We’ve spent a lot of time in recent years providing educational opportunities for people of all ages here at Pilgrimage. As Patrick, Ryan, and Sam will learn, when it comes to faith, the learning doesn’t end with Confirmation. Adult Christian Ed is just as important as Children’s Christian ed! That’s why in the last month we’ve brought in no less than three guest speakers—author Patricia Sprinkle to talk about her novel and the craft of writing, professor Daryl White to talk about Mormonism, and Ray McGinnis just this past Thursday to guide us in a workshop on “Writing the Sacred.” Christian Education isn’t just for children; it’s for all of us.
That said, today I want to focus on children. Have you noticed that there are more children around here than there used to be? Some of those children have come to us by being born to long-term members…but a lot have come to Pilgrimage with their parents, parents who are searching for a place to raise their children where they can learn that God’s love really does extend to everyone.
“God loves everyone.” So simple, right? So basic to our faith…just like, “God is love.” “Love your neighbour.” “Love your enemies.” Or, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel lesson: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
Love one another as I have loved you. Just a few phrases earlier Jesus says, “As God has loved me, so I have loved you.” God loves me, I love you, now, you love others. It’s like that commercial where one person does something nice for someone else, then the recipient becomes the giver, then that recipient becomes the giver…
Love is like that, isn’t it? Those who have been loved find it much easier to love others….which I’m sure is why we have such loving children in this place. Do you ever watch these children with each other? They truly love each other, not because they have to, but because they just do.
Evidence of that love is offered in today’s devotion, written by Janet Derby. This past week in Sunday school, our children listened to and reflected on this passage from John. They talked about the difference between a servant and a friend. They felt that friends are not forced to do what is asked of them as servants are. Friends are trusted and choose to be nice to each other and love each other as God loves us. How do the children think we show love? By hugging and kissing people, by helping them if they are hurt or they fall, by cheering them up if they are lonely or sad.
The children of Pilgrimage do more than give lip service to this passage. It is a privilege to be with them each week and watch how they care for each other. They express concern about who is missing; they recognize each child’s gifts; they cheer each other up when they are sad; they welcome newcomers with open arms. You needn’t be with them in Sunday school to see this manifestation of God’s love. You can watch Isaac make faces at little Matthew, or Hannah look for Emma when she comes into the sanctuary, or Mariah caring for Jamie when he comes to church. They love, because they have learned that they are loved. “They love, because they have learned that they are loved.”
There’s been a lot of talk on Facebook and other places this week about gay marriage. WithNorth Carolina’s passage of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and President Obama’s endorsement of it, it’s brought the issue front and center.
The morning after the North Carolinavote, our own Kim Pruitt—a native North Carolinian–said this on Facebook: “The best way to change our world is to change our children. I am proud that my daughter already understands that some children have 2 mommies or 2 daddies, that some people are born in the wrong body and can change their body to match who they are, and that the most important thing in a family is love. I am proud that my parents instilled in me the ability to think for myself and to accept and love all people.” Later, Kim expresses gratitude for being part of a church that helps her and Tim teach Emily that God really does love all people.ove all people. “It’s a pretty amazing place to see her grow.”
I don’t have to tell you that not all faith communities practice God’s love for all people. Even faith communities that really do try to embrace everyone…it’s hard. The tradition has given us so many reasons to exclude people—certain sins, gender, sexual orientation, what I like to call “theological creativity”… Not to mention unspoken social reasons—social class, race, ethnicity, appearance… Even for faith communities that try to practice God’s love for all people, it’s not always easy.
The folks in today’s other scripture reading struggled just like we do. While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers—that is, those who were Jews–who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles—because they (the Jewish Christians) thought they had a market on God’s love. But Peter challenged their provincial ideas. 4647“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” Of course, not! Because God’s love is for everyone. “48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” And they were.
What we are doing here is so important! Raising our children to believe in and practice God’s love for every person? That might be THE most important thing we do here. Loving our children might be the best means we have of acting the world into well-being.
I came to Pilgrimage after 4 years of seminary and 8 years of graduate school. In seminary and graduate school, you’re dealing with adults, mostly adults in their 20s and 30s. I’ve always loved children, but I hadn’t been aware of just how much I was missing having them in my life until I came here to Pilgrimage and found lots of them.
Allen and I have never been blessed with children of our own…which is part of why the children in this congregation are so important to us. It’s important to us to see children’s eyes light up when we enter a room. I can’t believe those of you with young children get to experience that every day! (Notice I said “young children” and not “adolescents.”) It’s important for Allen and me to see children care for each other. It’s important for us to look at our children here at Pilgrimage and to imagine what we—Allen and I– might do to make the world a better place for them. And because it happens so frequently, I guess it’s important for us—okay, me–to be humbled by children….like the one who said, “Yeah. I tried worship once. I wasn’t impressed.”
Children are important to all of us. And the children in this place are really important, even to those of us who don’t have children of our own…Because children are the future, they are our future. As one respondent to Kim’s post on Wednesday said: “I truly believe that we parents—and I would add, fellow congregants– have such an important responsibility on this issue- and potential to create change in the next generation. Teaching your children about differences in a thoughtful and considerate way is an incredible challenge, but so very important.”
As we celebrate Christian Education today—especially that Christian ed in which our children are involved—I want to offer a prayer for our children. (8:30—It’s the same prayer I prayed last week. I thought it bore repeating.) Please join me in prayer.
Holy Parent, we are so grateful for the gift of every child in this church… for Morgan and Matthew and Max, for Owen and Jamie…for Hannah and Jake, Emma, Emily, and Preston…for Lucas and Nicholas, Kassidy, Kalea, and Cade… for Isaac, Gavin, Olivia and Olivia…for Mariah, Sylvia, and Jemma…for Isaiah, Joseph and Joshua, and Mark…for Audrey and Myles and Ben and Ian and Andrew…for Catelynn, Ian, Ashlynn, Adrienne, and Allegra…for Madison and Sophie, Quinn and Sydney…for Michael and Keira, Miller and Maggie…
For Marc and Lorelle and Ben and Brian and Lolly…for Rachel and Sarah and Ari and Linda and Laura and Allison…for Chase and Kenneth and Terry and Raiden…for Patrick, Ryan, and Sam…
There are so many children among us, Holy One. Help us to remember every one by name (even if my ancient brain has neglected to remember someone this morning!). Help us to remember our covenant responsibility to pray for them and nurture them and hope for their wholeness. Help us do whatever we can to act them into well-being.
May every child know that she or he is loved. May every child believe that he or she is a magnificent creation of the divine. May every child learn how good he or she is and just how much power he or she has to do good in the world. May every child grow strong in faith.
And may we learn from every child what you are trying to teach us through them.
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2012
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles,46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said,47‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.14You are my friends if you do what I command you.15I do not call you servants* any longer, because the servant* does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.