Going the Extra Mile…To Influence the Next Generation
We are nearing the close of our new year sermon series called 2020 Vision. We are focusing on who God is calling us to be in the future. Who is God calling us to become and what kind of church is God calling us to be? To get into our topic for today, let me share an experience from a few years ago.
I conducted the funeral of John Stark, a lawyer and longtime member of St. Luke’s. I recall in preparing for that service and meeting with his wife Barbara and their daughters. He had four children and what they all remembered about their dad is when he walked through the door at the end of the day, he immediately made them feel like they were the most important thing in the world. Of course, they had no idea of what he had been dealing with all day, the difficult cases, the stress. They were never aware of how tired he might have been. Once he walked through the door, he turned his attention to them, and started playing games, having fun, and making them feel like the most important things in the world.
Sometimes going the extra mile isn’t about extraordinary sacrifice. Sometimes going the extra mile looks like doing the little things that mean putting aside our worries, summoning a little extra energy to let others whose lives are being formed, know how important they are.
While Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem he is surrounded by people bringing children to him to be blessed. The disciples, apparently seeing this as a distraction, try to stop people from doing this, upon which Jesus chastises them. He not only welcomes the blessing of the children, he makes a radical declaration, that children represent the very heart of the kingdom of God. Of course, those bringing the children would have had no idea what Jesus was dealing with internally. They didn’t know he was on the way to the cross. They didn’t know the pressure he was under and facing. All they knew was that in that moment, Jesus treated them as if no one mattered more.
Today we are talking about a topic extremely important to Jesus: children. If we are to be the people God would have us be and the church that reflects the priorities of Jesus, it means we will be a people who go the extra mile to influence the next generation for Christ. So let’s look at four key points from this story from the Bible using the word LIFT as an acronym for how to lift our children to God.
HOW TO L.I.F.T. OUR KIDS FOR CHRIST
Lead our children to Jesus 2 clicks
“People were bringing infants to him that he might touch them;” (v.15a) Why did they do this? It has been estimated that infant mortality rates were as high as 30% at that time, and 60% by the age of sixteen. Only 40% of children survived to adulthood. Perhaps people had witnessed Jesus healing powers and they brought babies to him because they hoped that connection to Jesus could increase their odds for survival.
Children today still face tough odds. Consider these statistics just here in Indiana:
--1 in 6 children in Indiana are food insecure.
--11% are diagnosed with anxiety
--in 2017 nearly 6700 Hoosier children received services from domestic violence facilities. 59 died from child abuse or neglect.
--Between 2006-17 the number of Indiana youth suicides doubled.
Children are still at risk today, but what if they knew there is a Savior who loves them and believes in them. What if the people of God see that they are well fed and clothed. The need is still as great to bring our children to Jesus.
Notice in the passage it says “people” brought infants. Not just parents. Not just family members. Perhaps there were people who saw children around them and knowing the risks they faced, started picking them up and bring them to Jesus. What would that look like for the church today?
Idealize all children 2 clicks
To idealize something is to regard it as better than reality. Keep that in mind as we think about the disciples response to the people bringing children to Jesus: “when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it.” (v.15b) The disciples appear rather heartless running off little children, but let’s understand something. They were the only ones who understood what Jesus was facing. They were the only ones Jesus told what would happen to him in Jerusalem. They knew the threats he was facing. They knew the cross was waiting. They weren’t dismissing children. They were trying to protect their Master.
And Jesus rebuked them for it. What’s important here is not the disciples discouraging the crowds but the fact that Jesus with all that was on his mind, took time and energy to prioritize children. He idealized them. He regarded them as better than the realities he faced.
It’s a matter of priorities. The disciples were trying to protect Jesus resources of energy and time. That’s all they were trying to do. And with limited resources, Jesus values children above all.
What does it look like for the church today to prioritize children in such a way? I don’t know of any church that says children are unimportant, but other priorities have a way of impacting our ability to idealize children. I know some churches who value keeping their buildings looking pristine, and as we all know children can do amazing things with crayons. Sometimes churches get so strapped financially they just don’t feel they can afford to put money into modernizing spaces for children. But without a doubt, having spaces that are creative, inviting, accommodating and protective of children says everything about the way a church prioritizes kids.
For the future of St. Luke’s we believe that investment in children’s ministry will be critical to our future. Six years ago we identified the need to build new space for our children’s ministry. We even developed schematic plans to rebuild our current children’s areas which happens to include some of the oldest and most run down parts of our building. Our Trustees believe the time is now to form a building committee that take up these plans and begin this project. It is a daring goal. Just like the way Jesus must have felt walking to the cross, we are not living in a time of unlimited resources. We had to reduce our budget by about 7% for 2020. We are facing the uncertainty of another General Conference. But we know this. St. Luke’s is going to be here. We are not going away. And we can’t wait until our children are teenagers and already past critical influential years of development to do all we can to bring them to Jesus. Why is it so important?
Take a look at this video…
And that brings us to the F in LIFT…
Focus on those God wants to bless 2 clicks
Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, do not stop them.” (v.16) There are one of two ways to approach ministry: Ask God to bless what we are doing, or for us to bless what God is doing. The latter is eternally more successful! Clearly Jesus shows in this passage that his heart is to do all it takes, to go the extra mile, to be close to children.
Sometimes churches operate with a false dichotomy about influencing the next generation. Older generations grow weary of hearing about reaching younger people. They say, what about the generation that is here. After all we are the ones who keep the church financed and resourced. And this is really a false division. It’s not do we care for one at the expense of the other, but when we emphasize reaching the next generation, we find fulfillment ourselves.
How many of you say, “I’d give anything if my own kids and grandkids would come to church.” Or, “I’d give anything, for a church where my kids live if they would do what it takes to reach them?” Well, let me tell you, every Sunday a young family walks through our doors, there is usually a parent or grandparent praying somewhere and we can be the answer to their prayers!
But even more, think about what happens when we do pray about what God is doing.
(pic) The Rev. Hogun Kim and his wife went to Zion UMC in Mendota, ILL in 2015. They found few members and the youngest was 61. But he noticed they were willing to make changes, so he started holding prayer meeting to invite God to show them what to do. He said they began to pray for little children to come because Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.” So they decided to have a Vacation Bible School which they had not done in 20 years. (pic) This was a big step of faith. The first year they had 70 kids—more than twice the average Sunday attendance. The next year 80, then 90. Last year they had over 100 kids!
Rev. Kim says that each year they get seven or eight new families who start connecting with the church. This has helped the people reinvent their church. It started with simple prayers, praying that God would show them what God wanted them to do. It gave them new life.
Treasure the blessing of our children as our own! 2 clicks
“to such as these the kingdom of God belongs…whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (v.17) What does Jesus mean that to children belongs the kingdom of God? Often you hear sermons lauding the characteristics of children, their innocence, the wonder, as requirements for the kingdom. If we just reclaim that, we can all enter the kingdom of God. But, you know, kids have other characteristics too. They can be selfish and spoiled. And perhaps that’s part of the point. Jesus isn’t talking about what children do to deserve the kingdom of God. Just the opposite. Kids are dependent. They aren’t able to deserve or earn anything. And that’s what the kingdom of God is about, delighting in the fact that we are God’s children and receive the blessing God offers.
Robert Fulghum wrote a little book many years ago, All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. He talked about visiting a college campus and noticed how different students are from kids when they begin the education process. He wrote:
“You go to a kindergarten class and ask, ‘How many of you can draw?...and every hand will go up. They can all draw. ‘What can you draw?’…and they say, ‘Anything! You name it, we’ll draw it for you.”
‘How many of you can sing?’…and again, all hands go up. What can you sing? They say, ‘We’ll sing anything, what do you want to hear. We can sing it!”
How many of you can dance, and they all jump up and start dancing.
Fulghum said, “Their answer to anything is yes, Children are confident in spirit, eager to learn and believe that everything is still possible for them.
But once you go to a college campus and ask the same questions only the smallest percentage of hands go up…and even those qualify their answers.”
Have you ever looked at your life and wondered, “What happened to me? I used to be so confident? I used to be so sure of myself? I used to be so happy and laugh all the time? What happened? Inside all of us is this little child wanting to get out, wanting to shout, “I can sing! I can dance! I can draw! I’m good! I’m capable! And that’s what the kingdom of God is about, receiving that blessing of God as the one who made us, restoring that feeling of being blessed.
That’s what Jesus came to bring us, this blessing that says we’re good. We’re beautiful. We can do good things. We matter. We’re important. What’s the kingdom of God about? Just letting your inner child welcome that gift. A church that does treasures kids, finds God’s treasure for themselves.