“Does anyone out there care?”
James Bruce Ritter was a leader of the social care agency called Covenant House. Some time ago, he described the arrival there of a group of three children, led by their elder sister, in these words: “[The elder sister of the three] stood there [in the entrance] with quiet, proud dignity. She was incomparably dirty–her face and hands smeared, her clothes torn and soiled. She was 11. ‘My brothers are hungry,’ she said. The two little boys she hugged protectively were 7 and 9. They were three of the most beautiful children I’ve ever seen.
“’Our parents beat us lots,’ [the elder sister] said. ‘We had to leave [home],’ one of them echoed. The children did not cry.
“I [James,] struggled to manage [a] smile… The littlest kid looked back at me, with quick, dubious grin. I gave him surreptitious hug. I [felt deeply moved].
“There are 25,000 children like these, of various races and ages, which come to Covenant House like this; and every year, none are turned away. What is the cry of these children? Surely this: ‘Does anyone out there care?’”
So that is a little picture from James Bruce Ritter of Covenant House. “Does anyone out there care? ” This cry is the same one we hear all around us today, wherever we are — sometimes spoken, sometimes silent.
In response to this cry, there are two important points in today’s Gospel reading.
The first point is in verse 31. “The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of people, and they will kill him, and… he will rise.” Jesus’ death and resurrection, a concrete event in time and space, is the evidence of his devotion to us. For the title “Son of Man” (or perhaps, something like “The Human One”) refers to the figure in Daniel chapter 7. There the divine figure comes or arrives in glory. But this human one will appear or arrive not only in glory, but will (as here in our reading) suffer in the person of the Son of Man, precisely because God’s children suffer. God in the Divine Human comes to us; and God suffers with us. When we embrace that knowledge, we need no longer despair, and need not feel alone.
The second point is that it’s not only a spiritual and or inner thing. For next Jesus said, (in v35)] “Whoever hopes to be first among you, they must be last of all and servant of all.
(a) The phrase ‘If any one would be first” does not mean ‘first in the queue, or first in position, but it means this: ‘Whoever would have the most significant discipleship,” or, ‘Whoever would know true meaning in their lives.’
(b) Again, the word “last” [or elaxistos] does not mean last in the queue or least in importance, but it refers to people who are in the most extreme misery.
We might translate this sentence, then, “Jesus called us of this congregation, and when we finally started listening to him, he said to us, ‘Any one of you who wishes to live a really worthwhile life, can do so by participating in the experience of those who are in the greatest difficulties, and by serving them.’”
So for Jesus the meaning of “excellence” is when we go out of our social cocoons and be the friend, partner and helper of the person who is suffering. Who is, ‘first’ in knowing true freedom? The person freed from self-centredness. The person, like Jesus, who has grown to the point of desiring to accompany and serve the ‘last’, the most wretched of God’s people.
What is Jesus’ response to the cry, “Does anyone out there care? ” His response is first in the offering of his own life; secondly, by his resurrection and the gift of the Spirit; and thirdly, the resulting community which is equipped, supported and mandated to care.
The economist Adam Smith said that you can rely on people to be greedy. But Jesus boldly and unhesitatingly points in quite the opposite direction to Adam Smith. And James Bruce Ritter of Covenant House is evidence that not all people are greedy always; his account of those three children is surely evidence of the best part of the human spirit. That same Holy Spirit lives amongst us in the daily soup kitchen; in the team who visits Fort England; in those who participate in distress relief (GADRA); in those who care for the homeless and the disabled (Eluxolweni Shelter and the Kuyasa School); in those who teach indigent children, visit the hospital or prison, or take communion to shut ins. Or caring for the Syrian refugees.
So Jesus embraces the children like those which James Bruce Ritter described, and also embraces the child in each of us. It is good whenever our own children are well cared for and safe within the embrace of our community. But to grow into our full stature, we have to grow up and step out of the inner circle, to the children who are at risk. For those of us who call Jesus Christ ‘Lord’, he gathers us together and sends us to those who suffer. I challenge every single man, woman, and child of this congregation to confirm your faith in Jesus not only in a church service, but in every single day taking some time to express God’s love to someone else who is in pain – in every single day of your life. That is what it is to be growing up as a Christian and as a person.
“Does anyone out there care?” Are our hearts large enough to care? [On this dedication Sunday,] Let us ask Jesus Christ to make his love known to us, to sweep us up in the experience of his love for us, to wrap us in his love and soak us in his love until our hearts melt and begin to beat and return the circulation to our cold world. As people, that is how we grow up and grow big.
Now unto God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost be all honor and praise, now and into eternity. Amen.