Thursday, February 16, 2017

Children's Sunday Sermon

Luke 18:15-17, Matthew 18:1-5

The disciples thought Jesus was too busy to bother with children, but they were wrong about that.  Jesus enjoyed children very much and the Bible tells us he was happy to spend time with children.
With the children ask: Children are very important at our church too.  Do you know this? 
Why do you think that children are important here?
How do you know that children are important here?
I want you to think of things the church does for kids and youth here. These don’t just happen on their own – people make these happen.  Who leads these programs? Why do you think all these people do this?  What is the main thing that you have learned here at church?  The folk who work with you here believe it is important for children to know and love God.  They want to share the love of Christ with you.
What do you give back to the church?  Back to God? 
Harder questions: What more should the church be doing for you?  What don’t we do that you think would be helpful to you?
What other thoughts do you have about today’s scriptures or about kids and church?
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After the christening of his baby brother in church, Jason sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car.  His father asked him three times what was wrong.  Finally, the boy replied, "That preacher said he wanted us brought up in a Christian home, and I wanted to stay with you guys."
            One of my pastor friends told me about a time he came to an intersection at which the lights were down and a police officer was directing traffic.  But as Leroy approached the intersection, he saw the officer doing this (one hand in “stop” and one hand pulling traffic towards him).  He was really confused by this gesture, as I’m sure any of us would be.  Was he being told to stop?  Was he being told to go forward? 
            Today’s scripture passage calls us to welcome the children to Jesus – to not turn them away from Jesus, to not declare that Jesus is too busy for them.  But I think, like the officer that Leroy encountered in the street, many of our churches send very mixed signals to our kids.  I think this is at least one reason why our youth often stop coming to church and as young adults and adults then rarely return.  What are some of the ways that churches do this, that churches send our children mixed messages?
            Churches declare that they want more young people in church, and then some work very hard to invite them to come.  But when they get in the door, what do these churches do?  Often churches don’t welcome children into worship – they send them to Sunday School, and often the Sunday School feels to the children like just one more day of instruction.  Some churches use translations of the Bible that are written in archaic language that the children don’t understand.  This, too, excludes them from Jesus. They cannot hear the message, they cannot understand the message. Churches do this with prayer as well.  At a SAFE service, I asked the children what the words to the Lord’s Prayer meant.  I asked them what “art” meant (Our Father who “art” in heaven), I asked them what “thy” and “thine” meant.  I asked them what “hallowed” meant.  The children don’t know these words because they aren’t modern English words.  They aren’t in use in our vocabulary any place except in an occasional prayer in church.  We have come to associate these words with holiness so we insist on using these words.  But “thine” was actually the ultra familiar term for “your” – when it was part of the English language, it was even less formal than “you”, not the way we insist on using it as a holy and formal word now.  When we insist on using old language and old translations for prayers, not only do we fail absolutely to capture the original Biblical meaning of the prayer (which again, was one of closeness and familiarity) but we also fail utterly to welcome our children to Jesus by using a code language in our prayers that they cannot and do not understand.  How is it welcoming children to Jesus to insist that they talk to Jesus in a language they don’t speak and can’t understand?
            Sometimes the “children’s time” in churches is really meant for the adults rather than the kids – the kids pick up on this when that happens and feel un-included when it does.
            In some places where children are included, they are expected to be absolutely silent and inactive in church.  While teaching good church behavior to our children is important, expecting them to be something they are not and cannot be is a way of excluding them from Jesus.  They can’t sit completely still or be completely silent.  When we accept this about them, even as we encourage and try to teach good behavior (just like at school), we welcome them to Jesus.
            Parents, grandparents and others can also be uncomfortable talking to our children about our own beliefs, why we do what we do, why we believe what we believe, and, more importantly, what difference it makes in our lives to have the faith we have and to be the church we strive to be.  Choosing to share with our children our faith stories and beliefs is crucial to inviting them to have faith lives of their own. 
A Sunday school teacher asked her children as they were on the way to church service, "And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?"
One bright little girl replied, "Because people are sleeping."

Being aware of the messages we send to the children by our actions as well as our words, sharing with the children our faith stories and why our faith matters to us, incorporating our faith in all aspects of our lives, radically, and showing how our relationships with Jesus make a difference in our lives – these are the ways that we welcome the children to Jesus, that we invite Jesus into their lives, that we open the door for them to be children of faith, passionate about their beliefs, and willing to live and to die for them.