Meeting God in the Vulnerable

Sermon for Sunday, September 20th, 2015 ||  Proper 20, Year B ||  Wisdom of Solomon 2: 12-22; Psalm 54; James 3: 13-4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9: 30-37 ||  The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield 

Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Well, this morning we are going to welcome one such child–Madeleine Hayes Martin– in Christ’s name. We are going to welcome Maddy into the body of Christ, also known as the church universal. And in so doing, this morning’s gospel tells us, we will be welcoming Christ himself.

Not only that, but by welcoming Christ, we are told, we will be welcoming God. So in the algebraic-like logic of this reading, by welcoming Maddy we are, in fact, welcoming God. And that’s pretty darned cool.

But what, really, does it mean? What does it mean that in welcoming Maddy, we are welcoming God’s own self?

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Now if you’re old enough, perhaps, like me, when you hear this story read, it calls to mind the kind of overly sentimental images we often saw in the 1950s and 60s of a decidedly WASP-y looking Jesus sitting with a sweetly angelic, blonde-haired blue eyed toddler in his lap…sheep grazing in the background…disciples gathered at Jesus’ feet. It’s a very comforting and pastoral scene, but a very misleading one, too.

Because what Jesus is doing in this passage is meant to be anything but comforting! On the contrary, by welcoming a little child in his arms and identifying the child as a stand-in –not just for himself, but for God –Jesus is very intentionally going for some serious shock-value.

Historians tells us that children, like widows and lepers, were among the most vulnerable and powerless members of Jesus’ first century culture. Unlike the child-centric world to which we are all so accustomed, and in which Maddy will be richly blessed to be raised, children in Jesus’ day were the least valued members of any household. They suffered a high mortality rate, were frequently either sold or abandoned, and were essentially deemed unimportant– except as potential laborers if they could survive long enough to be useful.

So Jesus is making a point. A really radical point: To those who have been jockeying for position, Jesus announces that whoever wants to be first has to be last, and whoever wants to be the greatest has to be the least. And to illustrate the point, he then lifts up a little child– the most helpless, defenseless, vulnerable member of his culture, and takes the child in his arms.

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

It’s a metaphorical slap in the face, meant to shock. And shock it does. It’s certainly not what the disciples want to hear. And it’s probably not what we want to hear either.

But in Mark’s gospel this morning Jesus is clear that if we want to know Christ…if we want to encounter God… this, he says, is the way to do it: by welcoming the most vulnerable on his behalf. Because when we welcome the vulnerable, we welcome God. When we embrace the powerless, we embrace God. When we extend our hand to the defenseless, we extend our hand to God.

This morning’s gospel invites each of us to reflect on the meaning of vulnerability, or own and others, and to consider who the most vulnerable are in our own world, our own culture, our own country, community, and family.

When you think of the most vulnerable, I wonder who you think of…

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but I’m pretty sure there’s at least one right answer for each of us. I’m pretty sure there’s some vulnerable person, or group of people, in whom God is inviting each of us to meet Him. It could be the under-employed, the lonely, or the mentally ill. It could be the dying…or someone who is suffering the anguish of grief. Maybe it’s those without anyplace to call home…or an aging friend reluctant to ask for help. Maybe it’s all of those desperate refugees and migrants yearning for a new life, or the victims of the latest California wildfires who have lost everything. It could be under-served children like the ones Steph Musto and Jackie Brady work with at the Umana School in East Boston, or it could be an old friend or family member whose vulnerability you’ve never even considered before. It could be, as we’ve learned so tragically from the Bella Bond case, that it’s a neighbor you haven’t seen in a while—or a parishioner who hasn’t been coming to church much lately.

And of course, it could be a beautiful, much loved little girl named Madeleine Hayes Martin—well cared and provided for, but none the less vulnerable as she grows up in what our prayer book calls, “an unsteady and confusing world.”

Who are the most vulnerable in our lives?  Who is the most vulnerable in your life?

This morning’s scripture invites us to really reflect on that question. Because when we welcome the most vulnerable— when we embrace, take the hand of, or take upon ourselves one such child in Christ’s name- we encounter God’s own self.  Amen.



Leave a comment

Filed under Sermons by Margot

Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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