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Little Ones to Him Belong
a sermon based on Mark 10:13-16
by Rev. Thomas Hall


In his book, Fatherhood, Bill Cosby remembers his first trip to the delivery room. He puts on his hospital gown and mask and races to witness the birth of his child. He later said of his experience,

. . . the baby came out, and my wife and I were suddenly sharing the greatest moment in our lives. This was what we had asked God for; this was what we wanted to see if we could make. And I looked at it lovingly as they started to clean it off, but it wasn’t getting any better.

And then I went to my wife, kissed her gently on the lips and said, "Darling, I love you very much. You just had a lizard."

Most of us can identify with Cosby, not necessarily in the lizard-like qualities of newborns, but in the sheer ecstasy of a new birth and creation wrapped in the wrinkled folds of a baby’s skin. We see the little eyes and the grimacing before the bright lights, the red tint, the slippery residue, and we see life.

I have been a two-time veteran of the delivery room. But for me, I can’t remember what I saw as much as what I heard. I heard the cry of my child. He had been born into the world without sound. His air passage was clogged. I waited for the sound. Each second was an hour. Then he cried. I heard it. I remember it even now. That cry meant life had won.

The cry is important to all of us. The cry leads us into survival, nurture, and growth. The cry becomes our first communication system. The cry comes before walking, talking, or self-awareness. And the cry is communicated in no uncertain terms. The cry says, "dirty diaper here" or "I’m ready to eat NOW!" or "please hold me to your breast."

But there is another cry. This cry comes fro scalding coffee deliberately poured over tender skin; a cry which comes from merciless beatings, a cry which comes from little ones whose spirits have been crushed by words. "Shut up, you little ____." Or "I wish you hadn’t been born." Or "why can’t you be more like your sister?"

Every time we read the paper we hear children crying. In Asia I hear the cries of 10 and 12 year old girls who have been sold on the white slave market to Japanese and American businessmen. In Romania, I hear crying from the 5th floor of the AIDS hospice where thousands of toddlers have been abandoned. In Somalia, I hear cries from bloated babies who will become a number on a page.

In a recent national newspaper, I saw a picture of a little boy, five or six years old with his hands up against a window. He and his mother were on one side of the pane and his father on the other. The bus was evacuating children from a war-torn area. The boy has his hand spread out on the pane and the father places his hands over them on the other side of the pane. But I want you to see the little guy’s face. He’s crying.

When I was in seminary I took a trip down to Trenton, New Jersey to meet with the Director of the Division of Youth and Family Services. Freda told me that each year over 50,000 cries of danger and abuse are heard each year in New Jersey. About the same in Pennsylvania. Those were the ones reported. How many cries never make it to Freda, I wondered.

Not wanting to leave me with a head full of statistics, Freda put a face to the statistics-Joanie. "Joanie comes from strict parenting," Freda said, "and they would always tell Joanie that she was a very bad girl and that was why they had to beat her." Sometimes it was an extension cord or broom handle. Other punishment came in the form of hard slaps to bare skin. After many beatings, Joanie began to believe that she must really be bad and that she deserved these punishments. She soon stopped laughing. But eventually she lost even the ability to cry. Fortunately for Joanie, someone-a neighbor-got suspicious from the odd sounds coming from her house and called the police. They arrived just in time; Joanie was lying next to a broken chair, passed out and bleeding.

But Joanie managed to survive.

Now in the hands of a child counselor and social worker, Joanie is beginning to respond to love and therapy. She can laugh-and cry-again thanks to someone who was listening.

I can’t help think of the children in our gospel lesson this morning. What were their names? What were their favorite games? Were there any Joanies among them? How did they turn out? This small passage probably took no more time than twenty minutes, a small interruption into Jesus’ saving the world mission. Yet, remarkably, story made such an impression upon the disciples that the episode circulated for several generations before someone finally got it down on parchment.

The story of Jesus and the children has left its mark upon the Church. More is at stake here than kids getting in the way of adults. That’s what the disciples interpreted from the scene. Children were interruptions that kept Jesus from doing "important stuff." The passage tells us that Jesus heard the noisy laughter and cries of children and stopped what he was doing. He stopped his 24-7 world and just walked away for a moment.

"C’mon, Jesus, you’ll be late for the meeting."

"What are you doing, Jesus? Don’t you know these are peasant kids. They’re keeping you from our destiny in Jerusalem."

"STOP! Let the little children come to me . . . for to such as these belongs the kingdom."

Then he touches them; tousles and rumples a kid’s carrot top; throws a pita Frisbee-like to another kid. Closes his eyes and counts to ten and then yells, "Ready or not here I come!" Jesus picks up the pieces of humanity that the rest of us never see or hear and treats them as VIPs. His actions say that children are important. Kids count.

A recent survey asked retired executives what they would do over, given the opportunity. Without exception two answers came: "I’d spend less time at the office." But listen to the second response: "I’d spend more time with my kids." Kids count.

In upper New York there is a day-care located right in the middle of the business district. Every weekday at noon when the traffic is jammed and patience thin, here they come like a gaggle of geese headed for the pond. A parade of youngsters walk out of the daycare together-laughing, wondering, teasing, hitting, and picking up sidewalk treasures. They are all safely connected by a bright yellow cord that leads up to daycare worker scattered along the cord. There they go following like little ducklings waddling in a line.

What about you and me? Most of us are not children. We are adults and live in the responsible world of big people. What’s this lesson saying to us? Well, I think this passage is also about us. There is still a child within us. In some cases, that child has been abused by word or deed. Some of you still remember the cries of your childhood. For some of us adults, this passage may be a healing word to the soul. It may allow us to let Christ come into our childhoods and into our cries to touch and bless us just like he touched the children in our lesson. For just a moment this morning, picture a child-could be Joanie, could be the child that is you or could be a child out there that you know or one that sits at the supper table each night.

Do you have the child in your mind. Good. Then sing this song silently to them:

Jesus loves me this I know,
For the Bible tells me so,
Little ones to him belong,
They are weak but he is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me,
The Bible tells me so.

I wish I could sing that song to every child who’s ever been hurt or neglected. I wish I could just scoop them up in my arms and kiss the hurts away. But only the Christ can truly heal.

Rejoice in the saving, healing power of Jesus to transform us and make us new again. Rejoice in the Christ who does all things well. And go out and be little christs to all, all the children of the world. Amen.