Summary: The challenge before us is how best to create a healthcare system in which all children receive care that is safe, effective, efficient, timely and family centered regardless of background or cultural differences.

Sermon on Sunday, September 10, 2006 at Union Baptist Church

“We Need Healthy Children”

Mark 9: 14-27 “How long has the child been like this?”

In this second installment in our Back to School Series, Jesus poses a question over two thousand years ago that haunts us today, “How long has the child been like this?”

“The challenge before us is how best to create a healthcare system in which all children receive care that is safe, effective, efficient, timely and family centered, regardless of background or cultural differences.” Why, because we need healthy children.

Studies show the earlier the intervention the more likelihood of positive outcome. When you treat families as collaborators and not recipients of care, you empower them, educate them, and enhance their ability to raise healthy children in healthy environments.

We need healthy children. On one hand we at Union Baptist Church can be proud of the systems that have developed to respond to not only the educational needs of children, but their health needs. Many times during the month you will see the Little Tike Health Van parked in the parking lot of the church providing services to the children who attend Head Start. Or go across the street, and you will witness the group leaders and counselors with Dru Healthy Families referring mothers and fathers to resources that will assist them in the care of their newborn children. We can be proud of that, but by itself, that’s not enough.

Currently a overwhelm majority of families in this community with up to 5 children in the household live below the threshold of self-sufficiency.

Last week I stated that “structural poverty is our society’s response to institutional racism that is aimed at denying access to the youth of our community to the benefits our government affords.”

I repeat it again because access to health care by our children is being denied to many of the families in this neighborhood because of the costs of health care.

In a state with the resources we have, it’s an affront to all our sensibilities that the most vulnerable of our community – our children lack adequate health care coverage.

It’s a sin that our children are treated that way.

Riverside Church in New York, where Dr. James Forbes is the pastor, when my colleague Dr. Bernard Wilson was the administrative minister, developed a health care initiative to provide quality health care to all the residents of Harlem. But with the explosion in real estate prices in Harlem, many of the poor have moved out. Nevertheless, a local church making a commitment to insuring that those who are underserved are served is the right thing to do.

It can be done. We can cross the economic and cultural divide that separates children from adequate health care coverage. We need healthy children.

We know that our children face not only physical health challenges, but also psycho-social health challenges. Therefore, we need an active health care system. Not a passive system that waits until a person in need comes to them. We need health care professionals going out to the children in our community to assess their needs early before them become full blown crises.

I share with you the work of the Faith Community Partnership, collaboration between University of Maryland, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Union Baptist Church, Sharon Baptist Church, Macedonia Baptist Church, Department of Social Services, and Booker T. Washington and Harlem Park Middle Schools. Through the Partnership mental health professionals and training will be brought directly to the students and families in the school and community. Over the past two years, the work of the Partnership has become a National Model and conversations to replicate it are occurring throughout the country.

Jesus, asks, How long has the child been like this?

The Department of Social Services in the Metropolitan Area has lost a host of licensed social workers who have been hired by the Baltimore City School System to work in selected schools. That’s a proactive approach. That’s good. Unfortunately, it stripped away essential personnel from a vulnerable agency.

Still we need healthy children and we can no longer afford a passive system; we need an active system that goes where the children are and addresses their needs. Not, only their needs but the needs of the family.

If we look closely at our text you will find that Jesus didn’t ask this question without context. He didn’t just ask it in a vacuum. He asked the question because the father had brought his son to the people of the church and all the man got from them was arguing, fusing and fighting.

Here was a man who brought his child to the people who where suppose to be the healers, who where suppose to be the disciples, who where suppose to be the teachers of the law, and all he received was confusion, consternation, and contempt.

Can you imagine a man coming to church with a child who needs healing and what he finds is confusion, consternation, and contempt?

Be careful, Jesus has a special place in his heart for children. When he was asked in Matthew 18, who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? He said when one humbles himself as a little child; the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

The place of children is so special in Jesus’ heart that he also says, if anyone offends a little one which believes in me, it is better for him that he hangs a millstone around his neck and cast himself in the Chesapeake Bay.

Be careful, Jesus has a special place in his heart for children. That why we need healthy children.

Look again at the text, the man in the midst of the crowd sees Jesus and Jesus asked the man, what are you arguing about with them.

Here is the man who has brought his son to church to be healed and he is in an argument with the people, the leaders of the church and Jesus asks the question – why are you arguing with them.

The church should not be arguing when children need to be healed. The church should not be in confusion when children need to come to Jesus.

The father describes his son’s situation to Jesus. My son is possessed by a spirit that robs him of his speech, it throws him on the ground, he foams from the mouth, and he gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. My son is sick. He needs healing.

I asked your disciples the people of the church to drive the demon out, but they could not. They have a power shortage.

A few weeks ago, there was a storm that caused the power in my house to go out. The strange thing was that across the street, my neighbors had lights. My wife called BGE and they indicated that 91,000 people where without service. They had a power shortage. After a few hours, we drove around the block to discover that there where neighbors in my block that had their lights on. I realize that even though I was in the vicinity, I was still disconnected from the source of power.

That was the problem with the disciples and sometimes is the problem with the church, children come needing to be made whole and we are not able to do anything. While we may be in the place of worship, we are disconnected from the one who we are supposed to worship and therefore, we have a power shortage.

Jesus hears the man and says, o unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you, and how long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.

The people of the church need to be extremely sure that that they are not causing people who need the healing, redemptive, and salvific hand of God from being discouraged, denied, or deterred because of their short comings and inabilities.

Jesus says bring the boy to me. The significance of bringing the boy to Jesus is that if we need healthy children, we need for our children to have direct access to the doctor who has never lost a case. We need our children to have direct access to the one who has made us and not we ourselves. We need our children to have direct access to the Rose of Sharon, to the Lilly of the Valley, to the Bright and Morning Star. To have healthy children we need for them to have direct access to Jesus.

How was it in times gone by, our ancestors, grandmothers, and grandfathers raised children in the back roads of our country? Fed them from the leftovers, fed them from the gardens they planted, the chickens they raised. Fed them from the stews they cooked on the stove. Fed them from the broth they boiled in pans. How where they able to raise healthy children? When the winters where cold and the times where hard. How were they able to raise healthy children? When access to health care was denied because of the color of your skin? When there was no Dr. Phil to give you advice on television and they had to rely on mother wit? How where they able to raise healthy children?

It was because when Sunday came, they would gather at the little church down the road. Someone would break out with a song; one of those common meter spirituals.

They didn’t have instrumentation. They would testify and pray. They would have a little talk with Jesus, tell him all about their trouble, he would hear their faintest cry and answer by and by.

The reason they where able to raise healthy children is that they knew how to get a prayer through. They knew how to call up Jesus. They knew how to talk with him. They knew that Jesus was on the mainline. They knew how to pray and what to pray for. They knew!

Jesus asks one of the most probative and disturbing questions: how long has the boy been like this? Jesus could see the state that the boy was in because just at the moment that the father brings the boy to Jesus, the spirit throws the boy into convulsions.

That how the demonic works, just when you are about to get your breakthrough, when you have come to Jesus. He tries to convince you that it doesn’t work and throws you into a setback. How is it that just when you make the decision to turn your life around, that’s when it seems that all Hades breaks loose. Just when you decide to follow Jesus, no turning back no turning back, that’s when all of the darts and arrows of the evil one is aimed at you. They tell me that it’s the darkest before the dawn. Many people stop right there because they think that I came to Jesus and nothing happened, in fact I got worse.

Jesus listens as the father says; he has been like this since childhood. Then the father makes this plea. If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.

Not only do you have to treat the child, in most cases you have to treat the family. You need to treat the community. It makes no sense to heal and child; then return him back to a sick home or community. That’s the main problem with our health care system. We are treating symptoms and not causes.

The father says Jesus take pity on us. Not only heal my child but engage me also in the healing process.

Jesus says, if I can, anything is possible for him who believes. Jesus heals the boy and deals with the unbelief of the father. The end result is that the boy is healed and the father believes. We need healthy children who live in healthy families in healthy communities.

Let me close, by reminding you of this. The father brought the boy who needed healing to the people of the church. The people of the church only caused confusion and argument. Jesus steps in and heals the boy. Instead of the people of the church rejoicing, they ask Jesus the question, why couldn’t we drive the demon out?

Jesus responds to them and to us. If you want healthy children, if you want healthy families, if you want healthy communities, if you want healthy churches; it only comes by prayer and fasting.

Prayer is earnestly communicating with God.

Fasting is denying self for God.

We better pray and fast because we need healthy children.