Sermons That Work

A Cry from the Grave, Holy Innocents – 1995

December 28, 1995

A sound is heard in Ramah, the sound of bitter weeping. Rachel is crying for her children…(Jeremiah 31:15)

One of the most heart-wrenching cries that you will ever hear in this life is the wailing of a mother over her dead child or children. More and more, television is taking us into the homes that have lost children to violent deaths. Recently we have even been introduced to women who have, themselves, killed their children. And we certainly consider ourselves a civilized people.

Yet our children are dying, and we are responsible. Children are supposed to live, long after mother and father have died. Children are supposed to laugh and dance, play and sing, and have fun. They are supposed to be free, not burdened down with the cares of the world. Also, children are the bearers of all that have been meaningful to peoples through the ages – the songs, the dances, the stories, art, food, the language. No, children should not die! That is why a mother’s grief is often times inconsolable.

Today we have come together to remember the babies who were murdered by their own king, King Herod — murdered, just so that he would not lose the throne to one of them. Little did he realize that Jesus did not come to Earth to sit on his throne. We have come to remember all the children who have been, and are being murdered two thousand years later. We have come to pray and do penance for those children we have neglected, hurt, or abused. We have come to remember the millions of children who are at risk in our congregations, our schools and communities. We have come to pray for America, a leading world power with “the rocket’s red glare,” and “the bombs bursting in air,” a power, which has by far the highest rate of violent crime among the industrialized countries.

In America today, we must shamefully admit that every day thirteen children die from guns. That’s more than a Church School class in many congregations. Believe this when I tell you that by the time your children graduate from elementary school, each of them will have seen 8,000 murders and 100,000 other acts of violence on television. Many of our households have become virtual green houses where our children are covered with poverty and watered with violence. Some statisticians tell us that one in every five children, in this country, live in poverty.

So let us set up a court and judge King Herod.

“King Herod, you are charged with the slaughter of several children, two years old and younger. The state does not have an accurate count, but it is believed to be somewhere about thirty or so. You took lives which you cannot give back. You deprived Earth of the joys and the fulfillment that these children brought. You failed to respect and care for the most vulnerable of all created beings, and all this to safeguard your position as a leader of the nation.”

But wait! We are being charged too, and the only difference with our charge is that we are slaughtering more children. Not just is it a matter of killing the body. We are killing their will and their souls. Marian Wright Edelman writes,


“Poverty also has taken its toll on nine-year-old Robert, who lives in a tiny, rat-infested apartment with his family in the rural South. They have tried to move or improve their situation, but there are few jobs available in the economically depressed area, and no jobs that offer family-supporting wages. Robert once talked about and listed the horrors he lives with daily, “Roaches, rats, mosquitoes, fleas, disease, chemicals.” Asked how these made him feel, Robert replied, “I feel like killing myself.”

Children are supposed to be bearers of hope and bearers of the future, so when they no longer feel like living, America is losing its very soul.

If we use the one-in-five-children-live-in-poverty mentioned earlier, the number of children that America is hurting within its own walls is 15.7 million! Come and weep with me. Come and weep with Rachel.

Biblical scholars tell us that by the time Israel was taken into captivity, Rachel was long dead, so she could not have been around to weep. So, was it that her spirit that came from the dead to weep for the descendants of her two sons, Joseph and Benjamin? Was it a poetic way of saying that she is weeping for the nation? Or was it God weeping for America? Yes, come weep with me.

Sometimes we can get so caught up in our own weeping that it consumes us, paralyzes us, leaving us helpless, hopeless and numb. God knows how pointless that is. I recently heard a man say that whenever he thinks about all the evil directed at children, and the evil that children do, he just wants to go home, go to sleep, and never see the world again. It is this that God wants to guard against. So God says, “Wipe away your tears.” After you have wiped away the last tear, after you have taken that deep cleansing breath, it is time for new resolve. It is time to ensure that children are honored, accepted and respected as God’s own people. It is time to ensure that children enjoy childhood. It is time to make sure that the dignity of children is always assumed and treasured. It is time to flex our wills, our minds and our muscles and place ourselves between children and all that is seeking to do them harm.

The Episcopal Church is today, launching a major initiative called Children Should be Seen and Not Hurt. The one goal of this is to help children and their families recognize and own their own power, and confidently and actively address the violence in their lives, neighborhoods and communities, as well as take steps within their own families to foster effective alternatives to violence. This initiative is based on the premises that the Holy Spirit has already empowered all of God’s people for ministry, and secondly, that persons should minister in ways that are developmentally appropriate. Our churches are beginning to take a stand to protect children from the Herods of this age. The Presbyterians are known for their peace education programs. The National Council of Churches of Christ recently concluded a conference with an ambitious title, Save our Children.

God has made a promise. God said, “All that you have done for your children will not go unrewarded…” Jesus later did some example setting.

I remember him stopping a very importing educational conference and spiritual renewal event to reprimand his disciples and all the other adults who tried to turn away children. Did he not stop the session and take “the children in his arms,” place his hands on their heads and bless them? Did he not compare the Reign of God to a child?

Allow me to suggest just one thing we might do as penance and as an act of restoration. I would suggest that we build a monument to the Holy Innocents and to all the children we have treated badly over the years. Yes let us build a monument. I am not talking about a monument made with mortar and bricks. I am not talking about a monument made with glass and crystal. I am not talking about a monument made of granite and marble. I am talking about a monument made with our lives and our commitment. I am talking about committing ourselves to active duty. We must pledge to love shelter, protect and defend children, especially those who are abused, neglected or in danger. We must advocate for the integrity of childhood and the dignity of all children at every level of our religious, civic and political structures.

If we do not do these things then we might indeed hear Rachel crying for her children. We might indeed hear a cry from the grave.

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Christopher Sikkema