Pastor Herb Wounded Head has shared his sermon from the Monday night prayer service at First Lutheran Church, held in honor of Esperanza Fayant, the girl who died in Brookings July 31:
"Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
We are gathered together this night to grieve the loss of a little one in our community. Her name was Esperanza, A child who for all intents and purposes did not have a home, did not know love, who was left alone in a room to fend for herself at the age of three.
Many questions arise when we hear of such a child living in squalor. How could anyone be so callous to a young child? How could such a thing happen in our town and community? Why would God allow this to go on without any intervention?
It also evokes many feelings: Feelings of anger, toward the perpetrators, towards the system, feelings of outrage at the injustice of it all, feelings of embarrassment that perhaps we could have done something, said something, seen something wrong with the whole situation and acted on the instinct that something horrible was going on.
The difficult part of all of this, is that things like this are all too common in our society and they tend to go unnoticed or unresolved. In Jesus’ time, children were seen as little more than property. So if we look at the ministry of Jesus, He spent his time with those who are unseen, those who have no voice and those who spend their lives in squalor.
So when Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me” he is saying something that goes against all of the common thought and practices of the time. The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to one such as these.
We don’t operate in that society of Jesus anymore. But the point remains for the faithful, that children hold a high place in our society. They are to be nurtured, cared for, instructed in the ways to live a full life. Children are to be loved. It is in children that the Kingdom of Heaven can be seen.
It feels like for Esperanza, that none of these things that hold a high place in our society were present for this child. And so we are left with questions, with unresolved feelings and with a dark hole in our hearts in which there seems no consolation.
One of the things that we can do in our times of mourning is to open Scripture, for Scripture is the manger that holds the light that is Jesus the Christ. In Scripture, we find the Savior of our souls. One of our texts for this evening is Psalm 23 and we should read it again.
The Lord| is my shepherd;
I shall not | be in want.
The Lord makes me lie down | in green pastures
and leads me be- | side still waters.
You restore my | soul, O Lord,
and guide me along right pathways | for your name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall | fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they | comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence | of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is | running over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days | of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the |Lord forever.
Scripture holds Jesus and in Psalm 23, probably the most known Scripture verse, we see a clear vision of what Jesus is like. Jesus is the restorer, the Shepherd, the one who leads us to still waters and walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death.
We walk through the valley of the shadow of death everyday. Espy’s short life gives us this stark reminder of how fragile and important life is. It is in the valley of the shadow that Jesus walks with us most closely in our lives.
It is important in this moment to remember that in Espy’s life that Jesus was with her, in the room as she struggled for life in her own valley. To be reminded that as it appears to the naked eye that she was alone and unloved, in the eyes of Jesus she was not alone and she was loved.
Yes, she was not alone in that room. And not only was Jesus there, he too was left starving, thirsty, undernourished and unloved. Because of the Cross, The Shepherd becomes our own pain, our own struggle for life and our own abandonment in times like these.
It becomes perhaps even more painful when we view Espy’s life like this. That not only was she left alone, Jesus was left alone as well.
But the good news is that Jesus does not leave us alone. Jesus treats us as holy, revered and important people even in the midst of what seems to be insurmountable evil in our lives.
Jesus does not leave us alone. In fact Jesus becomes more present in our times of grief as the Psalm reminds us, goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives.
But there’s one word there that doesn’t quite capture the work of the Shepherd. The word follow in the original Hebrew should be read more like the word pursue.
Surely goodness and mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life. That gives us comfort. Because Jesus is not a mere passive bystander in all of this. Jesus is active, pursuing us, indeed chasing us all the days of our life.
So God isn’t just a mere bystander. God is here. God is present, God was with Espy in Jesus and was comforting her, holding her, nurturing her and loving her all the days of her short life.
As for our feelings of injustice, anger and retribution, give them voice. Do not be afraid to raise your hand at God and shake a fist that such a thing should happen, God hears our pleas and anger and is not silent.
We in Brookings have been awakened. That such a thing could happen in our own town. And we refuse to be silent anymore. It is time be advocates for children, time to be allies with these little ones that get forgotten or left alone or taken advantage of.
We cannot rest because we see that the kingdom of God rests with these little ones. Do not be afraid to be a voice for children. Be their light, be their voice, be the kingdom of God.
As for Espy, her pain is no more. That little child playing in the leaves, with the adorable smile can smile for all eternity. She is not alone, she is held, nurtured and cradled in the arms of our Savior, the one who was there in her pain and abandonment is there with her now, certainly loving her every step of her journey home.
Let us all be so aware that Jesus is with us, pursuing us in our day to day lives, no matter what our struggle may be, Jesus struggles along with us, leading us to still waters and restoring our souls.
We are held, we are nurtured, and we are most certainly loved. Amen."