Embrace the community of the future

given on Sunday, August 3, 2014, including the scripture and the excerpts to support the sermon

The Word Mark 9:36-37 & 10:13-16                NLT

9 36 Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”

10 13 One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. 14 When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” 16 Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.

Matthew 19:13-15                                            NLT

19 13 One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. 14 But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” 15 And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left.

 

Today’s sermon  “Embrace the Community of the Future”

From the Book of Discipline: ¶162.III The Social Community

C. Once considered the property of their parents, children are now acknowledged to be full human beings in their own right, but beings to whom adults and society in general have special obligations. Thus, we support the development of school systems and innovative methods of education designed to assist every child toward complete fulfillment as an individual person of worth. . . . Moreover children have the rights to food, shelter, clothing, health care, and emotional well-being as do adults, and these rights we affirm as theirs regardless of actions or inactions of their parents or guardians. In particular, children must be protected from economic, physical, emotional, and sexual exploitation and abuse.

Embrace the Community of the Future”

Oh my goodness! August has arrived and school is just around the corner. Maybe this does not strike many as a major life event, but I continue to follow the school calendar even though I may be cataloged as one of the “over the hill” teachers.

Walking down the aisles at the stores, the itch hits to pick up a new pack of pen and pencils. To look at the new styles of spirals, composition notebooks—which have made a rebirth in the past few years—to check out the crayons and maybe even pick up a package to smell those new neon colors.

The new school year is the ideal time to review the church’s stand on the youth in our community. How easy it would be to ignore what is going around us even in our small rural communities. We see the news and hear all the deplorable things young people are doing, the gangs, the self-damage of the newest social media challenge—setting oneself on fire and posting the videos.

Listening to all the crazy things young people do or all the horrific things adults do to the kids in our communities can be overwhelming. It is easy to put distance between the community of the future and the community in which we have lived our lives. Why should it matter to us in our retirement or in our later years? It matters because the youth are the community of the future. The grandchildren we dote on are these youth.

Jesus had just three short years to teach his disciples how to live and to minister to the world. He knew the time was short, but the disciples did not. The disciples were concerned that the kids were disrupting the Master as he was training them. They could not see why the children should be allowed to interfere with another teaching session. But Jesus knew they were the community of the future:

Mark 9: 36 Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”

We cannot afford to ignore our responsibility as Christians to focus on the community of today’s youth because they are the future.

The problem that develops, especially in the small, traditional churches of all denominations, is what can we do for the youth? As we look at the situation, we cannot see a way to reach out to kids when even their parents are not involved in churches. Logically the problem shifts to reaching the working class, the middle aged, the parents of the children. But using logic is not the way God works. God works by unconditional love and a servant’s heart.

The problem is not new, the problem has existed even during Jesus’ lifetime:

Mark 10: 13 One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. 14 When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.

Certainly we do not want to fall into the same rut that the disciples did. We know that the perfect scenario is when the Christian parents raise their children as the next generation of Christians, but that is not a guarantee. Remember in our personal histories we know of classmates or neighbors or family members who may have been raised by Christian families in church, but the real world distracted them and they left the church, forgot the Christian lifestyle they were taught.

In the UMC Book of Discipline, one paragraph targets this very problem:

. . . . Moreover children have the rights to food, shelter, clothing, health care, and emotional well-being as do adults, and these rights we affirm as theirs regardless of actions or inactions of their parents or guardians. [¶162.III.C]

Granted, we are a small community and we have roadblocks such as age, health, and/or finances, but that does not excuse us from embracing the community of the future. The question becomes what can we do regardless of all the roadblocks that we could easily use to ignore our social, Christian responsibility.

The answer may be so much closer than ever dreamed and the clue is in the same paragraph from the Book of Discipline:

Thus, we support the development of school systems and innovative methods of education designed to assist every child toward complete fulfillment as an individual person of worth. . . . In particular, children must be protected from economic, physical, emotional, and sexual exploitation and abuse.

Maybe the wheels in our brains are not turning yet (yup, that is a cliché), but it is time to brainstorm or to review what we do try to do.

As an educator, also, ideas for what can be done start bubbling up. Pretty soon the pot begins boiling and without supervision the ideas boil up and over the edge. Acknowledging that too many ideas too fast might not be a good idea, the ideas need to be shared, evaluated and carefully tried. At Reese, one of the most valued pieces of the week are the homemade goodies the Reese Grandmothers provide each and every week without failure.

These two ladies heard about the students being served at Reese and decided they needed some home baked goodies. They approached the principal and asked if they could do this and when would be the best time to have them at school. Over the past two years, the Reese Grandmothers have baked cookies, cupcakes, breads, and so many tasty tidbits and delivered them each Friday of the school year. The 30+ kids enjoy them and the staff makes sure that they acknowledge the efforts of these two ladies.

Such a sweet, small contribution to a group of at-risk students who may not have the supportive family or grandparents that many of us were blessed to have. These two ladies are past retirement age and are not confined with any health roadblocks plus have their own grandchildren they love. Yet, they love unconditionally these at-risk students without fail.

Ministry efforts do not have to be long-term. They do not have to cost a fortune. They do not have to be so big that everybody knows it is being done. Ministry efforts can be so small that some might overlook them. For instance, what if we step out our doors in the morning as the bus goes by and wave. What if we watch the kids from the porch, as they walk to school making sure they get a hearty “good morning” and that there is no bullying going on or no one tries to harm them?

Maybe it is identifying the school as a separate, yet complete, community. What efforts can be made to create the most welcoming, inviting, safe environment for the children?

Maybe focusing on the teachers is a key. They need unconditional love and support, too. Maybe providing treats to them so after school is out the can decompress with a cookie and a cup of coffee or tea. Possibly there is some teaching tool the local budget cannot manage and we can. If you have an hour or two or more you can give to the school, maybe there is a child who needs help with homework or needs to practice reading.

The list of ideas can just keep growing. The office ladies might need help once and a while to file papers, collate and staple papers. The maintenance crew could use some help, too. The list of chores is unending. A workday around the building could include pulling weeds, landscaping, or painting windows frames.

Jesus asks us to serve. The more we can do, the better we can demonstrate God’s love. The young people are watching. They know what is genuine and what is fake, so living our Christian faith publically is so important.

In the familiar verse from Matthew, another issue shows up:

19 13 One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him.

Our words often reveal un-Christian behaviors. Children today may not have parents who have attended church regularly or maybe did not have parents who were connected to a church, but at birth children are granted grace. What we say out loud does not always model God’s grace. God wants us to demonstrate unconditional love for all people—children and their parents.

When young people, their parents and grandparents, and even friends, arrive at our door, welcome them. Love them. Serve them.

With school beginning and the community fair coming, there will be many opportunities for us to embrace the community of the future.

14 But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” 15 And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left.

Do not be like the disciples who thought the children and their parents were a bother. Open your hearts, your arms as we open the doors each. Let us be the arms of God embracing his children.

Closing prayer:

Dear God, father and teacher,

Give us the wisdom to embrace the community

in any way that we can.

Give us the strength to serve the community

in all the ways that we can.

Give us the voice to share our faith

with all that we can.

Open the ears and the hearts

of all who walk within these doors.

Open the doors to all your children

despite from where they come.

Open the minds to the future

so ministry can reach those needing you

Thank you for the wisdom of your word.

Thank you for the example of your Son.

Thank you for the Holy Spirit within us.

May we rise to the challenge of loving one another

as we want to be loved.

May we accept the commission to make Christians

of those who will be the community of the future.

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