From a Pastor's Desk

A series of opinion articles from rostered ministers and lay leaders from our Synod.


Lord, listen to your children praying

Mar 21, 2024

By The Rev. Carol L. Kessler, MD, MDiv.

Lord, listen to your children praying
Lord, send your Spirit to this place
Lord, listen to your children praying
Send us love; send us power; send us grace.
Children around the world cry out. Listen!
To whom do we cry out?
I must admit when I read the parable told by Jesus in today’s gospel, I initially felt lost.
For I assumed the master summoning slaves, giving talents, was God as I’ve often heard this text as a message to use what we have to bear fruit.
Yet, the master says that his slave knew that he reaped where he did not sow and gathered where he did not scatter and cast the worthless slave into outer darkness where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For the slave was afraid and hid his talent in the ground.
I can understand being afraid.
In these times, as a psychiatrist, I sit with many who are afraid – Will I be able to afford housing?... will the medication work?...will my son speak to me again?
And these days, fear runs even deeper as war in the Middle East triggers memories of the Holocaust, antisemitism, Islamophobia. Colleagues are afraid to sign on to petitions for a ceasefire lest they be censured.
And two days ago, I was invited to meet on Zoom with a psychiatrist in Gaza. The connection would come and go. There was no fuel and it was a miracle that we could see and hear him. He wanted us to know that children are living in schools and with relatives. There are thousands of children living in tents. They’ve lost homes and gardens and are seeing rubble. There are bodies beneath the rubble. He is hoping to help them remember beauty in a place consumed with weeping and gnashing of teeth. They need food, water, vaccines, a place to play. “Children need beautiful memories,” he exclaimed. 
He shared a video of a girl shouting, “I’m losing my mind. I can’t take the noise anymore”, as explosions blasted in the background. “We remind children that they can laugh,” he said. “That they are children. Their humanity can’t be lost no matter what a powerful force is doing.” “I tell the truth and center in life, not death,” said Dr. Yasser. “It feels like there’s no way for life in Gaza.” “That’s the psychological warfare,” says another mental health professional. “We smell death. But no one will stop us from bringing life to Gaza. Our children are children like every child in the world. Our mothers are mothers like every mother in the world.”
Lord, listen to your children praying.
I listened to a fellow pastor this week who pointed me to a reflection on today’s parable that brought good news. A commentator shared that her son heard her reading the gospel and said, “Wow! That man who buried his talents is the hero.”
The hero??? This led her to research and see the parable not as a prescription to invest riches so they’ll grow, but a description of the economy in Jesus’ time, where the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. Sound familiar? The burying of talents was civil disobedience against an unjust master.
For in Jesus’ day, a talent was a precious metal worth twenty years of a worker’s wages. Twenty years! A wealthy man, like the master in the parable, amassed such a fortune by lending to desperate, poor farmers with interest, so that a failed crop or illness would lead to surrender of ancestral land and food insecurity. Two slaves did the bidding of the master, turning a profit at the expense of the poor. They shared in the joy of wealth. The third said, “I ain’t gonna study war no more.” The war on the poor, for he knew the master wasn’t God. For God loves justice and is not a harsh man reaping where he does not sow. 
Jesus tells the story of a man who would rather face the wrath of an unjust master than grow a fortune grounded in the dehumanization of the many as Jesus prepares to face state-sponsored execution, having spent his life loving, healing and teaching the poorest, the lowliest, and lost.
Jesus listens to the children crying. As I was blessed to hear the cry of an unnamed girl in Gaza surrounded by rubble, no longer able to bear the noise of bombs, purchased with my tax dollars. I feel so powerless these days. Having volunteered in El Salvador when US dollars built a Frankenstein army. I learned the power of my presence. People would walk miles to the clinic to say, “My soul hurts.” All we had was Tylenol. And the people were seen; their cries were heard. The time I was there as a volunteer with the Archdiocese, I didn’t participate in the US economy. Salvadorans knew they weren’t forgotten by their US neighbors.
Dr Yasser wasn’t forgotten by colleagues. He implored us. “We mental health workers have nothing to offer. We need to change the abnormality. To stop the war and the suffering before we can talk about the day after. We don’t want a state. We want to breathe. It’s not safe to share feelings. We want hope that the war will end. Our hope won’t be extinguished. 
Hope in our Lord who hears the cries of the poor.
I found hope this week as I met with the prophetic council of the Poor People’s Campaign, led by Rev. Barber who keeps alive the campaign started by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. before his assassination. A campaign that went beyond race to see poverty, a war economy, and militarism as roots of suffering. Rev. Barber speaks of legislative death in the wealthy nation where poverty is a leading cause of death. Clergy gathered – rabbis, imams, pastors, priests – to lift up texts that call out God’s promises of justice. To remind us that our God cries out against unjust masters. To invite us to change the narrative by changing the narrator. By lifting up the poor and oppressed from a place of shame and blame. So they can share their stories. At a recent meeting of the Poor People’s Campaign, a saw a video made by a child of a woman who shared that as a nurse she witnessed people die from poverty, and who now is retired and poor herself. 
These days there is much to overwhelm and traumatize. We may be tempted to freeze, isolate and hoard.
And today, we have the courage to gather, to sing, to see one another and be seen. These Sundays, I’ve been blessed to preach at a store front – Epiphany Lutheran Church in the Bronx. The neighborhood has many Muslim families who come to receive food from the food pantry; to donate to the thrift store. To be together. One Sunday, young boys looked in the window and peered in the door. “Come in,” I offered. They giggled. “We can’t. We’re Arab.” It was a moment of innocence and joy.
Joy that our Lord Jesus graces us with each moment that we remember whose we are. And as we prepare to receive the cup of blessing for all people, may we go in peace and hope that God’s kingdom of justice come.