I invite you to find someone near you and spend a few minutes talking about this question: What does it mean to welcome/receive Briana (a 9 month old baby) among us at King of Kings?
"Jesus took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37'Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.'” I know I'm not Jesus, but how convenient of him to place Briana in our midst this morning and almost every Sunday in the 7 months since she was born. Not only does he place her here with us, but he says to us this morning that to welcome her is to welcome Jesus and to welcome Jesus is to welcome God.
I don't know if you remember, but we prayed for Briana before she was born. Do you remember? It was a high-risk pregnancy, and we prayed for a couple of months at least. Briana was almost not here among us, yet here she is.
Why do you think God brought her to us?
What do you think God is teaching us through her?
In the Bible, it is always the outsider that gets who Jesus is. The Syrophonecian woman from the other day gets that there is enough Jesus to go around, the foreign leper is the only one of 10 to thank Jesus for healing him, the Good Samaritan/foreigner is the one to stop and help a man beaten and thrown in the ditch, when the rabbi and priest cross on the other side of the street. Peter didn't want to see Jesus fail, but Jesus knew he would by the world's standards. Briana fails over and over again each day. She grabs for something and misses. She tries to speak and babbling comes out of her mouth. She drops her pacifier. She bumps her head. But Briana isn't afraid of failure, because she learns something each time she tries. Briana is a death and resurrection machine! Perhaps God is teaching us to be open to failure and to learn from our mistakes. Perhaps Briana can be an example to us.
Her cries are not distractions, but they are a wake up call to all those of us in comfort to look around at the suffering that is going on, that we perpetuate, that we ignore. They represent the cries of the refugee in Syria, the cries of of the little ones in our own country who are locked in dog crates, imprisoned and separated from their parents with our tax dollars, for seeking asylum from war-torn countries and gang violence. Her cries take us to a stable long ago when another little inconvenience came helpless into this world, uninvited, no room for him. Will we make room for her?
Jesus today puts Briana in our midst. She is innocent, curious, hopeful, and do you see how she makes eye contact. She wants to connect with us. Through the scriptures, Jesus is placing her at the center. We come here, for what? To pray? To hear a sermon? To get spiritually fed for the coming week? Jesus says we come here to see, to become aware of, to relate to these little ones. We come here to be the body of Christ with others, including Briana. Jesus puts Briana front and center. She's what we're here for? But God, I just want my quiet moment with you. What's that, Jesus? Faith in you is lived out in relationship with the Briana's of this world? I don't know if we're ready for that God. Ready or not, we get to practice, because here she is!
Do you remember 6 years ago, we were missing our right arm? We were the body of Christ without a limb. A person can get by without a limb, but it makes life hard. We were a congregation without children, a crucial piece missing. And we accepted it. We said, "We will be a congregation of old people." And God laughed and sent us children! We got our right arm back. But we got used to being without it, and we're not sure what to do with it now. We all have different standards of how to look after children, about their noise and movement. People today don't raise kids the way you did--it is a different world than the one you raised kids in. But Jesus is saying that our discomfort as a church is a challenge to us. God is trying to show us something, teach us something, and we need to pay attention so we can learn from Jesus, through Briana. Jesus is saying Briana is not a distraction. She is essential to the body of Christ. She helps complete us. She is integral. Our discomfort is not saying that she needs to change, it is saying that we need to change. Jesus is trying to change us, to get through to us.
I struggle with what it means to welcome the children. Some parts of church can be difficult for an energetic kid. So we set up a craft time. But what message is it to send children out of church? The message I fear it is sending is that the children aren't full participants, which is what I was trying to counteract with my sometimes disasterous, sometimes accidentally brilliant interactive children's services that we did for a couple of years until it clearly wasn't working. So if they are leaving the service now, why are we surprised that kids leave and never come back once they get into middle school and high school? When and how do they switch from being sent out, to being full participants in church, in the body of Christ?
I know I am old fashioned. I sat in church for years not understanding very much of the sermon or the Bible readings, but fully understanding I was part of something, among people who loved me, and who I loved. That's my prayer for Briana and my prayer for you, whether or not you can hear or understand the sermon or any other part of the service. Know that you are loved and treat one another as members of the beloved community. God gave us each other as a gift. Those of us with more experience get to welcome and receive the little ones. And we find that they welcome and receive us, they teach us what is really crucial, they soften our hearts, they help us look for the value in each one, even the parts that make us uncomfortable.
I pray that Briana will carry on in beloved community of one form or another. Maybe a church, maybe a neighborhood group, some form of beloved community, who knows what form it might take. I pray that she'll be there with her gray hair and her walker and that when someone comes in carrying a curious little bundle with big eyes and a bigger smile, that she'll give a smile, because she knows from her experience here what it meant for her to be received as a little child.