Rev. Lyle McKenzie Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria
Proverbs 31:10-31 / Psalm 1 / James 3:13-4:3,7-8a / Mark 9:30-37
Jesus doesn’t give up on his followers, even when they don’t understand, even when their minds are on earthly things of greatness and power, that couldn’t be more in contrast “on the way” with Jesus to his suffering and death. They fail in ways that the later letter of James warns, in envy and selfish ambition, while Jesus shows them the first must be last of all and servant of all, like welcoming a child, welcoming Jesus, welcoming God.
The good news is Jesus doesn’t give up, keeps teaching and showing his followers his saving servant way, the divine way, like Jesus is still teaching and showing us his saving servant way.
I’d like to tell you a little about my Mom and her recent funeral. I spoke and wrote about her life of service and sacrifice, especially given in care for us her children.
My Mom grew up on a farm in southern Manitoba and from a young age she worked hard on the farm with her family, and also supported her Godparent’s young family helping with chores and childcare in their home. She courageously chose to leave the farm at age sixteen for Winnipeg to serve as live-in domestic help and childcare provider. She served at a lunch counter in a downtown drugstore making perfect sandwiches (something I spoke about the week before her death.) She then trained as a comptometer operator, an accomplishment she was proud of, and began work with United Grain Growers until marriage soon after, and becoming a devoted spouse, mother and homemaker, sacrificing much for the love of her family. She gave birth to four children in six years. As a very busy mom, with a husband who traveled for work, and with limited resources, she was strong and resourceful, and always aware and concerned about the wellbeing of each of her children. I recall a story more than an actual memory of Mom pulling all four of us on a toboggan during a Winnipeg winter down to the grocery store and back to make sure there was enough food in the house for all of us. She was a wonderful cook and baker, often hosting family and others. She was a fine seamstress, did beautiful knitting and crochet work including baptismal gowns and blankets for her grandchildren, and had a very “green thumb” with beautiful gardens and household plants, especially ever blooming African Violets.
She was not everything the “capable/worthy wife” of Proverbs is described to be, nor should any woman be subjected to such expectations and confining roles. And not perfect, frail and flawed, like we all are, but honoured and praised and given a share in the fruit of her hands, that she was worthy of receiving.
We wrote, “Mom was a person of deep commitment and faith and gave us gifts of love, thoughtfulness, caring and laughter for which we are all very grateful. We commend her to God trusting that she now enjoys everlasting peace and joy.”
I tell you about my Mom, because like many mothers, she was a servant, especially in care for us her children. She often placed herself last of all and servant of all, and her family and others first. It was a service she took up in love and sacrifice and a role that was expected and given to her like many women at that time and still, like the capable/worthy wife spoken of in Proverbs. That the way of serving and sacrifice was or is expected of or given to women, one gender over another, is not what Jesus asks of his followers. And any continuing gender bias that imposes this way of service and sacrifice on women, is not of God. Jesus’ service and sacrifice for God’s love, frees women and all of us from captivities like this, frees us for life, and yes, for service in the way and Spirit of Jesus, especially for the most vulnerable, for the children, welcoming them, welcoming Jesus, welcoming God.
To take up this way of service and sacrifice for the sake of others, especially for the children and most vulnerable as Jesus did, this is the way, the life, that Jesus both frees us and calls us to follow. As the disciples repeatedly fail to understand, and turn instead to envy and selfish ambition, Jesus carefully and caringly teaches them about being last of all and servant of all, welcoming children, welcoming Jesus, welcoming God.
At the funeral, eleven of my Mom’s thirteen surviving grandchildren were able to be present. The two granddaughters who live in Winnipeg spoke and shared thoughts from all the grandchildren about memories and gifts from their nanny and grandma. My one niece remarked, it was amazing to hear how we all had common experiences of Nan, her loving and always welcoming us, her care and feeding us our favourite things, her hugs and kisses. I recall seeing my Mom the first time we used a computer and Skype to connect with one of the kids, and her taking the laptop into her arms and hugging it and saying she just wanted to hug our child through the screen. My three siblings spoke briefly, each sharing stories of mom’s life and especially her loving care: my one brother of an earliest childhood memory of my Mom cuddling him during a first thunderstorm and stilling his fears; my sister of my Mom’s last breaths and shining face, my older brother of my Mom’s grocery bag sized lunches that fed him and all his friends at university. I shared a story of talking to my Mom after one of our summer visits with all the kids and apologizing for the whirlwind of disruption and chaos we caused and left behind. She said she had been cleaning up for a while, but then said she came across little hand and finger prints on the glass coffee table and she just couldn’t clean them off. This was no small thing for someone as clean and neat as my Mom.
In carefully and caringly teaching the disciples, imagine the scene, Jesus putting a child to crawl or walk or just lie there among them, who knows for how long. And then Jesus taking the child in his arms, and telling them, teaching them, showing them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Biblical commentators are all quick to point out that the child represents the one who is most vulnerable, of lowest status in the community. That may be, and that may be an important broadening of the concern and purpose Jesus calls his followers to serve. But I wonder if it isn’t enough that Jesus wants his disciples and all his followers, all of us, to welcome and care for children, to be servants of their wellbeing, to place them first, not because they represent something more, but because God cares for and loves them, maybe most of all, and welcoming and loving them is welcoming and loving Jesus and God.
I think of the two Baptisms the last two Sundays and the joy in seeing the children, seeing them loved and immersed and washed in these sacred waters, and embraced by families and by all of us, so evident especially as we take them in our arms and show them to the community and we all delight in seeing them, knowing as God welcomes and embraces them, so we welcome and embrace them in love, and welcome and embrace every child in love and as servants of their wellbeing, placing them first as we are called by Jesus to do.
These children and every child in our midst, remind us, teach us, of our responsibility for every child, everywhere and the service and sacrifice for their wellbeing we are called to live.
That children are a first priority in our congregation needs to remain our continuing work and purpose. That we serve the wellbeing of children in our neighbourhoods and world is expressed in our creation and support of the Shelbourne Community Kitchen, and of the Rainbow Kitchen and Our Place. Refugee sponsorship of young people, parents and children, is an expression of this service as is our support of Canadian Lutheran World relief, the Lutheran World Federation and our Synod, National and partner churches.
In BC, where children’s poverty remains one of the highest in the country, in a nation as wealthy as Canada, for any child to live in poverty, for indigenous children to live in poverty at rates many times greater than the general population, is a travesty and tragedy that must be our first concern, that all of us must work together to change, to sacrifice for, to be servants of the wellbeing of all children, that they be first of all, and we last of all and servant of all. This is the life Jesus frees us and calls us to live, to serve, especially for children and all the vulnerable, welcoming them all, welcoming Jesus, welcoming God.
Thank God for examples of this servant way in others, including mothers and women who serve and sacrifice for the wellbeing and welcome of all children. Thank God for Jesus’ willingness to keep teaching us his saving servant way, freeing us to follow in loving service. And thank God for Jesus placing children among us and taking children in his arms, and showing us our purpose and service, to welcome children, welcome Jesus, welcome God. Let it be so, in all our relations, Amen.