HEARING FROM GOD
Isaiah 6; 1-8; Matthew 3:13-17
Often times children hear with what is called “the third ear.” It means that while they are fidgeting, or squirming, or looking bored, they still hear what is being said. Try telling a secret around them! That’s one of the reasons Mary Ann and I so strongly believe in having children in church. They can color on paper we provide, or they can squirm, but they will learn intuitively. Conversely, many adults learn cognitively better. That means that adults are best at reading books and learning from them, and children are best at being in a sensory setting and learning from it. Yet we so often put children in front of books and adults in sensory settings where they might even dose off for lack of focus! So it is actually very efficient to have children in worship instead of off in some enrichment setting. They learn what it’s like to be in “big church.” When they get to confirmation age, as each of our VBS youth leaders already achieved, they’ll be familiar with the songs, the order of service, and the affirmations. It is so much better than dropping a middle schooler in the deep end of the liturgical pool without getting them used to the water. Having children in worship gets them used to the worship waters.
Conversely, although we have taught your children and grandchildren this week with crafts, science experiments, games, and Bible stories, they are not the only ones who can benefit from them. You adults can benefit from them too! This week on Facebook I posted a picture of a clergymen in a robe giving announcements to his congregation. He said this: “Recently I’ve had complaints that my sermons were too intellectual. The following adults are invited to come up for the children’s sermon!” Ask any of the adults who were here all this week and they’ll tell you how enjoyable it can be to learn about the Bible in concrete ways rather than abstract ways! It was like a week-long children’s sermon! We were all reminded of Bible stories in fresh ways and were told some of the great actions God does on our behalf. So welcome to this special message! Our theme verse was from Nehemiah 4:14 “Remember, that the Lord is Great and Awesome!”
Let’s begin. On day one we naturally took students to not only the beginning of the Bible, but also the beginning of the world. We learned that “God creates.” We saw the creation story of Genesis 1 acted out and learned that God not only created, but is still creating! There are new things in our world as the Creator keeps sharing the splendor of created things! And we anchored our beliefs with the words from Psalm 8: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” We learned that the Lord not only loves our praise, but that the Lord God is also worthy of praise! The children told us that the reason they most often prayed to God was to ask for something. Our lessons invited them to also praise and to thank God! Parents often hear a string of questions and requests from their children. How happy and uplifted parents become when their children thank them or show them their love, not just ask for things! God wants that too! Our Creator longs to hear from us, not just at a nightly grace, but also in prayers through the day.
On day two we taught students a story from the second book of the Bible. We told them the first book of the Bible is Genesis, which means “beginning.” The second book of the Bible is Exodus which means “exit,” reminding readers of how God delivered his people through the parted waters of the Red Sea. But our story centered on the Nile River, the great river of Egypt, where God acted to allow his special child, Moses, to not only be safe, but also to be raised by his very own mother, a Hebrew woman! It was, as we learned, “amazing!” God does so many amazing things! And that day we learned that “God helps.” Our verse was a Psalm of David, when God helped him get away from an enemy. When that happened, David said to God in Psalm 18: “Your help has made me great!” Of course we learned that we are never as great as God is, but God helps us when we are in need.
Day three was Wednesday and picture Day! The children were reminded, as I remind you, “God loves.” In our drama we took the children to the Jordan River and let them watch John the Baptist baptize Jesus. They also saw how a dove, representing God’s Holy Spirit, came and landed on Jesus just after he was baptized! Then a voice from Heaven said: “This is my son, who I dearly loved; I am well pleased with him.” That was from Matthew chapter 3. The children thought Jesus must have been so comforted to hear those words from his Heavenly Father. They also decided it’s wonderful when they hear words like that from their parents and grandparents! Finally that day, they learned that love is more than a word, it is an action! So together they offered ways they could show more love: by helping to clear their place after meals, by helping to make their beds, or by sharing their toys or other items with their brother or sister.
Day 4 took us to the Sea of Galilee. They learned that Jesus spent a lot of time in and around that Sea. Sometimes the water there is peaceful, but other times it is stormy! On the day that Jesus and his disciples were on the water, the wind grew strong and rain poured down. They learned that Jesus has the power to calm storms! And they came to understand that God calms too. They learned Bible words shared by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians: “The God of peace will be with you.” I told them the story of how my grandmother had an unusual fear of storms. When I was at her house and it began to thunder and lightning one time, she went and sat on the steps that led to their cellar, and she laid her head on her folder arms and she shook and cried. I was no bigger than some of the boys or girls at Bible School this week; I was about 8 years old. I wasn’t afraid of storms, so I went and sat on the step next to her, put my hand on her back and my head near her shoulder and said gently, “Don’t be afraid; it’s okay; don’t be afraid. And then I just stayed next to her until the storm passed. I told the children they too, had the power to calm.
Finally day five arrived! We were on the home stretch but we all agreed we had perhaps the most joyful and trouble-free week any of us could remember! We were glad parents and grandparents trusted us with their loved ones. In fact, we had leaders who came from as far away as Virginia, and children from as far away as South Carolina and Georgia to be with us! Praise God! On day five we learned that “God sends,” and Jesus does too! We gathered on the banks of the Sea of Galilee again, but this time there was no storm. This time Jesus’ disciples, thinking that Jesus had died, were gloomy and lost, not sure what to do or where to go. Finally Simon Peter decided to go fishing and other disciples went with him. But they caught no fish. They didn’t realize it as they were fishing, but Jesus himself walked up on the shore and started a small fire! He told them how to catch many fish and they caught a bunch! They then came ashore and were thrilled that it really was Jesus! He gave them bread, cooked the fish, and shared it. But he wasn’t there just to feed them; he was there to send them too! And today, Jesus sends us! Jesus needs boys and girls, and men and women to tell others about God’s love, to tell them about the Savior, and to invite others to follow him! It is so important, that we ended the week inviting kids to tell people about Jesus, and about what they learned; but more importantly, to show them they are following Jesus by being kind toward others, by standing with people who are afraid or sad; by talking to God in prayer, and by making good choices. We think these children are making God smile, and making Jesus proud. I hope God will smile because of our worship today too, and that we are making Jesus proud in a good way, by making sure that what we say is what we do; and that our actions back up our words.
I have one final thought for today: in a world that often keeps children with children, youth with youth, adults with adults, and sometimes senior adults with senior adults, there is power in having the generations learn from and be with one another. In a minute we’ll sing a song we learned when we did our intergenerational dinner and program that we called “The Epic Story.” The song is called “One Generation Calls to the Next.” Indeed we are richer when we teach and temper each other. Having people in every age engaging with the very young, or the teenagers, helps set aside fears or suspicions, and lets encouragement and gladness take their place! If you say to yourself, “I would never work at Bible School,” we have converts in our midst! We have leaders who came with uncertainty and left saying “I will not say “no” to Bible School next year!” For thirty years I have been a character and leader in Westminster’s Vacation Bible School. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
To God be the glory.
Jeffrey A. Sumner June 26, 2016