Children have been the central concern of Jesus the last few Sundays. If you have been here, or worshipping online, have you noticed? Over the last few Sundays, Jesus’ concern has been for the children. And of course, it is not that children have only come to be a concern of Jesus over the last few Sundays, or that they are not a central concern of Jesus, of God, all the time. They are! And maybe the last few Sundays are the Spirit’s reminder of this truth always. And our being called by Jesus/God to make children our central concern, always and in all ways, and in Thanksgiving.
Three Sundays ago, following Jesus’ speaking of his own death and his disciples debating who is the greatest, Jesus took a child and placed the child among them, and then took the child in his arms and told the disciples, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Remember?
The following Sunday, Indigenous leader Carolyn Klaasen led us in remembrance and mourning for the Indigenous children who died at Canadian Residential Schools, including the 215 children located in unmarked graves on the Kamloops Residential School grounds and the now thousands located at other schools. And remembering others who survived with the trauma of that experience painfully and tragically remaining with them and generations of children and adults after. And remembering and honouring that truth on Orange Shirt Day and the first ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Carolyn chose readings from the Gospel of John and Psalm 23 that spoke of God and Jesus as the Good Shepherd caring for the flock, for the children. Because every Indigenous child matters. “Every Child Matters.” Remember?
Last Sunday at the heart of Jesus’ teaching his disciples, and the disciples trying to turn people away who were bringing children to Jesus to bless them, Jesus was indignant and said, “’Let the children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to children such as these that the dominion of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the dominion of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children up in his arms and blessed them.” Remember?
And throughout the Season of Creation in September and that concluded on Monday, the Day of St. Francis of Assisi, remembering his concern for those who are poor, the little ones, including all of God’s creatures; and the particular concern for children, now and yet to be born, and the legacy of our actions and inactions on the climate emergency that is and will impact the children and their children far more than us. Remember?
Thanksgiving Sunday may seem less about the children, as we shift Gospel readings from Mark to Matthew, and Jesus’ words about not worrying, an especially adult tendency, and other readings inviting us to not fear, but rejoice, to pray for everyone, including those in authority, and give thanks.
But does a child’s Baptism on this Sunday, and the words and stories of others about and for the children, and even a Raffi song, remind us - the Spirit reminding us, that following Jesus is always about welcoming the children, protecting all children, and the earth for children to come, blessing the children, entering the dominion of God as children do, seeking first the dominion of God like a child – that is our Thanksgiving today, truly freeing us from fear and worry, to live as all God’s children, always.
I was pleased to witness online the “Welcome to the Territory and Installation” of the University of Victoria’s 8th President, Dr. Kevin Hall, just over a week ago, in an in-person and online ceremony from First People’s house on campus. It was the first Indigenous “Welcome to the Territory” of the university president in UVic’s history, and a beautiful and respectful ceremony, with local Indigenous elders and witnesses present, and rich symbolism and meaning. The president was draped in a beautiful handmade blanket and headdress for the ceremony, the weight of which they mentioned and clearly was significant to carry, an appropriate symbol of the president’s role, especially how it was described by one of the elders, May Sam. She spoke of the responsibility of caring for the young people, for the children, as they came to this school, for their protection and wellbeing and learning, in a way that I could not help but think of Indigenous children and residential schools. And that this is what is central to the purpose of the university, central to the president’s role and responsibility. To never forget. And with the gracious and generous blessing of those gathered for this role and responsibility, it was a time to remember and for thanksgiving, for all the children.
Some of you may have heard the interview by Shelagh Rogers on the CBC Radio program, “The Next Chapter” last Saturday, with children’s author Robert Munsch, who has written over 100 books that have sold over 80 million copies and who crossed the country and world telling his stories to children, especially in schools. The interview was a rare opportunity, he has not been interviewed for ten years, maybe especially as he has dealt in recent years with the onset of dementia. It was a touching conversation with Munsch indicating that he requested the interview imagining it might be his “swan song,” not knowing what he would remember, or what anything might be like a year from now. Rogers recalled with him one of his most famous stories and books, I’ll Love You Forever, the story of a mother caring for her child as they grow in years even into adulthood, always showing up at bedtimes to rock them to sleep; and as the mother grows older the child doing the same for her, holding and rocking her to sleep. Munsch, when asked why this story had such universal appeal, said, “I suppose it is how everyone wishes it could be, but isn’t always.” The interview was interspersed with recorded sounds of children listening and responding to Munsch sharing his stories with his typical child-like energy and enthusiasm. Munsch recalled a child saying to him once, “You’re just like a kid!” and feeling good about that. And Rogers called it the “highest praise.” The interview was a poignant thanksgiving for Robert Munsch and his stories, and the gifts of children at the centre and welcomed and blessed by him and his stories, to remember and give thanks.
This past Tuesday, as part of a “Human Library” project, we welcomed guest Julius Maslovat, to share his documentary, “Why Am I Here,” that tells the story of his being a child survivor of the Holocaust. It is a tragic and amazing account of Maslovat discovering his story, including of his parent’s sacrifice and his survival with the help of others, and having the chance to meet people who knew and cared for him as an infant and toddler. In one scene, a little boy’s blonde curly hair is being brushed by someone, and Maslovat reveals this must be him. In answer to the question, “Why Am I Here?” Maslovat’s response and encouragement to everyone is a gracious concern for others, for standing up against all forms of injustice, especially against any anti-other prejudice and hatred. His journey of recovering his story of survival as a child, is ultimately a story of Thanksgiving.
Is all of this and more, the Spirit reminding us, that following Jesus is always about welcoming the children, protecting all children, and the earth for children to come, blessing the children, entering the dominion of God as children do, seeking first the dominion of God like a child – that is our Thanksgiving today, truly freeing us from fear and worry, to live as all God’s children, always?
And isn’t Holy Baptism for Marley today, and all of us always, just this work of the Spirit. Welcoming her and all children of God as we welcome Jesus, as we welcome God; committing to her nurture and protection as her family and community, including the earth that is her and every child’s only home; blessing her and all children as beloved of God and filled with God’s Spirit; entering the dominion of God as a child, with nothing that we bring to gain this gift of God’s loving embrace in water and words and a community gathered, that can only be received as the gracious gift it is for all God’s children, and to respond in that grace in life and love toward all others as children of God; seeking that dominion of God in child-like love and joy, energy and enthusiasm in every circumstance; in Thanks-giving! Free from fear and worry to live for God and God’s loving this world and every child and creature and all creation, today and always. In Thanksgiving! For every child matters. In Thanksgiving! For all are children of God! In Thanksgiving! To live in grace and compassion and joy and peace, always and all ways. Let it be so. In all our relations. Amen.