“Growing Up to Be More Child-like”
Rev’d. Tanya Stormo Rasmussen
Congregational Church of Hollis, U.C.C.
26 May, 2019
Introduction to the Theme:
What is your favorite thing about children?
Do you think adults lose things along the way, as we grow from children to adulthood?
Today, as we prepare to baptize a child into God’s family in Christ, we’re going to be thinking about the character of a mature faith—and whether it doesn’t resemble some of the very things we cherish most about children.
It was 2004, and Krister was just seven years old when he came to Joel limply holding a stick in his right hand. Up until that moment, it had been much more than a stick. Kit was an early and voracious reader, and he practically lived in the world Harry Potter as he devoured the books. “Papa,” he said as his eyes welled up with tears, “it’s broken.” Joel examined the wand, but it looked just as it had for the previous several days. “I can’t see where…” he said hesitantly. “No, not the stick,” Kit moaned, as he clapped his hand to his head, “my imagination! My imagination is broken and I can’t figure out how to make it work again!”
Every time I think of that moment, it makes me want to cry little bit. Because like most children, Krister had a gorgeous, vivid, playful imagination that brought him—and his parents—to all sorts of wonderful places. The fact that he consciously recognized at that tender age that something within him had changed, that his imagination no longer worked the way it had in the past, was heartbreaking. Some might say that moment represented a loss of innocence. But more than that, it represented a shift in his relationship with the world, how he saw things, what he trusted or took as being real or meaningful. He was becoming more “grown-up”—at least, by the world’s expectations or understandings.
Paul’s ability, his willingness even, to pay attention to his vision or dream that night in Troas was child-like, in a way. It sounds like there was an unworldly trust or obedience by Paul’s companions as well. As we heard it described in Acts 19:9, Paul saw an image of a Macedonian man standing before him, pleading, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Luke (the writer of Acts) says that when Paul had seen the vision, “…we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.” (Acts 19:10) They took the vision as being something real, not “just imagination”; it meant something, it represented reality in some way.
What do you think you would have done, had you been the one who had the dream or witnessed that evening vision: would you have gone? There was no letter or visit from an actual person, no other corroborating information or facts, only what Paul’s imagination had conjured, which gave him the idea that there was at least one man in Macedonia longing for the apostles’ help.
Most of us—before we take actions or pack up and move someplace new, or set off in a new direction—we tend to want “the facts”, don’t we? We’d prefer to have concrete reasons and verifiable data before we make big decisions about life’s next steps, or before we willingly submit to major changes. We appreciate data that can predict our likelihood of success or failure (however we define those), data demonstrating that if we take one course over another, we won’t be assuming unreasonable risks or running a fool’s errand.
Our busy, busy minds can be so good at spinning wild stories and imaginings, lots of fabulous fantasies and worst-case scenarios, right? I wonder at what age it is that we start forming the practice of writing up lists of pros and cons. I certainly think of that as a moment when we start operating less like a child and more like an adult. Is fear a factor that drives us to that practice, alongside the explanation of being reasonable? I wonder. And I wonder how much of God’s vision we might talk ourselves out of trusting or investing in, because it seems to outlandish or un-reasonable.
According to the story, Paul didn’t indulge any doubts or fears about going to a place without any concrete ideas about what he’d do once he got there. He just went, “immediately,” and he trusted that what they were meant to do would reveal itself in time. This was only possible because Paul had cultivated the child-like practice of remaining curious, and open in his mind toward new opportunities or experiences, because they potentially represented God’s invitation and vision for his best life. He’d been praying for guidance, for a sign or indication of what he was meant to do next, because he’d been experiencing frustration in his attempts to share the Gospel message in other places.
Had Paul or any of his companions responded with fear or resistance to the idea of charting their course based solely on a vision unaccompanied by anything more concrete, then Lydia and her friends might never have heard the Gospel message and subsequently shared it with others. Our reading said that Lydia “listened eagerlyto what Paul said.” There’s something captivatingly childlike about listening eagerly, with an excitement about learning something new. Much of the time in my experience, we adults listen skeptically, or half-heartedly, or defensively. . . because we’ve been trained to understand that smart adults already have the answers; they prepare arguments against things that contradict their way of thinking; they don’t need to be curious anymore, because their minds are made up. They know better.
But, we heard, Lydia’s heart and mind was open. She listened eagerly. And, she was so moved by the power and truth of what Paul had to say, that she and her household were baptized: they became followers of the Jesus Way themselves. Which meant that they began spreading the Word, too.
Children (in the absence of helicopter parents) instinctively take risks in their desire to learn more about their world. They venture out in faith, without asking questions. They naturally trust. Think for a moment about the faith of a child. Instinctively, a young child is prepared to believe that the world is for them—their first impulse is to trust that the world, God’s good creation, is on their side; that they have been born into a state of blessing and blessedness, that there is enough for them and what they need will be provided.
It’s only when the love and blessing that God intended for all creation to know and to share is withheld, denied, warped, or abused, that young people learn this world is not always reliable or trustworthy, especially when other people are involved. And that begins our education into adulthood, which is far less trusting of everyone and everything—including God. As we grow and learn the ways of the world, as we are trained to become more “grown-up”, we somehow absorb the ideas that we’re expected to be guarded, sophisticated or savvy (as opposed to guileless), and to practice expediency and even duplicity if it’s beneficial to our self-interest. We learn to be serious and sensible—to count the cost and get the facts before we make any decisions. Curiosity diminishes as we observe those with zealous points of view, or confidence in their own indubitable rightness, dominating the positions of power and worldly authority. Growing up involves un-learning a lot of our child-like instincts and natural behaviors.
But Jesus made it clear that when we abandon our child-like ways—especially with relation to trust and faith—we distance ourselves from the kingdom of heaven and from God’s own ways. And ultimately, from the peace and joy, from the life we’re all longing to reconnect to.
In Jesus’ day, children held no more cultural value or cache than women or slaves did. The people with real social capital were those who earned a living—which is to say, the men. (This is one reason why Lydia was so remarkable: as an independent businesswoman dealing in purple cloth—which was primarily sold to wealthy people—she was no doubt recognized by many as exceptional.) Because so many children died young in those days (up to 50%), parents generally didn’t pin a lot of hopes or expectations on their kids until after they’d become adolescents or young adults. A child’s job was simply to learn their place in society, familiarize themselves with what it took to become a grown-up, and do their best to get there. I wonder how far back the adage, “Children are meant to be seen but not heard” can be traced? I have a feeling that it may have existed in Jesus’ day. So, when the disciples did what folks would have expected them to do, as they tried to whisk the children away from Jesus, he protested. “Let the little children come to me” he said, “and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” (Luke 18:16)
What was it that Jesus saw in children that the rest of the people could not? Probably the very features that we identified when we talked in the Introduction to the Theme about our favorite things about children. I think Jesus recognized and understood that the character of a healthy or mature faith resembles some of the very things we cherish most about children. What were some of the things we mentioned?
Wonder Trust Humor
Curiosity Adventure Very present/in-the-moment
Guileless/innocence Imagination Honest
Do you recognize similarities between the most delightful attributes we described, and Jesus’ character—the character we’re aiming to cultivate in ourselves as his followers?
In a few moments, we’re going to celebrate the baptism of a little child. And as we do, you’ll have the opportunity to remember your own baptism—to recall and re-commit yourself to your fundamental identity as a child of God, a disciple of Christ Jesus. With that in mind, and allowing yourself the delight of a liberated imagination, how might you become more child-like in your faith, more like Jesus himself, as you strive to deepen and strengthen your relationship with God, with one another, and with our world?