I. Children and the Church
In May, I attended a preaching conference where we spent most of the day listening to different sermons or lectures. It was a fantastic experience for me. One particular sermon struck me, and I think what it said bears relevance to you as well.
The preacher, Thomas Long, opened his Bible and turned to Luke. He read us the passage from Luke 2 where Joseph and Mary take Jesus to the Temple for purification purposes eight days after his birth.
As you may remember, Both Simeon and Anna were there in the Temple that day awaiting a Messiah that they were sure would come at some point in their lifetimes. Simeon and Anna were old. They had probably had many expectations in their lives but there was still one more left to be fulfilled: seeing the Messiah.
And so when Mary and Joseph arrived at the Temple that day with the baby Jesus, Simeon, who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would see the child before he died, was waiting. Simeon took Jesus in his arms and thanked God for the revelation the world was about to receive, and he warned Jesus’ parents about the hardships that would come.
In addition, there was a prophet there at the Temple, a woman named Anna who stayed in the Temple day and night. And when Prophetess Anna saw the child, she too began to praise God and preach to those in the Temple that the One who would redeem Israel had come.
After reading the passage, the preacher, Dr. Long, looked at us and said, “That’s all we know about Simeon and Anna. They never appear in the story again.”
And then Dr. Long said, “The Gospel Writer Luke gathers a table of the elderly, but after Luke chapter two, we never see the old people again. Simeon and Anna are gone. They hand the gospel over to 20 year olds.”
And that, in part, is why you are all here today. You are here because you are teaching, molding, mentoring and encouraging the people to whom we Christians in our thirties, our fifties, our seventies and beyond must hand over the Gospel of Christ.
It’s a scary thought.
But it is an important concept.
Dr. Long continued by saying that he used to think that the hardest part of life was standing up for his faith – but standing up for your faith just means you have to believe you’re right. Rather, he said, to lean into your faith and let go, that means believing in God. Leaning into your faith and letting go means believing in a God who owns the future!
The future of Christianity, the future of God’s Kingdom here on earth, lies with the children and youth with whom you and I currently work.
So we need to have a greater emphasis in our churches to share God’s love with children and youth and also their parents – the people who are their primary caregivers and role models.
If our children do not hear about God’s wide mercy, about Christ’s vast compassion, about the Holy Spirit’s comfort from us, then to whom or to what will they turn to find mercy, compassion, and comfort?
In the U.S., as I’m sure is the case here in Chile, more and more children, not just teenagers, but children, are turning to alcohol and drugs to both define themselves and to seek solace from a difficult world. Using drugs helps them make a statement to their peers about who they are and drugs help them escape the pain they feel.
But what if instead they defined themselves as Children of the Living God? What if instead they sought solace in the “peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding?”
If you minister to children, youth and their families, then your role in God’s church is critical!
Indeed, your role in society is critical!
I’m sure you have heard of the new communication program on the Internet called Skype. To use Skype, you need a computer with a camera on it and access to the Internet. And once you have these two things, you can speak – practically in person – to any person who also has those same two things.
Skype is free and works like a telephone except when you call the person on your computer, you can see (thanks to the camera on your computer and your computer screen) the other person! It’s like watching a video of someone except it’s not a video, it’s live and you’re communicating with him or her in person!
While I downloaded Skype several years ago so I could talk to my boyfriend at the time who lived in Morocco, the rest of my family has only recently discovered Skype. But since they have, now I can see and speak with my parents in Kansas City, Missouri, my sister in Chicago, Illinois, and my aunt in Honolulu, Hawaii even though I live in Austin, Texas!
My grandparents also downloaded Skype (with the help of my sister) onto their computer. So one day, my aunt who lives in Hawaii took her computer over to my great-aunt’s house and hooked it up. That day my aunt and great-aunt skyped from Hawaii my grandparents in Missouri. And when my grandpa sat down in front of the computer and saw his sister for the first time in over eight years, he began to cry.
“I never thought I’d see my sister again,” he told my grandma, and together, the four of them talked on Skype for over an hour.
Families are important. They are, in most cases, the most important relationships we will ever have.
And as church leaders, we have the opportunity to help families learn about God. We have the awesome responsibility to tell them the biblical stories of families just like theirs – flawed and broken – who were loved by God anyway. We have the opportunity to help families learn what it takes to maintain healthy relationships. We have the chance to minister to parents who in turn can take better care of their children. We have the honor of molding the future as children and youth look to us for guidance and support.
In the musical theater production called Into the Woods written by Stephen Sondheim, at the end of the play, the main character sings a song called “Children Will Listen” in which she sings…
Careful the things you say,
Children will listen.
Careful the things you do,
Children will see.
Children may not obey,
But children will listen.
Children will look to you
For which way to turn,
To learn what to be.
Careful before you say,
"Listen to me."
Children will listen.
“Let the little children come to me!” Jesus said when his disciples pushed the children out of the circle of conversation, out of the circle of healing.
We do the same thing though, don’t we? “Run and play, Mommy’s busy.” “You’re too young to understand.” “Sit down and shut up.”
We too, push children out of our way and out of our church services and out of our lives when we deny them the opportunity to worship God and experience God through community.
In Deuteronomy in the Old Testament and in the Gospels in the New Testament, God tells us about the greatest commandment: we are to love God and love our neighbor… and that includes children.
Let the little children come to me, Jesus said. The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
What if, when Jesus said that, he wasn’t making a metaphor about us having innocent faith, a faith that believes whole-heartedly?
What if, when Jesus said the kingdom of God belongs to children, he meant it? What if, as Dr. Long suggests, the Gospel will be carried on through young people?
What if it’s time for us to get out of the way, and let them tell it?!