Sermon. October 3, 2021
Rev. John Steitz
In Mark 10: 13 – 16 we see the disciples try to block and exclude children from coming to Jesus. And we see Jesus overcomes exclusion and privilege of rank with an inclusion of blessing and love for all of God’s children.
We can understand this passage as being about the importance of including and embracing young children in the life of the church. Many congregations put huge effort and resources on Christian education for children. And in congregations with almost all elderly members this passage can raise hopes for the day when there will again be young children in the church to bless.
(Blessing the children story at Trinity Telford.)
There is however another way to understand this passage. One that focuses not as much on young children but on all of God’s children. Understood in this light the passage opens our hearts to include all of God’s children in Jesus’ blessing and love.
We read or listen to this passage and wonder what were the disciples thinking when they tried to stop people from bringing children to Jesus. Are they that clueless?
The truth is that many who call themselves Jesus’ disciples today have no problem trying to block some of God’s children from Jesus’ blessing and love.
I have never been to a local church that hasn’t been eager to embrace and bless young children. Local churches today can fall over themselves in their enthusiasm to welcome young children.
Yet I have been at local churches that actively seek to block and exclude some of God’s children from Jesus’ blessing and love. Like the disciples in the gospel passage they can speak quite sternly against some of those trying to experience Jesus’ blessing and love.
There is one megachurch that rearranged their sanctuary in such a way that people in wheelchairs are now unable to participate from locations in full view of the congregation. It turned out that seeing people in wheelchairs during worship took away from the carefully crafted happy feeling the megachurch was trying to convey.
Some at the megachurch objected to seeing the people in wheelchairs because this made them uneasy and didn’t “feed them.” The church didn’t actually block or prohibit those in wheelchairs from attending. And there were plenty of accessible places, just not where most people could see them.
Subtle acts of exclusion, and what are called “microagressions” can be as effective at blocking someone as a “Not Welcome” sign or explicitly standing in someone’s way.
What a great joy it is that we have embarked on the Accessible to All (A2A) journey. The first floor restrooms have been renovated, are now accessible and gender neutral.
With regard to ability and disability local churches have a choice. That of exclusion, even if subtle, which effectively blocks some people from Jesus’ blessing and love.
Or the path of inclusion and embrace. The path of being open to all of God’s children, for this openness is how we ourselves experience Jesus’ blessing and love.
For it is to the marginalized children of God that the Holy Community of God belongs. We are received into God’s Holy Community as we embrace, welcome, and include God’s children who are marginalized and excluded.
Probably no other of God’s children have been so excluded and blocked by those claiming to be Jesus’ disciples as God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender children.
I deeply appreciate that this faith community is an Open and Affirming congregation. After being an intentional interim at congregations that are not ONA, and some that are even hostile to this inclusion, being here has been freeing and liberating. Like finding an oasis when you thirst in a desert.
Focusing our Open and Affirming ministry toward LGBTQ+ youth, and to parents of LGBTQ+ youth is an important way we include all of God’s children in Jesus’ blessing and love.
It is important however to make a distinction in our Open and Affirming ministry. Although we welcome people and embrace those who decide to join our church, the Great Commission to go and make disciples isn’t really about getting people to become part of a congregation.
The point is to bring Jesus’ blessing and Way of Love out into the world. It is much more important that a gay or transgender teenager know that they are loved, and that Jesus blesses them, than it is that they join a church.
Before a person can believe, they need to know that they are loved. Loved by God and loved by us.
This brings us to Psalm 100. This psalm teaches us that God rules the world and that we belong to God.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism is a series of questions and answers about the Christian faith as understood in the Reformed tradition. The first question and answer is:
Question: What is the chief end of humankind?
Answer: The chief end of humankind is to glorify God and enjoy God forever.
Unlike those in that huge megachurch who want a carefully designed and executed service that makes them feel happy and “feed,” Psalm 100 reminds us that the purpose of the church isn’t about us.
We are to glorify God and enjoy God forever. The church is a means to help us focus our attention, not on ourselves, but on God.
Psalm 100 begins with a call for all the nations to SHOUT and ROAR joyful noise to God. This means that all of God’s children are invited to sing praises to God. No one is to be excluded! No one is to be blocked!
Jesus is indignant – very upset – that his disciples try to stop some of God’s children from his blessing and love. How dare someone try to exclude anyone from shouting and roaring joyful praise to God.
It is often the marginalized, the excluded, the oppressed who shout praises to God the loudest and most joyously.
We are to worship God with gladness and enter into God’s presence with singing. Those who are blessed with musical talents are a gift to the faith community for by sharing their gifts they help us all enter into God’s presence with song.
The Psalm tells us to know that the LORD is God. God has made us and we belong to God. Every one of us! God has made every one of us and each of us belongs to God. We are all God’s children, God’s people. No one is excluded.
We are to come before God with thanksgiving and praise. We are to give God thanks and bless God’s name.
God is good. God’s love is steadfast and lasts forever. God’s steadfast love embraces, includes and blesses every one.
From Mark 10 we learn that Jesus offers his blessing and love to all of God’s children and is upset whenever any of his disciples tries to exclude anyone from his blessing and love.
From Psalm 100 we learn that every person, in fact every creature, is invited to give God thanks and praise. All are included and no one is excluded.
We are called to be an Inclusive Church. A church where all of God’s children are invited to give thanks and praise to God. And a church where all of God’s children experience Jesus’ blessing and love.
We are called to be an Inclusive Church. An Accessible to All church. An Open and Affirming congregation. A place where all of God’s children are embraced, welcomed and loved.
We are called to be an Inclusive Church because Jesus Christ, who is the Head of the Church, is inclusive. We are called to be an Inclusive Church because God, the God of love, is an inclusive God.
We are an Inclusive Church because this is what our faith calls us to be. In order to believe, people need to know that they are loved. We show this love through our inclusion.