There’s An App for That
Being parents wasn’t really hard for Alycia and me until the colic hit. This is something I would not wish on my worst enemy. Every night starting around 5pm Dean would break out in an uncontrollable scream and it would last until midnight or sometime later. Alycia would massage him to calm him down. Baths seemed to help at times. We would sing to him, bounce him, drive him around, rock him but the screams would continue. I felt even worse for Alycia because by the time the colic hit I was back at work and I had evening meetings, so I had an escape. She had none. But it was in those moments of struggle and pain that we realized we were truly parents. We are truly responsible for this little bundle of joy. This helpless little, round, chunky, cute little thing was ours, now what?
There are lots of moments we have in life when we realize that yes, we have replicated our DNA and now I’m responsible for the result. I asked my Facebook friends when it became real to them and some replied when the drove home from the hospital. It is scary how slower the car will go when there is 8 pounds of flesh and plastic in the back seat for the first time. Other’s said it was when they were first left alone with their new child. Those were mostly Dads that said that, my Dad included. For others it was that first night when they were peed on or pooped on or thrown up on, or all three at once. One of my friends she said, “When our first [child] came 5 weeks early.... I knew it would be nothing like I had thought or planned! I keep learning that over and over and over!”
Another person said the baby thing was easy, now that they are talking and talking back is when it is getting frustrating and hard. I have come to the conclusion every stage in childhood has its ups and downs, I know shocker! But at every stage we, as parents, keep wondering, “It’s going to get better right? They will grow out of this, God please say they will grow out of this.” In a movie I saw recently one of the characters explained having kids like this, “Its awful, awful, awful, a wonderfully sweet moment, awful, awful, awful, a tender sweet moment, awful…” You can get the picture. Sure this is an exaggeration but on some level it is true. Parenting is hard work, fantastic work, frustrating work, wonderful work, and a life time of work. The good news is that we are not alone in this task.
For every United Methodist Minister they have to answer Wesley’s historic questions before they can be ordained. There are some that talk about fidelity, money, prayer, and ministry. Then there is this one, "Will you diligently instruct the children in every place?" Out of all the questions there is no other age group mentioned. Not the elderly, not the middle aged or young adults. The only age group mentioned is children. There must be something to this?
There are a lot of references to children in the Bible. Jesus tells us “whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 18:4) He said this while telling the disciples to move out of the way and let the children come to him. Children are important in our faith tradition. God gave the gift of children all the time in the Bible. Abraham and Sarah, after many years, were finally given a child by God. Their son, Isaac, pleaded with the Lord to send him and Rebecca a child and after 20 years of marriage he sent them twins, Jacob and Esau. Jacob had two wives, (remember two sermons ago) and Rachel could not bear children until God opened her womb and then she died giving birth to the second, Benjamin. Samson’s mother was childless until Samson. Elizabeth was old and barren but God granted her a child as well, John the Baptist. All throughout the Bible God granted this gift upon people and God still does.
But even if you have never been able to have children or never really wanted them, you still have them because you are a member of this congregation. We are blessed with 60 children and youth in this congregation so we should understand the promise we made to them. We said, With God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their trust of God, and be found faithful in their service to others. We will pray for them, that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life. This is the promise the congregation makes at every baptism. We as a community promise to surround them with love and forgiveness. We as a community promise to pray for them. We do all this in order for them to grow in their trust of God, be faithful in their service to others, and to walk in the way that leads to life. For every child we baptize here, this is what you promise. It is in this moment that the child being baptized is not merely the child of the parents up there, but also a child of the church and now we are responsible for them. We are all parents.
How do we handle this responsibility? Youth is started back up and this brings to mind a wonderful little story in the Bible. After Elijah is taken up into heaven in a whirlwind, Elisha is left without his rabbi and friend. Think of it this way, Elijah is Obi-Wan Kenobi and Elisha is Luke Skywalker. Okay Elijah is gone and Elisha is probably said and misses his teacher. He is walking along and all of a sudden a gang of youth start to make fun of him. To quote 2 Kings 2: 23 “As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. "Go on up, you baldhead!" they said. "Go on up, you baldhead!” Elisha gets a little agitated about this curses them and then two bears to come out of the woods and maul 42 youth. This is everyone who has ever been picked on in Middle School’s dream. I always make it a point to remind youth what could happen if they act up and pick on preachers!
Okay that is a little bit of a stretch but how are we as a congregation supposed to deal with children and youth, our kids? Today’s verse gives us some perspective, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” The Message Translation puts it this way, “Point your kids in the right direction— when they're old they won't be lost.” Whether we are training our children or pointing them in the right direction it means we, as adults, have to have some idea of where they should be going. We have to know what path leads to a good and faithful life in God if we have any hope that our children will find it at some point in our life.
As our children grow up the scariest moments for me are when I realize they are just like me. If I watch Dean there will be moments when he does some mannerism that stops me in my tracks because he does what I have always done. Whether he has watched me to it or if it is embedded in his DNA, it was just like me. That is scary. No you know what I am talking about because as adults we have all had that moment in life when we do something and we think…”ah man…I’m my father” or “that was so my mom.” We are like our parents and our kids will be like us. This is because we adults are the source of knowledge, discipline, and examples our kids see.
Our children are not born into our faith. Merely because you are born to Christian parents doesn’t mean you are a Christian. Now for the Jewish faith this is true because to be Jewish is both a religion and a race. For Christians though it is different. There comes a moment in everyone’s life that we make a profession of our own personal faith. Sometimes this comes during confirmation when we ask 6th graders to profess publically that they believe in God and in the salvation found in Jesus. But for others it will come later in life. What this means is if we want our children to grow up to be Christians than we need to be the examples they can follow, mirror and strive to be like. But in reality the choice will be up to them. Or as Anne Frank put it, “Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands.”
Parents we have to take a hard look at ourselves and ask are we doing everything we can to do what the Proverb says, “Train children in the right way?”
When I went to THE University of North Carolina located in Durham, I had the privilege of taking ethics with one of the best theologians in the world, Stanley Hauerwas. It was a big thing. He is world famous in theology circles and he was named by Time Magazine America’s Best theologian. It was a big deal to be in this class and I was excited about what I would learn. That first day in class he looked at all of us wide eyed students and in his high pitched voice he told us, You do not know how to think. It is my job to teach you how to think.” He also went on to tell us “to raise moral children then we need to realize that ethics cannot be taught, ethics is an activity.”
Children don’t know how to think, they have to be taught. Children don’t know right from wrong, they have to experience it and witness examples of it. Children will one day be able to think and act on their own but how they handle that will depend on what they see in us, the adults their lives. If we want our children to grow up and use please and thank you, then we as parents need to ask them to do things using please and thank you. If we want children to think about others and who give graciously to help those in need, then we need to be doing that. If we want our children to worship God, pray, and read the Bible, then they need to see us doing it. If we want our children to see God as the most important thing in life, then we need to make sure God is the most important thing in our life. This last one is hard because for many of us we make our children the most important thing in our life. In order to give them the proper perspective we have to let our kids understand they’re not the most important thing in this world, God is.
As adults we are the example and image of who are children will become. Our decisions and ways we live our lives influence how the 60 children and youth will live out theirs. If you look back at your childhood and look at the adults who influenced you, many of them weren’t your parents. They were your Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, the candy guy at church, or the people that always made you feel welcomed and loved. They were the people who took seriously the promise at your baptism to love you into a deep relationship with God. Are we doing enough to be that example for those children we made that promise to? Are you following the proverb to, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
And all God’s people said…Amen.