Text: Mark 10:17-31
Timing is everything. Just ask any athlete or performer. Whether a ballerina or a pole-vaulter; a racecar driver or a concert pianist; a football quarterback or stand-up comedian—they will all tell you that a jump, a move, a throw, a crescendo, a punch line, even the delivery of a sermon—is about timing. Timing is about precision. But it is also about being fully present and attentive to what is happening in any given moment and moving into that moment with heart and soul and feeling.
I thought about timing this week as I considered our theme for worship this Sunday. As we have already named, today is Children’s Sabbath. Worshipping communities all around the nation are focusing their attention this day on the issues facing children, not only in the United States, but globally. The theme for this year’s children’s Sabbath is, “Create a Change.” Healthcare, education, hunger, homelessness, war, and child abuse are some of the issues on which child advocates are focusing their attention as they seek to create change for all children. For sure some of these issues are related to economic and geographic boundaries. But some of the issues facing our nation’s children know no boundaries. Indeed, we know that all children are vulnerable and all children need adults who are committed to looking after and advocating for their well-being.
Today is Children’s Sabbath—a time when we honor our children and their contributions to the larger community; a time when we seek to offer our blessings on our children; and a time when we consider what our commitment is and will be in nurturing and caring for the “least of these” among us. As we celebrate Children’s Sabbath, we do so with the awareness that this past week each of us received a budget proposal for 2010 for our church that included a recommendation from the Personnel Committee that we reduce the hours of our Minister with Children and Their Families from 40 hours per week to 30 hours per week. I will be honest and say I almost panicked when I realized the timing of the two. The juxtaposition of the two seemed to offer an unwelcome conflict. But then I remembered that a part of timing is about being fully present and attentive to what is happening in any given moment and moving into that moment with heart and soul and feeling. So, if nothing else, let’s be honest today in our worship. Let’s name what is happening in this moment—we are attempting to affirm how important our children are to our church while raising the question of how much of our financial resources we can budget to support the ministries to them. That is the truth of this moment that we face. And our most faithful response may be to move into this moment with heart and soul and feeling and wrestle with the tension. The way I see us doing so is by asking ourselves this question: What must we do to continue to choose our children and to say with our actions that they are a vital part of our faith community?
Although our lectionary text may seem like an odd choice to use on Children’s Sabbath, it actually offers a framework for the question of what must we do to in order to choose our children as a significant part of our mission and ministry. In some ways we are like the man in the story who ran up to Jesus and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Only our question is about life here and now. What must we do to follow Jesus’ example to care for the children among us. We know Jesus’ relationship with children—his love and care for them. We know how he told adults that they must become like children in order to be a part of the kingdom. There is no theological question or debate about the value that Jesus placed on children. To suggest that the church has a more important mission than that of caring for children, widows, those marginalized and oppressed would be inauthentic to the gospel message. As well, to suggest that we, Pullen, are not already choosing our children would be a misrepresentation of who we are and what we are about as a faith community. In so many ways we do value our young people as a significant part of our mission and ministry. Indeed, it is our children who hold before us the possibilities and hope for the present and the future of our church. It is often our young people who point the way for us—of how to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. In the early 90s, it was the children and youth of this church that bought to our awareness the issue of ecological justice—long before anyone else in our church was speaking of such. They did so by starting a recycling program at the church and by saying to adults that caring for the earth is a justice issue. Every Sunday it is our children who usher us into worship as they bring the light into this space symbolizing God’s presence among us. And at the close of every worship service they lead us out and back into the world with God’s light. And at various times throughout the year they lead us in worship by sharing their wisdom, insight, and truth. Our children and youth are a vital and integral part of our life together. Have we always—do we always—do right by our children and youth? Not always. But we try.
To the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds, “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Tough words: but they get tougher. Jesus goes on to tell the man and others listening that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. Again the text offers us a place to wrestle with what we value and what our commitment will be as we consider the call to follow Jesus.
Money is on our minds a lot these days. How much we have. How much we don’t have. And how much we need to do what we want to do. This is true for us as individuals and as a church. And as we enter into our budget season the questions about money become even more focused. Like all institutions we have financial obligations that we must attend to and we have dreams and hopes that we would like to be able to support that require financial support. As we enter into conversation about our budget we need not be fearful, apologetic, or feel defeated. Yes, this is a time of challenge. But it is also a time of opportunity. Jesus had much to say about money. And much of what he had to say about money were words of caution. He cautioned us to not let money and wealth define who we are or what we do. And he encouraged us to share what we have with others. Some have used Jesus’ words to say that money is evil. Money is not evil in and of itself. Money, however, is most destructive when we allow it to control and define who we are and how we live in relationship with others.
Budgets speak to the values that we hold. But budgets are not the only thing that reflects our commitments and our values. How we spend our time also represents what we hold dear to our hearts. Our children, our youth, our neighbors who come to our backdoor for help, our friends around the world all need for us to be thoughtful and faithful to how we budget our financial resources. And our children, our youth, those who come to our backdoor, and our friends around the world also need for us to be thoughtful and faithful in how we share our time with them. Like money, time is an investment we make each day. How we spend our time also reflects our commitments and values.
Libby works tirelessly every year trying to find enough volunteers to teach and care for our children. And every year it is a daunting task. She is persistent because of her commitment to our children. But every year she struggles. For sure many of you devote your time and energy to our children—you have for years—even after your children have long exited the children’s program. Our children and their families need all of us to be involved. Maybe it’s volunteering for one Wednesday night program a year, or teaching a Sunday school class for four weeks out of an entire year. And if you don’t feel comfortable teaching then maybe it’s helping Libby do other tasks that are not hands on that takes her time and energy. Like calling and asking people to volunteer. There is a place for all of us when it comes to caring for our youngest.
When a child comes into our community we make a covenant with them and their parents. We are asked: “Do you, the family that is Pullen Church, receive this child into your love and care; do you join the parents in sharing the responsibility to nurture the character and spirit of this flowering new person; and do you offer the sheltering arms of this fellowship to these parents and this child?” We, the congregation respond, “We rejoice in God’s blessing of this child. We seek God’s grace to be a community to your family. We will support you and your child, and pray that through our love she/he may come to know God’s love.”
Choosing our children is about more than money. It is about honoring our covenant with them by sharing ourselves with them—our time, our love, and our energy. Choosing our children is about knowing their names, what they like to do, what school they go to, what they hope for and dream about, what worries them, what challenges they face, and what joys they are experiencing. Choosing our children is about offering words of encouragement to them, supporting their creativity, and honoring their uniqueness. It is about standing up for their rights, advocating for their needs, and making sure they are safe in their homes, neighborhoods, and schools. Choosing our children is about making sure all children—near and far; those whose names we know and those whose names we don’t know—have enough to eat, a place to lay their heads down at night where they feel safe and loved, a safe school where they can expand their minds and have their creativity encouraged, and have access to doctors and hospitals where they can go and have the needs of their growing and changing bodies cared for. This is what we must do to choose our children.
Together, we will decide what our church needs in terms of staffing. Not just for our children but for all the ministries that define our mission. We have both challenge and opportunity as we begin the conversation about our values and commitments and our budget. We need not be fearful, apologetic, or feel defeated. For Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God, for God all things are possible.” This is the good news of the gospel!