Sabine sent an email wondering what we might have to say in a sermon about the first reading that, in her words, describes “a superwoman who has to work like a horse.” What more can I say? The reading from Proverbs that begins “A capable wife who can find,” might be written as some scholars suggest, like a mother’s wisdom to her young eligible son. But if that isn’t fraught enough, the list is an idealized commendation of how capable and empowered a woman could be, but still most often are not allowed to be, not for the sake of their “husbands,” let alone their own sake. So no, I am afraid I don’t have much to say in my sermon about this reading, except to be cautious in our hearing and realistic about its context and content, at best acknowledging that women would be so empowered and free, and that equity be our goal and work, but not the expectation that they must be superwomen who have to work like a horse!
Shifting thoughts… one of the gifts of the summer has been taking our children and grandchildren in our arms once again. I say this knowing this has not yet been possible for some of you, and others, who dearly long for that opportunity. And knowing it is not possible for some for various reasons, some that are painful and tragic. And praying that it will be possible soon, where possible, and for God’s comfort and peace, where it is not possible, and there is pain in that loss.
Taking children in our arms is a great gift not to be taken for granted. For us, with each child and grandchild and others, and again this weekend, taking them in our arms is a great gift after many months of not being able to do so. With our adult children, some who stand much taller than me, it can be more like being taken into their arms. And I am good with that too. And taking our grandchildren in our arms, this weekend our youngest grandchild who turned one last month, and their hugging us back, what a gift! And with all of them, from age 1 to sixteen! To take them in our arms, what a joy! Jesus takes a child in his arms. What a gift! What joy! For the disciples, for all of us to see.
Before that, Jesus shared with his disciples, his closest companions, what was about to happen. That he would be betrayed and killed. But after three days, rise again! As we heard, the disciples can’t understand, and are too afraid to ask. We can understand that. And so, in their fear and anxiety they turn to arguing with one another about who is the greatest.
The sharp contrast between Jesus telling of his own death and resurrection and Jesus’ disciples in their anxiety and confusion arguing over status and power, is the central concern of the Gospel, the central concern of Jesus in walking a politically and socially and religiously subversive, alternative, lifegiving way with his followers and for the world. To quote Chet Myers in Binding the Strong Man, “The follower of Jesus must expect the fate of a subversive, but the ultimate choice of the cross must also be daily reproduced in the concrete life of the messianic community.” What does that concrete life of the cross in the community of Jesus look like? Being first/greatest means being last and servant of all. And so that the disciples and we see that, Jesus places a child at the centre among us. And then taking that child into his arms, says to us, “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 beautiful and profound image. Welcoming a child is welcoming Jesus is welcoming God. Taking a child in our arms is a gift, a joy, the truth, of welcoming a child, Jesus, God. And more than just the good feeling of taking a child in our arms again. It is placing the child, the least, the most vulnerable, first, at the centre, of our greatest concern. This is what the concrete life of the cross in the community of Jesus looks like, is to be always, for the life of the children, for the life of the world.
How could followers of Jesus so fail to live this gift, this joy, this truth, in relation to Indigenous children on these lands? To do the exact opposite of Jesus in church-run Residential Schools. We continue to grieve with Indigenous communities as unmarked graves are found and identified. We will grieve next Sunday as Indigenous and non-indigenous people together, in confession and reckoning with the history of this nation on these lands, and the legacy of genocide, and of intergenerational trauma and prejudice and racism that continue. But also lift up the stories of the children, of survivors, and of the resilience and growing strength in the voices of Indigenous neighbours. Signs of greater self-determination and work toward redress and true reconciliation that are more present now, than ever. With hopeful examples in media, literature, music and all the arts; growing representation in education, business, politics, and more. And so much further to go, with each boil water advisory lifted, the latest example in Shoal Lake Manitoba, after 24 years, now able to drink the water taken from the source of clean water for the city of Winnipeg all this time. And in our gathering next Sunday, for Orange Short Day and the first ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30, with Indigenous seminary student and leader Carolyn Klaassen for a time of mourning and feasting together that we pray continues to reshape and inspire us in decolonizing ourselves and our church and communities toward greater truth and reconciliation together, taking all children in our arms, welcoming them, welcoming the Creator, for seven generations, for the wellbeing of all in these anxious and challenging times.
The disciples of Jesus are anxious and afraid. That’s a pretty good description of much of our world, isn’t it? Maybe many of our lives? This is my sense. We are anxious and afraid. I am not going to list all the possible reasons. The list can be long, and we no doubt already review it often in our minds, like a spinning wheel, or in conversations, or from any news source, compounded by weariness for many, or more personal concerns and challenges, fears and uncertainties, losses, and grief. These are anxious times and many, if not most of us, are anxious. And that is not to say, it is all even, with the challenges for many who are disadvantaged, oppressed, marginalized, isolated, threatened, unsafe, without shelter or food or support, being much greater. And the cause for anxiety for me as a person of privilege being much less, more abstract than immediate - than it is for many of my neighbours. And temptations to argue about who is the greatest in anything, or to simply argue, are close at hand. Uncertainty about the pandemic, the now fourth wave, more infectious strains, and rising numbers, especially among the unvaccinated, the climate emergency, an election… I said I wouldn’t list all the reasons to be anxious and afraid. And people are arguing, and it can seem like we have lost all courtesy and decency and sanity… A person ahead of me at a drive through whose doughnut order was not as he wanted who took to shouting and swearing at the young person at the window… and I could only apologize for human behaviour as I got to the window next and thank the person for their service… and we could wish each other a good day; or friends having lunch at a patio downtown and someone standing and shouting at them about their privilege to eat at a restaurant while he was denied his rights because of the required proof of vaccine… ranting until the police had to be called… or those against vaccines entering a school with the children having to be locked in their classrooms… what is happening? And Jesus puts a child among us, and takes the child in his arms, and says, whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Do we not see? Through our anxiety and fear, in global crises for all creation, what Jesus is showing us. In the often seen as least, in the most vulnerable, in the centring and lifting up, and embraced in the arms of Jesus, a child, every child, of this and of seven generations and more, to be welcomed, as Jesus, as the Creator, and nurtured and fed and clothed and sheltered, protected, warm and safe, in our collective arms.
This concrete life and way of the cross in the community of Jesus where being greatest/first is in serving the least, the littlest, all children, is described in the reading from James, as a harvest of righteousness, in goodness, gentleness, welcome, mercy, and peace toward and for all children, all children of God. What a gift, what a joy, what truth in taking a child in our arms in welcome, welcoming Jesus, welcoming God, welcoming the life and wellbeing of all creation of God’s desiring. Let it be so for the sake of the children and all creation, in all our relations. Amen.