Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Reflection on Mark 10:46-52

What do you do when life becomes dark and confused?

How do you get by to the next day when the uncertainty of the next day is so anxiety ridden that two days blend into one long, sleepless night and day?

Would it not be nice if you could look into the future and see whether or not everything will turn out well?

When things in life are dark and uncertain, people will tell you, “Everything is going to be O.K.” as if they somehow are able to peer into the future.

When they say this, you know that the person is one of two things; either lying or they are some sort of future predicting witch. If they are a witch, then the only conclusion as we have learned from history is that they should be burned at the stake. Luckily for you and the person speaking to you, chances are pretty good that they are not a witch.

Of course, that means that the person is lying and actually is in the same boat as you and has absolutely no idea that anything is going to be O.K. For all they know, tomorrow could be the end of civilization as we know it.

The truth is that the person simply cannot handle the darkness that you face. So, they push you away like you are the town’s blind man left to fend for himself on the side of the road.

Poor blind Bartimaeus. His life has been dark for a long time. His life has led him to the beautiful vistas of the side of the road where the smell of road kill and donkey excrement can be enjoyed by the blind all for free! Yet, there is a little hope in the darkness…a coin here…a bit of bread there.

You think you have it bad. Not only is this man’s future dark, he literally could not see his future if it approached on foot.

What do you do when life becomes dark and confused?

How do you get by to the next day?

One of the tactics that the Psalmists use to get through those sleepless nights, when anxiety takes over the mind and the darkness of the future oppresses, is that they remember. They remember. But, they do not remember just any old thing. They think back to those times before when they thought their worlds were coming to an end and God pulled them through.

Listen to these words from Psalm 22:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me,
from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

First, notice that the Psalmist here does not let God off the hook. The Psalmist still feels free to accuse God of not taking action when taking action would have been a great thing: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

However, the Psalmist does not remain in that accusatory space for long. The Psalmist does not remain in the darkness of their thoughts, wandering aimlessly. Rather, they move rather quickly to remembering.

“Yet you are holy…in you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.”

The Psalmist remembers the last time that the world felt like it was going to end, and the Psalmist also remembers that God pulled them through. They trusted in God, and God delivered.

This sort of uncertain trust is a wisdom that comes in time.

It is the wisdom that the High School student starts to gain when the horrors of the first test pass and there is another day, another test, another opportunity. You quickly learn that if God could bring you through the first time, God can do it again.

It is the wisdom that is gained after the first boyfriend or girlfriend is let go and the teen learns that it is possible to overcome the painful, heartbreak in order date and love once again. If God could heal you after the first breakup, God can do it again.

It is the wisdom that comes when you realize that even though you may not know what the future looks like beyond the darkness, you trust that Jesus will be standing there in the darkness with you.

That is exactly what blind Bartimaeus does. When he hears that Jesus is approaching, he cries out into the darkness, trusting that Jesus might show mercy, trusting that Jesus will, somehow, make things right. Even more, when Jesus calls to him, Bartimaeus gets up and walks to Jesus.

Do not let that fact just slip by you as your mind begins to wander to compiling your shopping list or preparing for the upcoming hunting season. Did you catch what just happened? A blind man, got up and walked over to Jesus.

He's blind. How did he know where he was going?

How did he know that he would get to Jesus?

How did he know that his stumbling through the darkness would bring him to a place of goodness and healing?

How did he know?

The truth is, he did not know.

Bartimaeus did not know where he was going.

He did not know if he would reach Jesus.

He did not know if Jesus would do anything, much less be good and bring healing.

He did not know any of these things, but he remembered.

He remembered the stories of those who passed by on the road. He remembered the whispers of healing and frantic cries of joy passing by. He remembered, so he got up, stumbled into the darkness and trusted that Jesus would somehow, in some way find him.

Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?"

The blind man said to him, "My teacher, let me see again."

Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well."

What do you do when life becomes dark and confused?

How do you get by to the next day?

I believe that blind Bartimaeus was meant to encounter you today. I believe that you were meant to see blind Bartimaeus on the side of the road; this man who gets up and wanders ahead in the darkness despite not being able to see anything because he trusts that no matter what happens, Jesus is there.

What do you do when life becomes dark and confused? You walk ahead anyway, trusting that Jesus is there.

Many Protestant churches celebrate Reformation Sunday, but it is not primarily a celebration of Luther and the other reformers, though can be part of it. Rather, it is primarily a celebration of a truth from Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”

In other words, we celebrate the faith of Bartimaeus, who trusts that God can save and heal.

But, even more than celebrating our faith, we celebrate the faithfulness of the one who meets us in the darkness every single time (even that last time when we will finally be with him forever and ever): Jesus Christ our Lord.

Jesus is the one who calls to us in the darkness. He is the one who brings healing. He is the one who does not forget us on the side of the road. He is the one who is worthy of following.

“Immediately [Bartimaeus] regained his sight and followed him on the way.” And, so do we…even on the dark days, we too follow…because we remember and trust the goodness of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Reflection on Mark 10:35-45

How do you achieve the good life? What does it look like?

In the time of ancient kings and queens, the good life probably looked a lot like sitting in the presence of royalty. People who found a way to sit in the royal courts and found a way to slip into royal favor are the people who achieved the ancient world’s version of the good life. As they sat to the right or the left of the king, they presented themselves as favored, honored, and wealthy.

It is not too different today. I vividly remember a conversation from High School where my friends and I discussed our run-ins with fame and fortune. One friend recounted standing in front of Weird Al Yankovic while getting a frozen yogurt at the mall…remember them…malls? He dropped some money and the man behind him picked it up. When he turned, he recognized the iconic look of Weird Al and began to ask, “Are you…” Weird Al simply replied, “Yes, yes it’s me.”

That was a cool story that gave my friend a little boost in his popularity, but none of us could come close to matching the stories of a different friend, Jack (his name has been changed to protect his awesomeness).

Jack’s dad was the owner of a successful communications company. His family was rich and well connected...well, rich and well connected for people in a small town that is.

Jack had stories of eating supper with Donald Trump, before the time of Trump’s presidential aspirations. Jack had stories of eating with all kinds of people in the entertainment industry and it was fun to listen to these brushes with fame and hear each famous star's eating quarks.

Just as it was awesome for Jack to sit at the right or the left of famous stars, it was nice for me, as a friend, to sit at the right or left of Jack. My family was a poor family, and I figured that sitting one step removed from fame was probably all the better I would get in life.

Jack’s Dad paid his allowance in $100 bills, so from time to time Jack had no money for lunch at school because the lunch room refused to break his $100 bills. On multiple occasions, I, the poor kid, would pull out the few dollars I had and pay for the rich kid’s lunch. I was never paid back either, but, it was all good because I got to sit at the right or the left of one of the popular, rich kid.

I did not think I would ever achieve the good life…the fame…the nice house…the nice cars…the fancy coffee makers…the riding lawnmowers…you know, the good life; but at least I could sit close to the good life.

I did not realize it at the time, but I was simply echoing a desire that had been spoken long, long ago. It was the same echo that reverberated through the lips of James and John as they asked Jesus: "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory."

They too wanted to be in the presence of greatness. They too wanted the good life, and all that comes with it. They too wanted to sit at the right or the left hand of royalty.

How do you achieve the good life? What does it look like?

Our notions of the good life usually has some sort of prosperity attached. Houses, cars, money, nice lawns, and a big, peaceful family.

You can find preachers out there who will give you promises of this sort of prosperity, if only you believe. “If only you believe that God is for you and God wants the best for you…if only you have faith that God is for you and not against you, O people of God, you will get the very real rewards of large houses and blessed families who life around nice lakes,” the preachers of prosperity declare.

“If you give a tax deductible donation to God’s ministry, you too can have a mansion just like me!”

But, Jesus preaches a very different form of the good life. Prosperity, for Jesus, has nothing to do with mansions or lawns or cars or any of that earthly junk.

That is because Jesus’ throne is a horrifying cross.

That is because those who sit to the right or left of Jesus are thieves who die with him.

Prosperity, for Jesus, is giving his life for someone else.

Prosperity, for Jesus, is dying for the sake of the sinful and stained.

Prosperity, for Jesus, is living a life in which you seek, not to be the one who sits in grand places and is served, but rather to be the one who does the serving.

For Jesus, the American dream of gaining good things and good standing is not the good life.

How would the world be different if we taught our children, not to seek for the house, car, and 2.5 children in the suburban dwelling family, but rather to seek out the forgotten and despised?

What if the good life was defined by dying for another rather than gaining for one’s self?

What if the good life was defined by a cross and not an advertising board?

What if the good life was defined by an anxiety ridden struggle for all that is good and loving, rather than the image of peaceful retirement?

What if the good life was defined by God and not by humans?

When James and John say that they indeed can drink the cup that Jesus drinks and can endure the baptism with which Jesus is baptized, they do not know what they are saying. They do not realize the struggle and pain that the good life can entail. They do not realize that the cup is a cup of blood and the baptism is a drowning into death.

But, in following Jesus, they will indeed experience both. "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized,” Jesus promises in an eerie prediction of future, cross-like struggles.

The good life…the life of faith, after-all, is not a promise of the carefree existence, rather, it is the promise of unconditional love. Never forget that loving unconditionally is a struggle, and it comes with a cost. It cost Jesus his life so that we might have a life.

“For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."

Jesus lived the good life. But, he did not have lots of possessions. He was not born into the life of royalty, and he did not have servants waiting on him at all times. He sat the right or left hand of no earthly power.

Neither did Jesus seek any earthly fame and, in fact, he told everyone he healed to be quiet about the event.

Even the undesired fame that he did gain was destroyed in very little time by a death penalty and a cross.

Still, Jesus lived the good life. He touched the untouchable, and they were changed. He forgave this sinner, and they were changed. He healed the sick, and they were changed. He led a band of no-faith nobodies and they were changed. He loved even the unlovable, and they were changed.

And, we are still changed by him today. Jesus still reaches us through the Holy Spirit, touching us with his love, and changing our lives. Jesus is the good life.

We are a people of the good life. We are a people who follow the one refuses to be served but rather serves. We follow the one who gives his life in exchange to save others. We follow the one who loves, even if it hurts. That is the good life after-all, giving of yourself, even if it hurts, so that others might be changed.

You have been given the gift of the good life in Jesus Christ. You are one who has been baptized into the self-sacrificing love of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Reflection on Mark 10:17-31

“How do you get God to care?”

That is really the rich man’s question, is it not? Perhaps, it is your question. What do you have to do to get God to care about you? How do you get God’s attention, so that God might take the time to notice you, notice your situation, and give you a gift...an inheritance?

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” the man asks.

There is urgency to the question. The man has taken a knee, a sign of both great need and great respect.

Other people have taken knees in the gospel of Mark. In fact, whenever someone needs healing, they come to Jesus and take a knee.

So, this man takes a knee, knowing that he needs healing and connection with God in some way, shape, or form. The man takes a knee, and hopes that God will care.

What must he do to get God’s attention? What must he do to inherit eternal life?

“You know the commandments,” Jesus says, "You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'" How do you get God’s attention?

What do you do to inherit eternal life? Jesus offers up the expected answers from the ancient Hebrew world.

But, the man has done all this. He has been a good person. That is why he is taking the knee, he has done all this, yet he still feels like he needs healing. He still feels insufficient. He still feels unconnected to God in some way.

"Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth," the man replies.

Most good people have. Most good people do not murder, or commit adultery, or defraud. But, somehow, it is not enough. He takes a knee at the feet of Jesus, desiring something more. He still senses that he needs healing in some way.

Jesus sees the man and will get to the heart of things in a moment; but, first a quick reflection on money.

$150,000. It has been said that money does not buy you happiness, but I once heard about a study that concluded that money can buy you happiness. People with $150,000 are, in general, genuinely happier than those who make $35,000 a year.

It makes sense, when you make $150,000 a year, for the most part you do not have to worry about unexpected costs arising. All the basics are taken care of, as well as the emergencies, and thus you have less stress in life. Up to $150,000, money can buy you happiness. But, the happiness does have its limits.

Those who make beyond $150,000 are generally no happier than those who do. You are not happier after buying the yacht than you were before. Everyone reading this who has bought a yacht I am sure can attest to that. Yes?

Money promises you a lot of things, but it cannot buy you connection. It cannot buy you that deep connection with God or other people that the rich, man desires.

He is rich after-all, the man kneeling before Jesus that is. But, his riches have not made him complete in any way. He is still kneeling before Jesus, seeking a way to get God’s attention, seeking a way to get God to care.

Here is the thing though, God already cares.

The Bible says something quite remarkable at this point in the story; it says that Jesus, looking at him, “loved him.”

This is the only time that someone is loved by Jesus in the gospel of Mark. Sure, you can see loving actions of Jesus throughout Mark, but this is the only time that Mark goes out of his way to tell us that someone is loved.

God has already taken notice of the man. God already loves the man. The man had to do nothing to get God’s attention.

Inheritance, after all, is a gift from one person to another. “What do you need to do to inherit eternal life?” Nothing. You do nothing to get at gift from someone else. You do not need to do anything to get God’s attention.

“How do you get God to care?” The problem is not that God somehow refuses to care. Jesus is already looking at the man with eyes of love. Maybe, the problem is that there is something in the way preventing us from seeing God’s love. Maybe, there is something blocking our view of God’s love and inheritance. Maybe, there is something from which we could be freed, a wall that could be removed, so that we could see those eyes of love. Jesus knows just what that wall is.

Jesus said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."

Somehow, the man’s wealth is not allowing him to see God’s love. Maybe, caring about things keeps a person from caring about people? Maybe, caring about the accumulation of wealth keeps us too busy to worry about others? Maybe, pursuing happiness has its limits? Maybe, the promise of wealth is a trap, a wall that keeps us from seeing others and connecting with others and God?

I think I understand this. It is absolutely true that I gave more money to others when I was dirt poor than I do now.

Monetarily that is not true, of course. The amounts I give to help others now is more, but speaking in terms of percentages, I was a much better given when poor than now.

There are explanations of course, I have children now and I give to them and provide for them. Things are more expensive…you know, all the typical explanations. But, truly at heart is that the more you have, the more you need to protect.

When I had $1 in my pocket, it really would not make a huge difference in my life if I kept it or gave it away. It does not have enough buying power. So, helping someone else with it was much more valuable than buying a Snicker’s bar. Connecting with someone else in love was much more valuable than anything that dollar could have ever purchased. This is still true, even with larger amounts of wealth.

Do you hear the freedom that Jesus is offering to this rich man? “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."

Do you hear the connection and love that Jesus is offering the guy who cannot see beyond the wall of his possessions?

“Take down that wall.

Take down that wall and connect.

Take down that wall and experience love.

Take down that wall and be free to love others.

Take down that wall and be free to see the love of God.

Take down that wall and follow me,” Jesus seems to be saying to the man.

After-all, Jesus is going to journey beyond his encounter with the rich man and Jesus is going to give everything away for the sake of the world. Jesus is going to take nothing with him to the cross except the sin and suffering of others. He will give away even his own life on the cross for the sake of love.

Jesus, has no walls that block his gaze, and no possessions that consume his attention and time. He is free to love the world. And, he does.

We do not know what happened to the rich man. Mark does not do a follow-up story on the guy. All we know is that the man went away grieving because he, indeed, was rich.

But, grief is such a funny thing. You do not grieve something that you have. You do not grieve something that you will keep. Grief is the natural process that God gives us of letting go.

Does the young man grieve a relationship with God?

I like to think that he, instead, starts the process of grieving his wall of possessions, so that he can finally see the desire of his heart: God's love and care.

How do you get God to care? Answer: God already does.

Maybe, we just need eyes of love so that we can see God's love.

Lord, tear down our walls and let us see your love. Heal us fully.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Reflection on Mark 10:2-16

When she first talked to me, she was frightened beyond belief. Her husband of 30 years had just decided to send her papers of divorce, and she was not ready.

What I mean by “she was not ready” is not that his actions were completely unexpected, he had been telling her that she was worthless for years, but I mean that she was not ready to be on her own; she did not know how to function in the most basic of ways in life. She had never driven a car, never paid a bill, never contacted a service repair provider, never worked a day of her life, and she had not even written a single check; not even one.

The only thing she knew how to do was clean house and look pretty for her husband, and that is no exaggeration. He had never allowed her to do anything of substance during their 30 years together.

So, teaching check writing was the first order of business in our counseling sessions, something that I never had imagined would be a part of the ministry. Believe me, no one should ever ask Pastor Jira for financial advice, but I thought that I could at least swing check writing.

We also talked about the religious significance of divorce.

There was a part of her that felt like she was headed toward hell because of her upcoming divorce, and she had no way to stop it. She feared the words of Mark 10 where Jesus says, “what God had joined together, let no one separate.” She felt like somehow she had let down her husband for being so unlovable and she ultimately felt unlovable to God.

What she did not realize was that those words about divorce spoken by Jesus all those years ago were spoken especially not to condemn her, but in support of people like her.

In the ancient Hebrew world, women held almost no power. They were given away in marriage, and men could release them from marriage at will. A rabbi at the time quipped somewhat sarcastically that a man was allowed to divorce his wife if she burned his eggs. It was intended as a joke, but as we all know, jokes do not reside far away from the truth.

Men could release their wives on the streets for almost any reason, and there was very little that they could do. With no political, economic, or even household power, a divorced woman (and her child), would be an utterly poor woman and child.

It actually is not too different today. When you look at the statistics, the number one correlation to poverty for women and children in the United States is quite clearly divorce. If a woman is divorced with her children, she and her children will likely struggle to get by with the basics…especially before the courts have had their say.

Jesus’ distaste for divorce and remarriage has nothing to do with righteously chastising people for failing in this aspect in life. Divorce is not somehow Jesus’ one exception in his redeeming of the failed and fallen. Rather, Jesus is continuing to speak on the same subject that he has been speaking about for some time in the gospel narrative: caring for the vulnerable…especially the children.

You do not just throw away your family and leave them stranded so that you can move on to the next best thing. You do not just up and decide to write off your wife of 30 years when you know she will languish in poverty.

To those who would so easily dispose of a vulnerable, human life, Jesus reminds, only “because of your hardness of heart” did Moses write a commandment of divorce for you. But, marriage is not merely an earthy thing. “From the beginning of creation, "God made them male and female.' "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."

Marriage is a divine thing. Marriage is the creation of a small community of God that protects the vulnerable; the women and children. Jesus cares about the vulnerable. Jesus cares about the powerless. Jesus cares about the little ones. Jesus cares, and he expects that his people will do the same.

It is no mystery why, immediately following his teaching on divorce, we get a story about Jesus rebuking his disciples for keeping children away from him. Jesus cares about the children coming to him. Jesus cares about the children…the vulnerable…the little ones, period. It is not fair for them to be excluded or abandoned in any way.

Jesus’ desire as seen clearly on the cross is to open his arms wide and draw all creation together, not to divide us and leave us separated.

I just want to acknowledge here that there are lots of reasons for divorce and remarriage. Some are justified and bring about the end to fear and pain; a new life beginning with a remarriage.

Others are less justified and mired in selfishness and self-interest.

But, do notice that Jesus in no way says that he will abandon those who suffer the pain of divorce, whether justified or not. Look carefully at your Bibles, nowhere in this text does Jesus offer any sentence of condemnation for those who are torn apart from the pain of divorce. It is painful, period, no matter what. It is the ripping apart of what was once joined together. And, wherever you find pain and separation, you find Jesus offering healing and new life.

New life is what was baked into the casserole that the matriarch of the church brought to the back door of the house.

You see, a powerful member of the community decided to call it quits on his marriage, and in the whole ordeal he managed to make himself smell like roses during the couple’s’ very public divorce. Of course, we all know that in these things there are two sides to the story, but the man’s influence and power completely buried her side. She quickly became the derision of the community and was forgotten.

Well, she might have been forgotten if it were not for the matriarch of the local church. In a move of solidarity for the vulnerable, the matriarch of the church arranged to have a month’s worth of meals brought over to the forgotten woman. She provided the first week of meals herself.

Not only that, the women of the church scraped together the security deposit and first month’s rent for an apartment for the forgotten woman, because in the end the woman was not forgotten. Jesus does not forget the vulnerable, and neither did his people in that small community.

After-all, Jesus is about drawing together, not division. And, in that little town, a small group of church people drew together for the sake of one of God’s forgotten.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Reflection on Mark 9:38-50

Jesus is still holding onto the child.

There is no indication that the child has been set down at all since Jesus picked up the little toddler and told his disciples that those who seek to be great are those who give attention to the children...those who welcome the children.

Now, the disciple John seeks to move onto other subjects. John has already dismissed the child in Jesus’ hands. John has already, in a matter of mere seconds, failed to pay attention to the most vulnerable. But, Jesus still holds onto the child.

I am not going to stand here and lambaste poor John, because he is not alone. We do it all the time.

As I sat, drinking my coffee, I scrolled across a headline on my phone that said something to the effect of, “Child Left in the Middle of the Street Dies.” I kept scrolling.

I just could not bring myself to read the story. Sometimes the pain of the world…the pain of the children...is just too much to bear. So, we just keep on scrolling.

We keep scrolling past those who have been sexually abused.

We keep scrolling past those who suffer starvation.

We keep scrolling past those who have been abandoned.

We keep scrolling past those who should have had a better life but were not given the chance.

We keep scrolling and scrolling and scrolling, and in all of that scrolling we start to forget.

I stopped on a story about mathematics and prime numbers and the one million dollar reward that you can get if you can come up with an easy proof that predicts all prime numbers.

It was not a fascinating news story, but at least it was not about a child with whom I could do nothing about. In that moment, I made the choice to forget. Jesus does not forget. Jesus still holds onto the child.

Now, it is not that the subject matter that John raises lacks importance. He tells Jesus, I assume quite proudly, that he and the disciples tried to stop a guy who was casting out demons in Jesus name. The guy was not a part of their group and did not actually follow Jesus. What if the guy ruined their reputation? In other words, the guy was doing ministry without the approval of the church leadership…so to speak.

During this discussion, do not forget that Jesus is still holding onto the child. What is that child hearing? What is that child learning from John? Is the child learning that followers of Jesus are an “in” group, and everyone else in the world is in the “out” group and is of less importance? Maybe the child wonders if she is included in the “in” group?

Sometimes I wonder if children automatically consider themselves in the “out” group unless they are intentionally invited in. After-all, they are regularly told to “wait” and “be quiet” and “stand over there” and other appropriate lessons needed to lead a civilized life. There is nothing wrong with that. Though, sometimes I do wonder if that means they ever so slightly learn that they are always “out” until invited “in.”

As I listened to my 4 year old girls playing in their toy kitchen the other day, I overheard this comment:

“We are making pizzas because we saw a girl making pizzas and so we can make pizzas!”

Yes, girls are free in this great nation to strive to become anything...even pizza makers! But, I wonder what in the world ever made them think that maybe they could not be pizza makers in the first place? Why did they ever feel as if they were outside the realm of that possibility? Why did they ever feel like they were outside, set down, and set aside? But, Jesus is still holding onto the child.

Jesus is still holding onto the child when he tells John that if someone is doing something good, then they are not doing something bad. “Whoever is not against us is for us,” Jesus exclaims.

John had completely missed the lesson on greatness. Those who care and put others first are the great ones, not those who are the “in” crowd. The man who was casting out demons was caring for others and doing a good thing!

The child hears this teaching of inclusion, love, and serving. Do not forget, the child is still being held by Jesus, not forgotten in any sense.

My seminary youth ministry professor Paul Hill once famously said something to this affect:

“Since children always look up to those who are bigger than they, we are all youth ministers…no matter who we are or how old we get. We are all youth ministers. The only question is if we are good youth ministers?”

It seems to me that those who minister the best to the "little ones," or to any of those who are easily forgotten (like the poor or the abused) are those who act as if they are holding onto a child at all times. They are those people who care and pay close attention, they do not just scroll by. They are those people who are careful and compassionate to the little ones. They are those who assume that they are youth ministers our entire grown up life.

After-all, Jesus is holding onto that child. There is no indication that he ever set the toddler down. And, there is no indication that Jesus desires to set any of his children down.

In fact, Jesus is so passionate about caring for the little ones that he says stuff like, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”

And, he says, “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.”

And he continues, “If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.”

He even says that “if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell.”

This cutting off of limbs is harsh stuff, but forgetting about the little ones is even harsher. If those who are around the little ones will not stop scrolling by, and will not stop to be the love of God to that child, who will? Therefore, if you do anything to harm that little one, cut it off so that it can never happen again. It is better to lose a hand or a foot than to lose a little one.

Remember, Jesus is still holding onto that child. That child just heard that they are more important to Jesus than some adult’s hand or foot. That is the message to the child. That is the message to us.

There is an elementary teacher who is a beloved teacher by the children. She loves them, and they love her.

A curious thing about her though is that whenever she corrects a child, she always squats down to their level with her hands clasped behind her back in order to talk.

She was once asked why she took this pose every single time she corrected a child in her class. After-all it seemed to be somewhat of an awkward and unbalanced stance.

She recounted: “There was day, years ago, when my own children at home were driving me insane. They would not listen. They would not do what they were told, and I had had enough. When my oldest talked back at me one time too many, I slapped her across the face.

I immediately felt like I had to throw up when I saw the flash of fear and that sickening look of abandonment on her face. I vowed that I would never do that again. So, from now on, whenever I deal with a child and my anger flares, I act as if I have no arms. You cannot hit a child when you have no arms.”

I guess, sometimes the best way to hold a child close is to not use your arms. The important thing is that we hold the little ones close in one fashion or another. There is no indication that Jesus has set down the child. There is no indication that Jesus has set us down.

We were held tight by Jesus as he passed from death into new life. We were held tight as the tomb was opened and Jesus pulled us up with him into the day.

Jesus has not let us go. That seems to be the good news that Jesus wants all the little ones to know.