September 26, 2020
Rev. Dr. Warner Bailey
“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
The prophet Micah knows that everybody has a price that they will accept for turning a blind eye.Some people believe that God can be bought off just like any human. If you say that the Lord will be pleased with thousands of rams, I’ll write the check if it will get God off my back. Or will it take ten thousands of rivers of oil for God to let me keep on doing what I am doing? No problem, I’ll make the arrangements. Tell you what…I’m even prepared to sacrifice the future of my child; I’ll even sacrifice the future of the next generation of children, so I don’t have to change.
Am I being facetious? Hardly. Every one of us knows of individuals or communities or nations who have sacrificed the cream of their progeny, who have sent their sons and daughters off to be slaughtered, in order not to have to change their way of life which keeps them in a domineering position. One thinks of the loss of one out of every three men in the South for the sake of maintaining slavery and white supremacy. To walk through the killing fields in Cambodia is to be crushed by the enormous loss of an entire generation in order to prop up a communist ideology. “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” Sure, why not?
As you look at your children or your grandchildren, as your hearts swell in pride over the children of St. Stephen leading us in worship today, can you think of anything precious enough to you to make you jeopardize their futures, their lives, so that you would not have to give it up? Are we willing to subject their futures to the long-term consequences of climate change which we see playing out before our very eyes on Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts? Are we willing to make them beggar themselves in order to pay for the national debt so that our taxes aren’t raised? Are we willing to accept the half-measures and deliberate deception shown in the national response to COVID-19 with the full knowledge of how that is retarding our children’s education? Even literally costing them their lives? “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
I hope that the fact you are listening today to this worship service on Children’s Sabbath is a strong indication that you are not willing to make this devil’s trade-off, and that your being with us in spirit is for you an act of resistance to the diabolical calculation of sacrificing the weak in order to prop up the strong. We love our children at St. Stephen. We love the children at the Center for Transforming Lives. We love the children whose only stable home is the Presbyterian Night Shelter. We love the children of the world. We love our children. What are we to do?
I cannot remember a time when it has been this hard to be a parent or to grow up as a child.Millions of children suffer when millions of moms and dads are thrown out of work. Family relationships break under the strain of living in a country so badly divided over the November elections. Children are quick to pick up on our grieving about lifestyles that we have lost by being isolated, having to work at home while taking care of our kids and remote learning, and pining for things to be “like they used to be”.
So, I stand amazed at the tremendous courage, spunk, grit, and creativity that so many, many moms and dads and kids dish out daily to keep body and soul intact, to keep a family circle tight, to create a bubble of serenity, security, and curiosity during these hard times. You are not willing to consign your children to a diminished future. You are genuinely amazing!
The amazing work you are doing puts the church on notice that we have to up our game; we have to be there for you with the best we can offer in spiritual strength. I want to talk about being a church that is up to the task of growing up children who are prepared to grapple with stark existential challenges and triumph over them. Someone recently shared a poem written by Adrienne Rich that gets to the point I am making.
My heart is moved by all I cannot save; So much has been destroyed.
I have to cast my lot with those who age after age,perversely with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.
So much of what that poem says rings true for me. However, the message I want to bring today is that the church can bring extraordinary power to the situation. And if the church fails you at this moment, it is not worthy of our children, and they and you will go elsewhere.
Let us cut to the nub of this message. A church worthy of our children will offer Jesus, pure and simple. He is the only source of extraordinary power which will never fail us in the project of reconstituting the world. God made Jesus carry within himself the fate of the entire world. When Jesus died on the cross, one world collapsed. When God raised him from the dead, God injected into a collapsed old world a new world of extraordinary power in his image. Because God has unleashed the Spirit of the risen Christ on the church, the church is the foothold of God’s new world and the fount of extraordinary power. When the Church baptizes you into Christ, we are able to engage this old world with the extraordinary power of the new world.
A church worthy of our children will help families draw deeply upon this new world of extraordinary power. The children of this church will be able to explain to you why in our Gospel lesson for today the meaning of the forgiveness of sins is totally displayed in the extraordinary power of a paralyzed man taking up his bed and walking out of that house. We will not let them make the mistake of thinking that extraordinary power is only for spiritual matters. The Jesus we present to your children is there for them in body as well as in soul, in their everyday relationships as well as their prayer life. The sustainability of the planet, the dignity of each human being, the commonwealth of the community matters every bit as much as whether you are going to heaven. And the Jesus we present gives to his baptized children extraordinary power to address in bold and saving ways the hurts and scars and sores that everywhere meet the eye. True enough, it is God’s job to save our souls, but God puts into the hands of the baptized extraordinary power to heal a nation’s soul, to make right a dispossessed race, to defend a planet gasping for breath and thirsting for water and to build up wrecked cities and boarded up and hollowed out hamlets. This is what we send our children to do for Jesus’ sake.
A church worthy of our children will burst with pride as its children go out into the world in peace, with good courage, holding fast to what is good, rendering to no one evil for evil, strengthening the faint-hearted, supporting the weak, honoring all persons, serving the Lord and rejoicing in the extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit.
We take the dollars you give us and infuse them with extraordinary power to shape our children, to make them wise, tough, resilient, resourceful, hopeful persons. The amount of money this church spends on children’s ministry is hard to pin down, but a reasonable estimate, counting professional staff, supplies, and building costs, is one hundred thousand dollars. But that is just a foundation.We infuse the extraordinary power of countless volunteer hours, material gifts, personal interest, prayer and affirmation. This is labor intensive, personalized shaping.
Parents, we want to be your best ally in your vocation of nurturing your child. We applaud the tremendous courage, spunk, grit, and creativity which you display daily to keep body and soul intact, to keep a family circle tight, to create a bubble of serenity, security, and curiosity during these hard times. We thank God for you. You are genuinely amazing! We offer you Jesus and urge you to take him as your source for the extraordinary power you will need to protect a future for your child.