Children

Posted: September 20, 2018 in Uncategorized

Children

I don’t need to tell you about the need for children’s and youth work in relation to the future of any congregation in the PCANZ. Many of us have been avid supporters of ‘Kid’s Friendly’ and many other programs around children’s work. As a congregation we have employed people to provide children’s ministry and by in large they have been successful ventures. The primary challenge being that children grow up and the energy needed to maintain an ever-changing ministry has been a challenge. In the interests of contemporary theological development we have purchased new children’s work curriculum material in preparation for the future, and most importantly we have given the last 8 years of our focus to establishing children’s work in our parish, namely through a school on our site.

This has been born out of our conviction that an intellectually authentic faith is required if the Jesus story is to continue to add value to life in the future. We may not like the cliché that says the children are our future because we know they are our present, along with our responsibility. And we know we are an aging congregation along with which goes the acknowledgement that our experiences of empathetic relationships with children are conditioned by our ability to relate to the world of the children. It is easy for us to be grandparents and offer a sage like influence but it is hard for us to understand the child’s actual or likely future world view.

Philosophically we know that for us to participate in the unfolding of the future we must offer our children the best possible attitude, equip them with loads of resilience and discernment skills and we know that the first few years of a child’s life is crucial for its ability to navigate their way through their world. This is the need for parental support to young through maternal and paternal experiences.

Theologically we think that our call to participate in God’s Mission is the moral obligation to live lives as though reality is never what it seems and rather than live a life of fear driven reaction there is always an alternative transformative life changing, experience born in and through love. That beyond belief there is a transformation of life available to all who would embrace what we call the divine invitation to live life abundantly and to love extravagantly. Again, we find the challenge to nurture our children, to equip their minds with the tools of discernment, not because they don’t have them, but because our understanding of human development is that life is a journey of discovery about oneself and the world in which we live and have our being. New discoveries tell us just how important it is to honour the mind and intellectual and psychological development. They tell us that the mind exists to give meaning across a miriad of pathways. It is a marvelous creative activity all its own, fed by opportunity and other people interactions.

 

It is not obvious to everyone outside our lives but I think it is a credit to the people of St David’s that you have been prepared to give energy in a hope filled exploration of the -opportunity to offer an unselfish gift to the church and to young people. It is perhaps sad that others in our church fail to understand the depth and breadth of such a response to God’s call. But then again, I must be careful not to impose my lens upon the outworking of history and it is suffice to say that our gospel story from the storyteller we call Mark, is about Jesus setting a child down in front of the disciples, and saying: “Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me…” This is an affirmation of what we have tried to do to make our decision seem very appropriate, timely, and acceptable.

And for those of us a few years past our childhood years, having also heard that story, from Mark can probably go way, way back in memory… and remember the picture in the children’s Bible we received for good attendance, or the one hanging in the Sunday School room next to the framed Cradle Roll. Just earlier this week I was having my hair cut and the young woman cutting my hair spoke to me about her adult children not attending mass these days and she lamented their not having had her warm and encouraging childhood, when all was right with the world when attending mass regularly was a security. And going along to the children’s catechism classes was part of her life-giving structure, security and purpose for her childhood.

So, this story, at least on the surface, seems to provide us with just the right opening we need to talk about ministry with, and welcoming of, children. Children…  like the little five-year old sitting next to his mum during the prayers? The one who, in the space of three minutes, while you are trying to pray… swings his feet, drops a copy of the liturgy, picks it up, looks under the chairs while on the floor, tries to dislodge a piece of gum stuck to the underside of the seat, uses the pages of the liturgy as a fan, stands, waves to the Smiths who are smiling at him, resumes his seat, holds his legs out stiffly, crosses and uncrosses his legs several times, glances at the ceiling, studies the height, the play of the sun through the windows, lies down on the floor to get a better view of the ceiling, kicks his brother in the process, dodges his brother’s retaliating kick, moves over and stands again to make room for his mum who is now changing places…

Welcoming, those kinds of children, may be one way to start a sermon around this story. But I’m sure that is not what this story by Mark is about. Instead I think it is much closer to a story of a letter discovered in an ancient garbage dump near Cairo, dated 18 June in the year 1 BC.

There we find a letter from a worker writing to his pregnant wife back home, telling her not to worry about his return, and sending her his love: “Hilarion to… Alis. Many greetings… and to (our son) Apollonarion.  Know that we are even yet in Alexandria.  Do not worry if they all come back (except me) and I remain in Alexandria.  I urge and entreat you, be concerned about the child (Apollonarion) and if I should receive my wages soon, I will send them up to you.  If by chance you bear a son, if it is a boy, let it be, if it is a girl cast it out.

“You have said to Aphrodosias, ‘Do not forget me’.  How can I forget you?  Therefore, I urge you not to worry” (Crossan 1994: /63).

Here is a world, light years away from our Sunday School child. (But not so far away from parts of our global world.) A world where a child is a nobody unless its father accepts it. A world where it is commonplace and legal for children to be ‘exposed’ in the gutter or rubbish dump, to die, or to be taken by someone who wishes to rear a slave. A world where the Greek word for a primary school-aged child can also mean ‘slave’ or ‘servant’.

 

Children in general, were not the ‘last’ on the social ladder in the society of Jesus’ time, unless they were slaves. So, following Mark’s story, and Kathleen Corley’s comment on this story, it is quite reasonable to suggest: “…that Jesus’ hearers are told to identify themselves with the enslaved or those in position of servitude.  In fact, the reign of God belongs especially to them…  Surely the statement that young slaves were of God’s kingdom would have been met with surprise or even shock by his hearers, especially the free, even if they were poor.  Any who had been forced to sell children into servitude, however, would have appreciated Jesus’ subversive speech”.

Then Jesus took a young child, one who had been taken into slavery, set this child in front of everyone so they could see, put his arms around her, and said: “Anyone who welcomes one of these children in my name, welcomes me…” What a radical way to ignore or push the social boundaries of his society! What a way to ‘get up the nose’ of those who exercised power to value themselves over others!

So, if we do our usual bit of ‘theological thinking’ at this point, we would probably conclude that a 21st century interpretation of Jesus’ saying would be that in acts of caring for vulnerable human beings we come face to face with the divine; That if anyone is wishing to be great, then such caring is a sign of true greatness and power.

A couple of years ago now in Australia The Hon (Justice) Marcus Einfeld, said that: “It is often said that a society’s moral strength is measured by how humanely it deals with the most vulnerable individuals living within its domain.  It has to be said that in recent times there has been a lack of moral fortitude, compassion and understanding of divergent cultures and peoples and this has given rise to a seemingly frenzied almost hysterical reaction to refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers…” We also hear stories of children in detention, children separated from their families, and children spending years in detention centers. In very recent days we have heard of the battle between those who want to eradicate competition from schools seeking viability in an image driven world and those who want to use competition and marketing to seek excellence and quality in education. I don’t want to get caught up in a debate about what is best within the system but rather I want to ask that; given that what happens to children in their early years can impact the whole of their lives what are we doing to the future of our species? And that is alongside the environment we are destroying with our plastic waste. What about our children’s mental and physical health? What about their ability to resist the fabricated environment they must wade through, in their formative years”

Jesus took a young child, one who had been disowned, dumped, even accused of being ‘an illegal’ and a ‘queue jumper’, the lowest of the low, set this child in front of everyone so they could see, claimed this child by putting his arms around her, and said: “Anyone who welcomes one of these children in my name, welcomes me… and knows the Holy One is in our midst”. Could it be that both Justice Einfeld and Mark’s Jesus are really saying we need to rediscover the collective soul of our tribe, our community and our nation? Could it be about the future of our species as well as the wellbeing of a struggling child.

I owe the story about Justice Einfied to a colleague Rex Hunt in Australia and it is interesting to note that in the years after Rex’s sermon in 2003 the then Justice Einfeld was convicted of making a false statement under oath and for attempting to pervert the course of justice – all over a traffic infringement notice.  He was sentenced to three years in prison.  His commission as a Queen’s Counsel was also been revoked.

I sometimes wonder if a similar conviction awaits us as members of St David’s maybe because we too have disturbed complacency, challenged control, upset the logical economics and made the system uncomfortable with the truth. God’s mission is as Jesus said; “Anyone who welcomes one of these children in my name, welcomes me.”. But then, we may be paranoid, emotional, fanciful or unreasonable. Amen.

Notes:

Crossan, J. D. 1994.  Jesus: A revolutionary biography. NY: New York. HarperSanFrancisco.

Corley, K. E. 2002.  Women and the historical Jesus. Feminist myths of Christian origins. CA: Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.

rexae74@gmail.com[Back To Top]

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Avau Neueli says:

    Thank you!

    Avau

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s