Sermon Archives

Sunday, July 9, 2017
The 5th Sunday of Pentecost (Year A)
The Reverend Areeta Bridgemohan, Curate
The Wisdon of Infants

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Our Gospel reading today combines two sections of Matthew chapter 11. In both sections of our reading, Jesus holds up children as examples of discipleship.

In the first mini-parable, he compares himself and John to children sitting in the marketplace calling others to dance and mourn with them.

In the second section, Jesus’ prayer thanks God for hiding the reality of judgment from the wise and intelligent and for revealing it to infants.

Children play an important role in the Bible.

In the Old Testament we see children as the fulfillment of God’s promise of descendants to the patriarchs, or their well-being as an assessment of the spiritual health of Israelite society, in God’s commands to care for the poor, the widow, the stranger and the orphan.

The New Testament tells us the stories of Elizabeth and Mary’s unconventional pregnancies, resulting in gifts of prophecy and salvation for humankind. In Jesus’ own teaching and ministry, he instructs the disciples not to hinder children from approaching him, and he makes a point of bringing children from the margins to the forefront as models of faith.

Two weeks ago, a group of youth and adults from the Diocese of Michigan went to Alabama and Georgia on a civil rights pilgrimage and mission trip. Our first stop was Birmingham and our time there focused on the 1963 Children’s Crusade.

It took place at a time when the campaign for desegregating Birmingham was in trouble. Energy was flagging, people were afraid of losing their jobs and homes, bail costs increased by 800% for protesters sent to jail, severely dampening the campaign’s momentum[1].

At a gathering convened by civil rights movement organizers, the leader asked those who were willing to protest to stand up. The only ones in the large crowd who stood up were young people. The Rev’d James Bevel, one of the leaders, made a controversial proposal to recruit and train local students in non-violent protest, pointing out that the adults were afraid of losing their jobs, and the kids had the motivation and less to lose.

On May 2, 1963, known as “D-Day” or “Ditch Day” a popular DJ gave the signal saying: “kids there’s going to be a party in the park at noon!” More than 1,000 black elementary, middle and high school students left their classes, while supportive teachers turned their backs, as students jumped out of classroom windows and over fences and gathered at 16th Street Baptist Church. They filled Kelly Ingram Park, a buffer zone between the black side of town and the white business area.

More than 600 children were jailed that day, laughing and singing as they jumped into the paddy wagons. Because there were so many kids, the police commandeered school buses to take the kids to jail.[2]

The following day, on “Double D-Day”, another 1,000 students arrived and filled the Park. In response, Commissioner Bull Connor directed local police and fire departments to use force to quell the demonstrations. This was the moment when the iconic images of unarmed young people assaulted by dogs and water hoses were taken that shook the nation and the world, and the subsequent momentum garnered from these events ultimately led to the campaign’s success in Birmingham, culminating in the repeal of the city’s segregation ordinances in July 1963.[3]

On the first morning of our mission trip, we said Morning Prayer, had an introductory session to the trip and watched a documentary on the Children’s Crusade. Then we made our way down to Kelly Ingram Park.

We broke up into small groups and walked around the interactive life-sized sculptures commemorating the Children’s Crusade.

We were tasked with identifying a sculpture that resonated with us. One of the sculptures that resonated most with a number of the young people in the group, consisted of 2 tall walls made out of scrap metal, placed on each side of the path. Each wall had sculptures of snarling police dogs jumping out from the wall, leaping inwards.

As the group paused in the middle of the sculpture, a number of the youth were dismayed by the dog’s viciousness. They observed how sad it was that the dogs were trained to channel the hatred of their trainers instead of being kind and loving, the way they experienced their own pets. One of the youth pointed out that just as those dogs were trained, babies and children are shaped and formed by their parents and their communities.

As you can imagine, the civil rights movement organizers faced criticism over the ethics of inviting children to protest from all sides. In a speech that Martin Luther King gave on the evening of the second day of the protests, he offered these words to the parents: “Don’t worry about your children; they are going to be alright. Don’t hold them back if they want to go to jail, for they are not only doing a job for themselves, but for all of America and for all of [hu]mankind.”[4]

One of the adults interviewed in the documentary, who participated in the protests as a child, remembered that her parents forbade her participation in the protests. She said that her parents brought her up to never lie. So when they asked her if she understood that she was not to join the protests, she replied: “I hear you”. She was arrested, and when she was released from jail, she remembered being afraid of going back home because she had disobeyed her parents. Instead, her mother welcomed her and folded her into a hug, saying: “Bless you child, and thank you.”[5]

Jesus’ life and ministry consistently point us towards the power of the powerless, the strength of weakness, and the victory of love. We are called to care for and nurture the young people in our midst, and Jesus calls us to have the humility to learn from them.

Jesus asks us to pay attention to those on the margins of our communities, to invite their witness about where and who God is in a way that those of us in positions of power and self-reliance have a harder time seeing.

The cheerful and innocent courage of the children that participated in the Children’s Crusade in Birmingham modeled a commitment to justice and freedom that moved the nation and the world.

Over and again the Bible tells us stories of God choosing those who are weak and vulnerable as agents for the transformation of the world. And the insight that our young pilgrims had about the influence that adults and community have over children and animals, reflects another prophetic Biblical refrain: that the rich and powerful are tasked with the responsibility for caring for those that are more vulnerable and for ensuring that there are systems set up to do so.

Our Gospel passage today is rooted in the prophetic judgment tradition. That is, the truth-telling biblical tradition that seeks to hold a mirror up to society, not in order to induce brokenness and shame, but in order to uncover and heal what is broken[6].

How do we relate to those on the margins of our society? How do we relate to those on the margins of this community of Christ Church Grosse Pointe? What kind of community do we see ourselves as being responsible to co-create, at Christ Church and beyond? What are we modeling for the young people in our midst? Do we see Christ in them? Do they see Christ in us?

Children of God: may we have the courage and single-heartedness to take up Jesus’ yoke, to care for those on the margins of our society and community, to strive for justice and peace, to co-create the kingdom of God and may that yoke ultimately lead us to find rest for our souls. Amen.