Scripture– Micah 4:1-5
I don’t suppose I need to elaborate too much on why October is a busy time for us…Just listing all the ongoing activities or events should remind us all about our cluttered calendars and appointment books: UNICEF, committee meetings—including setting our budget for next year; fundraisers—including chicken and biscuit dinner, AVON sale, Yankee Candles, election day dinner planning; book study group; midweek worship; Sunday worship; regional meeting; Trunk or Treat. And that’s just stuff that is going on in our meeting this month…It doesn’t even touch the planning and prep for the fast approaching holidays.
So when a new event showed up on my radar screen this week, I thought “yeah, right”. However, further investigation about Children’s Sabbath allowed me to realize we would be taking a week to embrace and celebrate what is valued as one of the primary sources of life in our faith community. A couple of the main responses to the query that the YM Priorities Working Group asked about where the life was in our meeting were “the children among us” and the “interaction between the generations present here”.
Also; observing Children’s Sabbath allows for an abundance of connection between it and things we’re already doing and emphasizing either this month or in general. UNICEF, our Trunk or Treat event, and the concern Quakers in general have for children–as reflected in this morning’s reading from the Advices and Queries– make participating in this event a “no brainer” for us.
So; Children’s Sabbath is a weekend that aims to unite religious congregations of all faiths across the nation in shared concern for children and common commitment to improving their lives and working for justice on their behalf. Children’s Sabbath is sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund a national organization which rose up out of the civil rights movement in our country over 40 years ago. Their mission is: to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.
In future years it is my hope and plan that our Children’s Sabbath observance will incorporate specific activities that work to ensure and celebrate and increase awareness that children in this faith community and in our local community have what they need to be healthy, safe, and happy. But a good start this year involves our time here together this morning… We adults must recognize the challenges facing children in our nation, and our collective responsibility to respond.
Worship is at the heart of most Children’s Sabbaths. It is in worship that we praise God who has blessed us with children and charged us with their care. It is in worship that we hear again the prophets and their warnings against injustice and their call to justice. It is in worship that we renew our commitment to follow Jesus who said to welcome the children because in doing so we welcome him and not just him but the one who sent him. As we go forth from worship in the power of the Holy Spirit, may we continue to praise God with our work to nurture and protect all children.
In today’s scripture,the prophet Micah is speaking God’s word to the people of Judah. Judah has had a history of ignoring or perverting God’s designs and desires for them as God’s people.
He is reminding them here that the way of the Lord is one in which peace—shalom—for ALL includes:
–Worshipping God together as the One who creates all, cares for all teaches all and walks with all.
–The absence of violence between nations. The weapons of war are fashioned into gardening tools, because weapons are not needed anymore.
–Each and every person has what they need in abundance to live and work and prosper. Food, shelter, safety, family—everything is provided by God, if the people will follow God’s way and live in God’s hope.
These themes resonate loud and clear in today’s culture as we consider the country in which our children live and grow:
Over the past 50 years, three times more children and teens died from guns on American soil than U.S. soldiers were killed in action in wars abroad. Between 1963 and 2010, an estimated 160,000 children and teens died from guns on American soil, while 52,820 U.S. soldiers were killed in action in the Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq wars combined.
More children and teens die from guns every three days than died in the Newtown massacre. 2,694 children and teens died from guns in 2010.
• 1 child or teen died every 3 hours and 15 minutes
• 7 children and teens died every day, more than 22 every three days
• 52 children and teens died every week
In Micah’s day, the most devastating violence came at the hands of conquering nations, fueling a deep yearning and hope for a day when nation would not lift up sword against nation. In our day, for the past half-century in fact, the most deadly violence has been the killing of children and teens by guns here on American soil. How does this passage call us to envision, in new ways for our time, what peace will look like when every child, every teen, every family can live unafraid?
What will it look like for us to transform a culture of weapons and want into one of peace and plenty?
Note that in the passage, the weapons aren’t simply thrown away but in fact are transformed into tools for economic well-being. It is not enough for us simply to end a culture of violence; we must positively focus our energy and resources on creating the means for every family to know economic security too. Instead of a war waged with weapons, what would it look like if we resumed and finally won the war on poverty? We
know what works: good schools that prepare young people for college and work, job training, good jobs at decent wages, health care, and safety nets that protect children and families.
In this passage, security doesn’t come from stockpiling more weapons or demanding rights to have more powerful weapons; it is the move away from a culture of arms that provides the deep and lasting security that has filtered down from the national and international level all the way to the experience of individuals and families at home where no one is afraid.
I am aware as I work on this message that it is a bit short on specific, pragmatic suggestions or actions that we could enact that would make a difference. And, I guess on this first observance of Children’s Sabbath for us, I am most interested in introducing the need and the crisis before us. We all know and love the children here, but there are tons and tons of children in our country who need our care and action. Now; today. What can we—you and I– do NOW?
I have heard many times and in a number of faith communities that “our children are our future”. That is true. How they grow and go decides the course of our world. But also true and even more important is that children are our present. Here and now. When we view them in this reality it makes it more about them and less about us. What can we do here and now, for children here and now? It would be easy to say things like work to enact gun control legislation or help make sure that assistance programs for kids and families don’t get depleted or reduced. And again, there is legitimacy in pursuing those paths. But in my heart of hearts I hear a voice that says all the gun control laws in the country will not stop someone who hasn’t been taught and worked with to understand that violence IS NOT an answer to differences of opinion or arguments; or learned that it is NOT the way to get something you think you need or want.
What I do know is that in my life—as a child and as a young person—what made the difference; what evoked lasting impressions were the lessons and experiences I received or learned alongside people who saw me; who cared about and loved me for me, who treated me like I was important and valuable for exactly who I was. And, while my parents, grandparents and other family members played important roles, it was the adults with whom I built relationships at school, church, and in the community who made the most difference that ultimately kept me happy and safe. There are so many kids with whom we have opportunities EVERY DAY who need us to help them see how important they are NOW. Yeah, I’ve been a parent; and aunt, a great aunt and hope to be a grandparent someday. But here and now there are children who want and need my attention.
Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “If we are to teach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children; and if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won’t have to struggle; we won’t have to pass fruitless, idle resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which,
consciously or unconsciously, the whole world is hungering.”
I invite, encourage and exhort each of us to observe this Children’s Sabbath by finding a child and spending some time—a few minutes, an hour, a day—helping them understand how precious they are NOW.
Will you pray with me now?
Gracious God, forgive us
for weeping without work,
for love without labor,
for prayer without action.
Forgive us for crying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.
There is violence in our world, nation, and communities,
and even in some of our homes—
We confess that too often we deny it instead of resolving it.
There is anger, fear, and pain
in our nation and neighborhoods,
schools and souls—
forgive us for failing to respond with love to help and heal it.
Guide us in your ways of peace and love,
justice and joy, forgiveness and faithfulness.
Help us now to turn in a new direction,
trusting that your hand will lead us
and your vision will guide us. AMEN