Today I was reminded again of the amazing contribution children make to our worship life. I know I’m biased, but I have to tell you that we have been blessed with extraordinary children at Holy Trinity. They understand the gospel, particularly our mission of Loving Not Judging, in a way that often seems to elude many of us adults.
The gospel lesson this morning was the story of two lost sons from Luke’s gospel. The younger one is a snot-nosed little brat who runs off with his inheritance and ends up foolishly blowing every last penny. When he comes to the point of starving, he decides it's time to return to his father and plead for mercy. But he doesn’t get the chance. Instead, the father greets him with open arms and is so thrilled to have him back that he throws him an extravagant party.
The older son is the responsible one. Unlike his brat of a brother, he stays home and helps his father with the family business. When he sees the shameless way his father forgives his prodigal brother and celebrates his return, the older son is justifiably ticked. This is an outrage! There’s no way he's going to that party.
The parable of the prodigal brothers was preceded in chapter 15 with two other stories that ended in parties after the lost had been found. And here's how it all begins--what prompts Jesus to tell this trilogy of parables: “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”
The sermon today was interactive. By that, I mean that, in addition to sharing my own thoughts, I invited the congregation to share their thoughts, too. After we had worked our way through the text together, I posed the question: “Now, how does Luke 15 relate to the world around us, or even your own personal world?”
Adults gave some thoughtful examples from the world of politics and the workplace. Then Bailey, a fourth grader, raised his hand. I looked at his parents who seemed to squirm a little as they had no idea what he was going to say. I thought, it doesn’t really matter a whole lot what he has to say; it’s just wonderful that he feels comfortable enough to join in the conversation with the rest of the congregation.
I called on Bailey, and he told us about how hard he works in school, and then sometimes someone will come along who hasn’t worked at all and they end up winning, and it makes him mad. He was right on point. He understood what it felt like to be the resentful older brother. Wow! (And I had assumed that either, a. he wasn’t paying attention during the sermon, or b. it was all above his head and he couldn’t possibly understand the meaning of the parable.)
Then Pearl, a fifth grader, had a story to share, too. She told us about how she goes to gymnastics class, and she’s been trying to do a handstand for a long time. A new guy came to their class because his mother made him come, and he can do all kinds of stuff that Pearl can’t do, with no effort at all. And the worst part for Pearl is that he doesn’t even want to be there. Well—to use gymnastics lingo—Pearl nailed it!
I looked around at the congregation and we all knew that the presence of God was truly in our midst.
And I thought about how often we ignore children in worship, or we relegate their significance to cute moments in a children sermon, and we don’t take them seriously as members of the Body of Christ. When we do that, we’re missing out on Spirit-filled moments that can transform us as a faith community and as individuals. Sages come in all ages, to be sure.