Airplane! What is that to you? A commons means of transportation? A modern marvel? A nuisance? A cause for anxiety? An incredibly hysterical 1980s comedy? Surely not. To me, airplanes are ordinary. I started flying at a young age and have averaged several flights a year in my adult life. Almost everywhere I’ve lived has had an international airport nearby. And I even worked for a summer at the airport location of a rental car company. Airplanes are not exciting, not an event or an object of fascination. But for my two year old son, that’s exactly what they are. Inside or out, if an airplane is overhead, he will tell you the moment he sees it or hears it. And he notices all of them.
Now you might think this indicates a special interest in aviation. But his fascination, his awe, and his wonder are also piqued by balls, dogs, trucks, stairs, lights, and trees. For a child, everything is extraordinary. They see absolutely everything. And as children grow, they don’t see less, they see more. They begin to develop imaginations. My friend took his nephew to the first day of Vacation Bible School with all the other parents and families. The preacher began to tell the families about the theme and all the things they were going to learn and do that week. My friend sat with his small nephew in his lap who was listening and playing with an action figure. As the preacher began to really get excited, he said, “We’re going to put God in your heart!” The little boy didn’t stop playing or skip a beat, and remarked, “That’s gonna hurt.” That little boys saw better the ramifications of letting God into his heart than any adult there in the room. Children see the world as it is – in brilliant detail – and as it could be – in radiant hope and possibility. This is what it is to be child-LIKE… to be a child of God.
And who are we? Who are you? You are a child of God.
As we become adults, we lose the ability to see the world as it really is, often by choice. And we lose the ability to see what it could or should be. How it is… and how it could be… Let the little children come to me, for it is to such as them that the kingdom of heaven belongs. We don’t have Gospels full of Jesus teaching children how to be better followers and believers in the God of Israel by being more like the adults. No, instead we have three Gospel accounts of Jesus telling adults that they should be more child-like!
Today, we have children helping to lead us in worship [at the 11:00 service] and they’ve been chosen not just so they can learn to lead, but to remind us that they are the ones we are called to be more like. Bess and Berkley have both been in plays and productions. They have brought this scripture to life in a way we don’t often do when we read from this chancel. And I chose them because they are the age Jesus was when his parents first found him in the Temple reading and teaching from the scriptures. Age is not a perquisite for teaching, nor youth a perquisite for learning. What can we learn from the youngest among us?
I sat down at dinner with the First Kids a few weeks ago. A young precocious girl next to me struck up a conversation. Very suddenly and casually, between bites, without ever breaking eye contact with her food, she asked me, “Know anything about the ozone layer?” “Yes,” I told her, “a good bit.” “I’m gonna fix it.” “Oh,” I said, sort of amused, but intrigued. “Yeah, and you know the endangered animals.” “Yes.” “I’m gonna save them.” “Which ones?” “All of them.” “Even the dinosaurs?” I asked. “No,” she said incredulously. “It’s too late for them.”
I think most inspiring to me is that her mother - who was there - has never told her she can’t do either of those things. I like to think Jonas Sulk had a mother like that. I like to think the inventor of the polio vaccine was never told he couldn’t cure it. I like to think the person who cures cancer hasn’t yet been told she can’t do that. I like to think she has a teacher like this little girl who responds to her request to pick up trash on her recess hour every day, not with a discouraging diatribe, but a pair of rubber gloves.
She sees the world as it is AND how it could be. And I firmly believe at its core, this was the mission of Christ. What more is building the Kingdom of God than showing us the world as it is and what it could be? What more is redemption than seeing what is and helping it become what it could – what it was meant – to be? And if redemption is seeing what is, what can be, and working to achieve that… then where is the greatest redemptive power in the world? In a child.
And Christ calls us to see children, and become like them. The kingdom belongs to them and we’re not getting in like this. The kingdom doesn’t belong to our maturity, our realism, our material accumulation, our wisdom, our insight, our manners or etiquette. The kingdom doesn’t belong to our rules or denomination, our curriculums and courses, books, or our devotion. We’ve read for weeks that there is a time for every purpose, and each of those has a time. But none of those is of value unless we approach them as a child… seeing what is and what can be. Our ability to be awed and inspired is essential.
We see this in the words of Christ and even in the person and experience of Jesus and his family. When Jesus, is no older than Berkley here, Mary and Joseph find him in the temple, reading and teaching. This is an important moment! The only one we get of Jesus as a teen, a child. Mary and Joseph find him. They find him because they lost him. Can we appreciate just for a moment that in all of history, God chose these two people to be his only son’s guardians?! He clearly did not choose them for their observational skills. They lost their son for days, it tells us. Whoops. They wandered Jerusalem like the first Evangelicals going door to door, “Have you found Jesus?” I like to think God chose them because these were people who could see Jesus for the child of God he was and encourage him to see the world as it is and how it could be. That they could let him be the one to change it. As impossible as it may have seemed to them. And scary for two young parents.
What if our children told us they were going to change the world? Fix the ozone layer? Save every endangered animal? Bring peace to the Middle East? End homelessness or world hunger? What if we believed them? What if we let them? What if we followed their example? How dream killing would it be to encourage our children to only accomplish as much as we have as individuals or as a generation. Our redeemer didn’t settle. And our redeemer doesn’t call us to settle.
When I was just a child, a youth minister at a Presbyterian church in Columbia, SC offered a prayer at a Super Bowl party. He said in this prayer, “Lord, even as we enjoy the Super Bowl football game, help us be mindful of those who are without a bowl of soup to eat.” His young people could see this need. And these children of God could see a world where that need didn’t exist. Next Sunday, our children will collect cans of soup and monetary donations for Rowan Helping Ministries, as a part of Souper Bowl of Caring, which has now raised over $10 million nation-wide in 24 years for local food pantries.
Our church, like most churches in Salisbury, and in this country, is in deep need of commitment, the commitment of the time, talent, and treasures of the disciples on our roles. I could tell you how much our elementary kids need Sunday school teachers, how much our confirmands need mentors, how much our middle and high school kids need youth and mission leaders, and Kathy would probably love it if I made that pitch right now and reminded you our email addresses are in the bulletin. (wink wink) But I’m going to tell you right now that the best reason to do any of these things is because that’s who the kingdom belongs to. You’re not gonna read it in a book or hear it in our sermons. You will only begin to learn how to be more like them by being with them. Spend time with them, watch them, love them, soak it up.
How will you know it’s working? It’ll be little things at first. You might find yourself saying, “Wow” more. When’s the last time you did that? Maybe you’ll ask more questions. One study says the average 4 year old asks 437 questions a day. When did you last do that? Maybe writing a blue card for someone won’t feel like enough. You’ll want to make someone a dinner or sit with them and cry. Maybe you won’t be able to eat your lunch knowing you passed someone on the way to work who probably hasn’t eaten that much in days. Maybe you’ll start keeping cans of food and socks in your car because seeing someone in need will rip you to shreds if you can’t share the abundance you have.
We like words like believer, follower, and disciple. We like them because we think of them as being mature and adult-like. When – in fact – Jesus defines them as the opposite. The depth and breadth of the belief of any child cannot be matched by an adult. The ability and desire to follow a parent or teacher is most profound in a child. And to be a disciple of the one who always called our Lord, father, to be blessed… was to be a child of God. Who are you? Turn to your neighbor and say, “I am a child of God.” Because brothers and sisters, if that is true, then every word of Jesus makes sense. Of course we are called to love one another. Of course we are called to share, to care, to help, to give, to heal, to visit, to seek and to save. Otherwise, it’s a crazy message. It’s not for adults. It’s not for rational people with safety concerns, financial goals and budgets, phobias and fears, a lifetime of hurt, abandonment, rejection, and pity. The message of grace… undeserved… unearned… unfair… beautiful grace… that’s for us. And who are you? I am a child of God.
Walk out of this place today and open your eyes. Spend this week watching children. Spend this week opening your eyes and heart to being more like a child. Feel – everything. See the world as it is, in every painful and beautiful detail, every problem, every miracle. And see it as it can be. Every solution, every way you can help, every way someone wants to. Dare your kids to dream big. Let them believe they can do anything God calls them to do. Ask them every day what they see and what they imagine. Let them believe. And believe it with them.
And all God’s children said… “Amen.”
Charge & Benediction: When I was a teenager going out for the night with my friend, his mother would tell us, "Remember who you are!" Who are you? (Congregational response: A child of God) Leave here remembering who and whose you are and that every person you meet is a child of God like you. Know that you go nowhere alone, but that the Holy Spirit goes with you this day and always. Amen.