Sunday, October 28, 2012
On a teacher's tombstone, Elkhart, Indiana..."School is out
Teacher has gone home." Susan B. Anthony’s simply says this: Liberty, Humanity, Justice, Equality"
It’s a good exercise to think about how you want to be remembered. What are the values that are most important to you? What do you want to pass on to the next generation?
In today’s story from the Bible, Mark 10:35-45 for those following along on the web, two of Jesus closest disciples, the Zebedee brothers, James and John, knew, (because Jesus told them), that Jesus life was coming to an end. It must have given them pause to think about the end of their own lives on this earth.
They began to think about what place they would have in the hereafter. They did not just wonder how they would be remembered here, but they began to ponder their status in the realm of God in heaven. They walked right up to Jesus and did just what a couple of 5 year olds would do. “Hey Dad, will you do something for us?” You know how kids do this, right? They sort of try to get us to say yes, before we know what the question is.
Jesus asks what their request is and they say: “Arrange it, so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor in your glory—one of us at your right, the other at your left.” Ah, I’ve got to tell you, as a mother, even though I do not go in for violence, I want to slap these two boys. Are you kidding me? Who do they think they are? Have they not learned anything from this man of humility and grace? Not surprisingly, the other disciples react in just the same way! But Jesus calms them down.
He reminds them: “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around,” he said, “and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.” Jesus came to serve.
Jesus tells them right away – to forget about status. Being blessed when you stand in front of God is not about which place you get to sit at the table. The greatest will be those who have the heart of a servant. This was Jesus’ message from day one, and it continued until the day he died on the cross. He lived to serve – not to gain status.
The Village Church is three years old this week. We are really still a baby church. But it’s important for us to think about who we are, and what we want to be known for. We don’t want to be a church full of people concerned about status.
For a moment in the story, James and John forgot that. They got caught up in those values of the world, and what the world tells us what to measure. The world tell us to measure wealth, and production.
In churches we usually measure success by numbers of people. Now sometimes that’s ok because numbers do represent people who matter to God. But when the institutional leaders get caught up in putting numbers of people, over and above the relationships and what those people are actually doing to live out our faith, then we get into trouble.
You see, our life together as The Village, is a life of building relationships and serving our community. Before we ever had weekly worship, we gathered to serve. Did you know that? Some of our first Village activities were community service projects. Small groups of us would gather for meals with homeless families with children with a ministry called Family Promise. Near Christmas time back in 2009 our families served and ate dinner and then sat around a church fellowship hall and sang songs. Our kids played with some kids who were staying in a church building as their temporary home.
The next year, we were back, borrowing that same church’s fellowship hall to make Christmas cookies and homemade Christmas cards. These would go along with the food baskets. We raised more money with our Christmas offering that year to provide food for people in NW Ohio living with HIV/AIDS. This is how that project got started.
A case manager from the AIDS Resource Center was attending The Village. We wanted to do something special for Christmas, to honor Jesus. I went and talked with the staff there. They said they had a small food pantry for their clients, and the previous year they had put together a few small food baskets, 3 or 4. They could not afford turkeys so they had gotten those tiny Cornish hens that they put in each one.
The ARC serves several counties in NW Ohio. I asked if they ever asked the churches to help because I know there are many cooperative projects in these communities where churches come together to form food pantries. The case managers told me they had been discouraged from going to the churches because there is a stigma associated with living with HIV/AIDS. When we told this story to the people of The Village and our friends, our hearts, and our wallets opened up. We had been worshipping a little over a year and challenged ourselves, just 40 or so in worship, to raise $3,000 for them. We raised $4000 for those food baskets. The year before they had only given out a handful of baskets and with our help that year they gave out 70 or 80 baskets ; and you better believe they had turkeys and much more.
Another year on Christmas day some of us went down to the Library. An organization called “Food For Thought” is down there every Saturday, 52 weeks out of the year. They started out giving away sack lunches, make with peanut butter sandwiches. (They use PB because it is high protein and it won’t spoil if it gets hot.) The project just grew organically. Other folks joined in. On any given week, you will see people giving away toiletries, hot food, coats, and all sorts of things. The atmosphere is what is so great. It is almost like a family reunion or a street fair rather than a soup kitchen. Because many of the folks are there every week, they know each other. I have taken girl scouts there and for a few months Becca and Kurt went every Saturday.
Becca who was 10 said I want to down on Christmas day. It was a Saturday and she didn’t want to miss it. She bought and we gave away razors to the homeless. This was a need they expressed every week how they needed razors. Next month, on Friday, Nov 30 our church is going to go to a church in Oregon Ohio where they make the peanut butter sandwiches and bag lunches. I hope you will go with us.
Kathy Keller come up during the service at this point and told us about why her family went to our last project at the Seagate food bank. We harvested pounds of green peppers and they are sharing them with the elderly and stretch their food budgets. She described the fun of serving others.
Edie Recker who attended our first worship service also came forward. She told us the story of being in search of a new church home having been rejected by a local mega church because of whom she is. She told of the fear of being rejected at a new church. Instead she was hugged and welcomed with open arms. And now she helps others find homes like the Village and is helping one of our sister UCC churches go through the process the Village did on day one of existence. And is helping other churches around the country.
So here’s the thing, not all of these projects are huge. But we do them, because we follow Jesus, and we want to change the world. And little by little we are changing the world. And you just never know which person, as their life is affected, will be empowered to do something really big.
So here is the thing. We are all part of a web that is connected. There are a gazillion needs out in our community. We can’t respond to all of them, but we trust that there are other faith communities and other generous people who are also doing their part.
And for those who are not, well… we hope that when people see our spirit of service, they might be inspired to get out there and do something positive.
So, we have an outreach team who plans some of our projects. They organize the trips to the Seagate food bank to fill boxes of food for seniors. They invited us to bring gifts for the YWCA Battered Women’s Shelter today. We chose those projects because we talked to you and we learned that many of us are concerned about the basic need of food for hungry people in our community. We have a connection to the Battered Women’s Shelter. One of our members, Kelly Phillips is the Volunteer Coordinator and Victim’s Advocate there. And you can still donate online through the Village to the YWCA Battered Women’s Shelter. Just tell us your gift is for that and we will get it to them.
As our Outreach team guides our service for the next year, we would like to know what you care about, and what your connections are. Put simply, “What breaks your heart?” Because if it breaks your heart, it breaks God’s heart too, and that is a good place for us to start in our service together. We also want to know where your connections already are in our community. Do you already volunteer at a school or with some organization? Do you give financial support to some local organization that might also need people who can serve with our time?
There were colorful Post-It notes on the tables. We asked people to write down any ideas you have for our Outreach team and any connections people have in our community. People who already have a connection to a charity, wrote them down. The idea was that there might be someone else here who says, I’d like to help with “x” and it might be just the thing you are already working with, and we can help you get connected today. This is something you can still do via the web. Email Pastor Cheri by contacting her at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is what we celebrate today. We are The Village Church. We live to serve and we change the world. If there were tombstones for churches, to remember us after we are dead and gone, I hope this might be what ours would say: The Village people lived to serve. We lived to serve. When they saw a need, they would respond, with whatever resources they had. Oh, how those Village people loved to get out into the community, and serve. Jesus came to serve. As we move into our next year, let us follow him. Let’s live to serve our community with bold vitality.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
The story was told in the film Remember the Titans. African American coach Herman Boone is hired to replace the white football coach, Bill Yoast, at the new T. C. Williams High School. Boone has the unenviable task of building a team from a group of white players and black players that don’t really want to play together. They learn that their task is much more than about playing football.
It is about overcoming hundreds of years of racist patterns in our culture. The work is hard. They have to put their whole selves into the work of transformation. Sure, their bodies are challenged by the physical rigors of the game and the locker room fights that these high school boys are pulled into. But their minds, hearts, and souls, are also twisted and ripped apart. The sins of racism are uncovered for their deep ugliness. Miraculously they pull it altogether to become a championship team. They become brothers to the core. They put their whole selves into this new way of being, and they are all transformed.
In the story it’s as if the coach walks up to them and says: are you ready to be all in “with your whole self?”That is what Jesus asks when the religious scholar who asks him a question. The scholar asks: “which is the most important commandment?”
Jesus answers: “The first in importance is this one, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’Another way we have heard this is to love God with all your heart and soul, mind and strength. But I like this new translation: your passion, prayer, intelligence and energy. It’s very clear – “Love God with your whole self!” And then he goes on to say that the second one follows right along with it, “love your neighbor and yourself too.”
Love God, love neighbor, and love yourself, WITH YOUR WHOLE SELF. This is the recipe for being right with God. It means, we can’t hold anything back. We can’t try to just love and serve God with part of ourselves, like with our intellect, or with our hearts alone. We can’t segment our faith life to Sunday morning. Jesus says God wants everything from us.
I want to illustrate that with a little song. I think it’s one you all know.
You put your left foot in, You put your left foot out,
You put your left foot in, You put your left foot out, and you shake it all about
You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around, that’s what it’s all about.
· Both hands
· Whole self in
You see some of us, when we say yes to Jesus, we really just want to put our left foot, or our left toe in. Maybe we’ll even get our hands dirty now and then, and do a work project. But don’t make me put EVERYTHING IN. Or maybe we’ll do some study, with our heads, but we hold back our hearts. We don’t let God see what’s really inside. Or maybe I’ll go to a Bible study, use my intellect, but I won’t put my heart into this. We refuse to put our whole selves in.
You see, if we love God with our whole selves, then we have to let God see every part of us: the good, the bad, and the ugly. We have to let God see our fears, and our short-comings. Sometimes we even have to let God see our dreams and ask God to help us make them come true. We would rather hold those back, because God might help us make them come true.
And we have to give our WHOLE LIVES to God. We have to give all our choices, all our values, our decisions, EVERYTHING over to God. We have to let God guide every ounce of our lives.
And if that’s not enough, then Jesus says, if we have the guts to put our WHOLE SELVES in this relationship with God, THEN God also wants us to love God by loving ALL of God’s people.
Are you kidding me? We have to love God, and love ourselves enough to love every person on the planet the same way God love them and us. Especially the person that it is most difficult for us to love. That is the person that my people have been feuding with since the beginning of time! The person you would least like to invite to your table for Thanksgiving.
That’s what it means to put our WHOLE selves into this Jesus-following God-loving Holy Spirit-living-inside-us living kind of thing. It’s kind of heavy, but it’s kinda of freeing.
So, I go back to where we were last week: Be careful when you ask Jesus a question because he might just give you an answer. Those religious scholars asked him, what is the most important commandment? He told them and he told us. If you can’t remember all of them, then take this as your condensed version: love God with your whole self: love God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy. And then love your neighbor and yourself. We are a long way to being in God’s presence.
In the movie, those young men on the football team become brothers. When the captain of the team, a white boy, becomes best friends with one of the black boys, his girlfriend can’t believe it, but she comes around. One of the racist white team members can’t take it. He ends up getting cut from the team by the captain. But eventually the whole town learns a lesson from this team. The boy’s own mother embraces her son’s new best friend. There is a scene where the black boy is walking in the white part of town to visit his friend. A police car drives up and of course, we think the worst. But the white police officer wants to congratulate him on a good game.
You see, these boys learn to love one another. And their love spreads across the whole school and the entire city. Love is stronger than hate every time. They learn to let love grow in them. It shows the power of relationships.
This is Jesus’ message to us. Love is stronger than hate. The power of love can and will overcome hate. We all have some group of people we find it hard to love. For example, I have trouble with people who hold different political values than me. You may have a family member you are feuding with, or someone at work that you just can’t stand to be around.
But Jesus says: Don’t hold any part of yourself back from loving God and your neighbor. Love with your whole self. Following Jesus is challenging, isn’t it? God doesn’t want half-hearted love. God wants all of you.
Love God with all your passion, your prayer, your intelligence and energy. And love your neighbor as yourself. This is our clear message today. This is not always easy to do, but it’s our challenge, it’s what we are called to do, because God loves us so powerfully. Let us love, Friends, Les us love each other and Let us love God, with our whole selves. Amen.
Sunday, October 14, 2012
The young man says, “That’s easy, I’ve been doing that all my life.” You see that was the young man’s big mistake. He should have stopped right there. There were Ten Commandments in his day, ten laws that were clear cut – follow the law and you are in good shape with God.
But for some reason, that young man, knew, in his heart, it was not good enough. I think he had been hanging around with Jesus too much. I think that man had a sense that there was more to this Jesus story than just following some strict moral laws. It’s obvious, isn’t it, that you should not take what is not yours, neither property, nor the life of another human being nor the wife of another man.
But you see, this young many had everything. He was wealthy. He had a big house, lots of servants, and land; a fleet of camels, and herds of goats and cattle. All the food he could eat and plenty to waste. And yet, he had a sense that he might not have eternal life, so when he had a chance to ask Jesus, he did. He could have just gone along, minding his own business, trusting that following those commandments was enough. Instead, he had to ask: “What more can I do?”
BE CAREFUL WHEN YOU ASK JESUS A QUESTION. BECAUSE YOU MIGHT JUST GET AN ANSWER. Anybody out there ever had that happen?
You see, I think the young man KNEW. He knew that there was more to this life of following Jesus than just following some moral laws. He knew that it was more than what you do not do. You do NOT STEAL, you do NOT MURDER, you do NOT COVET. It’s about what you DO.
Jesus said, “Alright, then, if you really want to take this to the next level, I will tell you how to do it. I will tell you how to live in the presence of God not just in this world, but for all eternity, SELL everything you have, and GIVE IT TO THE POOR. Then come and follow me. BAM!
Don’t you just imagine that wealthy young man wished that he could take his question back? It’s like one of those elaborate domino set ups And once you start it, you wish you could stop, because you realize that you really did not mean to start it. You wanted to add one more piece. Or you meant to get your video camera. Or you accidentally bump it, when you are almost set up, but not quite done and then you have to start over.
I think that’s how the rich young ruler must have felt when he asked that question. Darn it! I was feeling pretty good about myself and my life. Don’t you think he wanted to just suck that question right back into his mouth. I am following all the commandments. And I have a good life.
Why did I have to mess this all up by asking Jesus: “What more must I do to have eternal life? BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU ASK FOR! BECAUSE IF YOU ASK JESUS A QUESTION, HE MAY JUST GIVE YOU AN ANSWER, AND then you have to decide whether or not YOU ARE GOING TO LISTEN TO HIM.
From the story we are not so sure about the young man. Because you see, Jesus tells him:
“There’s one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me.”
22 The man’s face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.
He went on to tell his disciples:
27 Jesus was blunt: “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it.”
There Jesus goes again, telling us, we can do anything, if we just trust God. We can do anything with God. But the young man in the story went away really sad, because he had built up a personal storehouse of plenty of material wealth. He did not want to let go of his physical treasure. He felt that those things gave him pleasure and security. He could not imagine that greater pleasure and security could come from letting go of all that stuff, helping people who were homeless and hungry, and putting his trust in God and God alone for his security. We couldn’t map his mind around that.
We’re told that the early Christians, in the book of Acts, held all of their property in common. They sold what they had, and put everything together and lived in community. They gave money to buy food for those in their communities who were poor.
In our own day, a few radical Christians try such experiments, for awhile. It’s usually young adults, idealistic, who don’t have much to share anyway, who try these experiments for awhile. It rarely lasts long. They have kids. Life gets complicated. And they give up.
Selling all we have, to give to the poor, and holding all our wealth in common, as Jesus challenged the young man to do, does not really seem practical. Of course, I’m betting it did not seem practical to the young man on that day either. And yet Jesus absolutely dared to ask him to do it.
Why? Because it challenged him to let go of ownership of his stuff, and to put his trust in God.
You see, when we say we want to follow Jesus, then he challenges us to remember that the whole earth belongs to God. It is a gift that God shares with us. None of it belongs to us.
I am not being philosophical. I am dead serious. This Earth does not belong to us. God is the creator. God breathes life into each one of us. Everything we have, is a gift from God. We didn’t earn it. And it can be taken away from us at any moment. We know that, we’ve seen it happen.
We are stewards. It’s a religious word. Being a steward means that we work for God. God allows us to take care of this earth, but it belongs to God. God gave it to us to take care of.
That’s why Jesus could say to that young man, “So, you want to follow me? Well then, trust me. Give away everything and really follow me.” Anyone wish they had stayed in bed today?
So what does this story mean for us? Well if we take it literally, we could sell everything we have, and give our wealth to the poor and then we could live and work alongside the poor to work for more just systems in our world. A few Christians in our day are called to do that, and I commend them for living out their calling. And there are people among us doing that. I admire people who have that calling. But it’s a tiny fraction of our Christian Community.
For the rest of us, we take baby steps, and maybe some grown up steps, to simplify our own lives so that we can share our wealth with others who have less. We try to see the connections between our own actions and how they affect the rest of the world. In this way, we follow Jesus, and change the world.
Let me give you a few examples. When I was a senior in college I became a vegetarian. One, I don’t really like the idea of eating animals. A second reason is that I read about how animals are treated. But a third is that I learned about the food chain, and that if we all eat lower on the food chain there would be more food available for starving people in the world. Now, yes, I know that hunger is more about politics than about availability of food, but I also learned that they are cutting down rain forests in South America in order to produce enough beef for our Big Macs. It takes much more of the earth’s energy to produce a pound of beef than a pound of vegetable matter. So, I decided, not to eat meat. At the time, a skeptical friend said to me, “Do you really think your decision is going to change the world?” Like one person not eating beef is going to stop the destruction of the rain forrest.
Well of course I knew I was only one person. But that was 27 years ago. And I am guessing I am not the only person who became a vegetarian in those years. So I think the savings do add up.
And now a movement has started called Meatless Mondays. Have you heard of it? You can read about it as Meatlessmondays.com. Sure enough we can change the world and save our planet by eating vegetarian one day a week. Besides the numerous health advantages to eating vegetarian, we can all reduce our carbon footprint by skipping meat one day a week. You see, “40 calories of fossil fuel energy go into every calorie of feed lot beef in the U.S. Compare this to the 2.2 calories of fossil fuel energy needed to produce one calorie of plant-based protein. Moderating meat consumption is a great way to cut fossil fuel demand.”(source: http://www.meatlessmonday.com/why-meatless/).
It also takes more water to produce to produce beef than it does to produce vegetable matter, so it cuts down on water usage to eat vegetarian for even one day a week. We are better stewards of this Earth for all the inhabitants, by eating lower on the food chain, even one day a week.
But there are also many people who do not have access to healthy fresh produce. That’s why urban gardens are so important. The Seagate Foodbank has one of those gardens. Yesterday, we went to work there. We thought we were going to go box up lots of those boxes of food for seniors like we usually do, but when we got there, they told us they needed help in their garden. So we helped them cut down their pepper plants at the end of the season and harvest the last of their harvest.
In two hours work we harvested 120 pounds of peppers. They will take these out in their traveling fresh market on Monday and Wednesday. They go out to neighborhoods where senior citizens live and other low income people live, who cannot get out to the farmer’s market downtown. And they will give away lots of fresh produce to people who cannot afford to buy it.
There are lots of these community gardens around town that need volunteers to keep them going. One of the baby steps could be that we could get more involved with them next Spring and Summer. Giving our precious time to help hungry people get healthy food is another way to live out the call of Jesus to give away what we have in order to follow him.
What else can we do? Kurt and I have worked to increase our giving to our church every year since we got married. And we are now giving at least 10% of our family income. It took us awhile to get there, and we have made some sacrifices. It was not easy, but it is an important value for us. We defer spending on some things so we can do this. If you drive by our house you can see that it still needs painting. I mentioned that last year. We defer spending on some things, but don’t defer giving to the church and charity. Becca and I buy lots of our clothes at Savers. (We kinda think that is fun.) But we will not cut our giving to this ministry because it is too important.
Christmas is coming soon. The Lead Team is meeting next week and we will be firming up plans for our Village Christmas offering. If you are new to The Village get ready for some fun. We do Christmas big. That is, we don’t just set up a mitten tree and ask you to buy a toy for a child in need. We ask you to be sacrificial in your giving. Because you see, Christmas is Jesus’ birthday, not ours. We like to honor Jesus on Jesus’ birthday.
So whatever we do for ourselves, we ask you to equal it in your giving to Jesus. We want to honor Jesus in our celebration of his birth. So we will take up an offering for Jesus’ birthday to help some of Jesus’ most vulnerable children and we will ask you to give generously. There are undoubtedly people on your Christmas list who don’t NEED anything, and so we will give you a chance to give to our Christmas offering in their name and honor Jesus with a meaningful gift for their Christmas gift this year. A meaningful gift rather than another sweater. Stay tuned.
All these changes in our lives, big and small, add up: A meatless Monday, giving some time in a community garden so that others can have fresh produce, diverting our own money from something we don’t need and toward our church or another charity. They add up. It is sort of like dominoes. You knock one over and it is no big deal. But when you put a bunch together, the cumulative effect begins to make a difference. Watch this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tu1qMezJRlcHYPERLINK "http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tu1qMezJRlc&feature=relmfu"HYPERLINK "http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tu1qMezJRlc&feature=relmfu"feature=relmfu
So how about you? If Jesus asked you/challenged you to do something you might do, what might you do? What have you done to change your patterns in order to follow Jesus? Is there something you might challenge us all to do? In a few weeks, at our anniversary celebration we will be asking you all for ideas beyond what we already are doing to change the world, so some bring us those ideas. We’re already working for time to time with places and organizations like the Seagate Food Bank, Food for Thought, Jobs with Justice, Equality Toledo, Second Chance, Sunshine of NWO, AIDS Resource Center of Northwest Ohio and many more.
If you want to be challenged and be part of a community that challenges other to do something to change the world, find one out there. If you’re near the corner of the Anthony Wayne Trail and Conant Street in Maumee, come check us out. We are following Jesus and changing the world from this little corner in Northwest Ohio.
Sunday, October 7, 2012
My dad was a United Methodist pastor for a good part of his life. One of his passions was Christian Education. You may not know this about my mother, but her undergraduate degree is actually in Christian Education. When my sisters and I were young my parents were both active in this United Methodist program called Lab Schools where they train Sunday School teachers to be better teachers. Usually they would go to a church or maybe a church camp for a week in the summer and expert teachers like my parents would teach others teachers how to be creative teachers. It was called a Laboratory School because they would use local kids, or the kids of the teachers, like us, as “lab rats.” My sisters and I got to be the lab rats, which was pretty fun.
My mom was certified to train teachers of 5th and 6th graders. Lots of the trainers were stay at home moms like her. But my dad, was one of the few pastors, who stood 6’ 2” was trained to teach the teachers of 3 and 4 year olds. He was one of the only certified lab teachers in the whole country for that age group who was a man. We often got to travel across the country to help teach others how to do this.
My Dad loved the wonder of little children. I can still remember his smile at showing me a real glass prism on the nature table. At one camp location, Camp Junaluska there was a white picket fence outside the kids’ room and he let them paint with real painter’s paint brushes and water. And here’s the thing: when you do fun stuff like that with kids, and then you tell them stories about Jesus and how much Jesus loves them. Guess what? They listen!
It’s not that complicated when you are 3 or 4. You go to Sunday School, and a kind teacher let’s you do fun stuff, and tells you a story about Jesus, and tells you that God loves you. You experience kindness, and you get to be creative, and you learn that God is kind and creative and made you creative and kind, and that message can stick with you for the rest of your life!
Well, I know it gets a little more complicated when we get older. Life throws us some curve balls. Sadly God even throws some curveballs to three and four year olds. You come to me and you say: “How can I trust God?” “I don’t feel God’s presence.” “There are some things in the Bible that just I just don’t understand.”
Jesus had some advice for us when we feel like this. He says this just go and “Hang out with some children. BE LIKE children. THEY are the ones, in their simple joy, who get it.”
Jesus said: “These children are at the center of life in the kingdom.” He said “kingdom” but we are going to use the word kindom today. Kingdom implies that God is a king and we are his subjects. It’s a very hierarchical understanding of the world that was present when the Bible was written and describes a vertical relationship. Kin-dom is a new word Christians are using that refers to a more horizontal relationship between “kin.” We are all “kin” as part of the family of God.
So back to what Jesus said. “Children are at the center of the kindom.” Isn’t that funny? We are supposed to put them at the CENTER of this life we have together.
Now, I can tell you there is not a church around that does not want have children in their church. Everyone knows that children are one of the signs of a church that is alive. They keep us alive. Many of you have happy memories of being in a church family. What are some of those memories? Travis told us a story of music in church. Tanner remembered playing in Sunday School. Betty told us of Aunty Jenny using an old (8 decades ago) slide projector. Jinny told us of her confirmation class being the first where afterward the girls got to light the candles up front. For many the thought of being in the Christmas play was one of the best experiences. Or was it running around the building after church and exploring the hiding places in the building For many, there were people who cared about you; I remember Mr. Whitaker who gave me a nutcracker as a present; and who would buy girl scout cookies from me. I remember when I was about to move, my SS class gave me a little surprise going away party.
I remember getting a Bible when I was in the 3rd grade; we are making plans to give bible to our kids here in a few weeks.
Jesus said, “Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kindom.” The presence of God on Earth was centered on these kids.
Well Jesus did not have a degree in child development. But he knew that who we are going to be as adults gets formed when we are children. And so children need to be close to God. We need to expose them to the ways of Jesus. We need to encourage them to be passionate, compassionate and forgiving. We need to help them practice doing justice and being people who serve. We need to help them experience what it means to seek not to be first, but to put themselves last. Remember this? The last shall be first and the first shall be last. Children can learn to be generous. When we start practicing the ways of Jesus as children, then we will walk in these ways as adults. It comes naturally.
So, first, Jesus said they need to be at the CENTER of the life of the kindom. But then he said something really interesting to the adults. He said, “Unless you accept God’s kindom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” Unless you accept the kindom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.
We adults need to be like children! That is really fascinating. You see, it would be our inclination to think that as adults, we need to be mature. We need to study. We need to have deeper understandings of the more complex issues of life. We need to ask the hard questions and work to grow into a mature faith.
But Jesus says, “Nope! You need to accept God’s kindom with the simplicity of a child. Otherwise, you are lost.” All hope is lost. Why would Jesus say this?
First of all, let me say that I don’t think it’s because he does not want us to study and ask questions. I believe he does want us to grow in our faith. I believe his point is this: in the end, joyful faith is simple. And we must never forget that. And if it begins to get too complicated, we need to remember what life was like when we were children.
You see, when I give my young child a big hug and tell him God loves you and I love you too, it is not complicated and he believes me. That is all there is to it. There are no questions. There is no uncertainty. That’s the kind of assurance God wants us to feel. There is just gratitude and comfort. Love is a gift. There is certainty in that love. It is unconditional. (He does not question, like an adult, whether or not this love you will stay or go.)
When a young child sees beauty in the world and she embraces that beauty; there is simply wonder and joy. A child looks at a big blue sky with puffy clouds. Or a child looks at huge trees with leaves that have bright orange, red, and yellow colors. She asks what makes them that color and you say God makes them that color to give us a gift. She smiles, gathers a bunch of them and makes a bouquet. (She does not complain, like an adult, that here comes another fall, and that means we have to rake those blasted leaves!). She’ll figure out in science class what makes them change colors.
When Jesus says, “Unless you accept God’s kindom with the simplicity of a child” I think he was also imploring us, to live life a little like children – to relax – to live with wonder – and joy. God’s kindom is here on earth. We make that kindom here on earth when we choose to live as God’s people more consciously in our daily lives. I wonder, Do you allow yourself to stop, and wonder, like a child?
As adults, who are always on a time clock, it is hard for us to stop and pay attention to beauty in our world. Children can help us do this, because they have no need of clocks. When you are with a child, and they want to stop and look at something interesting or beautiful, can you let their sense of wonder be your invitation to STOP! Remember this scripture to “accept God’s kindom with the simplicity of a child” and STOP to see something beautiful or interesting.
You know how children are, don’t you. They will call you to come outside because they are building something out of leaves, sticks and mud. We’ll say we are too busy, and we think it is the craziest thing ever. We certainly had more important things to do with my time. Like post on facebook, or fold socks, or watch the home shopping network. Maybe we are working at home and we really need to work. (Big sigh.) Sometimes we say we just do not have time to go see their creations, but sometimes, we give in to the fun, and just watch their joy at whatever thing they have created. When I follow my child outside for a few minutes, I realize how thankful I am that they can’t watch TV all the time and you can’t even do homework all the time.
It is still in their DNA to go outside and wonder at the beauty of God’s creation. And even though our children have become victims of our overly technological world it is still in their nature to love to go outside now and then and love God’s creation. And they will coax us out there if we will let them. Sometimes, when just need to receive God, and God’s creation as a little child.
Another gift that children give us is the ability to laugh. When we went on our Confirmation Retreat to Cleveland this summer, those kids learned much about the United Methodist and United Church of Christ and they worked really hard. They sat and listened intently to quite a few people talk about various ministries of our churches. Then at night we went out to dinner and they laughed about the stupidest stuff ever. They reminded me of why young people are so important: because they can laugh about anything. They can also demolish one desert in about thirty seconds.
I was just at a music workshop yesterday with my friend Mark Miller who is a nationally respected church musician. He just happened to come to the Toledo area and Travis, Kristen and I went to his workshop. He said something that I believe. He said we have to be able to laugh and have some fun as a part of worship. “Playfulness is important when you are preparing the music for worship.” He loves to play a song and then work in the tune of another song in at the end just to get a laugh. He did it all the time on Saturday. He worked in Adele, or a song from Glee, and all kinds of show tunes to the hymns and other religious songs we were doing. It gave us a laugh. Why? Because playfulness is part of our human experience. It lightens our hearts. God appreciate laughter because God appreciates laughter like children.
Nobody knows more about play than children. Their work is play. They play all the time. Jesus said, “Don’t separate me from the children because they are at the center of the kindom of God.” It only follows then, that a sense of playfulness would also be at the center of God’s kindom.
My friend Paul is an expert in church development and planting . He says the best churches have a sense of laughter and playfulness. I’m glad we have that at the Village.
So, what about you? What can a child show you about how you can grow closer to God? Is there something simple that you are missing? Is there some simple act of faith, or truth, that a child would accept, but has you perplexed?
My friends, sometimes we just make this all too complicated. Once a young student of the great theologian Karl Barth, who I had to read in seminary, asked if he could sum up what was most important about his life’s work and theology in just a few words. Barth just thought for a moment and then smiled, “Yes, in the words of a song my mother used to sing me, ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’”
The great Karl Barth got the message. Jesus loves us. Don’t let it get complicated. Remember that God loves you, and you will always live in God’s kindom. Amen.