I believe in God above.
I believe in Jesus’ love.
I believe God’s spirit too
Comes to show me what to do.
I believe that I can be,
Kind and gentle Lord, like thee. Amen.
That is our opening collect for Children’s Chapel. Not on Sundays but on Tuesdays. Maybe you, like me, are keenly aware of the missing presence of children and youth in our congregational life. We haven’t had Sunday school or Sunday chapel in about two years. We do not have a youth group, and haven’t for some time. We don’t offer Nursery care yet on Sunday mornings.
That said, I want you to know, this community has a vibrant ministry with children. Monday through Friday a little over 140 toddlers, preschool and kindergarten age children are in this building and on the campus. And Tuesday mornings a little over 50 children ages 3 – 6 join me here in the church for Chapel.
Last week, because of the ceiling repairs, we couldn’t have chapel in here so we had it outside in our courtyard. I began by asking them – are we in chapel? An immediate – yes! Followed by uncertainty. Wait – isn’t chapel over there? As they pointed to the church.
Well yes, but chapel can be anywhere – and yes, that is God’s house and some say that outside is God’s cathedral. How do we know we are in God’s cathedral. What do we hear – what do we see? Birds, blossoms, and berries. Clouds, and blue skies. We hear chirping and laughing and the buzz of mosquitos getting too close.
So, I said, let’s listen and look around – behold. That is another way to start chapel – it isn’t just about lighting the candles.
This Tuesday, when we’re back in this space, my plan is to let our beautiful windows do the storytelling. Instead of reading a book – we will take a field trip down our aisle – what do these windows tells us about God? This window with the hugs, what does that say? How about the sheep? How about the mom holding a baby?
I anticipate raised hands, eager and excited responses and lots of participation. Because children love nothing more than to be seen and heard for who they are and what they offer.
At 1pm today, I will be baptizing Charlie, six months old. His parents know of our church because of friends whose children go to our school. After we baptize Charlie – and give thanks to God by welcoming this child into the household of God, here – we will pray –
Give him an inquiring and discerning heart.
The courage to will and to persevere.
A spirit to know and to love you.
And the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.
That is such a great prayer! And I miss saying it with all of us adults – because it names all the things that come naturally and innately to children – all the reasons why being in their presence can be like magic. Praying these words reminds us to hold onto these qualities in ourselves – which is hard.
Our inquiring and discerning hearts – turn to categorizing and judgmental hearts as we get older – get hurt – get protective.
The courage to will and preserver – gets wiped out. It’s overwhelming the problems of the world that we will never entirely solve – to persevere as a child of God takes work – courage takes vulnerability.
The spirit to know and love God gets quelched – so much else demands our spirits and attention – this is why we return to church – to reconnect, remember this love of God, this source of life.
And the gift of joy and wonder – that’s what the luxury of childhood is for – we are so busy – there is so much to do and I do not always choose to make time to smell the roses – I need chapel more than those kids do.
The qualities of childhood are not qualities just for children. They are the qualities of human beings who are most alive. Ironically – sometimes the qualities we come back to in our wisdom years.
Now, I wish I could tell you that this morning’s gospel was simply a reminder to reconnect with those qualities in yourself. That Jesus is telling us to become like children. But that would be a 21st century view on this first century text – and it is not the point of Jesus’ teaching.
His disciples are being childlike, already – but in ways we are supposed to mature out of. He has told them again – what will happen down the road – and it’s not easy. Jesus will be betrayed, suffer, die and rise again.
When he told them this the first time – Peter spoke up – and Jesus scolded him in front of the group – get behind me Satan! So, no surprise when Jesus asks them this time what they are talking about in response – they are silent.
Children get quiet when they are scared and scared of being shamed.
Instead they displace their feelings of anxiety into an argument with each other – something we adults do all the time – instead of feeling our feelings – they start debating which one of them will be the greatest. And this is what they finally confess to Jesus.
This argument stops Jesus in his tracks. If you ever want to know what the really important teachings are in Mark’s gospel – look for the places where Jesus sits down. He sits down – and calls the disciples together for chapel – today’s topic – who is great in the eyes of God?
Who is great in the eyes of God – the ones among you that you do not want to see.
Jesus took a little child – he held “it” in his arms – placed the child among them and said – whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and not just me but the one who sent me.
This child doesn’t have a name – this child doesn’t even get a gendered pronoun – Jesus held it in his arms. That tells us just how low on the rung of worthiness children were in this world – the lowest. Children were to be not seen – not heard – in many ways the antithesis of how we value children today.
But not all children. And that’s the point of the teaching. Who do you not see? Who do you not hear? Who are you not welcoming because they are anything but great in your eyes?
This time is hard not just because our children are not so readily present – but the children we serve. How can you and I stay mindful – stay in relationship with the people – the children and the adults – who are most vulnerable in our time and place? I pose the question without having an immediate answer.
But I invite you to consider that baptismal prayer of thanksgiving in your prayers – give me an inquiring and discerning heart Lord – to see beyond my immediate surrounding – to see those you would have me see.
Give me the courage to will and to persevere – even though the problems feel insurmountable and timeless – give me the courage to do what I can in relationships of learning and service.
Help me have a spirit to know and to love you – and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. May that gratitude encourage us to be in relationship with the least of these – the greatest work that God says there is to do – welcome the little ones. Amen.