I am preaching this Sunday at my local congregation. With that responsibility comes another: the children’s sermon. I think I have written before about how I struggle with children’s sermons. It is difficult to deliver a message simply enough for the youngest children to follow and engaging enough to hold their attention when they would really rather test the theories that an altar cloth can be a functional climbing wall and their heads could fit through the communion rail.
There are plenty of resources out there which give ready made children’s sermons. I cannot make myself use them. In part this is due to my pride, always thinking I could do it better. But it is also because I think our children are terribly important and I want to give them more to hang onto than “Jesus loves you” and “be nice.” I want messages to children to be simple without being simplistic. Some would say there will be plenty of time to teach children a more nuanced faith as they get older. I disagree. How can I sit in a church with children who have lost their mother, children whose parents have divorced, children who are being bullied, and believe “Jesus loves me” is enough?
So, as I thought about the children’s sermon for Sunday I considered what it is I would like children to know as they face hardships of life and diversity of thought which might make “Jesus loves me” (admittedly a statement I believe to be true) ring false. One of the things I want young people to understand is faith, at its best, is a life long quest. It is not an endurance competition. You don’t learn all you need to know in Sunday school and then spend your life seeing if you can hold onto those ideas, protect them from any challenges, and deny any internal doubt until the day you die. Throughout our lives we grow and we learn. We learn new things, have new experiences, and meet new people. Faith is not about finding some nook or cranny in our already firmly held beliefs into which we can jam something new without disrupting our seamless system of beliefs. Rather faith is seeking and growing. New things might cause us to reconsider aspects of our belief system. That is a good thing.
I also want children to know intellect and science are not the enemies of faith. One of my favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle, writes about scientists being the mystics of our time. This rings very true to me. The more I read about science, the more I realize how limited our knowledge is, the more I realize how limited our understanding of God must be, the more I glimpse and find hope in possibilities beyond my ken.
I want children to know questioning, doubts, and anger are often a part of faith. God claims them as good and holy.
I want children to know they are powerful. They can make a difference with their hopefulness, creativity, and vision which is sometimes clearer than that of their adult counterparts. (I was reminded of this by a fun blog post, http://www.redletterchristians.org/for-tonights-debate-jesusismycandidate/, which mentioned rediscovering, "...the imagination we lost to the anxiety of consumption and performance.”)
I want them to know: while it is possible a more simple faith and “Jesus loves me” is enough for them, they will encounter people in their lives for whom it is simplistic nonsense. For the sake of such people, if not for themselves, it is good to dig deeper.
These are things I want our children to know. How to communicate these things in a brief, entertaining, and easy to comprehend manner is another question entirely. Perhaps it is enough if I concentrate on opening the door a bit on just one of these ideas.
Or maybe I am over thinking this. Maybe I should just give them candy and call it good.
What do you think? Is there a message you remember hearing as a child which had an impact on your faith?
Posted by Sheri Ellwood