Discerning What’s Right

Year B, Seventh after Pentecost, Lectionary reading for July 11, 2021: Mark 6:14-29

The story of John the Baptist’s death should break your heart. King Herod had a chance to do the right thing. He knew John was a righteous, holy man. He knew killing him was wrong. But, under pressure from the people around him, he did it anyway.

Ground penetrating radar found the remains of 751 children on the grounds of the Marieval Residential school, just a little to the east of where I live. I doubt very much that all the people who worked there were genuinely evil. It only takes one strong, persuasive leader to convince others that they have no personal responsibility for what happened at the school. Good people have done terrible things because someone told them to and they didn’t have the courage to disagree. What is the difference between beheading John the Baptist and marching Jews into the gas chambers? What is the difference between the gas chambers and the electric chairs that were used to ‘discipline’ students in residential schools? Over and over through history, ordinary people participated in horrific actions because someone told them to.

Would you?

It’s easy to say “of course not!” It’s easy to believe we are better than those people; more moral, more righteous, more courageous. This story reminds us that if even a king, the most powerful person in a community, can be swayed from what he knows is right, then we all must guard against slipping under the influence of evil.

Reuben doesn’t have a bike. All his friends have bikes, and he really, really wants one. But his family doesn’t have enough money for groceries, so how could they ever afford a bike? Then one day, Reuben picks up a $1 bill (remember those?) that fell out of a woman’s purse, and can’t wait to spend it on a treat. But that night at home, he realizes it isn’t $1, but $100. That’s enough for a new bike.

Reuben faces a tough dilemma for any kid. Use the money to buy a bike? Or find the lady in the blue coat that dropped it at the store? Reuben wants a bike so much, he even visits the bike store and sits on one just like Sergio’s, but silver.

While there isn’t anyone in this book telling Reuben to do the wrong thing, the pressure of seeing all his friends riding along the streets while he has to run serves the same purpose. He wants to fit in. He wants to have what his friends have. He doesn’t want his friends to know how poor his family is. The $100 would solve all those problems, but would it be the right thing to do?

Questions to ask before you read:

  • What is something you really, really wanted, but couldn’t have?
  • Have you ever found something really valuable? What did you do with it?
  • What would you do if you found $100?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • Do you think Reuben made the right choice? Why?
  • What would have happened if Reuben didn’t know who had dropped the money?
  • Do you think Reuben should get a reward for doing the right thing?

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Love With Actions, Not Just Words

Year B, 4th Sunday of Easter; 1 John 3:16-24; Lectionary reading for April 25th, 2021

I did a double take when I read the scripture for this week. Hadn’t I just written about sharing and caring for our neighbours? Why yes, yes I did, just 2 weeks ago. But that’s the wonderful thing about the Bible: when a lesson is important, it is repeated. “Love one another” appears 16 times in the New Testament! It’s a good thing my collection of books features more than a few lessons in getting along—I’m going to need all of them.

It’s easy to forget that love is more than a warm feeling towards our neighbours. In this passage, the apostle John reminds us that love is also more than words. It isn’t enough to feel love; it isn’t enough to speak love; God calls us to love with action. Sometimes, this kind of love comes more naturally for children than it does for adults. Best friends Maddi and Sofia do everything together, but when Sofia impulsively runs into Maddi’s apartment for a snack, she discovers Maddi’s fridge is… empty. She hatches a plan to help her friend while keeping the empty fridge a secret.

Globally, approximately 854 million people regularly do not get enough to eat. Hunger kills 25,000 people every day. These numbers are so high they are difficult to even conceptualize. But those are our global neighbours, surely the situation is better closer to home? Over 4.4 million Canadians experienced food insecurity in a 2017-2018 report, and experts estimate that number to be much higher right now because of the COVID pandemic. Clearly, hunger is not an issue exclusive to developing nations. While I don’t suggest throwing these numbers around in your children’s ministry, I bring them up because in Canada, empty fridges are an invisible problem. Sofia discovered Maddi’s empty fridge because she could run faster than Maddi. Hunger can be a shameful secret for many families.

This story celebrates kids helping kids, but it also teaches children the importance of reaching out to adults for help when a problem is more than they can handle. Reading this book is an opportunity to broach the tough topic of poverty with the children in your ministry, but it can be a wake up call to your wider congregation as well. John calls us to love with actions and in truth: are we living up to that call when so many of our brothers and sisters around the world still cry out for food?

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Brandt, Lois. Maddi’s Fridge. Flashlight Press, 2014.