Text: Psalm 78:1-7, Matthew 5:1-11
What a great day! In a year filled with unique moments, we have shared in a baby dedication for Clara Ilene Grauman, who lives near Chicago. How great is that?
We have dedicated Clara, but not only that, we have dedicated ourselves, to God. We have prayed for God’s blessing on her life and we have promised as a community to care for her and help to support her parents and pray for her parents.
Mutual support and encouragement and accountability is one of our reasons for our existence as a church. And in those watershed moments, during those rites of passage, it is important to make the support and encouragement of the church tangible, as we have done this morning with the child dedication service.
While the arrival of a child is an occasion for great joy, for much excitement, while it comes with high hopes, it is also a bit daunting. It can be daunting because raising a child is an awesome responsibility. And it goes without saying that the times we live in do not make it any easier.
Caring for another life, nurturing a child through years of growth and change is no small thing. It is a great joy and a great responsibility. At times it will be a great heartache and at times it will be a great headache. It’s a package deal. I once heard Tony Campolo say that grandchildren are God’s reward for not killing your children. Parenting is not an easy job, even in the best of times.
In the musical “The Fantasticks,” two exasperated fathers are talking about the difficulties of raising their children and they compare raising children to raising vegetables. They note that when you plant a vegetable seed, you know what you are going to get, but it’s not that way with children. The break into the song “Plant a Radish.”
Plant a radish.There is no more important task than parenting, but the thing is, we don’t have control over the final product. We can teach our children and love them and guide them and point them the right way, but in the end it is out of our hands. We all know that we can raise two different children in essentially the same way, and those two children will be very different from each other.
Get a radish.
Never any doubt.
That's why I love vegetables;
You know what you're about!
Plant a turnip.
Get a turnip.
Maybe you'll get two.
That's why I love vegetables;
You know that they'll come through!
They're the best pal a parent's ever known!
While with children,
You don't know until the seed is nearly grown
Just what you've sown.
Every turnip green!
Every kidney bean!
Every plant grows according to the plot!
While with progeny,
For as soon as you think you know what kind you've got,
It's what they're not!
At times the Biblical writers speak as though raising children is more like vegetable gardening. Proverbs 22:6 says “Train children in the right way, and when they are old they will not stray.” This sounds like a cut-and-dried, failproof formula, but we all know that it doesn’t always work that way. It really isn’t like raising vegetables.
Training children in the right way, bringing them up to love and follow Jesus, to love God and love their neighbor is the best way of helping children to become loving and caring, responsible, Christlike adults. There is a lot of truth in that proverb, but it is just that: a proverb, not an immutable law. It is wise advice, not a guarantee.
Because there are no guarantees, and because life is unpredictable, our need for God and our need for one another is even greater. The way in which we as parents and the way in which we as a community teach our children and support and encourage one another is vitally important.
In our scripture from Psalm 78, we read:
God commanded our ancestorsGod’s laws and promises have to be repeated again and again. The stories of the Bible have to be retold for each new generation. The teachings of Jesus are not caught by osmosis – we have to teach them to our children and our children’s children. We have come to faith only because of generation after generation who passed on the faith, who told the stories, who taught their children. It is so good to have Clara’s grandparents and great-grandparents here with us because they have very much had a part in this.
to teach [God’s laws] to their children;
that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and rise up and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God.
And the fact is, we are all children. No matter our age, we are all God’s children, and we have to remind each other again and again about the ways of Jesus.
In the Psalm, did you catch the reason for all of the teaching? It is “so that they should set their hope in God.” The goal is that our children and our children’s children – succeeding generations – might set their hope in God.
To paraphrase a well-known expression, “it takes a church to raise a child.” One of the reasons it is so tough, one of the reasons it takes all of us, is precisely because of the content, because of the values that we seek to instill in young people – and hopefully older folks as well. It is not easy stuff.
Our New Testament reading comes from the heart of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, known as the Beatitudes. We have heard this so often that we kind of lose sight of the radical nature of what Jesus is saying. Look at who he says are blessed: the poor in spirit. Those who mourn. The meek. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. The merciful. The pure in heart. The peacemakers. Those who are persecuted for doing the right thing.
It is difficult to teach things like this. These are the sort of things we teach through our actions much more than our words. And these are not the kinds of things children are going to pick up in the street. They are not likely to learn it from TV and certainly not from social media. The values that we are trying to instill are countercultural.
Think about Jesus’ teachings: Love your enemies. It is better to give than receive. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. Do not worry about tomorrow. Love your neighbor as yourself.
And then look at what Jesus does. He associates with sinners and tax collectors – with those who are outcasts of society, those who are looked down upon, those who have a bad name. He gets in trouble because he isn’t so concerned with outward shows of piety, but says it’s what is on the inside that really matters.
He values women and carries on public conversation with women and has public friendships with women in a time when that was a cultural taboo. Likewise he speaks with Samaritans – despised half-breed heretics in the eyes of most folks - and uses them as the good guy in stories he tells. He has time for children when most people thought that children should be neither seen nor heard.
Together, we are trying to follow the ways of One who challenged the norms of his culture – and ours. While people for the most part like Jesus, most do not take seriously many of his teachings. We are trying to instill values that are not widely held. Raising a child is hard enough. Raising a child in the way of Christ is even more difficult. It takes a church.
Raising radishes or turnips or carrots is certainly easier than raising children. It is a lot cheaper and much less time-consuming, and as the song tells us, you have a lot better idea of what you are going to get. Radishes cause a lot less frustration and they generally don’t cause much heartache. And you don’t have to teach vegetables in the way they should go.
With children, there is not only a curriculum, it is a tough curriculum. Because we are trying to teach a way of being and living that we find pretty tough ourselves.
Today is our stewardship commitment Sunday. You might be asking, why aren’t we talking about money? Well, for one thing, we have already had some conversation about money, and Phyllis did a really fabulous job of speaking to us about giving and tithing last Sunday. But beyond that, while stewardship is certainly about money, it is about a lot more than that. It about our lives. We have a responsibility for all that God entrusts to us, including our children, including one another. When we live out of gratitude for God’s amazing gifts, and when we take those gifts – all of those gifts - seriously, the money is going to take care of itself.
For all of the difficulty, the joy that children bring, the potential and promise they have, the love that we give and the love that we receive from our children, make it all worth it. We have a wonderful and awesome responsibility. We give thanks to God for Clara and her big sister Fern and for all of our children. And we know that they are not simply our children, they are God’s children. We are all God’s children. Thanks be to God. Amen.