfort? Could they be open to sharing such deeply personal matters with me? Could we really start to become family together, or would I walk away feeling sad and grieving? I don’t know for sure. But with God, such a wonderful gift just might be possible.

Little ones, welcome to your world.

Pastor Ingrid C.A. Rasmussen’s sermon from October 4, 2015

Listen along here.

The gospel according to Mark, the tenth chapter:

13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Word of God. Word of life. Thanks be to God.

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Little ones, welcome to your world.

This is a world filled with beautiful things: butterflies and cobwebs, cloud wisps and rainy days, maple leaves and gentle winds, wild geese and rivers that sparkle in the autumn sunlight. Here you’ll encounter beauty in rosy cheeks and wool sweaters, grandma hugs and baby kisses, morning laughter and dreams that gladly usher in the night.

Little ones, welcome to your world.

This is a world set free to be creative. The aunties tell the story of the beginning of all things: God came close to the Earth, getting dirt under the divine fingernails in the formation of every animal of the field and every bird of the air. We, too, are adamah—that is, of the dirt. Creativity is never neat and orderly; it’s always dynamic, open-ended, evolving, and messy. To be honest, this makes most people nervous—especially religious people. But rest assured, God saw that it was good and God sees that it is good. It’s all created for you, and you are created for all things.

Little ones, welcome to your world.

This is a world teaming with love. It’s all of God. It’s mediated through brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents, friends and teachers, mentors and complete strangers. Furry pets and good books and tender music are gifted lovers, too. Love has amazing powers—the power to comfort, to heal, to propel. It fortifies our best impulses. It undergirds our most courageous acts. Love is God’s creation; it pours down upon us like rain showers in the spring. There is no taking shelter from it. We are soaked. It drips from us we move through our daily lives; we cannot help but leave a loving trail behind us wherever we go.

Little ones, welcome to your world.

This is a world where the people you love most will suffer. It often happens when you’re not expecting it—addiction, depression, cancer, sudden cardiac death, Alzheimer’s. Illness comes by many names. No matter what you’re told, there are are no mental exercises that fully prepare you to face the fragility of those you love. It will interrupt the life’s rhythm on which you’ve come to depend. One wise person says that “to spend one night with real pain is to discover depths of reality that are roped off while everything is going fine.” But ask my friends Mary and Martha, Lazarus and the guy I just healed over there, and they’ll tell you that even in the midst of suffering and death, God is there—nearer to the suffering and the heavy-hearted than their very breath, closer to the dying than the loving hands that cling to them.

Little ones, welcome to your world.

This is a world that has struggled. Someday way too soon you’ll learn about the places where creation and community are fractured by things like economic exploitation, climate change, racism, violence, and patriarchy. You have no choice in the matter. If it’s any comfort, Abraham and Sarah didn’t either. You will inherit the sins of your ancestors: You’ll notice inequity woven into the fabric of daily life. You’ll discover that your forbearers have mistreated the Earth. You’ll blush that so much money has been hoarded under the guises of security and legacy. You’ll question why we need to say things like Black Lives Matter, as if there were another viable alternative. You’ll learn that we still execute those we’d rather God not redeem and that we still let gun violence go unchecked again and again. You’ll find that patriarchy’s residue requires lots and lots of hot water and scrubbing.

In the midst of the struggle, remember:

This is a world that is changeable. You stand in a long line of prophets—Miriam, Huldah, Isaiah, Deborah, Jeremiah, and Anna, women and men who have been persecuted for critiquing the status quo. There will be times when you’ll wonder if the struggle is headed anywhere, if your voice is heard by anyone, if your work is in vain, if your complicity in the very things you oppose nullifies your efforts. You will grow weary; ask Andrew, Thomas, James, John, Judas, or any of the other dudes around here, and they’ll tell you that disciples are often tired. Take heart in the fact that nothing is beyond God’s redemptive reach—the marketplace, the Earth, the law, the violence, the structures of inequality. All is subject to God’s reformation—and by extension, ours. It can be changed. It is being changed before our eyes.

Little ones, welcome to your world.

This is a world where hope resides. Sometimes it grows dim. Often it’s elusive. But hope is the undercurrent of the whole creation. If we listen closely, we’ll hear it circulating among the elders, and we’ll see it in the birth of the village’s newest child, and we’ll desperately try to capture it on our smartphones when Pope Francis comes to town. The Spirit ensures hope springs and pulses and sways and grooves, and it asks us to move with it—not into another world—but deeper into this one. The Spirit invites us into the commonwealth of God that has already come among us, a realm that is unfolding in, around, and through you.

Little ones, welcome to your world.

This is a world forgiven. Any of you with a younger sibling know that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves, but God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God’s forgiveness is like a woman who had two daughters. The eldest was obedient and content to live with her mother. The younger couldn’t wait to live on her own. When she was eighteen, she asked her mother for her portion of the inheritance. She took the money and ran. She spent every last dime on wild living. She returned home, with nothing, having tarnished the family’s name forever. But as soon as her mother saw her figure on the horizon, she ran to her daughter with open arms. It’s incredible, but God’s arms remain open to you, to me. Our greed and folly, complacency and perfectionism, envy and prejudice, pride and shame don’t have the last word. God’s mercy does.

Little ones, welcome to your world.

Finally, then, this is a world blessed by God. We so often think of blessing as that which makes the rich richer and the happy happier. But God’s blessing is more like what one poet calls a “life-cherishing force.” Blessing is water at the well. Companionship for the lonely. Fires for the cold. Ropes let down to the lost. And bread in the pockets of the hungry. It is for you. You are not alone.

Little ones, welcome to your world: Beautiful. Creative. Loving. Suffering. Struggling. Changing. Hope-filled. Forgiven. Blessed.

Thanks be to God. Amen.