Last week, as we were driving to summer day-camp, my eight-year old was mid-stream with a story from the backseat when she abruptly jumped to another story she remembered. Used to the constant chatter from my little ones, I barely noticed, but she exclaimed, “Oh my goodness! I’m just like Mark!” “What?” I asked, having no idea who this Mark was and what he had to do with either of her stories. “You know, like Mark from the Bible, when he interrupts one story with another one. Ha!”
As I struggled to stay focused on driving, my mouth fell open. I was stunned. You see, several weeks ago, I preached a sermon about Mark, explaining his “sandwiching technique,” – basically interrupting the telling of a story with another story, only to return to the original story. You can read here about why he utilizes this literary technique. I was shocked to know that my daughter actually remembered that detail from a sermon; honestly, I was a little surprised that she was listening at all, let alone remembering anything I said. In my shock, I managed to stammer out, “Oh, you remember that?” “Yeah. Everyone thinks I don’t listen in church because I’m doing other things. But I listen.”
Now I don’t expect children of all ages to grasp literary devices of Gospel writers, but what that conversation reminded me of is how often children are listening, and especially listening to what we have to say about God. Many parents I talk to often worry about how to help their children learn about God, feeling a bit inadequate themselves for such a daunting task. The advice I give them is simple: bring them to church. Let them experience as much of the liturgies as they can handle. Let them go to Children’s Chapel and Sunday School as much as you can. And when things like Vacation Bible School come up, as they do next week at Hickory Neck, take them. The songs, the stories, the dialogue will slowly seep in, and the questions will surely pop up in the backseat of a car, at the dinner table, or before bed. And if you are not sure about the answers, don’t worry. You can always use the question as a “wondering moment,” asking questions and leaving things open for their imaginations (and the Holy Spirit!).
This Sunday we will baptize a baby at Hickory Neck, and his parents, godparents, and the parish will pledge to do the same – see that the child is raised up in the church. We won’t have all the answers, and we may even stumble through trying to explain our faith (I could tell you countless stories about my own bumbling). But in the end, each child’s journey feeds and enriches the journey of each of us. Their questions inspire the adults to get into church too – to be steeped in the liturgy, to study scripture, to engage in conversation, to reflect on the presence of God in our lives. The Church offers that tremendous gift to us every week. Our invitation is to get ourselves there.