“Who Among You?”
Questions Jesus Asks
A sermon by
August 19, 2018
VIDEO: Facebook Link
Jesus asked his followers, “Who among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? 10 Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him!” – Matthew 7:8-9
Perhaps the most frightening, suspenseful, and glorious story of the summer, the news story that caused the world to stop, to hold its breath, and to stand on tip toe for 18 days was the wild saga of the Wild Boar Soccer Team. Did you follow the story? Estimates show that perhaps even more people followed the story of the Wild Boar Soccer Team than followed the World Cup championship.
I bet you followed the story of those twelve boys, aged 11-16, and their 25-year old soccer coach who went exploring the sprawling Tham Luang cave after soccer practice back on June 23 and who were trapped several miles deep in the cave when monsoon rains caused flash-floods and trapped them deep in the earth. When the boys did not return home from soccer practice, their parents worried. No one knew where they were until someone spotted some bicycles at the mouth of the expansive cave.
That was June 23 when the search began. Consider the timeline.
June 24—Rescuers found evidence of the team nearly two miles deep in the cave but were forced to suspend the search due to rising flood waters.
June 25—Pumps were installed to remove water after Thai Royal Navy SEAL divers found hand prints on the cave’s wall, presumably of the team.
June 27—The search widened to include 1,000 Thai army and navy personnel, along with volunteers, and soldiers, seamen, and airmen from Australia, Britain, Japan, China, Myanmar, Laos and the United States.
June 30 – Over a week with the boys trapped in that dark, wet, cold cave with no food, surviving by drinking the water dripping off the cave walls – rains eased enough for divers to make their way deeper into the cave, but the children still were not found.
July 2—The day of breakthrough. British divers found the boys, still alive, standing on a shelf above the waters 2.5 miles inside the cave. One of the boys later said he thought he was hallucinating when the British seaman appeared out of the water.
July 3—Thai SEALs delivered blankets, food, water and medical aid to the team, while officials and experts all around the world began to try to figure out how to rescue the boys. One option considered was leaving the boys in the cave for as long as several months until the water receded.
July 6—A busy day. First, Elon Musk announced that he was sending a team of engineers to Thailand to assist in the rescue efforts.
That same day tragedy struck as Saman Gunan, a Thai Navy SEAL, died when his oxygen ran out as he was underwater in the caves.
In addition, that day, Gianni Infantino, the president of FIFA, invited the Wild Boar team and their coach to the World Cup finals, if they were rescued in time and were healthy enough to attend the July 15 event.
July 7—Elon Musk proposed using a “tiny, kid-sized submarine” made from one of his orbital rockets. Construction of the sub was begun and completed in eight hours.
July 8—As the world held its breath, rescuers went in and 11 hours later emerged with the first four boys.
July 9—Four more boys were rescued after a nine-hour effort.
July 10—The remaining four boys and the coach were retrieved from the cave. A doctor and all remaining divers safely exited the cave. The boys and their coach were hospitalized and quarantined.
July 11 – The front page of virtually all the world’s newspapers announced the safe rescue of the boys, many with the hashtag #Hooyah
And the world rejoiced. Rescue mission chief Narongsak Osottanakorn thanked people both in Thailand and around the world at a news conference, as he announced, “This mission was successful because we had power. The power of love.” Wow! What a great story!
Some may wonder now that a month or most has passed, how much did it cost to rescue the boys? The question seems obscene. That is not to minimize the cost – It was expensive – extravagant even – millions of dollars, the loss of life, the blood and sweat and tears of many. But rescuing these children was not evaluated on a cost/benefit analysis. This was a rescue at any cost, as the people of the world joined hands and worked, joined hands and prayed, joined hands and volunteered, joined hands and sacrificed, joined hands and cried and cared for twelve boys and their coach, whose names we did not even know. Those boys became our children, the children of the world.
Oh, and did you follow the last news about the boys? It happens that three of the trapped boys and their coach were “stateless.” Do you know about the stateless people of Thailand? These are the millions of people who are citizens of no country and live in Thailand. There are 146,000 “stateless” children in Thailand – the Dreamers if you will of that land. Stateless children in Thailand have no status. They are denied entrance into classrooms – unable to receive a K-12 formal education. Of course, even if they found a school that would admit them and instruct them, even if they graduated from high school, they would never be able to work legally or go to college. Young stateless children – particularly the girls are aggressively targeted and exploited by traffickers. The Thai government estimates that between twenty and thirty thousand children are in the commercial sex industry in Thailand alone. Stateless.
Three of the boys and the coach were found to be stateless. Imagine what it meant to them to have the whole world work together to save them. I’m sure they never felt that anyone really cared about them. Now all the world cares about them. I’m sure they had never felt important to anyone. Now they were important to everyone, as it turns out, including their home, Thailand. Ten days ago, those three boys and their coach were granted full citizenship by the government of Thailand and in great, joyous ceremonies each of them was given a Thai ID card. These boys were rescued and claimed and given an identity – no longer as illegal immigrants or migrants or people without a home, but as citizens of Thailand with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities thereunto appertaining.
“Who among you,” Jesus asked, “Who among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? 10 Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
That is the question Jesus asks us. And it is a penetrating, haunting, hunting question, don’t you think?
On the one hand, it is a rhetorical question to assure us that God is faithful, that God provides for us, that God will not abandon us when we face hard times, even when we face sorrow, even when we face defeat, even we get lost in life – even down some sprawling cave or some rabbit hole of our own making. The question assures us that God cares for us, that God blesses us, that God gives us good things in life and even in death. “How much more,” Jesus says.
But the question also holds a hint of judgment, don’t you think? “Who among you if your child asks for bread will give a stone?” Who among you doesn’t know to care for children – our children, your children, all children, God’s children?
Don’t we know the prior claim to sacrifice for our children, to burden ourselves to make life better for them, to invest all we are and all we have for our children? Don’t we all know that? Who has to tell us to protect our children? Who has to tell us to stand up for our children? Who has to tell us to care for our children? Who has to tell us to bless our children? Do not even the animals in the wild do the same?
Two years ago gave me a blue bird box, and ever since we put it up, there has been no vacancy. Different sets of blue birds come fill the box just as soon as the last ones fly away it seems. And we can tell when there are eggs and baby birds without even looking in the box. The bluebird mother and father become aggressive, shooing away squirrels and even putting themselves in danger to protect their young from a neighborhood hawk. It seems to be the most basic natural instinct across virtually all species. We may admire the majesty and beauty of eagles and owls and even bears and wolves, but these fierce animals become most vicious when they sense that their little ones are being threatened? If animals in the wild know to care for their children, then who among you, indeed?
But isn’t it more than that? Sacrificing for children is the most basic natural instinct, and isn’t it at the same time, the highest virtue? Isn’t it the greatest honor to sacrifice for children? Isn’t that how we define heroes? Aren’t our heroes the firefighters who risk their safety to rescue children in a burning building? Aren’t our heroes the police who stand in harm’s way to protect children? Aren’t our heroes the teachers who spend their own money and expend their energy and go above and beyond the call of duty to reach children, to care for children, to open the world to children?
That’s the reason we know the name Ann Sullivan. She was the teacher who through patience and loving discipline opened the world to Helen Keller who was blind and deaf and mute. Is not Ann Sullivan a hero?
Of the thousands who helped rescue the Wild Boar soccer team, the name we read about in is Suman Gunan. Why? He was the Navy Seal who died in his effort to help save the children? We remember his name because he died a hero’s death. “Greater love has no one than to lay down his life…” He was a hero.
How about Aaron Feis? Do you know him? He was a football coach at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who when he heard shots ring out, immediately draped himself over students, acting as a human shield. Aaron Feis was among the 17 who were killed on Valentine’s Day in Parkman, Florida. Is he not a hero?
And isn’t it true that you and I have the opportunity to be heroes every day? Not by dying for children, but by living for them, by giving our time and resources and energy to care for children – especially children who have no claim on us, who will never be able to repay us, whom we bless and care for purely with “the power of love.”
Surely we know that sacrificing for children is heroic, saintly, godly.
And correspondingly, don’t we know that child sacrifice is the most abhorrent practice in all the world?
- Surely we all wag our head in disgust, when we read of primitive misguided religions which seek to appease an insatiable god through child sacrifice. Can we even imagine such?
- And aren’t we outraged to learn of parents, who willingly sacrifice their children’s health or safety or well-being to feed the parent’s addiction, or who sell their children in the sex trade industry, or who abuse or neglect or even kill their children in their own homes? It offends us to our core.
- And does it not follow that we are disgusted as well when a state or nation sacrifices children’s health or security or wellbeing in the name of fiscal responsibility or border security or political allegiance. Don’t we know that it is abhorrent?
Wherever children are sacrificed by those who should be sacrificing for them, our most basic natural impulses are violated.
“Who anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? 10 Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?
The question haunts us. Of course that is not the only teaching Jesus offered in the scriptures about children. If you thumb through them, it would not be hard to come to the conclusion that the Mighty Movement of God is a children’s movement. And so it is.
- The Barna Research Group reports that 64% of people who come to faith in Christ, do so before their 18th birthday. It’s a children’s movement.
- Worldwide, evangelism is primarily focused on and is most powerful among children. Of those who respond to the efforts of worldwide evangelism, nearly 80% are children. It’s a children’s movement.
- When John Wesley was laying out instructions for Methodist preachers, 250 years ago, he only mentioned one age group. He did not ask, “Will you care for the elderly?” He did not ask, “Will you care for the men?” He did not ask, “Will you care for the women?” He asked, “Will you instruct the children?” Even this church is a children’s movement. And it always has been. It’s rooted in scripture.
Those who know little about the scriptures remember Jesus’ words, “Let the children come unto me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
And over in the 18th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, there is a fascinating account about children. It actually shows up four different times throughout the gospels. It must be important. There we read that Jesus’ disciples were fussing over who was the greatest. Can you imagine? “Which one of us is the greatest? Which one of us is Jesus’ favorite?” It’s not so strange really. Their argument is the equivalent in our day of arguing over which church is bigger or which denomination is better or even within the church our nearly 50-year fuss over matters, which are of far less importance to God than to us, but over which we are ready to destroy the church. It’s not a matter of purity of the church. It’s a matter of power. “Which among us is the greatest?” In Matthew, chapter 18, we read that Jesus’ disciples were fussing over who was the greatest and Jesus responded by “… calling to him a child.” Can’t you picture Jesus picking up a little girl and holding her there, and we read that Jesus said, ”Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” And then Jesus went on to say in verse 5, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
Hear that again, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name” – welcomes one such child in your home, in your church, at your borders, in your country, in your life – “welcomes me.” This is a children’s movement. It’s deeply rooted in the scriptures.
When we survey the scriptures we find that the major movements of God are children’s movements. That is, they begin with infancy narratives – they begin with a focus on helpless children in a cruel world.
The most significant person in the Old Testament was Moses. Do you know Moses? – Born in Egyptian hostility, as a refugee, as an immigrant – his people forced into servitude; where children were being slaughtered at the whim of Pharaoh. It was out of this hopeless situation that God raised up a leader from childhood – protected him, guided him, stirred passion within him, found him when he ran away, emboldened him, and sent him to confront the most powerful man in the most powerful nation in the world with the message, “Hebrew Lives Matter.”
Turn to the New Testament, the Gospel, where the central figure is obviously Jesus. In the midst of Roman oppression and poverty, a child conceived out of wedlock was born as a nobody in a back alley of Bethlehem. Herod, the Roman leader was ridiculously narcissistic, ridiculously egotistical, ridiculously insecure about his hold on power, and so we read in Matthew’s gospel that Herod, the Roman leader sent Roman soldiers to kill all newborn males in Bethlehem. Matthew reports that Jesus’ parents had to flee as refugees to a nation to seek asylum. Egypt welcomed them, and they stayed there until political change made it safe for this family to return to their home in Nazareth.
We only have infancy narratives of a few people in the Bible. All of them tell of the world as being a dangerous place for children, and all of them assure us that God has a place in his heart for every single child.
We may wonder is the world still a dangerous place for children.
- Maybe you saw the news of the 33-year old Colorado man who was arrested this week and charged with three counts of first-degree murder – his pregnant wife and his two daughters, one 4, the other 3. Is the world still a dangerous place for children?
- Or perhaps you read the grand jury report in Pennsylvania accusing 300 priests of sexually violating more than 1,000 child victims over an extended period of time, including the accounts of a priest who raped a young girl in the hospital after she had her tonsils out; and another priest who was allowed to stay in ministry after impregnating a young girl and arranging for her to have an abortion. All of the thousands of abuses went unreported and were covered up by church officials, the grand jury claims. Is the world still a dangerous place for children?
- Or maybe you followed the news story on June 17, with the report that Antwon Rose, an unarmed black 17-year old was shot three times and killed by police in East Pittsburg, PA, following a traffic stop. Is the world still a dangerous place for children?
- Or maybe you just know the statistics that 17 million children under the age of five worldwide suffer from severe acute malnutrition – that is they are starving to death right this minute.
- Maybe you know that a quarter of the schools in Puerto Rico – 283 is the exact number – have closed since Hurricane Maria.
- Maybe you know that 565 children, including 24 under the age of 5, are still separated from their parents, three weeks after the federal court ordered deadline for the government to reunite all families which were forcibly separated at the border.
Is the world still a dangerous place for children? Maybe the right question is, “Who among you, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?” How do we respond to that question?
What response could we offer that would please God? Would it please God if we as individuals, as a congregation, as a denomination, as God’s Mighty Movement responded to the plight of God’s children all around the world with the same urgency, the same intensity, the same sacrifice that went in to rescuing the boys of the Wild Boar soccer team in Thailand? Would God be pleased if we all – you and I – developed a deep, desperate concern for the welfare of children – if we shed our political allegiances and obstructionist ways and gave ourselves over to making the world safe and good for all children. Would God be pleased if just our denomination, if our church, if you and me – truly and fully became a children’s movement?
Think of those boys in that cave for 18 days; now think of how the world joined hands to rescue them at any cost. Now think children in need – children abused by the church, children separated from their families, children who are poor, who are sick, who are hungry, who are hopeless, who are desperate, who are dying right this minute. How much will it cost to rescue them all? The question is obscene. The right question, the only question for us, is the one Jesus asks, “Who among you, if a child asks for bread, will give a stone?”