Monday, October 8, 2012

The Blessing of Children

A little girl was staying with her grandmother for the weekend and on Sunday they went to church together.  Now the girl had never been to church before, so everything was new and unfamiliar.  Before the service started, folks were walking up to the altar and placing cans of food on it.  “Grandma,” the little girl whispered, “what are they doing?”  “Well,” the grandmother answered, “everyone brings a can of food to church so that we can hand them out to poor people.”  The girl thought this was a good idea.  Then the music started and the choir processed down the center aisle and up toward the altar area.  “Look Grandma,” the girl said, “Here come the poor people to get their food.”

A few weeks later the grandmother brought her young grandson to church when he was visiting.  It was also was the first time he had been in church.  He squirmed and fussed and did his best to behave, but it was not easy, especially when his grandmother kept chiding him to sit still.  After the service was over the boy said, “Grandma, when I grow up I want to be a preacher.”  The grandmother was both surprised and delighted.  “Why do you want to do that,” she asked, expecting that the boy had had some kind of mystical experience.  “Well,” he said, “I think it would be a whole lot more fun to stand up and yell at everyone than it is to sit still and listen.”

Children are a blessing.  It is a cliché we affirm in the abstract, but often overlook in the moment.  I saw where Holly McNeal posted on facebook this week her joy that Justice slept six-and-a-half hours straight one night; a thankful occurrence she did not expect to repeat itself any time soon.  One of my favorite St. Paul’s memories happened when Joby Webb whisked little Graham out of church one Sunday; swooping him up in his arms and heading for the door.  The last words we heard – and we all heard them clear as a bell – came from Graham just before they exited the Narthex: “But I am being a good boy.”  My guess is the Charlene Henry has put in enough time at the Emergency Room waiting for Samantha to be seen for yet another injury that she could be qualified as a registered nurse.  Yes, in the big picture children are a blessing, but the experience of that blessing can vary greatly from moment to moment.

I have some bad news to present to the Vestry at tomorrow night’s meeting.  We need more money.  There are too many infants and toddlers in our nursery for two people to manage.  The Vestry is going to have to find the funds for a third attendant.  What a nice problem to have!  At Game Night a few weeks ago I identified another problem.  St. Paul’s has an emerging ‘boy vibe’ in and around the kindergarten age.  A ‘boy vibe’ is active, it’s busy, it’s hands-on, and – of this you can be certain – inevitably involves someone getting hurt or something getting broken.  There is also a baby girl boom happening at St. Paul’s.  I can’t wait to see the vibe they bring to the parish in just a few short years.  

Jesus took children in his arms, held them tight, and blessed them.  The act of blessing is a curious thing.  We all know it when we see it, but if asked, would have a difficult time explaining what it is we are doing, or asking God to do.  Think about it… we bless backpacks when kids go to school, our pets on St. Francis Day, the food we eat, couples when they are married, bread and wine for communion, and on and on and on.  We do it.  We are comfortable doing it.  We are comforted by doing it.  But what exactly are we doing?

There is a three-fold aspect to every blessing.  First, we are thanking God for the grace we see at work in the person, event, or thing being blessed.  Second, we are asking that God will continue to favor the person, thing, or event so that he/she/it may live fully into God’s purpose and intention.  And third, we are seeking God’s empowerment so that the person, event, or thing may in some way bear witness to the gospel in the world.  Thus, blessing has a three-fold character.  It acknowledges what is already present—God’s goodness.  It sets apart something as holy and prays for the divine grace needed to fulfill God’s purposes.  And it recognizes the person’s call to be a light to the world.

So last Friday, when I blessed our pets, I was acknowledging the goodness, love, and joy each brings to the lives of our families.  Next, I was praying that each pet will be empowered to live more fully and completely into God’s divine intent for it – and this is where actual results may vary!  And finally, I was praying that the world will know something of God’s love and goodness through each one of our pets.

Through the act of blessing children, Jesus was doing much the same.  He was acknowledging God’s goodness that it already at work in them.  He was praying for the presence of God’s Spirit in their lives so that they might grow into what St. Paul calls “the full stature of Christ.”  And he was asking that each child, in his or her own way, will be a city set on a hill, a light set out on a table, a reflection of God’s goodness and holiness all the days of their lives. 

Beginning October 28, we will have a baptism on three consecutive Sundays.  If that is not a cause for celebration and a sign of hope, I don’t know what is.  It should also be an occasion to give each one of us pause because we will make a promise to each child and to their parents that we will do all in our power to support these infants in their lives in Christ.  Not only is it a promise we make person to person, but it is a sacred promise – what the bible calls ‘a covenant’ – that we make with God.  I suppose many of us imagine standing before God at the last judgment and having to answer for all the times we took the Lord’s name in vain.  But what if that moment looks more like this – like God asking us to describe how we did all in our power to support the children we promised support at baptism?  How would you answer that question?  What have you done?  What are you doing even now?  What might you do in the future to support the children of this parish in their lives in Christ?

You know the old saying: be careful what you wish for.  Everyone in this parish – like everyone in every parish I know – wishes we had more children and young families.  Well, God is granting our wish.  And I pray God isn’t finished.  We are at that wonderful place where we walk the delicate balance of passing on the faith that was given to us in the ways it was given to us while at the same time asking our children and young people what do you want to do with the faith that is growing in you.  It is a delicate balance because we always want to pass on what is essential while at the same time be willing to let go of what is non-essential.  Sometimes knowing which is which is a challenge, isn’t it.

This morning we give thanks that we have the opportunity in a new and a fresh way to live into one of the most endearing aspects of Jesus’ witness… his love of children.  Even folks with a minimal knowledge of the bible seem to know that Jesus welcomed children into his presence and taught us to do the same.  On this morning I am so very thankful for the children and young people of St. Paul’s… for their joy, their energy, their ‘vibe’, their witness to the Gospel, and for the hope they offer for our future.  What a great time to be a part of this parish.  Let’s do all in our power to support these folks in their life in Christ.