Children - Sermon for Children's Sabbath (10/19/2014)

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Sermon delivered to St. Francis Lutheran Church
October 19, 2014 - Children's Sabbath (Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

"Children" - Text from Matthew 19:13-15 




Greetings to you, my family in Christ, sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, children of God.

I am approaching 48 years old, and of course, it is not "old" by many measures, as many members of my beloved St. Francis family will remind me when I complain about the toils that age has thus far been having on me. But it does seem to be a kind of milestone in my life. Way back in 1989, over half my life ago, I tested positive for HIV, which pretty much eliminated the question of passing on my DNA to later generations, for fear of passing on the virus as well, and so any time I ever thought about the desire to have children, I pretty much moved forward from that thought. But now, in 2014, I am still around and in better health than ever, and my virus has been undetectable for probably the last five years. But I'm going to be 48 soon, and my spouse is going to be 60. And so the prospect of bringing a newborn child into this world now is also the prospect of approaching 70 when that child is in the midst of college. It will be a time that I hope to be beginning retirement and at least joining my husband's golden years in life.

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So while the possibility exists that I might produce a healthy child, and my maturity level and career path are such that I could provide that child with a happy and healthy home, I have to ask myself, why now? And I can only come up with egotistical reasons. I want someone to point to me and say that I am their father. I want someone to look up their family tree and carry on the Bass-Deschenes family name. I want to rubber stamp my legacy in the world, imprinting my personality, wisdom, and values on someone who will look back at me with some bits and pieces of my face, my mannerisms, even my words. So when I look at the rationale behind my own desire to reproduce...my vanity, my ego, my own sense of needing something outside of myself to complete me, it seems prudent of me to not seek to create a new life out of myself.

To be honest with you, as far as my genetic heritage goes, there is no lack of recipients of DNA in my family's next generation and there have been children and still are children in my life. In fact, my family is a very good representation of the evolutionary theory that supports same-sex attraction as a trait developed in the human species that benefits the species, because I have four siblings, each of whom have children, for a total of eight nieces and nephews, and having no children of my own to support and no issue of my own to pass my legacy, their lives are probably better off for having a gay uncle. So there have been children in my life, whether or not I was the one to father them. And many of us who live in what popular culture likes to call "non-traditional families" will also agree that one does not have to produce their own children in order to have children in their lives.

But even though I was raised in a fairly supportive family, I had my own struggles in my teenage years, and besides, evolution is a science, and real life does not always match up to scientific expectations. Queer people don't always get born into larger families that love them and support them and don't depend on them reproducing and creating the next generation. Queer people are often born in families that abuse them, injure them and reject them.

In San Francisco alone, some 40% of the people under the age of 18 living on the streets are queer youth. Estimates for numbers of queer youth on the street in San Francisco range from 400 to 2,000, this population is particularly vulnerable in terms of exploitation, drugs and endangerment by violence from adults, often including law enforcement. They are subject to the elements, violence, and not infrequent ridicule from the rapidly changing demographic of the city, particularly new arrivals from the tech sector.

In Matthew 25, Christ has some words to about clothing him when he is naked, visiting him when he is imprisoned, and feeding him when he is hungry, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." Queer youth are among the most marginalized population of the homeless, and represent a significant portion of the population who are on the streets. Because of the difficulties that queer youth are more likely to have in their home situations, they are more likely to run away from home. Because of the difficulties they encounter on the street, they are further obstacles there. Employment, housing, and legal difficulties are just a few of the barriers that society provides to prevent homeless queer youth from advancing further. In a way, they are the least of Christ's family and have needs that require greater attention, they are among the most likely to fall through the cracks of not being served by, and therefore become even more deserving of Christian love.

But they are so easy to ignore and so easy to forget, because they are often hidden away. Those of us who have somehow made somewhere in our lives, despite the difficulties we have had along the way may not easily view the person sitting on the sidewalk in an abundance of second hand clothes immediately as a child in need, because what we are so willing to see there is just another member of the homeless population, of which there are so many. I know that I can walk down any street in San Francisco or Oakland and knowing that I have somewhere to be and something to do I will easily close myself off to the people on the side. I know that they're there but a combination of my inability to help each and every one of them and my intrinsic desire to just get to my destination without distraction gives me an immunity that I can simply pretend that they are not there. Not even people. So I don't get to see their faces, get to ask them questions hear their voices, and I don't know who the children are among them, because I don't think at those moments that all of them were once children deep inside.

Like all of us were once children. I was hardly the model of innocence as a child. I got mad at my Mom or Dad when I was 9 years old cut school and took the MetroRail to the Washington DC airport once and just hung around there for a bit, shoplifting a book on fairies and waiting for some kind soul to rescue me before getting aboard the MetroRail and heading back home later in the day.

As an adolescent, I hung around other children who lived in our apartments, getting into trouble, fights, and drinking when given the opportunity. I gave my single mother more than a few gray hairs for the stuff she actually found out I did. I was hitchhiking by the time I was sixteen, and met some very interesting grown-ups, including one fellow in his late twenties who I saw again and again after that. I am sure I missed lots of opportunities to do worse, and am thankful that my mother was as tolerant as she was, because I would have certainly not been able to live under her roof had she been more strict and may have easily been one of those runaways.

Because while later on I found out that my family was much more loving and accepting than I gave them credit for, as an adolescent who was becoming more and more certain of his sexuality, I felt more and more isolated as I failed to find appropriate role models for myself, instead discovering older people who wanted nothing for me... only from me.

And while I have long since dealt with the feelings of exploitation I experienced as I teenager and young adult, that youth still lives inside of me somewhere, and I still want to react to the memories and the experiences as I once did. Even in South Carolina, in high school in the early 80s, I knew where San Francisco was, and I knew what happened there. I could have been just as easily one of those children on the street.

So why were the disciples sternly reprimanding the people who brought children to Jesus? What had they forgotten? It is certain that children during the time of Jesus were considered fundamentally incomplete, valued less than a full adult, and were viewed negatively because of their limited maturity.

But children also, in those days had inherent value to any family. They were the future, indispensable to the state for economic cultural and military purposes, and necessary to the economic survival and well-being of the family. Nevertheless, children were objects, to be taught, molded, and held in stock for the future, not fully human or capable or valuable.

But Jesus has a different plan. He says, "Let the children alone--let them come to me. The kingdom of heaven belongs to ones such as these." There is no barrier between Jesus and those of the next generation. Church is not a gathering place for adults only, children are a part of the assembly, a part of sharing of community, the word of God, the righteous celebration of the mass.

The theme for this year's Children's Sabbath is "Precious in God's Sight: Answering the Call to Cherish and Protect Every Child." While in that call is a reminder that we should love and cherish each other as we love God, the commandment of Jesus higher than all others, we are especially called to remember that those who inherit the kingdom are those who come after us as well. Not just our precious future is in the hearts and the minds of those smaller than we, those most vulnerable and who are not in a position to take care of themselves, but our present as well, a part of our lives, a part of our church and a part of our society. They are our nieces and nephews, our children and grandchildren, but they are also the young ones of the family across the way, and they are the little undocumented ones with their mother waiting at the bus stop so she can leave them with her sister and find the day's work. They are the teenagers living on streets of San Francisco or Berkeley or anywhere on that underground queer railroad, struggling to make ends meet and vulnerable to exploitation and violence.

The kingdom of heaven exists for ones such as these, because we are all of us children of God, whether eight or eighteen, forty-eight or eighty-eight. And it is by his grace that we enter his kingdom sanctified by God's spirit, iniquities burned away by the glorious death and resurrection of God's son, and with the innocence of children's hearts, given new life, in the core of God's open and and eternal heart, deep in the cradle of his glorious love.

Amen.

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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on October 19, 2014 4:28 PM.

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