15 People were bringing even infants to him that he might bless them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. 16 But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 17 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18)
A couple of weeks ago, we noticed a nest starting to form on one of our back patio lights. Sticks and mud eventually became a nest to welcome three blue robin’s eggs. We did a check day-to-day to see if there was any action, each time startling the mama-bird off the nest who gave us a piece of her mind as we did so. (We didn’t scare her on purpose – just that this was the closest door to where the barbeque was located – and in the dinner rush, I’d forget she was there.) The eggs became these alien-shaped creatures, still happy to hide under their mother for warmth and protection, actively watching for her when she flew off to get them breakfast. Soon after their first feathers grew in, we happened to all be in the backyard when one of the babies decided that that was the exact moment to jump out of the nest. It ran from our backyard to the neighbours, chased by the threatening-lumbering giant that was me, all while yelling something like “I just want to help you…” Seconds later, the second bird followed its sibling, and the two were off, finding refuge together in a nearby bush. (A bird not in my hand was worth two in the bush) all the while mama-bird had made a return, making her feelings clear through a mouthful of worms. One…two…but the third stayed behind. Days passed. We didn’t see much of mama-bird, and we were worried that this little one was forgotten after the dramatic nose-dives that their siblings had taken. I too had forgotten about them when a couple of days later, I went outside to put some garbage in the garage, when I was startled by that last little bird. It jumped out from a bush, and ran quickly into my open garage, seeking refuge. After some polite begging and chasing, and the appearance of not one but two parent birds, the little one ran out and into the street while the parents hovered, encouraged, and likely praised this little one for skillfully evading such a threatening-lumbering giant.
How do we care for those entrusted to us? How do we offer compassion for those that may not recognize their need of it? The disciples see Jesus wasting his time, just like me chasing after those birds. They don’t understand, they say. Don’t bother. Don’t waste your time. For the time when this Scripture was written stands in marked difference to now. In our present moment in time, we honour and recognize how Oliver and James have not just changed their parents’ lives but their love and presence is a gift here and now, already changing our church, community and world. But when this reading from Luke was written,
[t]here was no sentimentality about childhood because childhood was actually a time of terror. Children in those days only really had value as replacement adults but until then they were more like mongrel dogs than they were beloved members of a family… Children were dirty and useless and often unwanted and to teach his disciples about greatness and hospitality, Jesus puts not a chubby-faced angel, but THIS kind of child in the center, folds THIS kind of child into his arms and says when you welcome the likes of THIS child you welcome me…In a culture where children were of no consequence, given no value and considered socially invisible, Jesus cradles a dirty, smelly, rejected little child in his arms and says, “Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me – God who sent me.”
This isn’t just a sentimental post-Father’s day message – in lifting this child into the circle of these leathery skinned fishermen who like those 80s comedies, Three Men and Baby wouldn’t know which end to diaper and which end to feed. They didn’t know how to help. They likely wouldn’t have even cared. And over time, we have lost what a radical teaching this would have been, for those hearing these words may not even recognize the blessedness of this thing…
…and I’ve seen the same thing happen in churches. When a child is brought to church – some forget the humanity…forget the need of Oliver and James…we forget that the welcome we are to extend is to offer community and love for those that can’t even recognize their need for it.
I was the minister in a place – not here – where one member took it upon themselves to go out of their way in a threatening-lumbering way, when a little one dared to come into the Sanctuary. Throughout the service this person pointed out to the new parents, that not only did we have a nursery, they spent the whole of the service actively shushing the child, metaphorically “picking them up” to show that they better fit outside of that circle. Instead of caring, they chased.
When we lift anyone out of the circle, or even chase them in a threatening-lumbering way, we’ve failed to extend the blessing of Christ. When we ‘other’ anyone, we have neglected the radical community that Jesus envisioned. Sometimes our help isn’t help at all. In making the disciples recognize this child, Jesus says, when we ignore the miracle of life that is ours to share, we miss the meaning of life. Look at the blessings that surround you that you barely notice? Like the lilies of the field, or the birds of the air (Matthew 6) there are blessings that God sees that we don’t, there is need that God sees that we don’t, there is love that God sees that we don’t. For when we widen our care and concern, and widen the circle of God’s grace, our way becomes less like me stumbling through my backyard and more like an experience that Rev. Dr. Lillian Daniel had one time she was on her way to church. On her way, she was stopped by a young girl playing violin (poorly) on a street corner, when
A man stepped in front of [her] and began to speak in a hushed, urgent whisper. He said ‘I need you to take this and put it in that little girl’s violin case…’ It was a dollar bill. ‘Put it in her violin case?’ [Lillian questioned.] He said, ‘Yes, just do this for me.’ His back was to her and he said ‘Don’t draw attention to yourself, just take this, can you just do this for me, and put it in the little girl’s violin case…And whatever you do, do not tell her who gave it to you…’ And then [Lillian] realized this had to be the girl’s [parent]…it had to be.
Is there a way that we can be church that offers care and concern, support and love like that? Is there a way that we can resist our need to play hero, and yet still act in invisible and unrecognized ways that honour the miracle of life that is ours to share?
We get close to this in baptism. In baptism, the circle of love grows as we promise our hearts to one another. In baptism, we promise to try to live with a God-like love, one full of parent-like protection, acceptance and cherishing, not because one day they’ll be donating money to keep these doors open, but because they (and we all) need to know of the unconditional love of God. As Oliver grows, and James continues to grow – we want them to know that they are part of a community that looks out for one another. Like the hovering birds over their young ones, we want them to know that they have a whole host of parents and grandparents worried and wondering, ready to leap in to action, like the God who has called us into being.
Ultimately, we want them to know that God loves them…and there is nothing they can do about it. We want everyone that passes through our doors to know that too. We want all to know that there is nothing they could ever do that will ever change or lose that blessing. God loves you, and there is nothing you can do about it. As Jesus reaches for this child, so too he reaches for you and me, to declare, God loves you, and there is nothing you can do about it. And as we grow into the people we are meant to be, this blessing becomes a challenge, for as we better understand the unconditional love required to hold our world together, we better see our role in the invisible and often unrecognized ways we can bring this love to fruition.
We will, God being our helper. Amen
 Not sure who coined this phrase first, but I saw it was the title of a book by David Mangan (yet give no