Texts: Mark 10:13-16; Luke 2:41-52
This is a poem,
from all of us,
to all of you.
When children pray,
Please do not say, “How nice!”
Remember – Jesus cares,
and listens to our prayers.
When children speak,
Please do not say, “How sweet,”
and pat us on the head.
Remember what we’ve said.
And when we sing,
Please do not say, “How cute –
It is so nice to hear
the children do their thing.”
Look in our eyes
we may be angels in disguise.
Our singing voice
may be God’s choice.
We don’t want you to miss
the Holy Spirit’s kiss.
The things that children say and do
may be God’s way
of calling you.
-poem by Brian Wren
Copyright 1994 Hope Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Reprinted under permission of OneLicense.net #A-701723.
This poem by Pullen friend and hymn poet, Brian Wren, is instructive to adults as it reminds us to take children seriously. Too often, we adults forget that the Wisdom of God is present in children. Brian’s hymn, Bring Many Names, which we have sung this morning, echoes this truth. Through that hymn, not only do we sing to God imaged as male and female, but we sing to God who infuses every stage of human life. God’s image is uniquely known in the youngest infant, the playful toddler, the fast-moving child, the laid-back youth, the career-driven young adult, the common sense middle-ager, and the wise elder among us.
But today, being Pullen’s Children’s Sabbath, we take a focused opportunity to worship God in gratitude for children, to realize our responsibilities toward them, and to look and listen for God in them.
Why is it that adults often dismiss children and fail to take them seriously?
Maybe history has something to do with it. The Bible itself makes it clear that children, along with women and livestock, were once considered property of the male head of household. We still see the influence of this thought lived out in contemporary practice as some brides are still “given away” by their fathers at marriage. It seems that centuries of this hierarchy and patriarchy have influenced our psyche. We have a continuing responsibility to change that line of thought. This is why we must celebrate Children’s Sabbath; this is why we must sing to and worship a God who is not only old and wise, but also “young and growing.” This is why we must care about the imagery we see in our worship space. If we hope to one day visualize God in female form in this sanctuary, we should also visualize God who is at once both old and young, in both boys and girls. Then we can begin to change the human psyche and everyone will see the worth in children. And, even more importantly, children themselves will realize and believe that they are valued and that God lives through them.
If we profess to follow the ways of Jesus, then we will take today’s Gospel reading [Mark 10:13-16] as a lesson. I’m glad this story is found in three gospels of our Bible (it could be supported that its teaching is found in all four). This says to me that all of the Gospel writers, who present diverse pictures of Jesus, agreed on how Jesus treated children. We have a sure picture of Jesus as someone who valued children, who gave them his time, who listened to them and who surely played with them.
Perhaps Jesus himself knew from childhood experience what it was like for adults to take him seriously. Another Gospel story from Luke [Luke 2:41-52] tells of a 12-year-old Jesus who, after visiting Jerusalem with his parents for Passover, stayed behind in the Temple. There he listened to and conversed with teachers (which must have been of great interest to him since later in life he became a teacher, or Rabbi, himself). It is written that the Rabbis in the temple were amazed at his understanding and how he answered their questions. This passage is typically used by certain theologians and preachers to support the messianic nature of Jesus – but I think there is a greater discovery here – that for the three days the 12-year-old Jesus sat among these revered teachers in the temple, they listened to him. Rabbis were more revered than parents in Jesus’ day. They were called the “elders in knowledge” – and here they were, giving time and attention, and listening intently to a pre-teen boy. We can all learn from their example. If we take time to listen to children, we will be amazed at the living word of God that springs forth from them. The same God present in Jesus is present in each child.
I’ve learned that sometimes adults need to listen deeply to children or we can miss what they are saying. If we’re not careful in our listening, we can miss the “Holy Spirit’s kiss” as Brian Wren expressed in his poem. I know this from personal experience:
I was raised from day one in a wonderful Southern Baptist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Participation in church life was like breathing to my family. I was present in my church’s worship services from an early age, and heard my evangelical church community speak weekly of “salvation” and of the need for each person to “be saved.” We sang this theology in most of our hymns as we rejoiced that we were “saved, saved, saved,” [from the hymn, “Saved, Saved” by Jack P. Scholfield] and I had witnessed persons walking the aisle in an act of commitment to follow Jesus. Hearing and experiencing all of this, by the age of 5, I wanted to do the same. There was no reason I shouldn’t. I loved God. I loved the church. I, too, wanted to follow Jesus in the way that others in my faith community had done. Telling my mother about this, she connected me with the pastor who explained the acceptance of Christ in a very simple way. So the next Sunday, I confidently and seriously walked the aisle, prayed with my Sunday school teacher and mother, and in the tradition of my church, accepted Jesus. The pastor then whispered in my ear words that were not as simple as before. He told me that he would ask me to stand and tell the congregation that I had made a “profession of faith.” This is the first time I had heard these words, and as a 5-year-old, didn’t understand them. So I stood up with the pastor in front of 300 people. He said aloud to me: “Tell them what has happened to you.” I responded with three words: “I got saved.” What happened next was completely unexpected. The congregation laughed – and a wave of embarrassment washed over me. I immediately wondered what I had done wrong. It was not a good feeling. Even more, it was traumatic (proven by the fact that I can still remember and feel that embarrassment 40 years later). I know now that they laughed because they were responding to what they heard as a “cute” statement from a young boy. But my intentions were not to be cute. I was using the salvation language of my church! I know they were happy for me, but they didn’t realize that their response had an undesired effect. They didn’t comprehend the degree of seriousness in my three-word profession of faith.
That is why adults have the responsibility to listen…to listen deeply…to look into children’s eyes and strive to hear what they are really saying. Children are cute. They are fun and funny. They know how to play. We adults need to laugh, have fun, and play with them. But there are times adults have to pay enough attention to know when children are being serious and saying something profound. We have forgotten how to hear and speak their language. I have found in my own life that the thicker the theology I contemplate, the more it leads me back to the simpler: that God is life, that God is love. Preschoolers can express this theology. And perhaps it is all we need. After all, Jesus said we must become like children in order to experience the things of God.
The personal experience I have just shared is one reason I am an advocate for children. It may be the reason much of the creativity, educational experience, and natural focus in my music ministry is toward children and youth. They have much to teach us and are eager recipients of our teaching.
When Jesus stayed behind in the Jerusalem Temple while his parents were traveling back home to Nazareth, his parents, Mary and Joseph, were troubled. (I must stop and say that they should have known where their child was before leaving town.) Just as they were troubled to find him in the Temple, I’m troubled when I hear of adults wanting children to be somewhere else during the church’s worship time, and it’s troubling to hear congregations refer to this time as the “adult service.” It is not. As expressed earlier, the image of God known in children is needed among us. Their word from God needs to be heard. God is more fully known when they are here. Without them we have an incomplete experience of God. With this in mind, worship planners must remember that all age groups are gathered for participation as we worship God together. I’m grateful at Pullen that children are not only present, but that they lead us in worship – that they also wear robes with stoles that signify their ministry – that they call us all to worship each week as they bring the light, proclaiming God’s presence – that they sing hymns and speak scripture – that they lead in prayer – that they partake of communion – that they carry the light forth each week, reminding all worshipers of God’s presence outside these walls. Children are a vital part of God’s worship – the highest endeavor of life.
We often say: “children are the future,” which is true. But we shouldn’t fall into the trap of relegating them to the future. They are here; they are now. They have important things to say and do. Along with the rest of us, children are the present. God is in them, and God is through them – right now.
Let us rejoice and give thanks to God for children!