Sunday, October 29, 2006

As a little child

Luke 9:37-50

Once upon a time a woman told me, “I like the message of Billy Graham but I distrust him. I went through World War II and I saw what that sort of speaking can do. A crowd will get so swept up that they forget to think.” (Or something like that).

The point she was making is that we are to be careful about whom we listen to, and that it is easy to get caught up in the roar of the crowd. But we, who are Christians, are called to be different. And this story illustrates those differences. Jesus doesn’t come close to being a demagogue, though there are stories where he preaches to the crowd. He comes to the people who have needs and heals them. He welcomes the children as quickly as the one with power. Jesus shows us the way to go and it’s not the way of power seeking or privilege.

A man comes to Jesus about his only child. The child is possessed by a demon. Perhaps it is epilepsy, perhaps it is demonic, certainly it is a problem. The boy is healed. And then, there are some words in the midst of those problems about the Child of humanity – the Son of Man – being betrayed. And the disciples don’t understand about the betrayal. Then the disciples start arguing over who will be first in the realm of God. And the answer comes. – the least among you is the greatest – and the disciples again don’t understand and miss the point.

The disciples were so focused on what they could and couldn’t do; they were so focused on who had the privilege and honor that they forgot to listen to the teachings of Jesus. The example of Jesus reaching out to the child was missed. The saying of Jesus that he would be betrayed was misunderstood. The direction of Jesus bringing a child and saying the least would be most honored was ignored.

And today we are like those twelve (and more amongst Jesus’ followers). We ignore the needs of the children by taking money from education. We ignore the needs of the poor by taking money from social services. We ignore the needs of those who are sick by not providing health care. We trust in our own understandings rather than listening to each other and to God.

I was fortunate in that I learned some of this from my parents. It did cause problems though. I once ruined a teacher’s plans. Mr. McCullough asked my class what our parents would do if someone came and asked them for food. Well…. I knew. So I raised my hand and said, “My dad would get them a meal at the local hotel.’ And then, Mr. McCullough tried to make it more difficult, someone rough looking, un-bathed. And since my dad was in charge of the local monies for transient food and lodging I raised my hand again and heard, “Roger, don’t answer my question.” And my twin had the class later that day and heard, “Robert, don’t answer my questions today.” As a child I learned. And I try to keep those lessons in mind today as someone a little older.

My teacher learned a little bit about our family that day. And I had learned before that as my parents had learned from their parents. One of the stories I heard about the depression is that my grandparents always had a hired man or two around the place. As I grew older I realized that this happened because when people turned up on the doorstep my grandparents took care of them. That set of grandparents had nine children. They didn’t really need a hired man, but…

And I wasn’t the only one who learned about taking in the stranger. One of my cousins was working and found out that some day laborers hadn’t been paid on Friday. The boss wanted them back on Saturday, rather than waiting until Monday when they were regularly scheduled. So the checks were held back. That cousin appeared at her parent’s house for dinner with five or six extra people. An extra leaf was put in the table and the people were fed.

We are asked to be those people who welcome the least among us, who cast out demons that harass others among us, to go to the weak, the poor, the prisoner, and more. We are to take up our cross and follow the one whose life led to death on a cross. We can be caught up in the roar of the crowd, in the intensity of a leader, but we follow one who looked beyond the great speakers to the person who was in need.

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