Proper 24, C
“It’s snowing! It’s snowing! Mumma, it’s finally winter!” However you feel about that white stuff; whatever your personal conviction about the proportion of the year that should be spent garnering our enthusiasm for our iceboxiness – you cannot resist the kids’ innocence, their enthusiasm. They ooze with LIFE.
This, the third Sunday in October is designated the National Observance of Children’s Sabbath. 2013 marks the 22nd annual observation of the event. This year it dovetails with the Episcopal Church in Minnesota’s missional emphasis on children. You may have noticed the information in your bulletins – some statistics about child poverty, and the effects of gun violence on children. Coming up in a little bit, you will notice some changes in the liturgy to focus on this observance. Sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund and supported by Catholic Charities U.S.A., the Islamic Society of North America, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., the National Assembly of Bahá’ís in the U.S., the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and more than 200 other religious organizations and denominations, the “National Observance of Children’s Sabbaths Celebration is a way for faith communities to celebrate children as sacred gifts of the Divine, and provides the opportunity for houses of worship to renew and live out their moral responsibility to care, protect and advocate for all children.” (Children’s Defense Fund website) Every year, they choose a different emphasis. This year the title is “Beating Swords Into Plowshares: Ending the Violence of Guns and Child Poverty.”
The events at Sandy Hook school not even a year ago put gun violence against children front and center in the national news. It is seared into our consciousness. Since that time there have been at least 15 more school shootings. And, of course, school shootings represent a very small proportion of the gun violence perpetrated against children. In the last year, almost 2,700 children were killed by guns. And poverty? Among Industrialized Nations the United States Ranks worst in relative child poverty. 16,134,000 children in the US live in poverty. That is 21.9% of our children. 7,252,000 or 9.8% of our children live in extreme poverty. Closer to home 194,260 (15.4%) of MN’s children live in poverty – 81,165 (6.4%) of them in severe poverty. They do not know where their next meal will be coming from, or indeed if there will be a next meal. That says nothing of the poverty, the devastation, the starvation of children world-wide.
The numbers are staggering. We are talking about the gun related death of a child at a rate of one every 3 1/4 hours. We are talking about the living death that is extreme poverty annihilating the childhood, the innocence, often the very promise of the most vulnerable among us over and over and over. What does a person do? What can a person do? Where is God?
There’s an old saying, “Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when He could do something about it. But I’m afraid He would ask me the same question.” (anonymous).
The Children’s Defense Fund is one of the premier child advocacy groups in this country. What is their suggestion for what we do about this national catastrophe? Pray. Roman Catholics and Episcopalians and other Protestants and Muslims and Jews and Bahá’ís and all the rest – join together in prayer in the National Observance of the Children’s Sabbath. Pray.
I can think of more than a couple of people skeptical about this approach, maybe a few in this room. Tragedies of violence, tragedies of injustice, tragedies of paralyzing economic disparity afflict millions of the children of this country. Mouthing prayers to a silent God in the face of such immense need seems inefficient at best, futile at worst. And so it is. If that is all that it is.
Suzanne Guthrie writes, “When despair has obliterated ordinary prayer; when the psalms fail and all words are stupid and meaningless, the mantle of loneliness surrounding me becomes a mantle of dark and wordless love. This darkness reveals the paradox of prayer: in the absence of God, all there is, is God.” We are people of God. Prayer is our relationship with God. It makes us who we are. Henri Nouwen points out, “Prayer is the center of the Christian life. It is the only necessary thing. It is living with God in the here and now.”
God invites us, like Jacob, to wrestle with our faith, to wrestle with God, to demand God’s blessing, to demand God’s attention. One commentator notes that in this, Israel’s story of its relationship with God, “Israel defines itself as a people who refuses to let go of God. They tell us that they will fight with God to demand that Yahweh bless them. They are a people who are willing to be changed, even damaged in that exchange, because they know that attaining that blessing is worth the sacrifice. They are not a people of passive faith.” (Corrine Carvalho, Working Preacher)
“Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” In his illustration of the need to pray, Jesus describes a widow, the most vulnerable of persons in 1st century Palestine. A widow in that time, in that place was a non-person without rights, without protection. Yet this particular non-person demands to be recognized, demands her rights, demands protection. She speaks against indifference in the form of the unjust judge. And she does it again. And again. And again. And the world changes.
We make the mistake of viewing prayer as merely something that we say, or words that we read – duty fulfilled. Rabbi Abraham Heschel once said, about participating in a Civil Rights march with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “I felt as through my feet were praying.” We pray with our mouths and brains, yes. We also pray with our hearts, with our hands, with our feet, with our lives. We pray when we challenge the indifferent political machine. We pray when we teach a child to garden, or can, or cook. We pray when we give to or work with the Clothes Closet. We pray when we offer a child a chance to give a Christmas gift to their parent – one they earn, but could never pay for.
The Reverend Billy Graham is quoted as saying, “The most eloquent prayer is the prayer through hands that heal and bless. The highest form of worship is the worship of unselfish Christian service. The greatest form of praise is the sound of consecrated feet seeking out the lost and helpless.”
Let us pray today for the children. Let us pray today, and tomorrow and the next day. Let us pray with our minds and our hearts and our hands and our feet and our wallets and our letters and our time and our lives. AMEN.