September 23, 2018

18th Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 9: 30-37 + Pentecost 18 + September 23, 2018 + Gloria Dei Lutheran Church + Pastor Ann Bergstrom

As a little girl I remember my Grandma Lundblad singing and playing a song on the ukulele.
The song was “Has Anyone Seen My Kitty?”
It was the only song I remember her playing.
For all I know, it was the only song she knew.
Do any of you know it?

Somewhere along the way Grandma gave me the uke to keep.
But unfortunately over the years I let it fall into some disrepair.
Its pegs no longer held the strings tight.
And it got three cracks due to dry air.

When we bought our house here in Highland Park 22 years ago I put Grandma’s ukulele on the top shelf of our floor-to-ceiling bookcase in our living room.
It has been there ever since.
Over the years I would from time to time look up to it, and I would think of my Grandma and Grandpa Lundblad.

But three months ago, after hearing a couple people play ukuleles,
something clicked in me,
and I went home and got out the small step-ladder,
and took down Grandma’s ukulele.
I decided then and there, I was going to get it fixed,
and learn to play the song Grandma once sang to me.

That was in June.
In July it was repaired and restored.
And here it is.

It’s a Kamaka Pineapple Ukulele.
My Grandpa Lundblad bought it in Hawaii in the early 1930’s when he worked on a cargo ship for two years in between college and seminary.
And I have to say, it just warms my heart to hold it in my hands.

After getting it repaired and restored, though, I discovered I had a problem.
I couldn’t find the chords anywhere for “Has Anyone Seen My Kitty”.
I could hardly even find the song. I looked in books, on the Internet, on You Tube. Nothing.
So I took the ukulele and my voice to a local music store.
I sang the song for a very kind, patient, generous staff person,
and thankfully, he quickly figured out the chords and wrote them down for me.

So now I can play “Has Anyone Seen My Kitty?”
Want to hear it?

Has anyone seen my kitty?
Has anyone seen my cat?
She’s got a bump on the end of her tail
To show that she’s been fighting.
Up in Mulligan’s Alley.
And down on Flanagan’s Flat.
Kitty kitty kitty kitty kitty!
Has anyone seen my cat?

As a kid I remember feeling bad that the kitty had a bump on its tail from fighting.
As an adult I felt bad that the ukulele was cracked and broken.

“Has anyone seen my kitty?”, Grandma sang.

“Has anyone seen this child?”, Jesus asked.

“Then Jesus took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

In first century Palestine children were a liability.
They were another mouth to feed.
They easily got sick.
They participated in the chores of the household, but not fully.
Children were at the bottom of the social heap.
Even though they represented the future,
would carry on the family name,
would eventually provide for aging parents,
would produce the next generation,
children had very little power, and were regarded as insignificant.

So just when the disciples are having a little spat about who is the greatest,
Jesus cuts to the chase and asks,
“Have any of you seen this child?”
And he brings a child into the circle.
a person who was considered not very great at all.

I ran across some exegetical work that Pastor Barbara Lundblad did on the role of children in Mark’s gospel. [1]
The children we hear about in Mark’s gospel tend to be ill or suffering from some condition.
Jairus’ daughter is near death.
The Syrophonician woman’s little daughter is possessed by an unclean spirit.
Just before our text today a man brings to Jesus his son who has had convulsions since he was a child.

Children in Mark’s gospel are not symbols of holiness or innocence.
They are victims of disease and poverty, and therefore pushed to the side and “shelved.”

This text is not about having the faith of a child.
It is about Jesus wanting us to see the child. To welcome the child. To recognize the child’s value.

So Jesus brings a child from the margins of the gathered circle and places her in the center
so the disciples can’t help but see her.

I think this text is not only about how we treat children.
It also has a message about everything and anything and anyone we place on a shelf,
anyone who appears broken and beyond repair,
anyone we don’t know what to do with,
anyone whose song we don’t know the chords to,
anyone who is different than any person or instrument or creature or non-human creation we’ve ever been around.

But just think,
what would, or could, the world be like if
if we built budgets around “Has Anyone Seen My Kitty?”
or “Has Anyone Seen This Child?”
or has anyone really seen and listened to the story of this child or parent at the border,
this person in the recovery meeting,
in the dorm room down the hall,
in the voting booth next to us,
in the small tent up the steep hillside along 35E.
in the house next door with political signs in the yard that make our stomachs
churn and our anger spike,
in the assisted living room where our parent lives,
in the pew across the aisle,
in the apartment across the Snelling Avenue.

Has anyone seen our kitty? Has anyone seen our cat?

Has anyone seen the juvenile bald eagle I saw a few days ago perched high in a tree above a Boundary Water Lake along the Gunflint Trail – in its juvenile glory,
unaware of what may lie ahead in its life
for its wilderness home
as a result of human superiority assumptions?
And did anyone see the juvenile bald eagle perched at the very top of the cross on our steeple this morning? It was quite a sight against the crystal blue sky.
(What good timing for today’s text!)

Has anyone seen the two juvenile loons on Clearwater Lake, who were with their parents,
and who swam by our canoe three days in a row,
inviting me to wonder what message they wanted to deliver?

“Then Jesus took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

So, I know one more song on the uke.
It’s also a song my grandmother would sing to me.
I bet you know it too.

Sing/Play: “You Are My Sunshine”

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
You make me happy, when skies are gray.
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you.
Please don’t take my sunshine away.

May that be the song people hear when they walk through the doors of Gloria Dei.
May that be what people hear at Weight Watcher meetings,
and care conferences,
and staff meetings,
at family gatherings around the Thanksgiving table,
and in the mornings when it’s barely light outside and it’s time to crawl out of bed and get ready for school.

You are my sunshine.

May that be what each of us in this sacred room both sing and hear,
this holy place filled with people,
who are living with cracks, and pegs that don’t hold strings tight anymore,
who don’t always know the chords,
who have been “shelved” by some,
and held suspect by others,
who have been brought down low by illness or loss or nagging grief,
who have been fighting up in Mulligans Alley and down on Flanagan’s Flat, and at the State Capital.
You are my sunshine, Jesus says. My kitty. My child.
Seen. And of enormous value.
Even with a bump on your tail.

Let’s sing to each other.: “You Are My Sunshine.”

[1] Rev. Dr. Barbara Lundblad. September 23, 2012.