Lifting Our Children to God
Lifting Our Children to God
August 21, 2016 Maple Grove UMC
What’s going on when we bring our children for a blessing? What are we doing here on Back-to-School Blessing Sunday? I want to begin to by showing a couple of movie clips. The first is from Roots, the TV series from the 1970s based on Alex Haley’s novel. The second is from The Lion King. Watch for gestures of the blessing of children.
As a dad, I find these scenes deeply moving, even though my own children are neither African nor a lion. And as a Christian, I resonate with that gesture of blessing, even though neither film has a Christian context. What are we doing when we bring our children for a blessing? We are lifting them to God. Unlike the movie scenes, we may attach certain words to the gesture, or certain ideas or traditions or emotions. But to me it’s the gesture that is most powerful. When we bring our children for a blessing, we are doing nothing more, and nothing less, than lifting them to God.
That’s more or less what Mary and Joseph did. They brought Jesus to the temple a certain number of days after his birth to make sacrifice to God. Following the Passover story in Exodus, every first-born son in Israel belonged to God and had to be redeemed our bought back by a payment of money to the priest. But there’s no indication Mary and Joseph made such a payment, meaning that, like Samuel in the Old Testament, Jesus truly and forever "belonged to God." It’s rich and symbolic, and here’s what we know: not just Jesus, and not just first-born, but every child belongs to God. We raise them. We get to know and love and guide and worry about them. But they are never ours, exactly. Every child belongs to God. And in acknowledgement of that, we lift them back to God.
And as Mary and Joseph dedicated Jesus to God in the temple, and as parents brought little children to Jesus, so today we lift our children to God for a blessing. We don’t literally lift all of them the way Kunta Kinte lifted his baby—some of them might cry and others are far to big for us to lift in that way. But as I put a hand on each one of their shoulders and as I said the words of blessing, in my heart and mind, that’s what I was doing: just lifting them to God.
That’s a part of what we do when we bring our children for baptism. Oh I know, there’s water and liturgy. It’s a spiritual washing, an initiation into Christ’s holy church, a sealing with the Holy Spirit. Baptism is all that and more. But at its core, baptism is this human impulse to lift our children to God. When we bring our children for baptism, we parents, guardians or family members promise to nurture them in Christ’s holy church, help them profess their faith openly and lead a Christian life. I strongly suspect that some parents who bring their children for baptism have no such grand intentions. They just want to keep grandma happy or create a cute photo-op. And I used to be a lot more strict about that. I wanted to make sure parents were coming to baptism with the right intentions and commitments. I’ve mellowed in my old age. Not that commitment and right intentions are unimportant. But for whatever reasons parents may bring their children, let’s lift them to God. Every child needs it. And so does every parent.
It’s not just little children that we lift to God. Carolyn and I took our younger daughter Rachel off to college in Cincinnati this past week. And next weekend we’ll take our older daughter Emily to the airport to study in Senegal in West Africa for the next four months. You can’t even imagine how often I’ve been lifting them both to God, and don’t think I’m going to stop any time soon! May the Lord bless them and keep them, at every age and season of life.
The truth is, not even death prevents us from lifting our children to God. Two weeks ago I gathered with Stew and Jane Rantz and their family to scatter the ashes of their son Jacob in Maple Grove’s new memorial scatter garden. We read scripture, we shared memories, we said a prayer, and we returned Jakes ashes to the ground. What were we doing but lifting their precious son to God, one more time and forever? And as we gathered on one side of the lawn, on the playground other children laughed and played with their parents. As it should be. We lift them all to God.
Here are a couple of things that lifting children to God is not:
- First of all, it’s not just sentimental. Here is what the old man, Simeon, in the temple told Mary. After sharing how amazing and special Jesus would be, he said to Mary, "And a sword will pierce your own soul too." There’s nothing sentimental about the cross. And yet through it all, you know that Mary never ceased to lift her son to God.
- Lifting our children to God for a blessing is also not magic. All around the world parents lift their children for blessings. We ask for protection and guidance, for integrity and joy. And absolutely inevitably, some of those children will be harmed, some will go tragically astray, some will fall ill and worse. So why do it, if it’s not magic, if there’s no guarantee? Well, come good or ill, don’t you want our children to live a little closer to God? No matter what religious sceptics may say or how critics may complain, don’t you want place your children in the lap of Jesus? I’ve got three degrees, but let’s not overthink it; let’s just lift our children to God.
Just a couple more thoughts and I’ll be done. I’ve talked a lot this morning about parents, but I want no one here to feel excluded. It’s not just parents and guardians who lift children to God; it’s the whole community. Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple, but it’s the old man Simeon and old prophet Anna who do the blessing. I suspect we all pray our children at home, but there’s a reason why we bring them to church for a blessing. All the friends here, all the honorary aunts and uncle and grandmas and grandpas, all the examples and witnesses to the faith, all of today’s Simeons and Annas—we all together lift our children to God.
I read an article one time about a bishop who was asked how he could stand back and not do more to prevent priests from abusing children. And he said, "Well, they’re not my children." To which the author responded, "What he should have said was, ‘They’re all our children.’" Together, as a church, we lift them all to God.
And finally this, it’s not just children that we lift to God, is it? Goodness knows, I need to be lifted to God. It’s so easy to grow broken and discouraged. Somebody please lift me to God for a blessing.
And the aged and the dying in particular we lift to God. This past week I visited Maple Grove member Lloyd Fisher at Kobacker Hospice House. Lloyd is 92, has lived a fruitful and faithful life, and is ready for what comes after this life. As I sat quietly with Lloyd, I didn’t need a lot of words. In my heart and mind, I just lifted him to God. Because of course he was never really ours, but always belonged to God. Sometimes there’s nothing more we can do, but thank God there’s nothing less we can do, than to lift God’s children, back to God.
So will you make the gesture of blessing with me now? What we’re doing when we bring our children, when we bring the aged and dying, when we bring anyone for a blessing, is simply lifting them to God.