Yopp! We are Here!

Mark 10:13-16
March 6, 2016
Union University Church
Reverend Laurie DeMott

The first year my daughter Stacy started track practice, she told me that when I came to pick her up at the school, I should text her when I arrived and she would come out to the parking lot to find me.  Dutifully, that first afternoon I pulled up to the school and typed into my phone, “I am here,” and then I added, “I am here, I am here, I am here! Yopp!”  When Stacy emerged from the school, she had a look on her face that suggested I had gone a bit bonkers, because unlike me, she had not grown up watching Dr. Suess specials on TV and had no idea what a Yopp was.  If you are of the right generation, however, you will recognize that quote immediately: it is from Horton Hears a Who, the story of the elephant Horton who is the only animal in the forest able to hear the voices of the tiny Whos in Whoville living on a speck of dust.  When the other animals see Horton talking to what they assume are imaginary people, they refuse to believe in the Whos’ existence and instead threaten to boil the dust speck to rid Horton of his delusion.  In desperation, Horton tells all of the Whos in Whoville to make as much noise as possible hoping that their combined voices might reach the ears of the forest animals and save their lives, but no matter how hard they try to call out, the Whos remain unheard.  Finally, the smallest of the Whos down in Whoville climbs to the top of the town’s tower and shouts out a single “Yopp!” His Yopp breaks through the clouds over Whoville, opening the heavens to the voices of the people which rise from the dust speck to reach the ears of the forest animals.

“Yopp!  Yopp Yopp Yopp!  We are here, we are here, we are here, we are here!”

And the story concludes, “[A person’s a person no matter how small,] and their whole world was saved by the Smallest of ALL!”

If you are of the right generation, then, you will remember this phrase, “A person’s a person no matter how small,” but even if you didn’t grow up on Dr. Suess, you might know this message from a more ancient source — from the ministry of Jesus.

In the gospel lesson from today, Jesus has been teaching the people and as the day wears on, some of the crowd begin to bring children to Jesus that he might bless them or lay his healing hands upon their heads.  The disciples become quite annoyed at this probably because they see the children as a distraction from the serious work that they are doing.  We have already read many times about the disciples’ concern for their own status: they argued about who among them was the greatest and their attitude toward the crowd was often dismissive.  In their minds, the children have no place among them.  In their minds, the children, and possibly even the women who have brought the children for the blessing, are not fully “persons” worthy of learning or following the disciples’ Master.  The children are mere distractions from the real work of Jesus and so must be swept aside so that the ones truly worthy of Jesus’ attention can come to the front of the crowd.

But Jesus rebukes the disciples, saying that the Kingdom of God belongs to the children and to all those who are like them.  “A person’s a person, no matter how small,” Christ insists.

“Yopp!  We are here!  We are here!  We are here!  We are here!”

Too often we read this passage in Mark as a sentimental story in which Jesus urges us to emulate the innocence and purity of the child-like heart, but anyone who has ever been around kids knows that there must be more to Jesus’ command than this.  Yes, children can be generous and loving and full of wonder and joy, but they can also be bratty and selfish and whiny and cruel. Was Jesus recommending that we become like the children who sit in the back of the school bus and shoot rubber bands at the heads of the kids in front of them?  Or should we become like the mean girls in Junior High who mock their classmates’ acne and gangly bodies?  Or should we throw ourselves on the floor in raging temper tantrums when we can’t get our way or stomp up to our rooms saying, “I’ll hate you forever!” when we are thwarted by family members?

I don’t think that that Jesus was encouraging us to emulate the nature of children in order to enter the Kingdom of God.  Unless children of the first century were a lot more pure than children today, he must have meant something more, and I think that what that ‘more’ was is that Jesus was insisting that the disciples see every single person, even the least among them, as worthy of God’s attention.  This is not the first time that the disciples had treated others as “non-persons.”  The disciples couldn’t believe that prostitutes were as fully human as they were.  The disciples couldn’t believe that tax collectors were as fully human as they were.  The disciples couldn’t believe that Samaritans were as fully human as they were.  The disciples couldn’t believe that beggars were as fully human as they were.  What do I mean by that?  I mean that in the mental hierarchy of the disciples’ minds, there were some people so low — so unworthy of their attention — that they might as well have been furniture, non-persons, and certainly not part of God’s realm.

“Yopp!  We are here, we are here, we are here, we are here!”

We don’t treat children as furniture anymore, at least, not our own children, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t many others who we simply do not hear, do not see, and continue to treat as if they are nothing more than specks of dust unworthy of our attention.

Alice, a homeless woman who gets money by panhandling the streets says, “Some of the people just walk by and don’t say nothin’. I call them zombies. You ask them for change and they don’t say “yes,” “no,” or “maybe I be back.” They just walk by you like they don’t even see you—it’s like I’m not even sitting there. They could say “I ain’t got none” or “no” or something [but] They just walk by.” (1)

“Yopp!  We are here, we are here, we are here, we are here!”

An Indian woman writes, “[I was sold to a brothel when I was 13.] Later I would learn that my story was not unique. There were hundreds of us — young girls from Bangladesh, Nepal and other parts of India, sold into brothels…..When people tell me that women choose this life, I can’t help but laugh. Do they know how many women like me have tried to escape, but have been beaten black and blue when they are caught? To the men who buy us, we are like meat. To everybody else in society, we simply do not exist.” (2)

“Yopp!  We are here, we are here, we are here, we are here!”

A person on a mental health forum writes, “From the time I was in seventh grade until the end of my junior year of high school, I had fluctuating ups and downs…. From being in an emotionally volatile relationship, to a suicide attempt, to an eating disorder, my early teen years were turbulent, to say the least. In this chaos, I lost a lot of friends. A lot of perfectly good, loving people who could not take my roller coaster of a life… But there was a group of people who did not leave. I do not understand how you were strong enough to deal with my manipulative and self-destructive streak, but you were…. Thank you for not giving up on me….  It reassured me that people still cared about me unconditionally. It reassured me that I was not beyond repair. It reassured me that I was not alone.” (3)

“Yopp!  We are here, we are here, we are here, we are here!”

Jesus says that the people that we treat as less worthy than ourselves, those we pretend do not exist, those who cries fall on deaf ears, those invisible to the rest of society; it is these very people who are gathered into the loving embrace of God and fill God’s heart and God’s realm.  We will never be able to dwell in God’s presence if we close our eyes to the others who are dwelling there with us.

“Yopp!  We are here, we are here, we are here, we are here!”

For our Lenten prayer today, we pray “God, forgive us for treating so many of our fellow human beings as invisible.  I ask that you open our eyes to…”  and then write down those who you think are most in need of being heard and seen today.

Footnotes:

(1)http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1885225/”>http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1885225/
(2) http://www.equalitynow.org/survivorstories/ayesha
(3) http://theodysseyonline.com/gordon-college/to-the-people-who-saw-me-at-my-darkest/303725