A little boy was riding home with his parents after church. His parents and new baby brother had just been involved in a parent child dedication. He was very sad on the way home and so finally his parents asked him what was wrong. He said, “The pastor said he wanted us brought up in a Christian home, but I want to stay with you guys.” What does it mean for children to be raised, nurtured, and taught in a Christian context?
The prophet Micah said: The Lord has told you, what is good and what the Lord requires of you, namely, to do justice (justice here is not punitive or retributive justice, it’s not getting what you deserve justice. It’s restorative justice, it’s standing with and speaking up for the most vulnerable and less fortunate), and it fits hand-in-glove with the next characteristic the prophet names – to love kindness, or to love mercy. The third is to walk humbly with your God. That is what God expects, says the prophet – restorative justice, kindness, and humility. Jesus of Nazareth, modeled and taught these very qualities.
The parents involved in dedicating their children and grandchildren today, as well as our entire church family, are making a commitment today to nurture our children in the way of Christ, our Lord, which means tending to them, caring for them, and teaching them in a sway that would cultivate in them the values of prophetic justice, mercy, and humility.
We have several families coming forward today to dedicate their children. And I am inviting grandparents to participate as well. We grandparents, as well as our entire church family have the wonderful privilege of helping to nurture these qualities in our grandchildren and our youngest participants. So grandparents, when I call out the parents and children, you are also invited to join them in the front and participate in this dedication.
As I name the family would you please come forward and we will form a line of families across the front. And grandparents, you are invited to come forward as well. . . . . .
Parents and grandparents, your children and grandchildren are a gift from God and you are privileged to have the most important role in imparting to your children and grandchildren the values of restorative justice, mercy, and humility. You are charged with the vocation of modeling in your own lives and instructing them in the way of Jesus of Nazareth, who is our Lord and Christ, and who taught us to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Our Lord embodied compassion and grace. He confronted the prejudice and injustice of the world. He gave himself in humble service for the good of others, even unto death. Do you pledge to use all the resources God has given you and the ministries of the church to model, teach, and impart to your children and grandchildren the way of Jesus. If so will you respond by saying, “We will in faithfulness to Christ.”
The church, too, has been given a high calling with regard to your children and grandchildren. Paul writes to the church at Rome: “Just as each of us has one body with many members . . . so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:4-5). We are a family of faith belonging to one another. So church, these are your children and grandchildren too. Will you as the body of Christ assume responsibility to model before these children and their families the righteousness, mercy, and humility of Christ, and help teach them and encourage them in the love and grace of Jesus, our Lord? If so, please respond by saying, “We will in faithfulness to Christ.”
Parents and Grandparents, may God grant you, and may God grant this congregation the grace and strength to keep this covenant.
Let us pray,
We are thankful for all the children you have given us as a family of faith. We are especially grateful today for all these children and their families who have made this commitment to you and to the church. We pray that all of us might remember the pledge we make today to model and teach the way of Jesus and to love the world the way he loved the world. Give all of us the strength, wisdom, faith, hope, and most of all the love we need to be faithful to this covenant we enter into today. In the name of Christ I pray. Amen.
If you have ever tried to read the Bible all the way through, then you are aware of a whole section of scripture devoted to some strange laws that governed Israel’s dietary practices. Someone has conjectured what it would be like to have parenting laws the way the Israelites had purity and food laws. Maybe it would read something like this: Of the beasts of the field, and of the fishes of the sea and of all the food that are acceptable in my sight you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the hoofed animals, broiled or ground into burgers, you may eat, but not in the living room . . . Of the juices and other beverages, yea, even of those in sippy-cups, you may drink, but not in the living room; neither may you carry such therein. Indeed, when you reach the place where the living room floor begins, of any food or beverage there, you may not eat, neither may you drink, for it is an abomination unto me.”
Or how about laws pertaining to dessert:
“For we judge between the plate that is unclean and the plate that is clean, saying first, if the plate is clean, then you shall have desert. But of the unclean plate the laws are these: If you have eaten most of your meat, and two bites of your peas with each bite consisting of not less than three peas each, or in total six peas, eaten where I can see, and you have also eaten enough of your potatoes to fill two forks, both forkfuls eaten where I can see, then you shall have dessert. But if you eat a lesser number of peas, and yet eat the potatoes, you shall not have dessert; and if you eat the peas, yet leave the potatoes uneaten, you shall not have dessert, no, not even a small portion thereof. And if you try to deceive by moving the potatoes or peas around with a fork, that it may appear you have eaten what you have not, you will fall into iniquity. And I will know, and you shall have no dessert.”
Well, when it comes to rules and laws Jesus simplified things. Matthew’s Gospel reads this way in Matt. 22:34-40: When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest? Jesus said to him, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” On these two commandments – to love God with your total being and love your neighbor as yourself – which is another version of the golden rule – Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you – on these two commandments hang everything else. These two commandments constitute the fundamental essence of what God wants in our lives.
In John 13:34-35 Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” We might ask, How is this a new commandment? It’s new in one important aspect. Jesus becomes for us the living embodiment of what love feels like and looks like. “Love others the way I have loved you,” says Jesus. Love the way I love. How did Jesus love? He loved unconditionally and inclusively. He welcomed all to the table. He even loved his enemies who wanted to kill him. The one thing that really stands out about the way Jesus loved is that he gave special attention and consideration in his love for the most vulnerable in society. He stood with and cared for the very ones that society had marginalized and rejected and excluded and judged unworthy. Today, that could be someone of a different religious faith or nationality. It could be an LGBTQ sister or brother. It could be an undocumented person. It could be someone with very different values than ourselves. Many Christians like to conveniently forget that the Good Samaritan, who Jesus made the hero in the story, was of a different religious faith and nationality than Jesus and his fellow Jews. The most important thing parents and grandparents can teach their children is to love all people, especially those that others don’t love. Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Now, in order to love others as we love yourselves, we have to love ourselves. Some of us may love ourselves too much, and not love others hardly at all. And others of us do not love ourselves, and so we are incapable of loving others. In order to express love, we have to experience love. Authentic religion in general, and authentic Christianity in particular, helps us to know God’s love through personal experience, rather than creating worthiness systems. You don’t have to believe the right things to be worthy and to be loved. You don’t have to be born into the right family to be worthy and be loved. You don’t have to be a citizen of the right country to be worthy and be loved. You don’t have to obey certain rules and laws to be worthy and be loved.
That’s not unconditional love. That’s not grace. And that’s not God. God is the God of everyone, whether they know it or not. When Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan, Jesus heard the voice of God say, “You are my beloved Son, on you my grace rests.” The voice that called Jesus beloved, that called Jesus God’s Son is the same voice that calls to each one of us and says, “You are my beloved daughter, you are my beloved son, on you my grace rests.” Authentic religion always helps us to hear that voice. You see, sisters and brothers, it’s not about believing the right doctrines or performing the right religious practices. It’s about hearing the Divine voice speak to us saying, “You are my beloved child.” When the church is really being the church, the church will help us hear that voice. When the church is really being the church, the church will help us become who we already are.
Sophie, our granddaughter, went through a stage when she was three or four, when I said, “Sophie, you’re silly,” she would say, “I’m not silly. I’m Sophie Jordan Griffith.” She knew who she was, and it had nothing to do with silly. When it comes to our true self and our identity in God, do we know who we are? Do we know that we are a child of God, called by God to reflect the image of God, called by Christ to love the way Christ loves us?
We are all loved by God and chosen by God to mirror God’s likeness in the world. We are all chosen by God to love the way Jesus loved – inclusively, unconditionally, empathetically, compassionately, and courageously. The difference between people is this: Some of us know who we are, we claim our connection to God – our union with God – and are committed to do what we can do to become who we are. Others of us have never experienced God’s love hence, we do not know who we are.
Some of us may have known once, but have forgotten. It’s easy to do. There are so many voices in our society clamoring for our attention. Sometimes when we listen to these voices that reflect our culture, we become consumed with how we appear to others and what they think of us, or what we have and don’t have, or how much status and standing we have in our community. Stuff that God doesn’t care diddly about. And we forget who we are and who we are called to be. We forget that we are called to love, and that our greatest joy in life can only be found in loving others the way God loves us.
According to a Greek legend Helen of Troy was kidnapped and whisked across the seas to a distant city where she suffered from amnesia. In time she escaped from her captors and became a prostitute on the streets in order to survive. Back in her homeland, her friends refused to give up on her. One admiring adventurer who never lost faith set out on a journey to find her and bring her back. One day as he was wandering through the streets of a strange city he came across a woman who looked strangely familiar. He inquired as to her name, and she responded with some other name. Then he asked if he could see her hands. He knew the lines of Helen’s hands. When he looked at her hands, he realized he had found her. He exclaimed joyfully, “You are Helen! You are Helen of Troy!” “Helen” she replied in a puzzling tone. But when she spoke her name, her true name, the fog began to clear and a sense of recognition registered on her face. She discovered her lost self. Immediately she said good bye to her old life to become the queen she was called to be. Are we becoming the daughters and sons of God we are called to be and already are.
Like in the story, maybe if you speak your true name, maybe if you say, “I’m a child of God; I’m God’s beloved daughter; I am God’s beloved son,” maybe the fog will clear and you will remember who you really are. Even if no human being ever told you that you are a beloved child of God, God told you, you just have to remember. And God is telling you right now. You just have to listen. The late Henry Nouwen says this so well. In his book, Life of the Beloved he puts it this way: “Long before any human being saw us, we are seen by God’s loving eyes. Long before anyone heard us cry or laugh, we are heard by our God who is all ears for us. Long before any person spoke to us in the world, we are spoken to by the voice of eternal love. Our preciousness, uniqueness, and individuality are not given to us by those who meet us in clock-time – our brief chronological existence – but by the One who has chosen us with an everlasting love, a love that existed from all eternity and will last through all eternity.”
The Apostle Paul used the imagery of shedding old clothes and putting on new clothes. He instructed the members of his churches to put off their old self, their little, ego self, the self that we think we are when we let society and the voices of our culture tell us who we are. He instructed them to put off the false self and put on the new self, the true self, the self we are in God, in Christ. The self we are when we are filled with and led by God’s Spirit. Paul instructed them to put off negative attitudes and actions like anger, bitterness, resentment, malice, and anything that would cause them to treat any of God’s children less than who they are. And he tells them to put on the virtues and actions of Christ.
In his letter to the Ephesians Paul says, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us.” In his letter to the Colossians he says, “Cloth yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just at the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, cloth yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Love is the glue that holds everything together. Actually love is the holy spirit that binds us together. By putting on these new virtues, these new patterns of thinking and living, we discover and become who we are.
There is no greater calling in life. There is no greater meaning and purpose in life. There is no greater ultimate joy in life than to experience God’s love for ourselves and to help others experience that love. Parents and grandparents, the greatest thing you can do for your children and your grandchildren is to experience God’s love for yourselves, and help your children and grandchildren discover it as well. Church, the best thing we can do to live our calling as the body of Christ in the world is to help each other experience and express God’s love. For when we do that we will be helping each other become who we already are.
Gracious God, thank you for this special time we could share with these beautiful families today. May they all come to know in increasing measure just how wide and deep your love is for them. May they feel great gratitude for having these precious children put under their care. May they have great joy in helping to nurture in them the love of Christ, in whose name I pray. Amen.