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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Welcome A Child

Third Sunday After Pentecost

NOTE: Jerry is no doubt rejoicing today with the angels over the Supreme Court decision this past Friday June 24th overturning Roe v. Wade! In honor of his fervent commitment to the sanctity of life, we present this sermon from “Sanctity of Human Life Sunday” January 21, 2001.

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Mark 9:33-37

I suppose it was bound to happen. As the disciples were walking along on their way to Capernaum, they were arguing about who was the greatest. It was bound to happen because of what had just happened. Three of them – Peter, James, and John – had been with Jesus during the glory of His transfiguration. You may remember that when they came down from the mountain, they found a crowd around the rest of the disciples. A man had brought his demon-possessed son to them, but the disciples couldn’t cast it out.

On the road to Capernaum, then, you had disciples who felt favored because they had been privileged to see Jesus glorified – and disciples who felt humiliated because they couldn’t cast out a demon. With a little imagination we can hear their conversation. Maybe outspoken Peter turned to James and John, and said loud enough for all to hear, “Too bad we weren’t around. After what we just got to see, I’ll bet we could have sent that evil spirit packing!” “Oh yeah?” Philip may have shot back. “If I remember correctly, it wasn’t that long ago that Jesus rebuked you, Peter – and called you Satan himself! So don’t think you’re so great!” It’s not too hard to imagine the twelve arguing about who was the greatest.

To be fair to them, I doubt if their motivations were entirely selfish. I’m sure they wanted to do great things for their Lord and Master – but they just had the wrong idea of greatness. As we so often do!

So, in order to teach the disciples, and us, the true nature of greatness, Jesus took a little child and had him stand among them, and took him in His arms. Then He said, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me, does not welcome me, but the One who sent me.” What Jesus is saying in effect is, “This is a picture of doing great things for God – welcoming a little child.”

Let’s look at two thing we can learn about welcoming a child in this text.

First, it takes a servant to welcome a child. Jesus would have had to stoop down to embrace this child. Of course, He was used to “stooping down” for children, wasn’t He? Paul reminds us that Jesus “made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness… He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:6,7) It takes a servant to welcome a child – it takes sacrifice. Jesus became the ultimate servant and gave the ultimate sacrifice so that He could “take us in His arms” and welcome us as His forgiven children. And only as forgiven children can we begin to be servants ourselves and welcome a child.

It takes a servant to welcome a child. That’s because a child is vulnerable, completely dependent, and at the mercy of others. Unable to serve, he must be served. A child’s life and needs must come before our own. A child’s “smallness” must take precedence over our desire for greatness. That’s what Jesus is teaching His disciples. If you want to be great, you must be last of all and servant of all!

Of course, the child in Jesus’ illustration can be a picture of anyone who is vulnerable and in need. On this Sanctity of Human Life Sunday we’re reminded particularly of two such “children” who are vulnerable and in need of someone to serve them: the young woman or teen experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, and the child she is carrying.

When God looks upon a woman in an unplanned pregnancy, He sees two children. He sees the mother as a “child,” someone who is in a very difficult situation, someone whose life has come crashing down around her, someone who just wants it all to go away. He sees someone in need of love and forgiveness, someone in need of a servant’s embrace, someone in need of support and a listening ear. God sees someone who needs help in becoming a servant herself.

She needs this help and support to be a servant because the other child God sees is the child in her womb. This is a child completely at the mercy of the choices of others. This child needs to be welcomed. This child needs a servant’s embrace. A woman in this situation needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the hope and healing it can bring. The Gospel can help her see through the pain of her situation so she can become a servant and welcome the child within her. The message of the Gospel can help her lay aside for a time her goals and plans, and start making goals and plans for her child.

Sometimes the best way to serve this new life, especially for the pregnant teen, is by making an adoption plan for the baby. Adoption is not abandonment. It is a form of servanthood. Often it is what’s best for both mother and child. Now days you can be involved in the adoption plan for your child in many ways. You can exercise your right to choose by making some loving choices for you and your child. You can choose to have your child baptized, a choice never available in abortion. You can choose to receive pictures of your child and reports of his or her development. You can choose to write a letter to be read when your child is older, in which you can share the assurances of your love and the desire you had to do what was best.

It takes a servant to welcome a child. That’s the first thing we can learn from this text.

The second thing Jesus would have us learn is that there is greatness in welcoming a child. The disciples were looking for greatness in great things. It was great to be with Jesus in all His glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. It would have been great (if they could have pulled it off) to cast out a demon that no one else could cast out.

It's easy for all of us to associate being great with great things. It would be great to advance in my career. It would be great to get this or that job. It would be great to be a great athlete. It would be great to… we could all fill in the blanks.

But real greatness, Jesus says, is welcoming a child, putting the needs of the vulnerable and helpless before our own. Jesus tells us that the greatness of welcoming a child is a lot more than just feeling good because we did a nice thing. Welcoming a child is a divine thing! Remember what Jesus said? “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me doesn’t welcome me, but the One who sent me.”

When we embrace a child – born or unborn – speak up for that child, and welcome him or her in the name of Jesus, we welcome God!

So, you see, when a mother’s choice is to put her child’s needs and her child’s plans and goals before her own, which may, in the child’s best interest, include a plan for adoption – when she chooses to welcome her child in the name of Jesus, she welcomes God. In a very real sense, she is making a holy choice!

It was bound to happen, the disciples arguing about who was the greatest. They had the wrong idea of greatness – as we so often do. Do you want to be great? Do you want to do something that will really matter is this world of self-indulgence and indifference? You do?

Then welcome a little child!


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