At the playground once with my children, I saw a dad waiting with his son for some space to clear up on the jungle gym. The only parent in that area, while helping his son wait patiently, he also helped some other children make their way safely to the top. Even after his little boy had reached the high platform he kept helping the others, spotting them so a potential fall wouldn’t be so dangerous, giving a hand to steady them if they got a little wobbly. Another dad came jogging up when he saw his daughter getting some assistance. He thanked the first dad and apologized for not being there, but the first dad simply smiled and shrugged, “Hey, we’re all in this together!”
We sure are. We’re all in this together! It’s true for parents on the playground. It’s true for us as a church. It’s true for our nation and the world that’s watching us. We’re all in this together.
On Wednesday morning, I saw a plea on Facebook, “I want to be with my church family!” Some people were just waking up to find out the results of the presidential election. Others had barely slept all night. All of us, though, whether the election went the way we had hoped or the way we had feared, all of us were being confronted with the reality that we are a deeply divided nation. The reactions that have followed in the days since have highlighted this division – protests by some, hate-filled graffiti by others, confidence that a new day is coming, and fear that we don’t know what that new day will bring. It could drive people apart, but here at Fox Valley Presbyterian Church, at least, it didn’t.
An email went out. A Facebook announcement was posted. By three in the afternoon a group had gathered and begun to talk in the lower gathering space. It wasn’t partisan. It was neither gleeful nor angry. It was the body of Christ coming together and simply acknowledging we’re all in this together and asking, “What are we going to do now?”
Baptism is the church’s sign that we’re all in this together. We come to the body of Christ through the waters of baptism, and these waters don’t discriminate between rich and poor, educated and uneducated. These waters don’t keep us out because of skin color or sexual identity. They aren’t for only Democrats or Republicans or Independents or third, fourth, or fifth party members. All of us are united to Christ and to one another in the sacrament of baptism; we are made part of one body. We are in it together.
When the Israelites were ready to pass through the waters of Jordan at the end of their wilderness wanderings, Moses had some important words to deliver. “Listen up!” he said to the people of Israel. “Hear this, O Israel!” This wasn’t just a gentle invitation. This was a command. It was an alert. It was a cry to the people to pay attention because the words that followed, they were going to be crucial words for the way life is to be lived together. The people needed to know these words as they were going to make their way through the water. They needed to know them as they began again in the Promised Land. They needed to know them and keep them central, keep them always in front of them and in front of their families, especially in front of their children whose lives and minds and beliefs would be forever shaped by the way they heard the adults in their community talking.
It’s a good command for us, too, for we who have come through these baptismal waters, for we who have promised even today to care for Grayson and Ellery and Finley in our family of faith, for we who are living in a tense climate. “Listen up!” Moses says. God’s going to tell us how we should live as partners in God’s covenant, as this family formed by the water and the Spirit.
Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our only God and the Lord has some important things for us to do. We are supposed to love God with all that we are and all that we have, and we are called to show that love by following God’s commands – not least among them God’s commands to love each other, God’s command to love those who are foreigners among us and different from us, God’s commands to welcome and protect the most vulnerable among us.
It strikes me today that this commandment has to be directed to the adults. Granted most of Scripture assumes adults as the primary audience, but it’s the adults who have to be told to keep the commandment to love God and honor God’s covenant. It’s the adults who have to be urged to say these holy words over and over again. It’s adults in the gospel of Luke who have to be prompted to let the children, let the underprivileged, let the ignored inside the circle. It’s the adults who need to be reminded that the children are watching what we’re doing and what we’re saying. The way we live before them matters because they learn what is holy, what is right, and what is acceptable from us.
And yet, God’s commandment through Moses in Deuteronomy 6 doesn’t come in a little “For parents only” section of scripture. It’s not set aside just for those who are raising children in their homes. It’s not that elusive instruction manual all parents sometimes wish came with their children. It’s not just for those with the immediate responsibility of day to day care for little ones. Hear O Israel! Israel! It’s for the whole community, the whole people of God. It’s for ALL of us!
This is the call and command to the community of faith. It is the community’s responsibility to teach our children about God and God’s love for us all. It is the community’s responsibility to recite these words by heart, to talk about them, to talk about God, to tell our children the stories and the promises of God’s love for them and for the world. It’s the community’s responsibility to welcome, as Jesus does, the children among the people of God. And I think here it doesn’t just mean the babies, and toddlers, and school children we are so grateful to have running up and down the ramps in the gathering space or packing the Sunday School classes and Growing Place preschool.
As we talked about in one of the women’s circles this week, childhood in biblical times wasn’t like childhood today. Childhood was a time of great vulnerability. Children were often considered only for their economic value – how much help could they provide when they were young? Would they care for the elderly when they were old? Until anyone knew how valuable they would be later on, in some ways they were just one more mouth to feed.
In both the ancient Greek and Roman cultures the patriarch of a family or household even had the power to decide if a newborn would be kept in the house or left to die, a decision that could be based on economics, the health of the infant, any obvious physical deformities, or even the sex of the child. The children Jesus welcomes are the people the culture is willing to throw away. Who are these people for us today? Who is it tempting for us to dismiss? Who are we willing ignore? Who do we judge only according to their economic value? Who are we willing to push to the proverbial curb where there is no protection, where there is no solidarity, where there is no safe space? Because Jesus says welcome these. Jesus says, “to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” God says we are to love even, no, especially these.
I understand that it feels like a daunting task. I really do. We don’t know when and we don’t know how. Even when we’re just talking about the children among us we’re afraid our words will be misconstrued, that our actions instead of communicating love will offend those around us. Many of us think to ourselves, or even out loud to one another, “But I don’t know enough. Someone else speaks about this better than I do. I’ll mess it all up, so maybe if I learn a little better, then I’ll be able to act a little better. I don’t really see a lot of children, a lot of vulnerable people, a lot of immigrants or minorities or Muslims. I don’t really have much of a chance to show them love.”
But in reality it doesn’t need to be as hard as we make it. Moses tells us how we should do this – – by heart! I don’t mean memorization here, but truly by heart. We are supposed to love these kids, these children who are made all of ours by the waters of baptism, we’re supposed to love them so much that they know God’s love. We are supposed to love God so much you can see it coming from our hearts, hear it coming from our lips, feel it coming out of our very souls. We’re supposed to love the whole family of God with whom we share this creation the way we love our own families by blood or by choice; we’re supposed to remember that we’re all in this together. We’re all called to work together against disregard and division, ignorance and indifference, and especially against outright hatred, racism, and violence.
And when should we do all of this? When we’re home or when we’re away. When we’re sleeping and when we’re waking. In other words, there isn’t a designated time. It isn’t just in Sunday School or worship. It’s not just at Fisher Folk or FOTC. It’s not only at the Community Dinner or when we serve at Lazarus House, but all these places are a good place to start. However also consider also that it is our call to love God by keeping God’s commandments of love when we walk down the street or ride on the train. It is our call when we witness someone being mistreated because their English isn’t clear, their customs are unfamiliar, or their skin color is a different shade. Loving God by loving others, this is our call, this is God’s commandment to us ALL THE TIME. Loving God and teaching God’s children is our fulltime job; loving God and seeking out the vulnerable is our highest responsibility, and we do it with the lives we live before them and with them. We do it by holding close to God’s Word, by keeping these words in our heart and in our lives.
We do it by heart, when we choose the Way of Jesus in our thoughts, in our words, and in our actions, in the church, in our homes, in the schools, and in our communities. We do it by heart when we remember we are the family of Christ, born through the waters of baptism, sealed by the Holy Spirit, marked as Christ’s own forever, and when we ACT like a loving family. We do it by heart, we hear God’s commandment and we teach it to our children, when we choose the way of love and forgiveness and justice, over fear and revenge and retribution in all that we do, wherever we are. Because, thank God, we’re all in this together.
jungle gym photo credit: Curtis Gregory Perry Playground via photopin (license)