Childishness

One of the things that I have begun doing is a children’s message during Sunday worship.  I know, almost everyone does that.  I was so bad at these at the beginning that I stopped doing it.  Routinely, I would be under-prepared–even trying to figure out what I was going to do as I drove down the hill to church on Sunday morning.  Not good.

At New Year’s, one of my churches welcomed two new families that have young children.  I saw the mother’s enthusiasm for church and I quickly saw that I had to something to solidify their connection to the church.  I resurrected the children’s message with a renewed sense of purpose–it was not for the entertainment of the adults, it wasn’t even for the amusement of the children themswelves.  The children’s message’s purpose was even more direct–it was to include them in worship: to teach them the ways of the Lord; to reveal God’s grace and love to them; to testify that God speaks to children; to recognize that children have joys and concerns like the rest of us and they, too, need worship; they also need the community of believers to help them grow in wisdom and in stature.  Joyfully, with a renewed seriousness, returning the children’s moment to worship has been a very rewarding thing.

Given the seriousness of the children’s moment, I decided that I needed a new approach–one that would help me with planning and implementation.  So, just as I sit down quarterly and hammer out worship for the adults in the upcoming season, so too I take time to hammer out a children’s message series.  Treating children’s moments like a sermon series has opened up my creativity and helped me be organized.  Firstly, I taught the kids the Lord’s Prayer, one line per week.  We learned the line, talked about what it meant and led the church in prayer.  We have tackled the seven days of creation, children in the Bible and, this summer, the fruits of the spirit (yes, with fruit).  For fall, since I am preaching on the gospel primarily, children’s moments will take lessons from James.  I have just sketched out 12 lessons for Sunday worship through Christ the King Sunday.  It’s nice just to get this put together.  Now, all I have to do is do it.

The great thing I have discovered is that the Bible has a lot to say to children.  James is a no nonsense book that addresses envy, partiality, rich vs. poor, etc.  The challenge is to take these teachings and translate them to children.  One thing that I like about this is that it minimizes the temptation to make children’s messages cheap and gimmicky.  I presume that by doing real faith development with the children, that everyone will grow.  I know that I have already.  Tomorrow’s lesson comes from James 1:5-8–what should we ask for when praying to God?

Image:  “Orange balloon & a green dress” by Fountain Head

Discipleship

Today, I ended my summer worship series on Discipleship.  I had roughly followed the discipleship understanding put forth by the Covenant Discipleship group.  I preached on worship, compassion, justice and devotion.  We opened the series worshiping around Micah 6:8.  The series was a good framework for me.  It allowed a certain focus with enough variety to keep my sermon prep fresh.  Alongside it all, I led a children’s sermon series on the Fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, kindness and self-control).  We ate great fruit in church all summer long.  It was a small but legitimate success.

In thinking about how to end this series with integrity, I decided to offer a foot-washing service.  I had been reminded by a parishioner that is was okay to do this, so long as I announced it ahead of time.  This was so the women would not wear stockings to church–very useful advice.  So I thought long and hard about the service and it really was something that developed over the course of several weeks.  What was nice was that as I was getting towards the end of the series, I could see it moving toward a certain direction.  I am pretty sure that it was moving at a spiritual pace and not as something I was trying to force.  As I entered the last unit of the series, on Devotion, I began feeling the need to tie together the various elements.  I preached twice on each element.  For devotion, I centered on Sabbath-keeping and prayer.  both topics are so broad and amorphous that it was hard to dive deep.  Instead, I took a broad route on these two, trying for a homiletical mosaic that would illustrate the breadth of the topic, and, hopefully, demonstrate the purpose and the necessity of prayer and Sabbath-keeping.

As I was trying to bring together these various elements of Discipleship, I discovered a few wonderful things.  Firstly, discipleship is demanding.  The four quadrants of discipleship espoused by the Covenant Discipleship affect our public and personal lives.  It calls us to love and to work.  It illustrates the notion that Christianity is a full-being religion.  How often do we turn faith into a mind-trick?  How often do we use faith to support our politics, while leaving it in the drawer when our neighbors annoy us?  Too often, I am sure.  Secondly, I have discovered that Methodism is wonderfully equipped to talk about, explain, illustrate and promote discipleship.  I found myself regularly going back to Wesley and the things that were on the forefront of his and early Methodists’ minds–the experience of grace, the need for community and the call to live out the faith.  Since spring, I have been working with many other Christians through Habitat for Humanity.  And I am often impressed or even envious of their polities and practices, from local autonomy to the freedom to fully embrace technology.  At the same time, through this series, I have found myself drawn to the tradition of Methodism.  I have found that my church is worth loving.  I have found that I am able to be who God is calling me to be in this church.  And I, for this day, feel quite blessed by the matter.

So this morning’s worship was different.  No preaching, just a collection of passages that, without fanfare or even interpretation, illustrated worship (Ex. 3–Moses in front of the burning bush), compassion (Lk. 10–The Good Samaritan), justice (Is. 42–A light to the nations) and devotion (Deut. 6–Love the Lord).  I spoke for approx. 1 minute about washing of feet and invited people to come as we sang.  They had the option of praying at the altar, remembering their baptism and having their feet washed.  Between my 3 churches, I washed 8 pairs of feet.  The youngest was 3; the oldest was 90.  The 3-year old just looked intently with his beautiful innocent eyes as he sat next to his mother (who had gone first), the first time his little feet had been washed at church.  The 90-year old pulled off her stockings, having had her feet washed many times before.

I don’t always know when I do the right thing.  But today, I had clear confirmation that something holy had worked through me.  What a crazy notion, but True.

Strangely and beautifully made