Dr. Neil Carver on The Ministry of Children (Sept 9)

The ministry of children (Luke 15:1-10) 17th after Pentecost C


This morning we recognize and express gratitude and support of those who minister alongside our youth, young children, and infants. Notice, I didn’t say who minister to our children. I said “who minister alongside” our younger members, because it is our youngest members who have so much to share with us.

My first appointment as rector was that of a three-point charge in Bruce County. In reality I ministered to four congregations. These were the 8 o’clock and 10 o’clock congregations in Walkerton, an 11.30 a.m. congregation in Pinkerton, and a 2 o’clock congregation in Kingarf. During that time, Claudia and I had four pre-school children. Although the Walkerton rectory was next door to the church, by the time Claudia had single handedly got our children ready for Sunday worship, I had already led the service beyond its first hymn. We’ll never forget an occasion I stood up to preach and wondered what I had said to cause the congregation to explode into laughter, only to discover my two year old son had joined me and was bobbing his tiny head over the top of the pulpit.

As a parish, there is more to be done to show that we are child friendly. Age is not a barrier to receive the sacrament and, for any who feel the need, programmes are available that prepare children for Holy Communion. Children’s pew books can be made available to assist them with our service. If we are child friendly, we must show them. When a child reaches out for the bread of life or a simple blessing, they receive these with a child’s faith

Children live with questions. They ask one, and then another, for one question will lead to yet another. Just as I have watched them mature through life experiences, so too, my children have influenced my personal faith journey. They have helped me develop a faith that can live with questions, with life’s ambiguities, complexity, and to express awe and wonder. Let us celebrate the children in our midst and acknowledge, that to experience heaven here on earth, we too must learn from them.

As unborn children we existed within the warm and dark protection of our mother’s womb. But a pregnant mother is often vulnerable. My own birth took place in an isolated Welsh village where my mother had taken refuge from the the bombing of the London blitz. The passage along the birth canal into this world is traumatic as we move from the womb’s warm darkness and face this world’s unfamiliar bright light and startling noise.

I have been blessed to, once again observe early child development in my grandchildren – first, as new borns reaching out beyond – next, moving on all fours before standing upright. I’ve observed their frustration with efforts to be understood, their first words which, before long, lead to the repetitious question “Why?” “Why?” is the question that arises not only from a natural curiosity, but from a sense of awe and wonder. So often a little child’s naivete is mixed with wisdom. Such was the case the day my then almost three year old grand daughter announced that she wanted to become an astronaut.” When her mother asked her “Why?”, Hazel replied, “Because I want to dance on the moon.”

This morning we heard Jesus’ parable of the shepherd who, searching for one sheep in a hundred who has gone astray, will not give up until he finds it. And, when that lost sheep is found, he rejoices and shares his happiness with friends and neighbours. Jesus himself has long been associated with the image of that good shepherd. All four gospels describe how Jesus went out of his way, risked and gave his life in search for any who might otherwise despair of being lost and abandoned.

One of the earliest story of Jesus, as told in Mark’s gospel, tells us

“As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” “Compassion” was the outstanding characteristic of Jesus’ brief life. Jesus taught compassion; Jesus lived the compassionate life. To follow in the way of Jesus, to share his life and to live according to his teaching, is to live compassionate lives. It was compassion that attracted others to the earliest gatherings of the Jesus movement. Does that describe our fellowship with Jesus?

Jesus said, “There will be more joy in heaven over one outcast who has repents, than over ninety-nine worthy people who have no need of repentance”. We have too often associated “repentance” with “sin”.  But to be in “sin” is to literally find oneself in a quagmire and wilderness. It is to be despondent and lost, downcast and beyond help. “Repent” simply means “turn around” and “look up”. Turn around and gaze into the face of divine love and compassion. Be lifted up and be embraced by a fellowship of joy that reaches out to embrace any who might otherwise feel unworthy of the same.

Who are the most vulnerable in our time and place? Do the destitute regard us as a compassionate society? On the world stage, do others consider Canada a compassionate nation. What steps is our parish taking to make our secular society a compassionate society? Can we become a more caring as we practice this mindset? At this particular time, who most desperately feels lost and abandoned? Yes, we are currently engaged in welcoming refugees as new Canadians. There are a multitude of others. We have been advocating supportive housing for those who lack a home. Again, there is need of so much more. Can we do more?

Is compassion an innate characteristic or is empathy learned behaviour? Grandparents are prone to brag about their grandkids. So, please forgive if you’ve heard me mention this before. Several months ago, two of my grandchildren were treated to breakfast at a pancake house in downtown Toronto. When five year old Cooper was unable to eat all his pancakes the waitress said, “No problem. We’ll pack up his left-overs and he can take them home for later.” As they left the restaurant and walked to the parking lot, Cooper saw a homeless man sitting on the curb. He asked his mom if he could give him his pancakes. The man gratefully accepted. A few minutes later, when they drove by the same man, Cooper peered out of the car window and saw him enjoying his pancakes. “Look,” he said, “I knew he was hungry.”

Too soon this world’s prejudice, self-interest, anxiety and fear, rebuff our childish innocence, natural curiosity, and instinctive reaching out to friend and stranger. It was enough to prompt Jesus of Nazareth to say the obvious, to experience life in all its wonder and possibility we must be born again and reassume the role of a chil

Carver 11.09.2016
The Church of the Holy Saviour, Waterloo