February 12, 2023
Children’s Justice Sabbath
Luke 18:1-8 and Luke 18:15-17
Rev. Chelsea Page

So, after Jesus wallops the disciples and Pharisees with this doozy of a parable – I mean, two characters acting completely out of line with their social roles, an unjust judge and unladylike lady, not to mention a totally broken justice system, and still God’s justice gets done?! – he tells another story about prayer, and then suddenly the plot thickens. The crowd thickens, as more people begin to show up, and it’s women, intruding into this erudite male discussion with their babies, of all things. They want their children to see Jesus.

Now people were bringing infants to him

         that he might touch them,

and when the disciples saw it,

they sternly ordered them not to do it.

But Jesus called for them and said,

         “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them,

         for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.

         Truly I tell you,

         whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child

                  will never enter it.”

What is hindering our children today? Here is a recent list from Illustrated Ministry.

We live within systems that exploit children and perpetuate the grave sin of children growing up without food, water, shelter, and care.

We have bought items manufactured by children.

We have turned our attention from the physical and mental health care needs of children and youth.

We have allowed our cities to provide excellent education to some children and very little to others.

We have mocked, belittled, posted, shared, and chastised the behavior of children and youth instead of cherishing their individual development and milestones.

We have excluded children, segregating them from the community and privileging the voices and presence of adults.

In our exclusion of children, we have missed out on Jesus.

We have not always let the children come into the center of our concern.

So I guess the real question is, what is hindering US? Is the problem that God is absent, inactive or uncaring? Or is that WE are ineffective in overcoming the challenges and barriers to justice? For Jesus, it is obviously the latter. God is good, and the parable directs us to persistent prayer and action on behalf of God’s justice. But will the faithful and prayerful always continue to advocate for it?

Well, let me ask you this, how often do you try asking for something just once, and then give up? I know I do all the time, especially when there are so many issues to fight for. It’s hard to be relentless like the widow when our energies feel so divided. I can see why cynicism rules the day when it comes to social change, after all we have seen these past few years.

But we deal with the world as it is, not the world as we wish it to be. So, granted that the times we live in are especially challenging, we are still called not to give up, to keep dreaming and never despair. But how?

I think the first step is to figure out what it is inside us, exactly, that hinders our advocacy and allows us to accept defeat. I’ve been wondering lately if our inner battle may stem from the fact that we all have an unjust judge and a persistent widow inside us, a pushy parent and a gatekeeping disciple inside us. Let’s see if we can get to know them a little.

The judge is described as being heartless, as having no love or respect for God. I think it might be more accurate to say that somewhere along the line, the judge has lost heart. Loving God and others has not yielded results, and so he has retreated into the most base and basic guideline for responding to the demands in his life – pure self interest. It’s okay if there is a part of us that is cynical and weary and become focused on self-preservation. What’s not okay is when this part of us is allowed to take over and become a gatekeeping disciple, someone who actively seeks to control the voices of others and squash down demands for change in order to avoid conflict. This part of us can be healed by surrendering, by recognizing we don’t know everything and it’s okay to just listen to the social justice voices in our midst and learn from them.

At the same time, we also all have a pushy, pleading parent and a mouthy, complaining widow inside us! This is the good news, that God has placed within us a part that gets activated when we feel angry over being treated unjustly. While this wronged and powerless part of us can feel really uncomfortable, it is such a resource for social change compared to the places where we have power and privilege. So yes, I think that if Jesus came back, he would find faith, but it would be in unexpected places, mainly among the powerless who cry out for help. For Jesus, faith is the solution to our ambivalence and divided existence. Faith is the wholeness that we need to persist, and this wholeness comes to us through community.

In his own reflection on this story, Professor Bill Loader says, “We are to be building supportive communities where people can sustain the crying day and night and not lose heart, where we do not tune out, but live in hope and with a sense of trust that does not make us feel we have to carry the whole world on our shoulders.”

So friends, let us align ourselves with the powerless, both within us and around us. Confronting the issues of the day, let’s begin by figuring out what’s at stake for us – all the ways we personally stand to gain or lose – and add our voices to the much larger chorus of voices crying out for justice while being heard by God. Joining our voices to theirs is simple. Worried about inflation causing children to go hungry? Email your senator and legislator and say, “Hi, I’m your constituent. Eliminate the sales tax on food.” Or “subsidize child care.”

Want to get more involved? There’s a local coalition led by United Way that is advocating for full-day kindergarten in Utah. Can you believe we do not begin full public education for our kids until 7 years AFTER their brains have begun developing? The Utah Full-Day Kindergarten Now Coalition meets in the Capitol Rotunda every Wednesday morning from 10 to 12. Kids are welcome! Join them for Valentine’s Day on February 15th and distribute candy to legislators, asking them to make sure every family can opt into full-day kindergarten. Or join their President’s Day celebration on February 22nd, when they will celebrate the American presidents who built our public education system. Or Women’s History Day on the Hill on March 1st, passing out letters written by parents and kids while highlighting influential women in Utah history. Who said raising our voices can’t be fun?

I’d like to end by praying together with all the advocates from the Children’s Defense Fund, Voices for Utah Children, United Today Stronger Tomorrow, and the United Church of Christ Mission Moments. “Holy One, today we especially remember your beloved queer, transgender and nonbinary children, made in Your beautiful image and yet too often cast out of their families and faith traditions in Your name. Open our arms wide, that we might embrace all of your children as we welcome all of them home. As we pledge to be a voice for all who are voiceless, we pray also that our words may impel us to action. Like the widow, who knocked and pounded and BANGED on the doors of oppression until they were opened, make us tireless, as we seek and find You and Your way of justice. Amen.”*

(*Prayer taken from United Church of Christ Mission Moments)