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One of the (many) things about young kids that I find so breathtaking, is that they really know how to love, and they really know how to be fully alive, present to what is in front of them. AND if you’ve been around little kids – you know they make this known, by embodying this way of living and loving. Where none of that looks like perfection and none of it is secured by them – by way of taught knowledge, or by way of being bought or built, and none of it is rigid, or defined. The way that many kids love and live, is messy, vulnerable, unruly – and yet alltogether compelling…
And also, if we are honest – totally unnerving … because it means you never really know what you are going to get! But you do know that whatever it is, you’ll likely get it at 100%!
What’s going to come out of their mouths, how close they’ll get to you – what questions they’ll ask – is often unpredictable.
I felt that this last Sunday on Halloween… as a couple hundred kids made their way up our front steps… And, as part of the trick or treat exchange, I tried to ask each kid, “How’s your night going?”
And at varying degrees of social distance violations, I got a myriad of answers:
The first with one kid, pulling their lollipop out of their mouth, and pointing it at my mouth – answered by saying: “Why is your tooth so yellow?”
Another answering by saying, “Uuuugh, can I sit here – my feet are killing me!?”
“Ahhh, my night is mostly really bad, but some good.”
“I don’t like Almond Joys – can I have a Twix?”
And there it is – this childlike-ness – this in your face, unfiltered, seemingly off-point, utterly vulnerable, and honest spirit. A spirit that I find myself longing for these days – because it seems like this way of being – opens our view of the world, of God – each other – that can hold a lot of mystery and complexity – something that I feel lacking in.
Kids show us that to love, unabashedly. And to live fully (with all the layers of life in view) is actually the “good life” we have all already inherited by God. And yet one that we often strive to still obtain.
So this morning I’m going to talk about childlike faith – and how this instrument of wonder opens our faith, grows our faith, and keeps our faith healthy. OPENING us into more joy, more laughter, more hope – all while taking in the messiness of this life – that isn’t all sweet.
This is the only way I could imagine honoring Kim Messenger today – to invite us all to reflect & revisit what a childlike faith can offer us – not just the children among us. And so invite you to reclaim wonder – if you feel like you are lacking in it or have lost it as the yeast of your faith.
God – help us this morning, to take in all of life. Help us to get in touch with where we are at right now, in this present moment – are we feeling open? Shut down? Numb? Disinterested? Full of faith, low on faith?… Help us to move into this conversation with you this morning… Thank you, Jesus.
Over the past year and half, I’ve returned to this notion of “child-like” faith again and again. I’ve looked at it, entertained it, recognizing at arm’s length that it is exactly the invitation of Jesus’ that would be helpful to return to.
But I just couldn’t get there – somewhere in the pandemic, my capacity to hold all the hard – and squint for a luster of wonder, felt like too much.
And that is a little disorienting for me. Because the lenses of wonder and beauty are often more my inclination – but they’ve felt in many ways irresponsible, maybe even harmful – given the scope of chaos, violence, racism, and death in our landscape. Wide-eyed wonder, childlike faith – what place could it take in the midst of overwhelming catastrophe? The answer wasn’t clear to me, and the stakes too high. So I think I’ve just suspended it. Because I could fall back on the elements of my faith that I KNOW – scripture and prayer – with some regularity.
Childlike faith, however, seems to be a lot less about answers – and actually all about the “stakes” of life.
A lot about courage – because it asks us to go beyond our set of known “beliefs” about God (who God is), and summons our will to wonder and create with God (as a way of knowing God).
Rabbi Abraham Heschel says it’s
“not that we lack a will to believe – it’s that we lack a will to wonder.”
To be alive in the story of God means daring to wonder as much as we say we “believe.”
And that’s scary. Because to wonder means we are entering into something that can shake everything up – AND it doesn’t ask permission to grow inside of you. It just goes – and it takes everything in its path with it. Everything we’ve understood, everything we think we know, everything we’ve stored in our hearts, everything we’ve felt in our bodies, everything we’ve once dreamt about. It’s called into question by WONDER. But it’s also called back to life. And this holds the potential to resurrect us (in ways we’ve shut down and maybe prefer) and break us open into new fields and realms ensuring nothing except the goodness and love of God at our every turn.
Jesus has something to say about childlike faith – here in the scripture of Luke – read along with me as it comes up on slides:
Luke 18: 15 – 23 (Common English Bible)
15 People were bringing babies to Jesus so that he would bless them. When the disciples saw this, they scolded them.
16 Then Jesus called them to him and said, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kin-dom belongs to people like these children.
17 I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kin-dom like a child will never enter it.”
18 A certain ruler asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain/inherit eternal life?”
19 Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except the one God. 20 You know the commandments: Don’t commit adultery. Don’t murder. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Honor your father and mother.”
21 Then the ruler said, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.”
22 When Jesus heard this, he said, “There’s one more thing. Sell everything you own and distribute the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.”
23 When he heard these words, the man became sad because he was extremely rich.
Now, I wonder, as you hear this story, what part of this story is the most important to you?
The most important part to me (today) is this question that the ruler asks Jesus,
“How can I inherit the “good life/eternal life”?”
It’s an honest question perhaps.
.And an interesting question – because it seems like the young ruler might have missed the answer that Jesus already offered….He says,
“Let the children come to me.”
This answer though of Jesus’ to the young ruler is probably similar to my Halloween experience “wait, what?” Did you even answer that question?
“Little children – eternal life?” WHAT?
What “good thing(s)” do I need to do? To SECURE & obtain my spot in the kin-dom of heaven?
Jesus is generous here and calls out what the young ruler does know these commandments that encapsulate loving your neighbor:
Don’t commit adultery. Don’t murder. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Honor your father and mother.”
The young ruler, is like
“yes – yes – I’ve known these commandments, I’ve kept them since I was a child. Since I was these kid’s age. I have scrupulously observed these duties.”
“Then what do I lack?” (in Matthew’s version)
Jesus answers by showing – calling his attention to what is in front of his face… these children…
“Watch them,” “See how they approach me,”. .. “Come directly to me”
With their messy, sticky selves
Their toddling steps…
With their curiosities and excitement about the dog they met on the way..
The pain in their stubbed toe
They come to me with all of it..
“They know love when they see it. They know they belong to me.
They have already inherited the kin-dom.
They embody the commandments. The ones you have known since you were a boy – and they embody the ones you have yet to “wonder” your way into – “That’s loving me – loving your God with all of your heart, mind and soul…”
“You don’t lack the will to believe – you lack the will to let go, (yes – of your possessions , your privilege, your training, your disciplines) AND You lack the will to let go unto wonder.”
Wonder – the instrument that brings these commandments, these lessons – into your real life. With real people.
Two weeks ago as part of our staff meeting, Kim invited us to sit in tiny kid chairs and on the floor, of the 2nd floor MC. To hear her tell a Godly Play story – the story of “The Great Family”: of Abraham and Sarah and God, And all of us – the lineage & the beginnings of our faith….which actually are about childlike faith…
These Godly Play story’s hang on the platform of “wonder” as the means by which spiritual formation takes seed. However, this wondering doesn’t sugarcoat or skip any of the reality of life. In fact, it dives right into it all – trusting the power of childlike faith can hold. A faith that can stand in this gritty life, and look up at the sky – and still feel
“God come so close to us, and us so close to God – that we know God is with us, (blessing us) in this place,”
wherever and whatever we are standing in.
The story Kim told of this Great Family’s journey – and of them getting to know God – is QUITE A STORY. It embraces humility, uncertainty, suffering, scary stuff.
In fact, the starting point of this story, as she told it, is in the setting of a desert. And the words to follow are not a light rendering-
“The desert is a dangerous place, there is no water in the desert, and people cannot live without water or food for very long.. .no one goes into the desert unless they have to…”
This is the landscape of faith that kids get to wonder about.. (It’s not a cozy cabin with Jesus in front of the fire).
And kids are like,
“ ooo yes – I get that. Sounds a lot like life.”
And then as Kim continued she outlines that Abraham & Sarah were “this one family that believed that there was
“one God, and that all of God was in everything”
– and she goes on to say,
“they didn’t know if this was true” – but that is what they believed.”
“And soon the time came for Abraham and Sarah to move from a KNOWN land to an UNKNOWN land, and “they didn’t know if God would be with them in this new place or not.”
The stage of faith – as kids will hear it – encompasses messy unknowing – not “absolutes.”
And kids are like,
“Yes – I get that. A lot of what I’ve had to do in this life is new, and unknown to me.”
And then as Kim continues and we follow Abraham and Sarah on their journey with God – from Or to Hebron.. We journey along too – into unexpected friendships, to promise, to loneliness, to laughter, to death, to burial in caves. To GROWTH , to NEW LIFE – and as the story goes – WE SEE generations and generations of faith TAKE SHAPE AS many “as there are stars in this sky, and as many as there are grains of sand in the desert.”
This is the inheritance of our faith. IT’s BIG.
And kids are like – oh, yah I get all of that…I’m sad sometimes, people die, things are funny, *and I especially like caves!*
Childlike faith can hold the paradoxes that come along our journey with God. It may be WONDROUS. It WILL BE MESSY. It is MEANT TO leave us humbled saying “I DON”T KNOW!”
Full of questions – about everything – God, ourselves, and our world. We are meant to ask like kids do-
“Why?” “But why?” “How come?”
Because this world is a wild, and dangerous place – just like the desert – and there’s a lot to wonder about.
God seems to say,
“come to me.”
Climb up into my lap, whenever you want – and I will kiss your head and bless you. And we can find each other anew – again and again and again..
This story reminded me that Abraham and Sarah’s faith – the Great Family’s faith – our faith
“has nothing to do with believing the right stuff or continuing to learn new, esoteric things about theology until we die.” (Dave Schmelzer)
It all boils down to
being open to wonder – to hold the mystery that God isn’t just in this place, or that place, or in this set of rules, or these particular commandments, or for just these “mature” Christians – but ALL of God IS everywhere.
Abraham never did become a wealthy landowner in the new land, right – his journey with God wasn’t about OBTAINING the good life? It was about embracing his inheritance as one blessed by the presence and goodness of God at every turn along the journey.
Each Godly Play session ends with wondering questions… like,
I wonder where you are in this story?
I think Jesus is posing this same question to the young ruler,
“I wonder where are you in this story? This story of faith, and love and of God? And of growing the kin-dom?”
Are you dipping your toe in? Are you drooling and sticky with vulnerability and wonder on your face – fully immersed? – or are you hidden behind your racks of money, and trophies of righteousness and power?
From a very young age, this young ruler had stayed the course. He had read the directions, followed them to a T – he had built his faith. He was so “good.” But he had never moved. He hadn’t started the journey, moved into the wilds of life – where faith comes fully alive – nor had he moved closer to God.
Our spiritual growth depends, paradoxically, on regaining a child’s perspective. We have to regularly start anew with wonder – we have to return to God, again and again – and say, “can you bless me?” I just need that touchpoint – can you bless me?
Growth in faith – isn’t about obtaining more or certain knowledge that ensures the good life – it’s about imagining that God loves you so much that the inheritance of the good life is available here and now.
Growth in faith – isn’t only to do the things you think God wants you to do – it’s about wondering if there are things that you and God might like to do, create, be, unfold, question, upturn – together.
The barometer of our faith is not our MORAL UPRIGHTNESS – it seems like that as a focus separates us from the real life – and from a real God.
The barometer of our faith is our willingness to ask whether the messiness of our faith and the messiness of our life can really be the good life – and whether or not we can cling tightly to God as we let go of the need for a direct answer – and instead live out the answers as we grow & open ourselves to wonder.
Childlike faith allows us to see everything that is in front of our faces and draw close to God in the midst of it all.
STORY OF REED
Last weekend, I went to my 13 year-old’s soccer game. At this age the team & coaches are on one side of the field – and parents are on the opposite side. At halftime my son started jogging to the parent side of the field- and I was curious. And as he got close to the sideline, he said “hey mom come here.” So I just took a couple of casual steps in his direction.
Which wasn’t enough for him, and he waved me closer,
“saying come here – come here…”
So I got really close to him – and he said,
“Can you pray for my hamstring?”
*Reed knows what to do if he has a tight hamstring – it’s not new territory – stretch, drink water, keep your muscles warm.
So I knew right away that the request for prayer was less about the expectation for a loosened hamstring as an answer – and was more about being close to love. Following the draw of love for just a touchpoint, going to the love that is in front of his face.. And seeing that in and of itself is the answer to prayer. *the wonder of love and the wonder of God everywhere.
I heard his request as,
“Can you just bless me at this moment? Can you just love me?”
*And this moment was less about Reed – and more about me & God. And returning to God anew with childlike-ness.
“Come follow me”
Jesus says to the rich ruler. Come follow me into love and wonder.
This is the sheer wisdom of what Kim has implanted in the youngest of kids here at Reservoir. She has offered not just a program of Godly Play, but she’s offered to these kids an inheritance, a sense of profound belonging as a child of God. And she has placed in the laps of every child their birth rights – of wonder & of love – which seems to be all of our greatest ways forward in this beautiful and messy life.
When Kim finished sharing the story of the “Great Family” she ended by blessing each of us by name – One by one, by one, returning us to childlike faith
So I’d love for us to end by blessing Kim Messenger – raise your hands toward her if you’d like …
“Jesus in your goodness and wonder. would you bless Kim Messenger. The life that she has led and the life and journey that is still ahead, the known & the unknown and foster the deep childlike wonder within her.
We bless you – Kim Messenger.
I can’t bless you all by name right now.
But I invite you to put your hand on your heart, as a way to close in prayer.
With all the wonder in your heart, imagine Jesus near you – calling you by name, blessing you, loving you…