Speaker: Michelle Burkholder
Per the lectionary calendar, tomorrow is the celebration of the presentation of the Lord at the temple. This is the part of the story at the beginning of Jesus’ life where Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the temple to observe purification rites and the sacrificial obligations that came with having a firstborn male child. It is also the story of the family’s encounters with Simeon and Anna, two wise spiritual leaders of the community who proclaim their thanks to God above for having the opportunity to see, first hand, the hope and salvation they knew to be bound up in the life of the little one in their presence.
Today we too celebrate the hope and assurance of God’s presence that is offered to us through the presence of children in the midst of our community life. In Matthew 18 we hear Jesus explaining to the disciples that, if they want to know who is the greatest in the kindom, they should look to children as their example of successful kindom living.
“The truth is, unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the kindom of heaven.”
And later, in Matthew, Jesus again confirms the importance and value of children in the kindom. When the disciples began to scold parents for bringing their children to Jesus to be blessed, Jesus redirects the disciples, not the parents, saying:
“Let the children alone – let them come to me. The kindom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Through these encounters we begin to see that the ways of children can help teach us about the ways of the kindom. Luckily, human nature being what it is, all of us have some experience with being children and those of us who have moved beyond childhood years can ponder the lessons (both good and bad) learned from our own childhoods. When we step into this community, we also have the gift of the people in our midst who are currently children and we can choose to see them as valuable resources of insight and challenge, indeed they are our partners, on the continuous path of spiritual growth.
Did you hear that kids? You help all of the people around you learn how to live like Jesus and love God, just by being you.
A day in the life of a child can offer uncountable insights into a day in the life of the kindom – we need only to look. Looking is something we are challenged to do through our Scripture Spotting project (which is on-going so keep sending in those photos) and last year one of the verses spotted was the Matthew 18 verses we are talking about today:
…in order to become like children, we must watch children. [We already got some excellent examples from the kids this morning during children’s time about how we can remember to be child-like.]
This week as I was reflecting on this text I found myself watching our son Simon to see what he, at 14 months of age, might be able to inform me about kindom living – and I observed in him a wide range of expressions of what it might mean to live out the kindom here on earth: I saw the need for caretaking and the ability to care for others, I saw the need and impact of rest (or the lack thereof), I offered joy and I experienced joy, I wiped away tears and I cried, I saw sparks of recognition, the dawning look of new understanding, and experimentation, I saw the need for independent space and the need for community and presence. The more I looked, the more I saw and from all of this I gleaned that a day in the life of the kindom is rich beyond measure – it is a day full of love, grace, forgiveness and ever-growing relationship.
There is much to be learned from the children in our community, just as there is much that we can offer to the children in our midst. For as much as children teach us, they are also students of life looking to those around them for support and encouragement. We are called to learn from children, but we are also called to walk with them, instructing them as needed, so that they too can grow and experience the fullness of life.
Proverbs 22:6 Develop a child to its full potential, and that training will last a lifetime.
There is another proverb regarding the development of children that I would guess that many of us are familiar with: It takes a village to raise a child. One of the gifts of raising a child in the midst of a community of faith like the one here at Hyattsville is that there is an ever evolving village present to join in the raising and nurturing of children.
Of course raising a child in a village isn’t without its challenges. It requires parents to learn how to let go a little and trust the collective community to step in in the unique ways a community can. It also requires the community to step up and learn what it means to actively engage in being a village that helps raise and nurture the children in its midst.
That is the balance we are continuously seeking here at Hyattsville – learning together as parents, children and villagers to (as my partner Becky has come to call it in the year since Simon’s birth) “let the village be the village.” Which is to say: accepting and acknowledging what this community does well for our children while continuing to stretch our minds and expand our vision of what we might yet offer and then asking ourselves as individuals if there are new ways in which we are interested and able to join in the ongoing work of being the village for our kids.