Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
Children are a lot of work. Raising children is not always an easy thing. Kids ask tough questions. After all, what's one of the first words that a child learns? "Why?" And sometimes they keep asking "Why?" until it drives us crazy. Yet when we open our doors as a church, and kids look at us, one of the first questions they have for us is "Why?" Why should I become a part of the church? Why? Why? Why?
Do we have a good answer to that question? Some in the church might be tempted to say, "Come because of the music." But the truth is that if kids are interested in music, they're going to find something more to their liking on the local radio station. Others might answer by saying, "Come because of the fellowship." Fellowship certainly is something that a church has to offer. But again, the reality is that if fellowship is all that kids are after, they're probably going to find just as good fellowship at the bowling alley or at the skating rink. Or still other church people might answer that "Why?" question by saying, "Come because of the people. You should come to church because of the people you'll meet." But again, if people are all that the church has to offer, then kids can find people they like at the lunch table in the school cafeteria or on the swings at the park. Kids realize that they don't need the church if they're just looking for music or fellowship or people.
By asking us "Why?" kids force us to consider what is so special about the church. Why is it that kids should bother to come here? And it's old Eli who gives us the answer. "It's God," he says. "Listen, it's God!"
What that means is that it's not enough for us to tell kids that church is important because of God. We need to show them that God is important. By what we say and by what we do, we need to show kids that God is in charge here. We need to show kids that they can see that new and different world that God is bringing about by looking at us. Because if we don't do that, if all we do is offer kids a bunch of words about God, they're going to see right through us and know that our words are meaningless.
Dealing with children and facing up to their questions and scrutiny isn't always easy. As a result, some would just as soon have children pushed aside, preferring that they be "seen and not heard." A couple of Presbyterian leaders were visiting in the impoverished nation of Eritrea. One Sunday while they were there, they went and attended a worship service. Halfway into the service, the woman turned to the man and asked, "What's wrong here?" The fellow scratched his head and wondered what she meant. He said, "Well, the sermon's getting kind of long. And it's rather hot. Is that what you mean?" But the woman said, "No. Look at the children." So the fellow looked around him, and what struck him was how quiet the children were. Even though there were dozens and dozens of children all around, there wasn't a noise or commotion coming from any of them. So the fellow said, "The children are as quiet as can be. What's wrong with that?" The woman replied, "Take a closer look at the children. Look at their eyes. Look at their bellies. They're sick and they're starving. They don't have the strength to cry. In fact, some of them look so weak that they're probably going to die before the day is over. That's what's wrong here."
When children are seen but not heard, that is a deadly thing. The truth is that the church needs children, just as much as children need the church. As children push us with their frank and honest questions, battering us with "Why, why, why?" it forces us to figure out what it is that we are all about. Then children force us to show them what we're all about not just with our words, but also with our actions. Jesus said, "Let the little children come." It's only with their help that we'll ever figure out what it means to be the church of Jesus Christ.
It's not easy being a kid today. ABC News recently reported that every week in the United States an average of 54 newborns are abandoned at birth, tossed into dumpsters, or dropped into toilets. Every day in our world there are 30,000 children who die from malnutrition or from diseases that are entirely preventable. But they die because they don't have access to the medical care that we often take for granted. Every day in the United States about 160,000 kids stay home from school because they're afraid of being bullied in the classroom or on the playground. And right now there are more than 10 million orphans on the continent of Africa, children who have no parents at all, most of them having died from AIDS. On top of all that are the cigarettes, drugs, pornography, sex, and abuse that have become an all-too-frequent part of growing up as children in this world today. As children look at all that, they're left to wonder how to make sense of the world into which they've been brought.
In the same way, Samuel was trying to make sense out of his world. One night as Samuel was lying in the tent with the Ark of the Covenant, he suddenly heard a voice calling out to him. Since old Eli was the only other person around, Samuel ran outside to him and asked what he wanted. With a rather groggy and confused look, Eli told the boy that he hadn't called him and that he should go back to sleep. The same thing happened a second and a third time, with Samuel hearing his name being called and running out to see what Eli wanted. Finally, after that third time, it struck Eli that maybe the voice that was calling Samuel was God's voice. So he told the boy that if he heard the voice again to say, "Yes, Lord. Speak to me, for I am listening." And that is exactly what Samuel did. In the end, Samuel was able to make sense out of what was happening to him because he had someone to turn to.
The problem is that many children today are not as fortunate as Samuel was. Many children today don't have someone to whom they can turn. A few years ago, people laughed when Dan Quayle said, "One-third of the children today are born into homes without families." People laughed because they figured, how could someone be born unless they have a mother or father? But that's not what the former vice president meant. Simply being the biological cause of a baby doesn't make you a parent. You're a parent to the extent that you're there for the children after they're born, to help guide them, to help them make sense of this world they're a part of. It's that kind of parenting—it's that kind of family—that's missing from the lives of many children today.
A little girl told her minister, "I don't say the f-word anymore. You know f-a-m-i-l-y. I don't say `family' anymore, because it hurts too much."
Samuel had a family in the person of old Eli. When Samuel heard that voice calling out to him in the night, Samuel was able to turn to Eli, who helped him to hear what God was saying. And basically, what God was saying was this: "Things are going to change. Things are going to be different."
Can we in the church be like Eli for the Samuels of the world today? Can we take the hungry, abused, and lonely kids that are all around us and—like Eli did for Samuel—help them hear what God is saying to them? Can we help them to hear that the way things are is not the way that things will always be?
The main point of this sermon is to encourage children in church. To encourage not only parents to bring their children to church but to boldly encourage everyone in church to be welcoming to children in church. We all know children at church can be jarring but they can also add greatly to every service.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
Taking your child to a Sunday worship service can be jarring. Trust me, I know. It once gave me a concussion. Years ago, we began introducing our 4-year-old son to the worship service, with all the potential misbehavior that entails. During corporate prayer he decided to lie down on the floor. Like a good dad I knelt over and told him to get up. Like a good son he obeyed, immediately and enthusiastically. A little too enthusiastically. As he jumped up, the full weight of his 95th-percentile-sized head drove directly into my semi-opened jaw. My teeth sank into my tongue before sending the rest of my cranium upward, and for a fleeting moment I saw stars. Somehow, I managed to make it through the rest of the service with a growing dull buzz inside my head.
The incident gave me a new perspective on impactful worship.
Not every instance of bringing our kids to the worship service is like that, of course, but it can be a difficult transition, both for our little ones and also for us. So if it’s that hard, why would a church encourage kids (not necessarily babies) to sit in worship with their families? Here are four areas why I believe this is helpful: discipleship, education, tradition, and opportunity.
Hearing the gospel preached and seeing its effects in the worship of a local church family is a powerful way to make disciples. What better way for a child to be introduced to what it means to be a disciple than to experience life with disciples of all ages and levels of maturity?
Moses tells God’s people, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:6–7). The words of God should be taught to our own children today. A corporate worship service in which Scripture is read, sung, prayed, and preached helps us as we educate our kids.
The art of listening to a sermon is not something easily obtained in our soundbyte- and social media-driven culture. There’s virtually nowhere else kids will learn this skill. Someone introduced to a worship service as a teen will have a much more difficult time learning how to listen to sermons than one who’s been raised to slowly appreciate the intricacies of this unique (and biblical) form of communication. Sitting in the worship service teaches them how to worship by listening to God’s Word—an invaluable skill for any Christian.
Evangelicalism has a long history of eschewing tradition. You might say it’s our tradition to not think much of tradition. But therein lies the rub. While we are right not to blindly serve tradition, there is no biblical prohibition on allowing tradition to serve us and our children. During my childhood, I was powerfully influenced by my grandfather giving the offertory prayer as I stood and sang beside my grandmother, who had the hymnal memorized.
Even if our kids don’t at first understand everything encompassed in the readings, singing, and preaching—and make no mistake, they won’t—they will at least understand the people who love them and stand beside them.
This proximity gives us a prime opportunity to explain what they don’t grasp. Children hear more than you think. You’d be surprised at what 4-year-olds ask when you assume they’re tuned out. In worship, we have the opportunity to introduce our kids to a taste of the eternal—God’s saints celebrating him together. At the least, attending worship with your child may prompt them to ask you the reason for the hope within you (1 Pet. 3:15).
Transitioning kids to the worship service is difficult, but it’s a difficulty worth enduring. Yes, you may have a few months (or a few years) of distraction.
But the distraction won’t last forever, and you’ll be building on something that will. (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/4-reasons-your-kids-should-sit-with-you-on-sunday/)
Sure, kids don’t belong everywhere. They’re not a symphony orchestra’s target audience. The tense whispers of snooker commentators suggest that toddlers wouldn’t be welcome at tournament finals. But babies and children are legally entitled to be all sorts of places that aren’t always built with them in mind, including, say, courthouses and political rallies. But what about kids in church services? It depends on the church, obviously, and they’re all different. Here’s one way of looking at it: how about we put logistics (space, demographics, time of day) and theology (how important to God do we believe communion is, or the sermon, or beautiful music, or Sunday School?) on two axes of a graph. There would be churches all over the page, and each combination would mean different ideas about where children should be during church services. Here are twelve reasons churches everywhere should have a conversation about going all-age.Since my time as pastor, I’ve become a huge fan of all-age church, where everyone is all in together, and people of all ages are warmly invited to engage in what’s going on. I’m not talking about a place where the kids are allowed to be in the room but expected to be quiet and do coloring-in. As well as reasons to consider something that I appreciate would be a big culture change for many churches.
Kids are people too. When we welcome kids in church, we acknowledge that they are important humans in the present, not just the future. I don’t know about you, but I had completely forgotten that kids had a significant part to play in one of the most dramatic parts of Jesus’ ministry. Remember the bit where he bursts into the Temple, throws the furniture around, yells at the corrupt bankers, and shouts ‘My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves!’? Kids were right in the middle of that action. After the religious leaders criticized Jesus. Jesus said, “Yes, I hear them. And haven’t you read in God’s Word, ‘From the mouths of children and babies I’ll furnish a place of praise’?” The children here were contributing something significant, making a real difference. If they hadn’t been part of proceedings, who knows what else might have happened differently? If they’d been separated out from the adults, like roast potatoes without gravy, something would have been seriously missing. We exclude kids at our peril, because they have something to contribute – by their mere presence and existence as part of humanity. Children are not just consumers of our services, and learners from our wisdom, they have a part to play, just like all adults in our church. More about what that can look like in a bit.
When we welcome kids, we are making their cares feel welcome too This one is for C, a mum from our local primary school, who said to me on her first, brave visit, with tears in her eyes, ‘This is the first time I’ve been allowed to have my babies with me in church.’ Lots of kids and parents love having a special kids’ program in the church hall while the sermon is being preached in the church sanctuary. But not everyone does. C wanted her family to be all together. That was important to her.
We especially love having kids involved in the whole service on Sundays, in all their wriggling, noisy glory, so please don’t worry if you or anyone with you makes a bit of a racket – we’re glad to have you with us!
Kids learn by participating. When we welcome kids, we invite them to experience God in community with us. When we attended a church last Easter Sunday that doesn’t allow non-members or children to receive communion, our four-year-old son cried. Passionately. He wanted the wine and the bread, he said. Why couldn’t he join in? We made it up to him by having communion at home (with, erm, broccoli juice, if you can imagine that), and he has now instigated communion at home more than once. In our family, communion is for people who love God and want to follow Jesus. If our son wants to sign up to that, he is welcome to participate.
Kids copy what they see. My seventeen-month-old will go and kiss her hurt brother, because she’s seen me do so. My four-year-old denied a request I made by saying ‘tough luck, Mama!’ to me the other day, which gave me a pang of guilt at how I have been responding to some of his more unreasonable requests!
Children learn by observing and copying. How can they learn to participate in the community of God without actually doing so?
Kids can handle sermons. When we involve kids in church, we expose them to deep, important ideas. This one is for R, the ten-year-old who asked me for a pastoral appointment (this is cool just by itself!). She’s been in an intergenerational church all her life, and listened to hundreds of sermons. So, we went and had a hot chocolate and some cake at a café after school. R wanted to talk about how to apply my sermon on conflict resolution in Matthew 18 to a tricky friendship she had at school. I had preached the sermon she was referring to a full year earlier.
My usual approach to preparing all-age sermons at West, when I was the pastor there, was to think and write content for mature, adult Christians, but present it creatively in ways that invited younger humans and younger Christians to engage with big ideas. On a good day, this meant that both ends of the spectrum are reached by the sermon.
There’s a bigger section below on how preachers can serve an all-age congregation.
It’s good for everyone. When we include kids in church, we all get to practice being generous to each other. Thirteen years on, when I started, everyone in the church was actively committed to the idea that Sunday morning services weren’t just ‘for’ them; that there had to be some give and take, and making space for people ‘not like me.’ Everyone got to practice being generous to people with different tastes. Adults could put up with silly action songs. Kids could put up with boring talky bits. Classical music lovers could put up with drums. Extraverts could put up with silence – and maybe even enjoy it sometimes.
It makes services better. When we plan for kids to be involved, we plan better, richer services. Of course, we aimed not to provoke too much ‘putting up with’, and everyone involved at West works hard to craft creative, interactive, multi-sensory, hour-long services that help everyone connect with God at some point, from the toddlers to the nonagenarians.
On a good day, it’s the best time you’ll have all week, full of stuff to make you laugh – and maybe cry – to help you think and fuel you for the week. You simply can’t have a boring church service if you’ve got all the generations involved.
Kids have lots to offer. When you welcome kids, they are able to contribute their time and skills. Everyone gets to contribute, not just consume. At West, every kid and teenager has a job on Sundays, something tangible to say ‘we need you here.’
When she was five, C told me that her favorite part of Sunday church was being on the Offering Team (our name for the perennially chaotic horde of preschoolers who took bags around the chairs to collect people’s donations).
It makes us stronger. When we welcome kids in church, we strengthen relationships across generations. Did you see the Auckland family who advertised for grandparents a while ago? I said at the time that maybe they should consider joining a church! The more time everyone spends together, worshipping, learning, chuckling, in the presence of the same Spirit, rather than split up in their own demographic corners, the stronger the relationships are across the generations.
I’ve seen plenty of kids gain extra grandparents – people who know when they have a piano exam or a birthday, and ask about the science fair or school camp when they see them on Sunday. This can also be an important thing for single adults, and people without children (although all people are different, of course). Regular, family-like contact with kids in a church setting can be an enriching thing for everyone.
These relationships also free parents of young children to be more involved in services, as Angela writes: What has made a difference for me to be able to do ministry within the church is our “village”. I have people in my church who are happy and willing to help out with my kids. This means hubby can do his job as the priest and I can worship lead, pray, and participate and know that my children are okay. My kids have some wonderful relationships with the people in our parish, surrogate grandparents, and there is always someone I can catch the eye of if I need them to do something like separate my 4 year old from his older brother or find the food in my purse. Both of us also minister with children attached to us but we have other people who help our children and it’s great.
What do you think? How’s your village going?
It can improve preaching. When we include children in church, our preachers are prompted to do a better job for everyone. There’s no doubt that I’m a better preacher and communicator for having had to preach in an all-age congregation. There’s nothing like explaining the incarnation and ascension of Jesus in a way that preschoolers can understand for making sure that all the adults get it too!
Adults don’t miss out. When kids are part of the church service, adults don’t have to miss out to lead or attend kids’ programs.
When we include people from very young, they don’t have a jolting transition in adolescence/ When you’re all in together, there’s no big, wide door out of the church at age 12, 14, or whenever the kids’ programs run out and young people are expected to (but often don’t) join the adult congregation.
When we welcome kids in church, we demonstrate how welcome everyone is. The all-age approach communicates a special kind of welcome. We especially love having kids involved in the whole service on Sundays, in all their wriggling, noisy glory, so please don’t worry if you or anyone with you makes a bit of a racket – we’re glad to have you with us! When parents know that kids are meant to be there, that church is a kid-space as well as an adult-space, everyone relaxes a bit.
While preparing this post, I read a super-curmudgeonly article in an American denominational magazine, which I won’t link to, because it is so awful. But here’s a quote: It happened again last Sunday, as it has happened other Sundays. A young couple arrives – usually late – with an infant and toddler in tow. After making a commotion in the back of the church, taking off coats, extracting the toddler from his buggy, and assembling an array of child-care accessories, they walk to a seat in front of the church – almost as in solemn procession – during one of the readings, thereby becoming the center of attention. For the duration of the Mass, the baby fusses, and the older child, unattended, runs back and forth up and down the aisle.
On another occasion, a mother, by herself, takes her baby to Mass. For the entirety of the Mass – without a break – the baby cries and protests (as a tired or hungry or otherwise uncomfortable child will do). Those sitting near the two (including yours truly) cannot even hear what is going on at the front of the church. Any possibility of praying or hearing prayers evaporates. The mother tries to quiet the child, an attempt that completely fails. It gets so bad, the presiding priest looks with some concern over at the source of the noise as he comes down to receive the gifts.
In both these cases I ask myself: Why does one family have to hold an entire assembly hostage? What makes people so inconsiderate or starved for attention? Why can’t parents take more responsibility for their children? Why isn’t parish leadership doing something to provide alternatives for parents and children? It’s amazing how much attention – the wrong kind of attention – an agitated child, especially one who starts crawling around under the pews, can attract.
It’s true that plenty of people are used to quiet, solemn worship, but I can’t recall any Biblical support for the idea that it is necessary to properly approaching God. And if Jesus wanted solemnity, he would hardly have welcomed children at all. (http://sacraparental.com/2016/06/11/12-reasons-welcome-kids-church-tips-actually/)
The Children's Defense Fund offers these statistics about the state of children's lives in the United States today. One in two will live in a single-parent family at some point during childhood. One in three will be poor at some point in their childhood. One in seven has no health insurance. One in eight will not graduate from high school. One in eight is born to a teenage mother. One in 139 will die before their first birthday. A gun will kill one in 1056 before they are age 20.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, kids are having sex at younger and younger ages. Nearly one out of ten report having sex before the age of 13, which represents a 15% increase since 1997. Around 16% of high school sophomores say they have had four or more sexual partners. One out of four sexually active teens will contract a sexually transmitted disease. And despite a 20% decline in the teen birthrate during the 1990s, 20% of the sexually active girls from 15 to 19 get pregnant each year, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
The financial cost of raising a child is greater than ever. On average, a family with a household income of less than $38,000 will spend $171,460 to raise a child to adulthood. A middle class family with an income between $38,000 and $64,000 will spend a total of $233,530. And families with incomes greater than $64,000 will expend an average of $340,130 to raise a child from birth to adulthood.
Truancy is becoming a significant problem in British schools. What surprised education officials, though, was that when they sent patrols out to find truant children, they discovered that more than half of them were with a parent. Education Minister Stephen Twigg remarked, "This is a situation that cannot be allowed to continue. Parents have to take responsibility, otherwise they are jeopardizing their children's future." Apparently half the students who were found to be with their parents had no excuse at all for being absent from school. Still others offered excuses that were deemed to be unacceptable. Those excuses included: "I have a spot on my nose" and "I don't like Mondays."
Eli had a hard time getting some sleep with all the times that Samuel kept waking him. In that respect, Eli could sympathize with the estimated 70 million Americans who have problems sleeping. The National Center on Sleep Disorders Research says that some people are not able to rest because of physical problems they have. Others, however, are not able to sleep because of the constant stimulation that is all around us, including such things as electric lights, cable television, the Internet, and e-mail. The average American now sleeps about seven hours per night, which is approximately 90 minutes less than people slept a century ago.
Samuel was troubled when he finally heard God speak to him, because in that message, God condemned the direction in which the religious leadership was headed. Although Samuel admired Eli, Samuel was forced to consider the wrong direction that Eli's sons would lead the people in if they were to assume office. M. Scott Peck asserts that if someone is looking for genuine evil, then one ought to look first in the church and synagogue. He contends that it is of the nature of evil to "hide among the good" (M. Scott Peck, People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Evil [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983]).
"There is no finer investment for any community than putting milk into babies" (Winston Churchill).
"It is only the dominant community, or those allied with and amenable to the dominant community, that does not need to work intensely or intentionally to socialize its young into its vision of reality" (Walter Brueggemann, Texts That Linger, Words That Explode [Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000], p. 59).
When I go to Baptist Hospital, I like to indulge myself in a walk around their pond. It is a large and lovely pond, set right in the middle of the hospital campus. From there I can look at the enormous hospital and imagine all the births and deaths, beginnings and endings that are happening inside as I enjoy my walk.
There are a lot of ducks in the ponds, easily a half-dozen varieties. One day on this familiar walk, I watched a mother with a dozen babies lining up and marching as though it were the Fourth of July. They were in a parade of sorts—and truly enjoying themselves. I made my first circle around the pond, filled with giggles about the ducks and their proud parade. On my second circle, I counted the line of babies again and there were only eleven. One had lost the scent—and was marching directly backwards. Foolishly, I tried to "herd" the child back to its rut. That duck was not "herdable." Some of us have children like this too. Isn't it good to know that ducks share our frustrations?
When nine miners were saved in Somerset, PA, we all knew that a minor miracle had occurred. A kind of resurrection came about. We who knew what it was like to be buried rose a little with them. We who are buried by detail and obligation became free for what is less trivial and more thoroughly triumphant. Their first words upon arrival back above ground were: "What took you guys so long?"
The most important thing we can give our children is a spiritual inheritance. Cyril Connolly, the great British philanthropist, says: "But come to think of it, there is a way of taking it with one, and that is to endow the whole thing as a museum. One preserves one's name, and it keeps the collection together."
Teach your children to be lazy! "Most of the world's troubles seem to come from people who are too busy. If only politicians and scientists were lazier, how much happier we should all be" (Evelyn Waugh).
"It is better to have loafed and lost than never to have loafed at all" ( James Thurber).
I watched a mother in the drugstore scare her child to death. She kept telling her not to get too far away, not to wander. She guarded her child so much that the child became afraid. Too much security doesn't help children feel safe. Let them go to the other aisle. Then make sure they come back. We need to practice letting them go, and they need to practice leaving us. I know terrible people steal children. But we can't let them steal our children's adventures also.
"The cardinal sin when we are looking for truth of fact or wisdom of policy, is refusal to discuss, or action which blocks discussion" (Sidney Hook, as reported in the New Yorker, "Talk of the Town," July 8, 2002).
In her account of a five month 1950's journey in a VW bus through France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and the British Isles, Jane Gillespie writes: "Bob and I had been married for sixteen years and had acquired four children, a house full of furniture, half an acre of land, and 832 old New Yorkers….There was every reason we should not go abroad" (Jane Gillespie, Bedlam In The Backseat).
"It is sad when one's pride, which may be a form of love—perhaps one of the highest forms of love—receives a fall" (Edith Sitwell).
Is a revolving door opened or closed? According to the New York Times (Saturday, July 26, 2002), they are officially "both."
Religious faith "takes our deepest longings and turns them into expectations" (William Sloane Coffin, Jr.).
Mary Pipher's new book, The Middle Of Everywhere: The World's Refugees Come To Our Town (Harcourt-Brace, 2002) tells the story of how the world came to Lincoln, Nebraska. Pipher volunteers in a local refugee resettlement agency. She differentiates between immigrants and refugees: immigrants come by choice, refugees are forced. "The smiling Vietnamese teenage girl, decked out in her flashy American clothes, was raped by pirates and saw her father murdered. The cocky Kurdish boy who was listening to hip hop music saw his village exterminated by Saddam Hussein's army. The man shining shoes is an architect in Poland. Refugees arrive `penniless but not cultureless.'" Over and over again she documents how the level of sexual promiscuity in America shocks immigrants.
A young mother, immersed in the words, hymns, and prayers of the worship service, suddenly noticed that her five year old was no longer beside her. She discovered the child under the pews, crawling among the legs and feet of everyone in the vicinity. Embarrassed, the mother hissed: "What are you doing under there?" The child replied, "I'm looking for God."
Guy Johnson, son of Maya Angelou, was videotaped as a surprise for the celebration of Maya's 74th birthday and the publication of the sixth book in her autobiographical series. He said that he is often asked if he grew up in her shadow. He says, "No, I grew up in her light….She has faith that's like a rock—you can stand on it." Among other things, his mother, Guy says, has helped others learn to be human, and has taught us that we are all sisters and brothers (The Oprah Winfrey Show [ABC Television Network], August 9, 2002).
"Example is not the main thing in life; it is the only thing" (Albert Schweitzer).
Children's television's Mister Rogers of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood is really Fred Rogers, a Presbyterian minister. Rogers was visiting Princeton Theological Seminary one day and emerged from an elevator into a group of parents and children on their way to a meeting. The children, of course, immediately recognized him. Before even acknowledging the presence of the adults, Fred Rogers bent down to be at the children's eye level and spoke to each of them. Only after attending to the children did he acknowledge the adults. Rogers' priorities and God's seem remarkably similar.
"And I talked about how I had begun to make straight A's until tenth grade—when I ran into those `PEERS'-People who Encourage Errors, Rudeness, and Stupidity. And that's exactly what they were doing. I started to listen to them telling me how I should act; that if I was not out until late at night playing basketball I clearly had some sort of hormonal imbalance."(Ben Carson, The Big Picture [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999], pp.102-3).
As the church nurtures the children there has to be concrete content to the shaping of their lives. Robert E. Lee believved in four defining attributes that equipped one for life as an adult: 1) Diligent study. Lee could not abide idleness. 2) Honorable conduct. A lack of discipline in morals or general deportment was to be avoided. 3) Faithful worship of God. He urged the clergy who led the services of the college chapel to be in earnest and to speak to the hearts and consciences of his young men. 4) Respect good order. One of Lee's favorite sayings was, "Obedience to lawful authority is the foundation of character"(J. Stephen Wilkins, Call of Duty [Nashville, TN: Cumberland House, 1997], pp. 160-62).
A little girl picked up a stethoscope left on the car seat by her mother, a doctor. The mother immediately thought how wonderful it was that her little girl was following in her mother's footsteps. But instead of listening to her heartbeat, the little girl spoke into the stethoscope: "Welcome to McDonald's. May I take your order?" (Paraphrased by JWH, except in quotation marks. Source unknown, contributed to Presbyterians Today, October, 2002, by Gordon Tait, Wooster, Ohio, p.3.)
Children seem to spend a lot of time thinking of God and wondering what God is like. A five year old, traveling with her family up the coastline of California on Highway 1, paused in wonder at the sight of the Big Sur Bridge, and asked her mother: "How big is God? Is God bigger than that bridge?"
Waste Management, Inc., recently criticized an effort by the State of California to hang signs on their dumpsters that tell people not to throw their babies in there. A spokesperson for the company commented, "If we [have to tell people] not to throw babies in dumpsters, [we] have reached the lowest point we can get to as a society."
A year ago the New York Times carried a story with a headline that read "Can a Kid Squeeze by on $320,000 a Month?" The article centered around Kira Kerkorian, the daughter of Lisa Kerkorian and the billionaire Kirk Kerkorian. Following the parents' divorce, Lisa Kerkorian filed for $320,000 per month for child support. The itemized list included such things as $14,000 for parties, $5900 for dining out; $4300 for meals at home; $2500 for movies and other activities; $7000 for charitable contributions; $1400 for laundry and cleaning; $1000 for books and toys; $436 for the care of Kira's pets; and $144,000 for travel on private jets.
Peter Gomes, the minister of the chapel at Harvard University, tells about a commencement address he gave a number of years ago at an exclusive girls' school in Manhattan. For his text, he read from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus declares, "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:...yet...even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." After his speech, Gomes said he was pleased with his talk, and he received a generous round of applause from the girls and most of their parents. But Gomes reports, "I was unprepared for one lean Wall Street-type father who approached me not with the expected compliment, but with a serious bone to pick. `My girl got into this school on anxiety, is graduating on anxiety, and she has been admitted to Radcliffe on anxiety. If she had taken your advice, she wouldn't be here to hear it" (Peter J. Gomes, The Good Life [New York: HarperCollins, 2002], p. 238).
We live in a society that often discourages children from developing a Christian faith. A seventh grade class in Brookfield, Ohio, was asked to write a friendly letter to someone who has dramatically changed their lives. When Phillip Vaccaro turned his paper in, his teacher wasn't pleased. He had chosen to write a letter to Jesus. The teacher rejected the assignment, telling the student that Jesus wasn't a real person—that he didn't exist. Phillip's mother responded by filing at $1.5 million lawsuit against the school district, claiming that her son's constitutional right to express his religion was violated because he wasn't permitted to write to Jesus.
"The point is that childhood, if it can be said to exist at all, is now an economic category. There is very little the culture wants to do for children except to make them into consumers" (Neil Postman, Building a Bridge to the 18th Century [New York, Vintage, 1999], p. 125).
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: O God, You who formed us in our mothers' wombs.
People: Therefore, we praise You, for we are extremely and wonderfully made.
Leader: What You do and what You make is wonderful, O Lord God.
All: In joyful wonder and thanksgiving we gather, O Creator God. Accept our worship and renew our spirits, that our lives will have meaning and become a means of blessing others.
Gracious God, Your son Jesus became incensed when his disciples tried to keep away the children, and he declared that they too must become like children if they were to enter his kingdom. Too often we have been like them, proud of our supposed adult maturity and sophistication, ignoring the needs of children near and far from us. We worry about the future of our world when it comes to the environment but quickly pass over the wellbeing of our children who are also the future. By the power of Your Spirit humble us again, making us more sensitive to the needs of others, especially of the needs of the children in our midst. This we ask in the name of the one who welcomed the children with open arms. Amen.
Bless, O Lord, these gifts that we bring today, that they might strengthen the ministry of Your church. May we be equally as generous with our time and talents, giving them also for the sake of Your kingdom. Amen.
Gracious God, before Your might and wisdom we are but infants, regardless of our proud university degrees or advanced IQs. As we recall again the story of young Samuel in the temple we thank You that You have spoken to men and women, and to children. Even before we were aware of You, You spoke to us in our baptism, marking us and commissioning us, like Samuel, for Your service. Help us to live up to our calling to be Your voice, Your caring hands and feet in this world that needs to hear Your gospel. We are too aware of the brokenness of the world, after all this brokenness is the lifeblood of our televisions and newspapers. We learn of the terrible suffering of so many children through cruel wars, harsh poverty, and tyrannical oppression. We pray for those who feel especially called to relieve the world's sufferings. May we through our prayers, giving of money; and sharing of our time find our own role in meeting the needs of the world, and especially of its children. Help us to listen to and honor the children whom we meet. By the strength of Your Spirit help us to be worthy examples of faith, hope and love that they will want to follow You and Your ways. Hear our prayers today for ourselves, our children, and for the world, as we bring them to You in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.PrayersPast!