Rest Stop: Prayer and Play
Becoming: The Path From Here to There
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
October 18, 2015
Hebrews 5: 1–10
Let me add my welcome to that of Rev. Reynolds. It’s wonderful to have friends here from Hampton Elementary, Hamilton Lake Lions, our own United Methodist Women, and especially all of the children on Children’s Sabbath.
Today marks the third in our sermon series, Becoming: The Path from Here to There. Here is wherever you are in your spiritual journey; Christ gracefully meets you wherever you are. But Christ doesn’t leave you the same. Christ wants and equips to for the journey. There is becoming more and more like Christ.
Our overarching image for our spiritual journey is, as the title indicates, a path. As we hike along the path we’ve considered how Christ is the guide and trailblazer. Last week we considered how we have a guidebook, The Word. Next, week we’ll wind the series up considering our fuel and food for the path, Holy Eucharist and worship.
Because it’s Children’s Sabbath, I’d like for the ways of children to lead us today as we consider our rest stop on the path; those places where we pray, play and meditate on God and God’s glory.
So, here’s a question for you: Have you ever taken a child on a hike on a path? What was that like? How was the child? Share with a neighbor for a minute or two.
I remember taking our children on many trails and hikes. You probably share some of my experiences. They’d begin with unbridled enthusiasm and energy, zigging and zagging along the path, flitting from wonder to wonder, effectively walking five times the number of steps needed for walking straight down the trail. They’d see a shiny stone, a piece of quartz and hold it up, wide-eyed, saying, “I think I found a diamond.” Close to the ground they’d spot a caterpillar, a small flower, or an ant. And then, after a bit, their little legs would become heavy and up into air the arms would spring in that childlike universal sign for “Pick me up!” Now, as a 14-month tenured grandfather, I’ve seen the new carrying devices, the Snugglis. They’re on the front like a kangaroo pouch and sometimes you can get a peek at the baby in them. In the old days when Lauralee and I were raising our children we had this aluminum tube backpack kind of thing, that had a bright, yellow nylon seat. And Lauralee would pick up the tired one and put them in the pack, which I usually carried. And soon the little head would nod forward into sleep. After resting for a while they’d wake up and say, “Put me down” and be off again. That’s the experience of many of us on the path with children.
Now our passage today points strongly to Jesus’ spiritual life. If you were here for the first sermon, we shared a lot of the background to this book. Our passage reflects much of that. The contextual reality of this book is that it was written to probably a house church in Rome composed of folks who’d converted to Christianity from Judaism. Perhaps, under society pressure and possible persecution they were wavering in their confession of Christ and tempted to turn back. Their teacher, who wrote the book and hoped to return to them someday, used a huge amount of imagery from the temple life in Israel. It served to connect with the people of the book. For our purposes today, however, did you catch a few verses about two-thirds through the passage? The verses spoke of Jesus and passion he had for prayer and supplications to God. They use language like “cried out.”
Let’s think about this together for a moment: If even Jesus need to tend to his soul and prayer life during his sojourn on earth, how much more should we be caring for ours?
I mean, from a big picture perspective it is easy to see Jesus’ spiritual life pattern; he carries on ministry and then withdraws to pray and listen to God. It’s a pattern that’s almost childlike in its simplicity—serve, time apart to pray and meditate, serve, time apart to pray. It occurs over and over in the Bible.
And it really shouldn’t surprise us that it has child-like simplicity. Do you remember Isaiah’s vision of the Kingdom? Who leads to the peaceable Kingdom? “A little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)
And as our play reminded us, Jesus teaches we’re to let the children come to him,and that “Unless you change and become like a little child you shall not enter the Kingdom.” (Matthew 18)
So, along this path, this journey into Christ-likeness what can we learn from children about the rest stop of prayer and listening to God. I want to start your thinking and hope you’ll add some observations of your own.
I think from children we can learn the spirituality of wonder! We’re in such a hurry, we grown-ups, and we’ve sliced and diced and categorized everything scientifically it so often loses a sense of wonder. You see, children haven’t, and wonder at the creation creates enthusiasm and excitement about the Creator. I love to watch my 14-month-old granddaughter out of doors; she looks up and sees the wonder of trees, the beauty of a leaf, the sparkle of a grain of sand. She comes to my Harlequin-clown faced Spaniel and in wonder sees his eyes, into which she pokes a finger. Children teach us by looking at a cloud and seeing a face and saying, “There’s grandma and she’s smiling at me from heaven.” Children teach us to slow down and wonder again.
And children can teach us to be honest in our prayers and to pray with expectancy. You’ve seen them on the net: Dear Lord, thank you for the baby brother but what I prayed for was a puppy. Dear Lord, it must be hard loving everybody, especially my mean, big sister. I don’t know how you do it. Dear Lord, every night I pray your prayer: Lead us not into temptation and send us some email. I never get email from you. Do you have my right email address! Children are honest and pray with expectancy. And this teaches us that the almighty God of the universe can handle our ups and our downs, our cheers and our fears and yes even our anger. And expectancy means we know that God answers every prayer in the broad categories of yes, no or not now. Do you pray with faith-filled expectancy, as a child does?
And children respond to the need to rest by resting. Some of us never rest. We never take a nap in the arms of God, letting God carry us. We let production define our worth and never shut off our smart phones, we never rest and stop enough to hear the voice of God and to be carried. And because of that we’re spiritually worn out.
And children have much to teach us about the spirituality of play. You see, God delights in the play of God’s children, no matter their age and yet, so many of us have forgotten how much play renews us. And play should after all renew us! Take the word recreation and put a dash between the e and the c: It reads re-creation and creation is a divine act! To play recreates us and delights God.
What can you add? What do the children teach you about prayer and life in the path of the Spirit?
Every preacher you’ve ever had has probably shared this, but it has much truth in it about the spiritual path grownups can follow in becoming like a child. Karl Barth was arguably the greatest theologian of the twentieth century. His magnum opus was Church Dogmatics. It spanned thirteen volumes and 8700 pages of the most thickly written theology I’ve ever seen. A reporter hoping for a laugh once asked him, “Professor Barth can you summarize your 8700 pages in one sentence?” To which Karl Barth replied, “Yes, I can. Here is my summary of my work and life: Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
Let’s watch and learn from our children. And let’s remember who our children are. In our baptism of our children we are reminded that in the church there are no “yours” and “mine” when it comes to children. They are ours; they are God’s and they are God’s gift. Not some of them; all of them and not just in this church or area. All of them. I believe God’s vision for Christ Church, now United Methodism’s largest congregation in this city, is to shape this city where everyone in it experiences the Kingdom of God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. That is a God-sized vision. But God’s vision for Christ Church is born where the heart of God is breaking and it is there that God wants this church to act. How can we sleep at night when one out of four children in our city go to bed hungry at night, when there are more children in poverty now in our city than is suspect since the Great Depression. And sadly, our area is the number one food insecure area in the nation! And the heart of God breaks, but that is where God is ready to act, and I aim for this church to be there. Some Christian groups can accept the status quo and rest well; they’re so heavenly minded they’re not much earthly good—but we’re the Methodists, a movement born to make a difference! Let’s start acting like Methodists!
A number of years ago I was blessed to have lunch with Dr. Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, who came up with this simple idea of asking every church, mosque, temple, and worship center to have one of their Sabbaths dedicated to children and seeking justice for them. She gave me her prayer book and I’d like to close with a prayer from it:
We pray and accept responsibility for children who sneak Popsicles before supper, who erase holes in math workbooks, who can never find their shoes. And we pray/accept responsibility for those who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire, who can’t bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers, who never “counted potatoes,” who were born in places we wouldn’t be caught dead in, who never go to the circus, who live in an X-rated world. We pray/accept responsibility for children who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions, who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money. And we pray/accept responsibility for those who never get dessert, who have no safe blanket to drag behind them, who watch their parent watch them die, who can’t find any bread to steal, who don’t have any rooms to clean up, whose pictures aren’t on anybody’s dresser, and whose monsters are real. We pray/accept responsibility for children who spend all their allowance before Tuesday, who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food, who like ghost stories, who shove dirty clothes under the bed and never rinse out the tub, who get visits from the tooth fairy, who don’t like to be kissed in front of the carpool, who squirm and church or temple and scream in the phone, whose tears we sometimes laugh at and whose smiles can make us cry. And we pray/accept responsibility for those whose nightmares come in the daytime, who will eat anything, who have never seen a dentist, who aren’t spoiled by anybody, who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep, who live and move, but have no being. We pray/accept responsibility for children who want to be carried and for those who must, for those we never give up on and those who don’t get a second chance, for those we smother and for those who will grab the hand of anyone kind enough to offer it. Amen. (Adapted from Ina J. Hughes).
- Share with your group an experience of being on a path with a child.
- Share with your group what you have learned about prayer, rest and play from children.
- Share with your group how Christ Church is making a difference in the lives of children.
- Share with your group what you believe God’s heart about Greensboro.