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In the face of fear and violence, radical kindness is needed to protect children, says Frank A. Thomas

MARY LEE TALBOT – STAFF WRITER

The Rev. Frank A. Thomas, director of the Ph.D. Program in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric at the Christian Theological Seminary, delivers his sermon “Did Heaven Make A Mistake” Sunday, July 25, 2021 in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

“New Testament scholar Amy Lindeman Allen said, ‘A children’s reading of the Scripture is not often heard, and children are rarely at the center of a text. They are an appendage,’ ” said the Rev. Frank A. Thomas. “In the American context, when we list marginalized people, we don’t mention children. They are left without voices and seldom taken seriously in the theological or hermeneutical readings of the text.”

Thomas preached at the 9 a.m. Tuesday, July 27 worship service in the Amphitheater. His sermon title was “What About the Children?” The Scripture reading was Luke 18:15-16. 

What about the sanity of our children, he asked the congregation. In addition to the rise of anti-immigrant feeling in the United States, Austria, Germany and Italy, Thomas listed challenges that children face.

“They face violent indoctrination, poverty, life as refugees, child neglect, child labor, child sexual abuse and prostitution, slavery, the military use of children, hunger, climate change and the lack of education,” Thomas said.

What keeps people from acting for children, Thomas asked. “We find fear in American adults. The Euro-Americans will not be in the majority population in the future and won’t control wealth, power and cultural domination.”

He continued, “Everything must change. The world changes, the body changes, our laws change, our churches change. All things change.” 

According to Thomas, author Michael Singer in his book, The Untethered Soul: A Journey Beyond Yourself, says that there are only two emotions: fear and love. “Those who fear do not like change and do all they can to keep things predictable, controllable and safe,” Thomas said. “They try to manipulate the natural unfolding of life. Whatever does not disturb them is fine. But the reality of fear makes them feel that life is against them and they are a victim.”

He continued, “People who live in fear believe ‘they’ are out to get us. ‘They’ want to take our way of life away from us. ‘They’ have to be walled off, dehumanized, ethnically cleansed, killed.”

People who live in fear look for scapegoats, he said. They blame others for their problems and use the courts, legislatures, media and the church to spread their fears. “These fears have come from the fringes of our society to the center, exploding around us,” Thomas told the congregation.

Someone who took children seriously was Fred Rogers, aka Mister Rogers. “Children were at the center of his world,” Thomas said. “He took their questions seriously. No, he would tell them, you can’t fall down the drain in the bathtub. He respected the dignity of each child.”

For Rogers, the last shall be first and the small shall be great, Thomas said. New York Times columnist David Brooks, in critiquing Trumpism, noted that Donald Trump promoted the belief that strong is better than weak, success is better than failure, men are better than women and the United States is better than any other country.

“I have a problem that I need to share,” Thomas said. “You can have a position on an issue, but you don’t have to be ugly about it. You don’t have to be demeaning and belittling to justify your position. Your righteousness in your opinion can be ugly.”

Thomas juxtaposed the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. with Trumpism. King taught people to love, to be nonviolent. “What are we teaching when we are ugly in front of our children? Public kindness is scarce today. We entertain children with malicious violence rather than radical kindness,” said Thomas.

In the gospel of Rogers and the gospel of Jesus Christ, children are closer to God than adults, Thomas continued. “The poor are closer than the rich, the hungry more than the overfilled, losers than winners and oppressed than oppressors.”

Jesus’ disciples were disturbed that people were bringing their children to see Jesus. Thomas said, “Jesus was teaching and the children were crying and women were changing diapers and the disciples said to the people, ‘We are trying to have the kingdom here, get those children out.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Don’t be ugly in front of the kids. ’”

Thomas asked the congregation, “What would happen if children were present in business meetings, or when a couple is arguing? You do know they overhear. Don’t put roadblocks in front of children, because they own the kingdom.”

Children own the kingdom of God, while adults have to repent to get into heaven. “Children are in and adults have to repent. Children own the kingdom, adults own the building,” Thomas said. “Big people worship upstairs, and they give the kids their own place — in a little room in the basement.”

He continued, “The reign of God is theirs. When we announce the counternarrative of radical kindness, we stand for the rights of children. Radical kindness is our job.”

Thomas asked the congregation to think about the people who loved them as children, who thought they were the center of the world. “We all have special people who loved us into being. Take 10 seconds now and remember those people who loved you into being.” After counting the 10 seconds, Thomas said “In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

The Rev. Paul Womack presided. Judith Rice read the scripture. The organ prelude was “Jesus Loves Me,” by William Bolcom, played by Joshua Stafford, who holds the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist and is director of sacred music. Members of the Motet Choir sang “Suffer the Little Children,” with music by Ebenezer Prout and words from Mark 10: 14-15. The postlude was an improvisation by Joshua Stafford on the “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” theme song to “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” The Geraldine M. and Frank E. McElree Jr. Chaplaincy Fund and the John William Tyrrell Endowment for Religion provided support for this week’s services and chaplain.

Tags : FearFrank A ThomasFrank A. ThomasLuke 18:15-16morning worshipmorning worship recapradical kindnessviolence
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The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A lifelong Chautauquan, Mary Lee is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her stabyhoun, Sammi.