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            When Janet and I were both students in Vancouver in the early ’80s, we used to visit my grandparents who had retired in White Rock.  We’d drive out and the anxiety would build as we got closer.  Megan and Hamish were active toddlers in those days, and they were very curious about stuff.  My grandparents had lots of knick-knacks and art, much of it fragile and a lot of it at eye level for 2 toddlers.  Two active toddlers and an apartment not set up for children makes a recipe for disaster.  We were very careful and one of us would follow the kids around the apartment making sure that nothing got damaged, and thankfully, nothing did.  When we left, our anxiety would dissipate the closer we got to our home in Vancouver.

            I loved my grandparents.  My grandmother had a sense of humour and a twinkle in her eye, but she was very proper and our language, when we were around her, had to be very proper, too.  We couldn’t completely be ourselves as children around grandma.  Grandpa was different and more accepting of children being children!  Grandma was more of the philosophy of “children should be seen, but not necessarily heard”; even so, I knew she loved me and loved her.

            Different cultures and traditions have different attitudes and value children in different ways.  In the culture in which Jesus grew up, children were certainly valued but had no status.  According to Richard Rohrbaugh, a biblical scholar and expert on the social conditions of Jesus’ day and age and honour/shame cultures, children were among the most vulnerable in society.  Infant mortality rates were very high, and this mortality rate continued up through the teen years.  Rohrbaugh said that children, before maturity, were on a par with slaves with few or little in terms of human rights.[1]

            So, Jesus’ statements about children are quite remarkable.  “Unless you become like one of these, a little child, you cannot enter the Kin-Dom of God” … and others like it. Jesus challenged the common notion of human rights—although not using this term—for children, women, foreigners, and all who were pushed to the margins of society.

            In 1959, the United Nations adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.  There have been changes to this declaration that has strengthened those rights, the most notable being the 1989 Convention of the Rights of the Child.  Raffi, the singer and activist, founded an organization for Child Honouring.[2]  We’ve themed some of our worship services over the years on Raffi’s work.

In some of the United Church’s work in honouring children, this was written:

The Maasai people, of Kenya retain much of their traditional ways and cultural heritage. For as long as anyone can remember, their warriors used to greet each other with the words, “Kasserian Ingera.” Today, that phrase, which translates to “How are the children?” is the most widely used greeting by the whole community. The traditional response is always “the children are well.”
Nelson Mandela once said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”  The Maasai are not simply asking after the health of the children but also the state of their community. If the children are well, the world is well. “If the children are unwell, the whole world is sick.”[3]

            One of the experiences I had while on sabbatical back in 2013, while I was in Palestine and Israel, is that we visited Ofer Prison that incarcerated Palestinian children.  There were over 100 of us who gathered just outside the prison near Jerusalem, held a worship service and sang about children, justice and freedom.  A lawyer with an organization that works to end the prosecution of Palestinian children in Israeli military courts told us of the abuses of Palestinian children; in the first place, they should be tried—if tried at all—in a non-military court.  They should have representation and access to all the rights and privileges of citizens.  These children have no rights and often no translators so don’t even know what they’re charged with or how they might defend themselves.  Currently, the United Church, along with other Churches and organizations continue to protest this horrible treatment of Palestinian Children; up to 700/year are prosecuted in military courts.  Petitions have been sent to the UN, our own Canadian Government as well as the government of Israel itself to end this practice.

            How is it with your children?  Again, from the United Church regarding the incarceration of Palestinian children, “Faithful Christians who took seriously the call to love their neighbour have taken active roles in putting an end to child labour practices, abolishing slavery, and closing residential schools. It takes courageous people to change the world. The pressure of countries, like Canada, helped end apartheid in South Africa. We can be part of ending the unjust detention of children.”[4]

            If we take seriously the theological foundational concept of panentheism, which translated means, “God in everything,” we must take seriously the fact that the divine image is planted deeply in children.  As with children, we are blessed in any given moment for who we are not for who we are becoming or whatever potential we might have.  And if panentheism is what we believe, we also understand that life is messy and full of challenges.  And in all that messiness and challenge, God’s blessing lives in us, calling out to life, proclaiming wholeness and hope, declaring that all life is sacred and to be treated with respect, dignity, love and honour!

            And so, we become as little children and we measure the health of our society by how our children are faring.  We listen to the Greta Thunbergs of the world, and other courageous children who speak out about the state of the world and how things need to be better for future generations.  Remember Craig Kielburger back in 1995?  He became an outspoken advocate against child labour when he read of a Pakistani boy, Iqbal Masih, 12 years old, who was murdered after escaping forced labour and who had become an activist.

God values us and cherishes us.  We are all held as God’s beloved children, and we all have something to share no matter what age we are.  We are called to treat all people of all ages with dignity, respect, honour and love.  We are God’s children, called to live with heart and hope.  Amen.

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[1] Richard Rohrbaugh and Bruce Malina, “Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels,” published by Fortress Press.  See page 336 for a discussion about children.
[2] Go to https://raffifoundation.org/about/.
[3] From Children’s Sunday Service: It’s Not Fair (2019), by the Rev. Alexa Gilmour and Adrian Marchuk, The United Church of Canada.  This includes footnotes of the above quotes.
[4] IBID.

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