Archived Sermons

Boxes and Basements

Posted by chesterlanducc on May 20, 2017 at 10:15 PM

SCRIPTURE: Luke 2:41-52: Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents* saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’* But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.  And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years,* and in divine and human favour.

In this morning’s scripture Jesus is twelve years old and his family has just taken their annual hundred mile journey, walking from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover. The festival is now over and at the end of the first day’s journey on their return home, Jesus’ parents realize every parent’s worst fear—their child is missing. They return to Jerusalem where they frantically search for Jesus, but they can’t find him. They look for him everywhere, but it isn’t until the third day, until they have exhausted just about every other option, that they find him at the Temple talking with the priests.

Why did it take Mary and Joseph three days to look for Jesus in the Temple? Maybe they were like most adults today and they thought that children are just not interested in religion.

Those of you who have ushered probably know that there is a sheet of paper taped on the cabinet in the Church office that lists every Sunday and there is one box for adults and one box for children each week where we record how many adults were in worship and how many children were in worship. And then, at the end of the year, we take these numbers and we send to the National office of the United Church of Christ. And that’s what we do, we put children in boxes and we put adults in different boxes.

This sheet is a metaphor for how we engage children in worship—we often put children in one box, and adults in the other. Children go down to the basement, adults stay in the sanctuary. Now it is a wonderful basement, but still, it is concerning that we still count and treat children differently in our Churches.

Not all that long ago in this nation white Churches used to segregate black people by race, either banning them outright from white churches or designating special seating in their sanctuaries for them—and not that long ago our Churches in this nation used to segregate women by their gender. Old Church buildings like our first building built in the 1820s used to have two front doors, one for women and one for men, and the pews were often divided, men on one side, women on the other. And still today, many churches do not welcome gay, lesbian and transgender people.

I have to admit I never thought much about children not being in worship. However, over probably the past ten years I have noticed more and more ministers speaking out about this division—about this separation. Most of these ministers are women. I don’t think it is a coincidence that as many, many more women have begun to enter ministry and have taken on leadership roles in our regional and national church settings that we have begun to question the assumption of the role of children and youth in both worship and the Church more widely.

The truth is that it should not have taken Mary and Joseph three days to think to look for Jesus at the temple and it shouldn’t take the Church decades of losing young people to realize that something has got to change.

When I served as a youth minister at Kent United Church of Christ we had a 8:30 service in the Chapel that usually included about 20-40 older members of that church, members who were almost all retired. It was a really nice service, and it was more traditional than their 10:30 service which included more families. But I tell you the truth, I never want to be at a Church again where the bulk of the amazing, incredible, older members attend a separate service, and all the children and youth are in the basement during most of worship, and most of what is left are a bunch of boring 30, 40 and 50 year olds.

Now, of course I am joking a bit, I love 30, and 40 and 50 year olds, but I come to Church to be part of the wonderful, diverse, body of Christ, not to only be surrounded primarily by people who are around my age.

It might seem easier, it might seem more convenient, to segregate people in church by age or taste in music, or preference in worship styles, but I think this approach while perhaps appeasing some people, misses the point—the point of the Church is to be the beautiful, diverse body of Christ together and to share our gifts together. There are gifts that infants and toddlers share, there are gifts that children and youth share, there are gifts that adults of all ages share, and many of these gifts are different and we need all of them.

In my mind, Church would simply not Church without our older members in worship, or without younger adults for that matter. And in the same way, I am beginning to understand that Church also cannot fully be church without children and youth more fully involved in worship and the life of our congregations.

It is not easy, but worship can be done in a way that is meaningful for children, youth and adults. Church ministry as a whole, even church governance, can be done in ways that are meaningful and participatory for children, youth and adults. But, we as Church leaders need to be open to doing things differently. Right now, we send our children and our youth downstairs to the basement for most of worship. It’s a wonderful space in the basement and we have some wonderful people who do some very meaningful ministry with our children in that space.

However, when our children become thirteen or fourteen years old and they participate in confirmation, and then, suddenly, we will expect our young people who have not been invited to give input into how worship is done, who have not been involved in participating in leading worship, who have rarely if ever even sat through an entire worship service—when they reach that magical age of being a young adult, we will likely expect them to want to come to worship each week because now they are adults—and now they can participate.

It’ not just this Church, but if we are honest and we look around our Church today, we can clearly see that this model is broken. It just doesn’t work anymore and really it hasn’t worked in a long time.

Look, the boy Jesus is not lost, he is not out of place, he is right where he belongs, at twelve years old Jesus is at the temple, he is involved in discovering who and what God is with other religious leaders. And today that little boy teaches us—that little boy reminds us, not to put children in boxes or in basements—but to look for them where they belong—to look for them in God’s house as they share God with us.

Now it won’t be easy to transition to worship that engages all ages, and it won’t be easy to transition to Church ministry and Church governance which involves and encourages children and youth to participate in meaningful ways, but I have been told that this Church can do difficult things when it matters to you—I have been told this Church can do what other Churches might not be willing to do when it means including everyone.

I imagine it wasn’t easy for our Church to begin to view women as equals, and it wasn’t easy I imagine for us to call our first female minister in 1930. I imagine it wasn’t easy for us to become a church that stood up for fair housing for minorities in the Cleveland area. I have been told it certainly wasn’t easy when this Church decided in 1993 to become open and affirming of Gay and Lesbian individuals. I imagine it wasn’t easy, I imagine we probably lost Church members who we deeply cared for each time this Church choose to be more inclusive—but I also imagine that each time we have chosen to make the difficult choice to change and be more inclusive, it has changed us for the better.

I have to admit, my first year here, my first year as a minister, I tried to do some intergenerational worship and it wasn’t working real well. We had one or two Sundays that seemed to click, but it was hard and I was ready to give up on it, but Connie told me “no”. No, don’t stop. Keep trying. It is important. We need to keep doing it. So this fall, I tried again and I tried harder and I decided we could do it more regularly and with more effort, and we have, and it has been transformational in many ways for our young people and for our members and for many of our new visitors and members.

We have a long way to go to be a fully intergenerational church but I think we are on the right path. It won’t be easy. If we choose to fully welcome, include and engage children and youth and young adults, it will mean that all of us will have to share more—we will have to share how we do worship more and we will have to share Church decision making more. We will have to intentionally as an entire community of faith, create space and opportunities for our children and youth and young adults to have genuine and significant input in our faith community and if we do that, it will radically change our community of faith.

Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice.

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