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TEACHABLE MOMENTS

Joshua 4.1-7 and 4.15-5.1

I Timothy 4:6-13     Luke 2:41-52

The Rev. Dr. Warner M. Bailey

January 27, 2013

A class of fourth graders was given the overnight assignment by their teacher to write a one page paper about their family roots.  One fourth grade boy asked his mother for help on his paper, but he neglected to tell her it would be read in class the next day.

His mother was busily preparing dinner for company when her fourth grader interrupted her and asked, “Mommy, where did I come from?”  The mother had many things on her mind and simply did not want to get into a heavy discussion of this topic. She said in a hurry, “The stork brought you.”  The boy persisted, “Then, Mom, where did you come from?”  His mother then saw that she was trapped, so she punted and said that the stork had brought her, too.  Still the boy was not satisfied.  “Then, Mommy, where did Grandma come from?”  Mother was exasperated!  “The stork brought Grandma, also.  Now, can I get on with dinner?”

The boy quietly went upstairs to his room and got a pencil from his desk.  He sat down slowly, opened his notebook, and with head shaking, wrote for his class to hear, “There has not been a normal birth in our family in three generations.” As every parent knows, a child’s question can come out of the blue, and teachable moments will occur when least you expect them.  But watch out!  These are the moments that make parenting a vocation filled with joy, but when you fumble them, the memory haunts you forever.  When a teachable moment comes off rightly, a child is filled with wonder, satisfaction, confidence, and the desire to ask more questions.   When a teachable moment is flubbed, confusion, uncertainty, and reluctance to ask another question are likely outcomes.

It has been estimated that a child by age 15 will have asked 500,000 questions. I believe my five year old grandson, Jacob, is on about 150,942!  How can we summon up the strength and insight to be there over the long haul for our children’s questions?  How many of them do we get right?  We all need help.

It is crucial that we know where to go for the strength that supports us to meet our child’s questions with an appropriate answer.  Patient listening to children not only expands a child’s world.  Patient listening also plays a major role in making strong the bonds between generations.  If we listen to our children while small, we will find that we are more likely to have children who care what we say later in life.  If we listen to our children while small, we are more likely to have teenagers who will share their confusing concerns of adolescence.  If our child is secure that we understand what he or she says when they are small, our child will more likely trust that we will understand what he or she says to us later when they are older.

As far as the Bible is concerned, a child’s question amounts to a sacred moment in time.  It is a moment where the sacred lore, the holy tradition, the saving word is transferred into a child’s heart made ready by a question asked.  In our Old Testament reading(s) today, we learn of the crossing of the river Jordan by the tribes of Israel.  This is an incident that becomes for the people of God a crucial piece of their sacred lore.  This river crossing marks the ending of their time in the desert wilderness after leaving the slavery of Egypt and the new beginning of their life in the Promised Land.

Crossing the Jordan on dry ground mimics the earlier crossing of the Red Sea on dry ground.  This saving moment allowed Hebrew slaves to escape from the forces of Pharaoh who were pursuing them.   Red Sea and Jordan on dry ground.  Both crossings, so similar, become the start point and finish line of a journey through desert and wilderness until God’s people arrive in the place where God promised them a new life.

This is a story about God and God’s faithfulness with a quarrelsome and sometimes feckless people.  God lives with this people in order for God to complete for them what God set out to do for them.  God’s faithfulness never falters, however hard it is to grasp it. That is the message of the holy tradition, the saving word, which each generation needs to hear.

So, for the sake of the children, God commanded Joshua to arrange for a teachable moment.  It is important to have a permanent teachable moment, a monument that provokes the question, “What is the meaning of this?” We can see just how important is this permanent teachable moment by noticing that our story contains two different versions of the construction of that stone monument.  One story has the twelve stones left in the bottom of the Jordan River and the other story has them stacked up as a cairn on the west bank of the Jordan.  With each story there is the comment: “When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ Then you shall tell them [the story of God’s faithfulness] so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty; that you may revere the Lord your God for ever.”

The educational program of this church is calculated to nurture children in the Christian faith by provoking questions from children.  The nurturing, the character shaping, the formation of our children happens in response to the child’s questions.  “What do you mean by this observance?” the youngster asks.  The adult answers, “Glad that you asked.  Listen to my story.”

Parents, this church recognizes that you have to know the story, so in parallel with a good children’s program, we offer adults opportunities to learn, to ask for and to give support to each other, and we invite persons with special gifts to teach in our church school.  We know that it is only in partnership with the Lord that we can receive the gift of being a wise and encouraging presence to our children.  Parents, we want to help you deepen your partnership with God for your own sake and for the sake of your children.  Parents, we especially want you to trust God to be there for you when you call, making the critical difference that boosts you to go the distance.

Biblical faith is essentially a happy faith, a singing faith.  Biblical faith is always a standing excuse for a party.  Why is that?  Because biblical faith is about trust in a God who is almighty and never failing.  We can always have a festival over that.

Consequently, the educational program of this church makes creative use of the festivals of the Christian year as teachable moments in nurturing faith.  If your child is a regular participant in our church school, he or she will come to know all the Advent carols, all the Easter carols, many of the Christmas carols, lots of hymns, and will know how to sing the Gloria Patri, the Kyrie, and the Doxology.  You will come with them to child-centered services on Christmas Eve, Ash Wednesday, and Maundy Thursday.  They will take part in the Epiphany parade and the donkey procession on Palm Sunday.  They are learning the story of Christ by putting themselves into that story.

Our children will learn how to become leaders in our worship services as they participate each year in two Children’s Sabbaths, in addition to reading at the two Lessons and Carols services we hold in Advent and the first Sunday after Easter.  They will have opportunities to serve as acolytes, and in the fall, to attend the acolyte festival each year in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

Knowledge of the Bible’s stories of our faith is of critical importance.  Your child will own a Bible that we present in the third grade.  They will know how to look up Bible stories that are foundational to our faith, and they will engage with these stories in ways that shape character and belief.  Their learning will take place within the context of a loving Sunday school atmosphere.

We know that there are many pathways down which children walk into greater knowledge and confidence.  Therefore, your children will learn by putting their growing faith into action through service projects, Stepping Stones Fellowship and Mission and camps and conferences.  They will learn through games, activities, and craft projects at our Advent and Spring Festivals and Christmas on the Hill.

Of an annual budget of some $742,000, this church will spend in staff time, resources and building costs approximately $106,000 (1/7th of the budget) on the nurture of children into the Christian faith as it is believed and practiced from a Presbyterian and Reformed perspective.  That means for every $10 you put in the offering plate, $1.40 goes to the care of the next generation.

And when the time is right and our children ask, “What is the meaning of….?”  may we be ready to say, “Let me tell you a story.”