Text: Mark 9:30-37
Baeya, I’d like to dedicate my reflection to you. In fact, it’s my letter to you. Your family and the congregation of Fort Garry United Church are celebrating your baptism. It is God’s “yes” to us, and our “yes” to God. It is in baptism that we are fully known, accepted, loved and understood as children of God. You have a wonderful family, Baeya, and you have a very welcoming congregation. We’ve got your back. I want you to know that God loves you and welcomes you just as you are. The Psalmist declares that it’s God who shaped you first inside, then out; God formed you in your mother’s womb; Body and soul, you are marvellously made! God knows you inside and out. (Psalm 139 The Message)
We also hear the same voice from heaven that spoke to Jesus when he was baptized in the Jordan River, “You are my own dear child, and I am pleased with you.” It is our prayer that throughout your life, Baeya, you will hear that voice in times of joy as well as in times of trouble. It is a voice of such love and grace that will nourish you, nurture you, encourage and empower you. Remember that voice.
Remember also, Baeya, that you are never alone even in the toughest times. You are surrounded by good people – your family, your friends, and your neighbours. They will share all the happiest and saddest moments of your life. Last week, you came together with your parents, Shawna and Rene, and your Godparent to see me and this space of worship. The church was so bright because of you, because of the light you bring to your family and to the world.
After a brief exchange of greetings, I gave you a duck toy, which I often give to children who visit in my office. Well, luck wasn’t with me. You were not interested in the duck. Instead, your eyes were fixed on something else. There was a balloon in my office. It was not just a balloon. It was a yellow balloon with a big smile on it that my son blew up last Sunday. You loved that balloon. You knew exactly what you wanted, and you were able to express that without any hesitation.
It was a teachable moment for those of us who are adults. First, we don’t always know what we want. Even if we know what we want, sometimes it’s hard to express it. We adults worry too much, and we fear unnecessarily. One of the fears we have is the fear of rejection, and we have good reasons for that. It is sad but true that many of us have experienced some form of rejection. We live in a world where people are not fully accepted because of who they are based on their skin colour, race, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, physical or mental ability or economic or social status. Some people supress their true selves out of fear. That makes God very sad, because God wants us to live not in fear, but in love. God weeps with those who weep. Thank you, Baeya for teaching us the importance of knowing ourselves, and expressing ourselves with such freedom and perseverance. For, that’s how we can live our lives to the fullest.
You probably can’t believe that children in Jesus’ time were not accepted as fully human. They were considered to be of very low status and of little value; they were, and perhaps still are, the most vulnerable members of society. It’s not surprising that when people were bringing children to Jesus in order for him to bless them, the disciples rejected them. Jesus, however, turned their world upside down by putting the children at the centre. He said, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” He went further on saying, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never entre it.”
Indeed, in the Bible there are many other teachable moments created by children. In it, there was a boy called Samuel who woke up in the middle of night because of the irresistible voice of God, and when he listened to that voice, it changed everything. There is also a story of a young girl who is a captive from the land of Israel. She helped out Naaman, who was the great warrior but suffered from a disease. She saved his life without expecting anything in return.
In the passage we heard today, Jesus again had a teachable moment from a little child to whom no one in the room paid attention. The disciples were busy arguing over who was the greatest. Jesus took a little child and put it among them; and, then, taking it in his arms, he said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” This is an invitation to practice God’s love and radical hospitality – to welcome and honour especially the ones who are not viewed as great by our cultures.
Thank you, Baeya for being our teacher today. You teach us that everyone, no matter who they are and where they come from, has a unique gift from God – so indispensable that without it we are not whole. It is through this radical way of welcoming one another that we meet God anew.
Remember, Baeya, throughout your life time, how you were loved and welcomed so you can also love and welcome others. And don’t forget to speak up for yourself and to express who you are just like you did in my office. You are wonderfully made – beautiful and strong inside and out. Your family, your community, and the world will be blessed because of you.