The Fourth Sunday of Easter
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. I speak to you in the name the Good Shepherd. Amen.
I have to confess, the people I normally stand in front of rarely have grown all their permanent teeth. But I am thrilled to be here with you this morning to celebrate the children and youth of St. Mary’s.
I have been a part of this community for a little over a year now. It is a privilege of to learn alongside our children and youth. They are a remarkable lot of people. A fine flock of sheep.
15 years ago I became a parent. It was a moment I felt like I had waited for my whole life. I was sure I was prepared. I knew about taking care of infants from years of babysitting. The firemen had installed the car seat. There was a beautiful nursery. The house was stuffed with every infant contraption I could put my hands on. I was ready.
And then there she was. They put this perfect creature in my arms and my very first words to her were, “I am so sorry. I am your mother.”
Despite everything I thought I knew suddenly I was responsible for a living breathing human being, a child of God in her own right, and I was confronted with the reality of my own humanness. I would fail her at times. I would fall far short of what she needed. How on earth was I going to raise up this child?
Wendy Mogel, a noted child psychologist and woman of great faith, when speaking about parenting says… Our children “are a precious loan, and each one has a unique path toward serving God. Our job is to help them find out what that is.
I have this quote framed on my bedside table. It is my daily reminder to keep myself in check.
Our job as parents, as leaders and members in the church is no more or less than to help these children find their path serve God. Each child of God, whether they are 3 or 33 or 93 has a unique path. And each of us spend our entire lives figuring out exactly how to live that out. It is near impossible to do that in isolation.
That’s why the early believers we hear about in Acts gathered together again and again. That is precisely why we are here this morning. Coming together to worship, to hear the Good news, to practice how we are to act in the world is an integral part of finding and staying on that path of service.
There are so many places that our children figure out their paths. At school. Amongst their peers. On sports fields and in dance and theater studios. Learning to play musical instruments. And indeed just at play.
All of these tasks are important. But, I believe that being a part of a faith community is different, set apart, vital.
Resilience, the ability to adapt and grow in the face of adversity, is a character trait often discussed in child development. Most certainly our children are able to develop resilience as they master their academic studies, hone athletic skills, try and fail at endeavors and learn to try again. They can work hard enough to feel completely prepared.
But, those of us who have grown all our permanent teeth know through experience that even when we feel our most prepared, there will be road blocks, failures, or realizations of our own human inabilities. I am so sorry. I am your mother.
But in the fold of the Good Shepherd no matter what, we are given the grace to assure our children, to assure ourselves, that they are enough, that we are enough, just as they are, just as we are. There are no grades. No victors or losers on the playing field. No audience to impress. They get to show up here and just be who they are.
We come to fold of the Good Shepherd to work out what it means to be grateful for all we have been given. This is a place to come to face the fears and failures that feel an awful like the Valley of the Shadow of death. There is a table here always prepared for us with a cup that is overflowing with a love that passes all understanding.
The kind of resilience built in a life of service to Christ relies not on our own individual abilities, but on the grace of God. Here at church we can give our children and ourselves the opportunity to learn just how to make such a life of service work.
I’d like to share with you some of the ways our children and youth have been going about this work. Each Sunday of the academic year the children and youth are busy learning the stories of our faith. Each Sunday there are youth who show up to serve as acolytes to help lead our worship. Last summer during Vacation Bible School the kids, along with their parents, donated over 300 pounds of food to Goochland Free Clinic and Family Services. They sing in the children’s choir and beside us in the pews, help carry up the oblations and usher with their parents. Our youth have served others this year, gleaned crops to feed our neighbors in need, and come together for worship and fellowship and learning. Our confirmands have committed to months of study and service.
In a few months, we will again gather for Vacation Bible School and learn that Christ is our light. The following week our Senior High students will travel all the way to South Dakota and share and receive that same light. And just the week after that our Junior High students will head to West Virginia on the same mission.
These children and youth are just fantastic evangelists, all around fearfully and wonderfully made sheep of this fold. They are finding their path of service to God alongside us.
I’d also like to take a moment to recognize that almost none of these kids drive. So, if you are sitting out there and your car has a sticky car seat or two. And there are some inexplicable stickers on your back windows. And possibly there is a smell coming from the far back of the car that is vaguely wrong. Thank you. Thank you for bringing these young people here to live out their faith.
Thank you to the teachers and volunteers who show up week after week to lead Sunday School and events. You field questions that seminary professors may be stumped by. Thank you for being shepherds to your classes. You are treasures.
Thank you to those of you who might be past the sticky car seat stage and show up each week and greet our kids and pat our bleary eyed parents on the shoulder. Thank you to all of you who smile at the kid squirreling behind you in the pew. Thank you to those of you who donated to the garage sale, or bring snacks for VBS or look the other way when the kids get that extra dessert on Wednesday nights.
And day by day their number increased. And so it is with us. Day by day our number is increased with precious loans from God. Together let us continue to become resilient sheep of the Good Shepherd.
May we all continue to find our path toward serving God, in the pastures and by the still waters, in the Valley of the Shadow of Death and even in the presence of our enemies. May we come to the table prepared for us by the Good Shepherd knowing that surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives and that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.