Yesterday afternoon I sat in my Pastor’s office. No, I wasn’t in trouble, but I admit when I was walking to the very back of the hallway (‘they’ stick him in the back, you see), it made me chuckle– it was like being called to the Principal’s Office. Which of course never happened to Shannon Shaneyfelt. (Okay, maybe once. And perhaps once in college. Maybe.)
But yesterday I was with my sweet Confirmand, while she interviewed Pastor Steve as part of her Confirmand requirements. And as I sat with her and thought how proud I was of her, I recalled a sermon that Pastor Steve had delivered on one of my favorite Sundays… Children’s Sabbath. I even saved the bulletin and my chicken-scratched notes from that October service, but never sat down to write about it. Until now…
That Sunday was special to me on multiple levels, one of them being that Louisa was one of the sermon leaders, along with two of her church friends (one with whom she shares a birthday and has been in church with since infancy, and the other whose baby sister had the same due date as Charlie nine years ago). When I walked into the Chapel that morning for the early service and saw the three red stools displayed at the center, my heart warmed. I love this place. I love being part of a community where children are valued (despite them having little net worth), looked up to (despite them being smaller), and heard (and actually given a microphone to amplify their voice).
Over twenty children led worship that day, start to finish. From the Prelude to the Benediction. The children’s sermons were simple– about kids helping kids— being the hands and feet of Jesus to those who need to witness and tangibly receive the love of God. I wish we as adults could model their actions more often instead of forgetting the basic rules we learned as children…
Work hard. Be nice.
Treat others how you want to be treated.
Be kind and helpful.
Harm no one.
Take care of your things.
Use gentle hands.
Louisa read the New Testament lesson for the church that day. She read:
Our New Testament lesson is from the Gospel of Matthew,
Chapter nineteen, Verses thirteen through fifteen.
Listen now for the Word of our Lord.
The little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them, but Jesus said,
“Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them;
for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”
And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.
The Word of the Lord
Pastor Steve opened his portion of the Sermon with a story about his time serving in another church. A church with a particular stained glass window that showed an image of Jesus with a child in his lap, while Jesus reached toward another child standing nearby. This window was given to the church by a family who had lost a child. Given by a family who had lost a child. Wow. What a beautiful memorial for that child during a time of such suffering… and a reminder that all children are precious in God’s sight, which was the theme of Children’s Sabbath.
Then Pastor Steve asked, “Have y’all heard of cry rooms?” (I promise he indeed said y’all and it’s not just me talking; he’s a Texan, after all.) “You know, cry rooms… for the fussy, squirmy infants and toddlers. The purpose is to keep distractions to a minimum. Because aren’t children just distractions? Cry rooms are for ‘these messy, unpredictable children‘– to get them out of the way of serious adult business…”. So these messy children and their (by this time, exasperated and embarrassed) caregivers are left on the outside, merely ‘looking in’ on the real inside of the church– peering through this thick, soundproof glass. Included (whatever), yet not included. Oh, I know. Because my babies and I have been behind one of those
bulletproof soundproof barriers before, in a church outside of town. And I felt everything but included.
But the Prince of Peace shatters the sound barrier.
Jesus says YES. COME INSIDE. God’s Kingdom is made up of people like these. These messy children embody what it means to live like the Kingdom of God. As Pastor Steve reiterated, they are not here so that we can marvel at how cute they are, but they are visible reminders that life in God’s New Order calls for a total dependence on God and His care– showing us what it looks like to be open to the mystery and wonder of life. Of course children do not have all the answers. Nor do we. And we are not meant to… on this Earth.
But until the Mystery is revealed to us, our call is to follow what the Prince of Peace did. And as Pastor Steve beautifully put it, it is this: to elevate and bless those who are excluded, vulnerable, powerless, voiceless, exploited, and needy. Like children.
For the past several months, I have thought about that stained glass window that Pastor Steve spoke of in his sermon. Recent loss has me thinking a lot about children and The Kingdom lately, I guess. Like why God calls some children Home to the Kingdom way too early. I have no answer, because I don’t understand. But I do trust the promises of God, and I do trust that when Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me” –that He meant it. And I trust that the lap of Jesus is a good place to rest… especially for the children.
From the Children’s Sabbath Prayer of Confession:
Open our eyes to see every child as a reflection of you.
Open our hearts to cherish each child as we would our own.
Open our mouths to speak your word of justice to protect children in harm’s way.
And help us, like the Price of Peace, to shatter the sound barrier.