Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sermon for Sunday, November 16, 2008

Our Core Values: Children and Youth
Romans 12:3-16; Proverbs 22:6

Train children to live the right way, and when they are old, they will not stray from it.

Let’s talk about the ostrich. Did you know that the ostrich doesn’t sit on her eggs to incubate them? She will lay them in desert, kick some sand over them, and then run away to insure her own safety. Not what we would call a nurturer. The mother ostrich, in fact, has become the symbol of the careless mother. The book of Job says this about the ostrich: “She forgets that a foot may crush them, or that a wild beast may break them. She treats her young harshly, as though they were not hers; her labor is in vain, without concern, because God deprived her of wisdom, and did not endow her with understanding.” [Job 39:13-18]. Yet, despite all this bad mothering, the ostrich lays the largest, most beautiful, and perfect egg of all. I got thinking about ostriches and I began to wonder if some times we see ostrich syndrome in our culture. We look around and see members of God’s beautiful creation, left to fend for themselves in a hostile world. Let me explain by telling you about Eddie.

I met Eddie in a Boston suburb about seven years ago. He was sixteen years old. His hair was dyed raven black and his nose, lips, and ears with festooned with silver rings. His personality absorbed and deflected all happiness, just like his black clothes rejected light. Eddie saw the world through dramatic and disturbed eyes, and he carried around with him a copy of The Anarchist Cookbook. He was living in a divorced home, and he had little daily contact with his parents. He would tell me that his parents didn’t care where he was or what he did, as long as he wasn’t dead. You might think this is typical teenage exaggeration, except for the fact that I never saw Eddie’s parents. Eddie was in charge of taking care of his siblings. He protected his siblings like a mother lioness. It’s not that he cared about his siblings as much as he was afraid of what his father would do to him if anything bad happened to one of the younger ones. Eddie’s father was a violent man who believed that the best way to raise a kids was to smack ‘em every once in a while. Even though Eddie carried total responsibility for his and his family’s well-being, he had no conscience when it came to his own actions. Like his dad, he wouldn’t think twice about hurting another person who got in his way. He was always worried about betrayal and rejection, so he excluded himself from gatherings of his peers. He preferred to spend his precious little free time listening to the band Nine Inch Nails and fantasizing about what he would do when his court probation was over. His plans included getting revenge on all who hurt him, beginning his parents. Eddie’s only ambition in life was, “to get out of here.” I asked him once what his siblings would do without his care when he graduated from high school. He answered with a deadpan growl, “If I graduate, that’s their problem, not mine.”

It’s mother ostrich syndrome. The parents are too busy beating each other up to think about their obligation to raise their young. So, lack of nurture continues the cycle. Eddie will likely become part of the rhythm of non-nurturing parents who allow their children to be eaten alive by bad choices. Psychologists say that parents with low-control and low-acceptance of their children, like Eddie’s parents, produce children who struggle with problems like delinquency and drug abuse. How does the church nurture Eddie? What do we, the followers of Jesus, do to love Eddie and help him experience abundant life in Christ?

Maybe Eddie’s story is too extreme. Let me tell you about Meg. Meg is a widow with four grown children. She loves them fiercely and would give them the world if she could. As a mother, she believed that it was best to let kids make their own choices when it comes to their faith. Meg is part of our country’s nominal Christian culture. She believes in God, but couldn’t tell you what God means to her personally. She believes people should go to church, but she herself won’t go and sit with all the hypocrites. She firmly believed that when her children grew to adulthood, they would choose their own spiritual path, and she didn’t want to bias them or shove religion down their throats. Do you know what her children believe today? Nothing, really. They are mirror images of her own religion, finding importance but no personal meaning in church. They feel awkward, uncomfortable, and unwanted in church services, so they participate only rarely. Now Meg’s children have children of their own, and the cycle continues. I sometimes wonder of Meg is satisfied with the choices she made.

How does the church nurture Meg and her family? What do we, the followers of Jesus, do to love Meg and help her experience abundant life in Christ?

Is the church a mother ostrich sometimes? Jasmine might think so. Like many teenagers, Jasmine got caught up with the wrong crowd. Her language was vile. She smoked and drank and loved the weekend party life in the basements in town. Many of the troubled kids at school could sense Jasmine’s street smarts and wanted to hang out with her. Jasmine had one friend who was different. Teresa was always friendly to Jasmine and seemed to glimpse the real person beyond her bad-girl vices. Jasmine eventually started attending worship services at Teresa’s church. They went to youth group together, and Jasmine loved it. She even started going out with a guy from the youth group. Life was starting to look good for Jasmine. But she had a very hard time giving up her old habits. One night Teresa called Jasmine crying. “What’s the matter?” Jasmine asked. Teresa sobbed, “There are a bunch of people at church who don’t want you coming to youth group anymore. They think you’re a . . . bad influence.” “Why, because I smoke,” Jasmine defensively replied. “It’s more than that. They say it’s how you dress. They think it’s too suggestive. Some people have complained about your language, too. Even my parents are concerned about our friendship. Really, Jasmine, some of the people you hang out with are kind of scary.” Three weeks later, Jasmine dropped out of church and youth group, and started behaving worse than before. Sometimes the church is so concerned with outward appearances, we forget that God nurtures the heart and changes the inside first. We become like parents who are authoritarian figures: high in control and low in acceptance. Psychologists say that this kind of parenting can produce offspring who are socially inadequate and lacking in confidence. They are at risk of compromising themselves to find the acceptance from anyone with a better offer. How can the church nurture Jasmine? What do we, the followers of Jesus, do to love Jasmine and help her experience abundant life in Christ?

Today’s reading from Proverbs reminds us of what it takes to be nurturers in an age where many are left as spiritual and emotional orphans. God’s word reminds us that there is more to life than just taking care of our own needs while ignoring others’. Paul says in Romans, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves (12:9-10). We also hear the call to pay attention to other’s needs in Proverbs: Train children to live the right way, and when they are old, they will not stray from it. How, are you and I supposed to raise our kids faithfully? Let me give you a one-word answer: Hanukkah. That’s the actual Hebrew word in this verse for “train”. The literal definition of Hanukkah is “dedicate”. It means that you and I have a duty to pointing our children toward God.

When I was a kid, my grandparents had a Great Dane puppy. I remember one day seeing the Dog thinking that my grandparents had played a cruel trick. The dog had clothespins on his ears and they were taped up. Then I learned that that was what you do to train a Great Dane’s ears to stand straight up. They don’t do that on their own. They just flop down. They don’t stand up straight by accident. Well, our children most likely aren’t going to have a relationship with God by accident. Hanukkah. Intentionality. Train them. Dedicate.

What does all this have to do with TCC’s commitment to nurture youth and children? First of all it means that we have a first-rate staff or people who are here to help you train your children. I hope you picked up on the word “help.” It is not our job to ensure that your kids know God. Our Christian Education program is only meant to be a support system for what you are doing at home. Your home is the number one influence in the life of your child. The average church has a child for 1% of his or her time. The home has him 83% of your kids’ time and the school for the remaining 16%. This does not minimize the need for churches and schools, but it establishes the reality your home is 83% of your child's world and you only a brief amount of time in life to make the most of it.

With that being said, TCC is committed to assisting you in the training of your children. This happens in a number of ways. First, we want our children to be part of the worship life of our church. I don’t believe the children and youth of our church are the future of TCC, they are the church now, and we seek to find ways to have them be active in our worship.

Secondly, we are committed to providing the best Church School and Youth Ministry possible. Selina is fabulous. She loves your children and wants to see them flourish. She has a great committee of people to back her up. My children actually enjoy coming to Church School. That says something.

Nurturing our children and youth means becoming role models for them. They’re looking for models. They need to experience adults who demonstrate faith and love. Do your kids see us pray? Do your kids observe you worshiping? I’m not talking about going to church, the two can be totally different things. Do they see you worshiping from your heart? Do your kids see you as a person of compassion? Do your kids see you asking for forgiveness when you’ve blown it, especially if you’ve blown it with them? Do your kids ever hear you openly and honestly talk about your own faith journey with the living God.

Do our children see us modeling compassion with each other? Do they see us taking care of our community and being stewards of the earth? Let’s model these basic behaviors to our children. Take the first step today. What would happen if our children saw us reach out to one person today with a warm greeting and a smile of caring? What would happen if you asked your child, “I’d like to pray for you today. Is there anything I can pray for specifically?” How about letting your child hear you actually pray for his or her needs and for those around us? How about letting your children see you reaching out with compassionate care to others?

The Henry Street Hebrew School finished its lessons for the day and Mr. Goldblatt always ended with a question and answer time. It was his favorite time. Little Joey said, “I’m in a big dilemma, you’ve got to help me with this perplexing dilemma I’m in.” Mr. Goldblatt said, “Fire away, Joey.” “Mr. Goldblatt, isn’t it true that the Bible says that the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea?” “Yeah.” “Does the Bible say that the children of Israel fought the Philistines, beat ‘em up pretty bad?” “Well, yeah, that’s what it says.” “ Does the Bible say that the children of Israel erected the temple in Jerusalem?” “Joey, you are really learning your lessons well, yes!” “Well, does the Bible also say that the children of Israel fought the Egyptians, that they fought the Romans and that anything important that happened in the life of Israel, the children of Israel were involved in it?” “Yeah, what’s your dilemma?” He says, “I just want to know what were all the grown-ups doing?”

What are all the grown-ups doing at TCC? I’d like us to be able to say that we are committed to we dedicating, training, and pointing our children’s feet into the loving arms of Christ.

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