August 25, 2019

“Let the Children (& Teens & Young Adults & Elderly) Come”

Mark 10:13-16

A sermon for Hawaii Kai UCC by Janice Ogoshi

August 25, 2019 (Pentecost +11)



During the month of August, we have been reviewing our Future Directions Statements, which came out of interviews we did with you all last summer in our Appreciative Inquiry process.  I’ve been looking over the interview results, and it was quite clear that the sense of family and the importance of family relationships is very important to us and is embedded in who we are as a church. For those who like to quantify things—

·       10% said the activities they enjoyed are our family-related ones 

·       almost 42% of those interviewed came with or because of their families

·       26.6% stayed because of the family-like atmosphere or family relationships

·       When asked, “What do you love about our church?” 17.2% mentioned the family aspect of this church:  being a family of families, feeling like family to each other.


This sense of being a family together is possible because of our size.  And because of our size, we are able to build relationships with one another across generations.


Our Scripture reading for today and the second Future Direction Statement challenge us to take this sense of family to another level.  In this family, we recognize that we learning from one another about God, and teachers come from all generations.  


Let’s read together Future Direction Statement #2:

We are a family of faith utilizing the gifts God has given us to provide opportunities to establish a relationship with Him and others.  Our diverse and shared wisdom guides and supports the inclusivity and understanding of all generations.


“Our diverse and shared wisdom guides and supports the inclusivity and understanding of all generations.”  This Future Direction Statement sees us as an intergenerational church now and into the future.  We are and want to be a church in which all generations come together to minister together, accessing the wisdom and unique contributions of each generation.  We not only relate to each other in loving relationships as sisters and brothers, aunties and uncles, but as co-learners and co-ministers.  We are challenged to recognize that people of all ages have something to contribute to the life of this church.  We minister together, intergenerationally.  


Jesus knew that children had something to teach about the kingdom of God, if the adults would pay attention.  He knew they received the kingdom in a way that the adults often missed.  So he was indignant when the disciples turned away folks who had brought their children for him to bless.  In those days, children were among the marginalized people that included women, the poor and the unclean.  They were the “least” in family and society, in part because of high child mortality rates and their inability to contribute to the family’s livelihood.  And because of that, they were vulnerable to exploitation, like women who had no husbands or fathers.  Doting on children is actually a more recent phenomenon in history. 


Instead of seeing children as a bothersome distraction, Jesus welcomed them and said to his disciples, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (vv. 14-15).  Children, being vulnerable and marginalized, had something to teach everyone about receiving the kingdom of God.


We all want to receive the kingdom of God, don’t we?  We pray every week and every time we pray the Lord’s prayer, “Thy kingdom come.”  And the way to receive the kingdom, to have it manifest in our present life is to receive it like the child does—as one who has nothing to offer, in vulnerability, without work or merit. The kingdom of God is a gift.  The kingdom of God is present among the most vulnerable people in our world.  So we need to pay attention to what children can reveal to us about receiving it.  And if we have ears to hear and eyes to see, children can teach us a lot more about God and faith and how we see people.


When Luke was young, I was interested in the friends he made at school.  Being on his own, I wondered what kind of peers he was drawn toward.  I was concerned that he might end up with the rascally kids—the ones who made life difficult for their teachers in the classroom or for their classmates on the playground.  I had this “momma radar” that could be judgmental about the other kids.  This one looks like he would make a good friend to Luke. That one, not so much.


There was one boy who looked like trouble.  Even at the young age of 6, he had a defiant attitude.  His mother was very young—maybe half my age, and I guessed that she was single.  He seemed to crave adult attention, and got it by breaking rules.  One day I saw Luke interacting with this boy, and when we got home, I asked whether he hung out with him.  Was he a friend?  Luke said that he was.  I don’t know exactly how the conversation went, but my intent was to steer him away from getting too close to the boy.  But Luke told me very matter-of-factly “Mommy, I need to be his friend because he needs help learning how to behave.”


That comment stopped me in my tracks.  Here I was, worried that Luke would be influenced by his peers, but he was thinking about how he could help them.  After that, I stopped worrying about Luke’s choice of friends.  That day, I learned from Luke how to see others through God’s eyes and how to not make judgments about people.  I learned to trust that my son’s heart was in the right place.  I learned from my young son to see others with grace and compassion, not judgment.  


We all know in our heads that children can and often do teach us important lessons about life.  But do we take them seriously?  Do we actively listen to children to hear God speaking to us through them?  


Adrienne has been a champion of this idea of intergenerational ministry.  She’s been encouraging us to build relationships among generations so that we can minister to each other and together.  Next month we will begin our third year of having intergenerational activities, or IGA, at 9:00 on Sunday mornings.  This has replaced our Sunday School, which had been organized by ages in the past. The idea behind IGA is that we are all learning together, and we are all teaching one another.   Everyone is a learner, and everyone is a teacher. 


Our activities and interactions have confirmed and affirmed the value of having intergenerational activities.  Sometimes we only have adults.  But when the children do come, we are amazed at what they have to say and teach us.  Sometimes they share what they have learned in school.  Sometimes they share their tech knowledge and help us to understand our digital, cyber-world better.  Sometimes, just by being present, they help us to see God among us.  And the adults are teaching the children too by sharing about their life experiences.  The kids may roll their eyes sometimes, but I think they mostly enjoy the interactions we have together.


It’s not only the children who have contributions to make to our church life, but the young adults and tech-savvy folks who are helping us take steps toward using social media to welcome new people to our church.  We now have a Facebook page in addition to our website.  As we learn to use social media to let people know we are here in Hawaii Kai, we are hoping that they will take up the invitation to worship or watch movies or play or eat with us.


Older adults often tell me all they cannot do. But I like to tell them that their activity level may have changed, but their ministry has not ended.  Their prayers and notes of encouragement or phone calls to check up on each other are a vital ministry of love.  And our elders have stories that can enrich our faith—if we will listen to them share.


In the Appreciative Inquiry interviews, many shared their concern that we have few youth.  “We need more young people” is the cry of not only our church, but most other UCC churches.  We can begin to nurture the young people we do have by engaging in conversations with them. When was the last time you talked to any of our worshippers under the age of 18?  Or for those of you under 40, when was the last time you talked to anyone here who is over 70?  During our fellowship time after worship, make it a point today to say hello or introduce yourself to someone who is not of your generation.


What encourages people to come again to church is the relationships they build with others.  And it is particularly important for youth to get to know the adults who are not their relatives.  They will see their relatives for the rest of their lives.  But research has shown that if a young person has gotten to know 5 adults at church who are not their relatives before they graduate from high school, they will be more likely to continue to have faith beyond their college years.  


Long before this research came out, HKUCC was encouraging these intergenerational relationships through camps.  Many relationships between children, youth and adults were forged through putting up tents, doing KP, making s’mores, and swatting flies and mosquitoes at camp.  Kids got to see adults playing games and catching waves at the beach.  Faith was shared in the devotions and worship at camp.  And many of these children grew up and continue to follow Jesus and participate in church life. They may not be with HKUCC anymore, but they are still walking with Jesus through life.  That kind of intergenerational relationship is a gift and strength of our church, and we can continue to nurture it into the future.


When Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me,” I hear him welcoming people who were overlooked and undervalued.  By inviting the children to come and receive a blessing, he was challenging us to see what they have to offer to us.  And the challenge is not only to welcome children, but people of all different ages and life stages, because each person, each generation has gifts and skills and ideas to offer to us.  Each generation has something to teach us, if we will let them.


Our Future Direction Statement has acknowledged the strength of the family ties we have, and challenges us to use these relationships to grow in faith and in numbers as we move forward toward the future. Let the children, youth, young adults, middle aged and elderly come to Jesus, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to all.