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There is a story rabbis teach about two men in a rowboat heading toward land. One man suddenly starts to drill a hole in the bottom, letting in water. The other man, surprised, shouts, "Hey! Stop that!" The first man retorts angrily, "This is none of your business. I am drilling the hole under my seat." He has a right to cut a hole in the bottom of a boat as he pleases, but does he have such a right when others will be drowned? We're all on a boat, greatly affected by the actions of one another. We're on a globe, we're on a planet where acts impinge on one another. Whose rights have priority? There are limits, and one cannot act independently, ignoring the rights of others. We are one world, one human family.
In the Scripture lesson today, Jesus defended the rights of two groups who were oppressed, repressed, and disenfranchised. To a large extent, these two groups are yet victimized in our world today. The groups are women and children.
In response to the Pharisees' question about law and divorce, Jesus stood up for women and the sanctity of marriage. Easy divorce was common in Jesus' day, easy for men but impossible for women. If a man tired of his wife, all he had to do was write a certificate of dismissal and they were divorced. The woman was out and there were few, if any, provisions for her livelihood. However, a wife could not divorce her husband. A husband had rights, a wife had none. Jesus stood up for her.
First, Jesus said a man and woman in marriage become one flesh. They are no longer two, but one. Divorce should never be an easy solution for marital difficulties. "What God has joined together, let no one separate," Jesus said. Jesus defended the sanctity of marriage.
Secondly, Jesus said, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her." Jesus must have astounded his hearers, and angered the men, by teaching that a man sins against his wife when he divorces her.
Thirdly, Jesus again astounded his hearers by saying, "And if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." Jesus put a high penalty on divorce; but, notice, he implicitly gave women the right to divorce. Whose rights? Both wife and husband.
Jesus stands up for the persecuted and mistreated. Jesus stands up for the rights of women. Women, if you are mistreated at work, pad less than men, bypassed when promotions are made; if you are sexually harassed; if you have been abused, physically or sexually, Jesus is on your side. In case some of you feel I am overstating the case this morning, would you be interested in some United Nations statistics?
Women constitute over 50% of the world's population. But women do 3/4 of the world's work, receive 1/10 of the world's salaries, and own 1/100 of the world's land. Over 2/3 of illiterate adults are women, and over 75% of the starving people of the world are women and their dependent children.
A large percentage of the homeless in our country are women and their children. The partial closure of the San Jose Family Shelter is very sad news. Families will be able to sleep there, but the day care, counseling and job training programs will be closed for lack of funds. The children were cared for while the parents studied and looked for work. The success rate was phenomenal. 55% found jobs and housing. The need is still here; the numbers are growing; yet, the San Jose Family Shelter is cutting programs because they lack contributions.
In our lesson today, the second group which Jesus defended and embraced is children. In Jesus' day, children were to be seen and not heard. "Keep those kids quiet, quit bothering Jesus," cried the disciples. But, Jesus was indignant. "Let the little children come to me," and he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. Jesus loves children, children of the world.
It is not easy for children to grow up in America today. In a recent brochure from the Larkin Street Youth Center in San Francisco which runs a shelter and programs for runaway youths, this description appeared,
Who are these kids? They are homeless youth, living on the streets and in abandoned buildings known as "squats." They are African American, Caucasian, Latino--all races. They are boys and girls, 12-23 years old. They are straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual. Almost 55% are running away from a history of physical and/or sexual abuse at home. A majority have run away from drug and alcohol-addicted parents. Many risk becoming addicted themselves. 75% know their parents simply don't want, or cannot have them back. They are vulnerable to the realities of prostitution and exploitative adults, and to the physical and emotional pain of living without a home. Often, drugs and alcohol become their escape from these realities. 52% of them have a history of suicide attempts. Their "survival" lifestyles frequently put them at risk for HIV.
And, the description concludes, "They are just kids."
At the other end of the spectrum are children who live at home in affluent areas such as our own, but growing up on the Peninsula is not easy for children either. The expectations of academic success laid upon our children cause stress beyond the experience of most of us here this morning. They often turn to drugs and alcohol for relief. Our children are forced to grow up too soon, losing their innocence, and denied their happy, carefree, playful childhood. Our children have learned their materialistic consumer lessons well and many have become, according to the San Jose Mercury News, Gimme children. Gimme this, gimme that, and rarely satisfied.
A mother was telling stories of the time she was a little girl. Her eight-year-old son, growing up in Chicago, listened closely as she told of riding a pony, sliding down a haystack, and wading in the brook on the farm. Finally he said with a sigh, "I wish I had met you earlier, Mom." I ache for children today, and wish that children of the world could be active in our church. Children in our church can relax and be kids. They can have fun and play.
Now we have creative drama on Sunday evenings where children are not under pressure to learn parts and perform, but act out Bible stories where they learn by doing, creating, and having fun. Children in our church learn music through singing and ringing handbells. We have fun classes and youth fellowships where they relax, share, be themselves, and are loved. We have a Children's Center, a day-care center where I visit almost daily and see children read to, played with, fed, and loved. We have summer camps where they can explore God's natural world in a loving, supportive, cooperative environment. I wish more children and youth would discover our church. I dream of our church receiving contributions enough to help keep the San Jose Family Shelter open, in addition to all the ministries we provide, and missions we support through our conference apportionments.
Jesus has a wide embrace. His arms encircle the globe. He would hug and bless every child if he could, and Jesus calls his church, his followers, to be his arms. Jesus stands up for women and all who are mistreated and cheated. Jesus sets a table that extends around the world, and on this World Communion Sunday, invites everyone to feast.
© 1991 Douglas I. Norris