“Children Will Listen”
Jeremiah 1:4–10 and 7:1–11
Christ the King Sunday
November 23, 2014
First Christian Church
Dennis Sanders, preaching
It’s been 40 years since I’ve been in kindergarten. I can still remember going to Saint Angnes Catholic School located on the northside of my hometown of Flint, Michigan. St. Agnes was a Catholic church and like many Catholic churches, it also had a school. The school was separated from the church building and every so often we would line up and walk outside and into the church building. If you want to know how I became a pastor, you have to look at this point. I was mezmorized by the banners and the pagentry of the worship service. There was something that fascinated me about the worship service. I was so taken by this experience that I wanted to do it myself. Especially the communion. I was fascinated by the bread and the wine and I wanted to do what the priest did.
So, I decided to do my first communion. When I was at home, I got pieces of bread and some grape juice and started pretending that I was giving communion to…well, myself. I knew it wasn’t as special as the what the priest did at St. Agnes, but it was still fun pretending to participate in communion.
When my mother found out that I was doing self-communion she decided to put a stop to it. For her this event was something that was very serious and not something little kids should be pretending to do.
Was my Mom correct in doing that? I don’t know. I think she meant well. I think she was trying to tell me that what was done here, the bread and the wine was something that was sacred. It wasn’t something that you played with.
Today’s text deals with the prophet Jeremiah. He comes to fore at a different time in the Southern Kingdom’s history. Last week we talked about Assyria being the big, bad superpower that threatened the kingdom of Judah. When we start reading Jeremiah, we see that Assyria is a fading power. A new power is coming to fore; Babylon. In a few years time, this new power will bring the downfall of the Southern Kingdom.
In the midst of this comes Jeremiah. In chapter one we find Jeremiah is being called to be a prophet. Jeremiah is not crazy about this and with good reason. If we read more of the book of Jeremiah we would see that this prophet would not have a regular social life. He would be ridiculed. He would be thrown into prison. Kings would seek to have him killed. But God is calling him to preach the downfall of nations, but also to preach a new hope.
In chapter 7, we see Jeremiah at the temple in Jerusalem. You can see people milling about; some folks are going to worship and others are leaving to head back into town. It’s a busy place. It’s here that Jeremiah is going to preach. The image that comes to mind reading this text is one of a street preacher. I remember seeing them in college at one of the major intersections. People were heading here and there to classes and these preachers would start talking in the midst of this. That’s what Jeremiah was doing. He was preaching as people are walking hither and yon. Some people were stopping to hear him and others were caught a few words, shook their heads and moved on. Jeremiah speaks for God in very clear tones to the people of Israel. “Shape up! Treat the immigrant, the orphan and the widow with justice. When you live a godly life outside the temple, then I will dwell with you.” And then you can hear him getting louder and louder to get the point accross: “Stop living a lie. Stop treating others unjustly and then come into this temple. THIS IS THE LORD’S TEMPLE! THIS IS THE LORD’S TEMPLE! THIS IS THE LORD’S TEMPLE!”
God was just teanie bit upset.
The point of this excercise is pretty simple: God could people who would treat others like crap and worship other gods during the week and then come to the temple and basically put on a show. But God wasn’t interested in pretending. God was tired of people acting like criminals and then come to temple as if this place would shelter them.
When I was in college, one of the book I had to read in my English class was the Narrative of Fredrick Douglass. As some of you know, Douglass grew up as a slave and then became an abolitionist in 19th century America. One of the passages from that book that has stuck in my mind since I read it 20 years ago was a passage where the young Frederick had done something to stoke the anger of the master of the plantation. The master was whipping Douglass all the while saying Bible verses.
History is repleat with people who did dastardly things Monday through Saturday and then come to church on Sunday as if nothing had happened. But church, like the temple of old was not a magical place where you could get a little forgiveness and get back into the world doing the same sinful things. What God wanted over and over again is for people who gave their whole lives to God, not just one day, but 24/7.
By the way, when Jesus talks about the temple of his day being a den of thieves, he was using Jeremiah’s words. Too bad not much had changed.
It would be easy to think that this was something that affected the Israelites or the American South. You and I aren’t doing this, are we?
I can’t answer that question. What I can say is that worshipping God is serious business. It is not done for show; it is a time when we connect with the holy and if we are connecting with God, we can’t pretend. God is not expecting perfection, but God is wanting people to be real and not playing around. What we do outside the walls of this church matter to God as much as what is going on here on the inside.
Well, now I can actually give people communion. I’m not doing play communion these days. There is something holy when I can tell someone, “The body of Christ broken for you. The blood of Christ shed for you.” I can see people’s eyes light up that this bread and wine mean something and that God cares for them. It’s also a moment when we are real. We aren’t doing this for show, but for God.
This past weekend, Daniel and I drove up to Grand Forks to see our nephew in a college production of the Broadway musical “Into the Woods.” The play takes several Grimm Fairy Tales and kind of mashes them together into a story. The idea seems a bit odd to me, but it seems to work. One of the songs from that musical is called “Children Will Listen.” I knew of the song long before I saw the play. The song is about being aware of how we act in front of our children because they are always watching, always learning. I want to share a bit of the lyrics:
Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say “Listen to me”
Children will listen
The reason I was so excited about communion was because I saw the priest do it. He may not have known it, but he was being a model to me. As we live our lives in the days between being here at church, our we living lives that are not only pleasing to God, but that our children, our families, our friends would want to emulate? Are they learning how to be better followers of Christ or are they learning how to offer faint praise to God?
“Careful the things you say, Children will listen.” So will our family. So will our friends. Worship ain’t a joke. It’s time to be real.
May it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen.