Sunday, September 23, 2012

Hey There is This Church...

This week began a new year for our afterschool ministry, the Dove's Nest. Last year we welcomed a little more than 40 kids each week and have navigated our first year together. Over the summer we gave things a fresh coat of paint, did some planning, picked up some new volunteers. And I was feeling ready to start a Bible club come October because some of our kids want to talk about Jesus and what it means to follow Him. And as we made our usual contact with the schools, I was feeling like we had this thing NAILED! We were lookin' good and ready to go.. The neighborhood was eager, the kids were excited. And that first day we had 36 kids. More than first days of the past, but before we could wonder what that meant we got to Day Two and it was like the sky opened up and rained kids. Almost Sixty of them. They just kept coming! An amazing thing! We had prayed to be able to reach out to our neighbors and here it was! But sixty kids was overwhelming. I was away with other obligations and when I opened the door to come downstairs I could hear the noise, and then I saw the almost pandemonium. It was just about too much.

There was lots of prayer, and Carmen and I did quick brainstorming, creating entirely separate spaces for homework and reading from the areas for eating and games and crafts. I found that moving furniture is quite therapeutic when thinking about big things with God. A lot of worry, trying to stay sane, and think about safety and our mission as the church. And wouldn't you know that Jesus is talking about welcoming children “Whoever welcomes a little child welcomes me.” “Let the little children come to me.”

If you’re like me you’ve seen these sayings with cherubic children dressed immaculately, with perfect hair and blue eyes, depicted in pictures in the Sunday School. Innocent, trusting, attentive, and delightful children at the knee of a fresh and glowing gentle Jesus.

Yet this was not the world of children in Jesus’ day where 30% would die by age six, and 60 percent were gone by age sixteen. They had no status, subject to the will of others, sometimes seen as one more mouth to feed, or an afterthought. Although children represented the future, they had to survive the present- hunger, disease, and dislocation. Even worse some would lose one or both parents. Then there was no safety net. The orphan was the weakest and most vulnerable member of society. Being an orphan was almost certainly a death sentence. Children were always on the margin, affected by all the squabbling of others looking to be the greatest, by adults acting out disputes in ways we call “childish” – those things we hear of the gospel and James this day.

And for our kids here, some of the statistics are different but much what they face is the same today. They’re hungry, and insecure, and longing for a future, caught in effects of the decisions of adults. The fray of school budget cuts. Shuffled around because landlords in Nueva York told their parents it’s cheaper to live in Reading, but not about the lack of jobs. They take your money and run, til you find yourself locked out when the landlord was finally "sheriffed" for failure to pay taxes, and you’re scrambling. Some kids are here because no one is home or wants them home. Some are so far behind but hope we’re their resource for change. Some are so desperate for attention and love they’d stay forever if we let them. Some are so hurting, with desperate needs, but money is in short supply. Facing hunger and need and dislocation.
And the school, taking us at our word that food and tutoring and literacy matter said-

 "Hey, there is this church..."
To the powerless- Hey there is this church. Our church at 4th and Windsor.

Where God is sending kids and telling us to welcome them. Jesus keeps telling us to welcome them.

Because there is this church.

It is not lost upon me that Jesus keeps placing children here saying, “Look.” Draw near to what God is showing.”

The child in the gospel shows us God’s grace. This is what it means that Jesus loves them. The little children are more than just something to be managed they are grace breaking in. Being servants in this way truthfully takes everything we’ve got. It tests our patience, our resources and capacity for the things we think we shouldn’t have to do. And to see just how long our arms can stretch to embrace them. Yet Jesus says see them, welcome them, feed them, lift them up.

We have a history of this in this church- 101 years of meeting needs even when it seemed hard. From starting a Sunday school because people needed it, to building a church. From drawing orphans from the Childrens' Home  to caring for the myriads of children in the neighborhood. People have told me with a gleam in their eyes that we used to just open the doors and the children came.
God is still sending the children of the neighborhood through these doors. And the challenge is to see them  not just something for us to manage but for us to see in them and to share with them God’s grace.

We are the powerless who cannot earn our salvation, but are blessed by our savior. And then we’re reminded that Jesus’ words to keep welcoming “little children” are a challenging task for those already graced.
To love like Jesus- to keep embracing and keep serving as God continues to appear to the world in the small and powerless.

This past week it was not easy. After moving a lot of furniture I was feeling stooped low. And yet this is where I saw God. An old rabbi once said that to see God you must stoop low. We see God when we continue to stoop low, draw near and share God’s embrace. This past week I watched our people stoop to hug a boy so angered by another who taunted him he wanted to punch someone’s lights out. They embraced him and helped him to let it go. And I watched as little ones almost too small to get their meals were lovingly embraced by volunteers stooping to help them not get knocked over by the herd. As someone stooped to clean the mess another left behind for the umpteenth time. Cleaned it up so no one would slip. And I watched a girl with learning disabilities struggle to read and share a hug as she confessed she was panic stricken to read it at all but glad someone let her.

Jesus placed kids in our midst and this is a glimpse of what God is up to in our dedicated volunteers.
I saw God in them and in the children. God is here!!

There ARE still so many...

There are still just too many "little children"

As I read the lead in to today’s gospel I told you how those disciples empowered by Jesus to preach and heal and cast out torment were so mystified by why they could not help one boy and Jesus’ response was that this one takes prayer. As we contemplate how we will indeed welcome all the children, it does take prayer. So my prayer is that you will help.

Can you help to listen to a child read, or check homework or just listen to someone tell about their day?

Can you reach out to others you know and ask if they can join us in this ministry?

Most importantly, you can pray- pray that God will send not only the children but the hands to embrace them. Pray for our volunteers- I know they will be thankful.

God is still sending children.

Because there is this church.

This day as we celebrate the grace of our history

let us also pray God’s grace and guidance to keep stretching our arms and hearts wide in welcome.

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