3/22/15 North Kent Presbyterian Church
Rev. Linda Rogge Rubingh
Last week we heard how a young boy gave Jesus his very small lunch and over 5000 were fed — we saw how what a child offered became an occasion for a miracle and that there is NOTHING impossible with God. Today our word from God tells us in no uncertain terms that children are ordained for praise. Ordained for praise! I’d like us to look at what children being ordained for praise actually means, and how Jesus’ view of children is (we believe) critical to the future of our churches.
II. What is the special ordination of children to praise?
In vs. 16 of this chapter Jesus uses a startling word to sum up his view of children’s role in the church – Ordination. The Leaders of the Church at the time, the Synagogue, say “Jesus, do you hear what these children are saying? Yes, replied Jesus, have YOU never read “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise?”
Now let’s think about what just happened: Jesus has just finished flipping over tables, driving out the money changers from the temple courts. It’s kind of a famous scene from the bible. Less well known is what Jesus does next. He sets up and adhoc hospital right there in the middle of the temple courts and starts healing people. Both of these things were UNHEARD OF and absolutely AGAINST THE RULES … BUT: during both of these events – the teachers of the law and the Pharisees do nothing. It’s not until the children start shouting “Hosanna!” that the religious leaders lift a finger. You can mess with the people using the church to exploit people financially, you can allow “proper worship” to be interrupted by setting up a hospital in the worship space – but boy oh boy – when the kids start getting loud and shouting praise – that’s the last straw! Jesus says “Don’t you know they’ve been ordained for praise?” The word he uses there is the Greek word Katartizo, which means to prepare, to create a space for, to establish, to perfect, to complete. Have you never heard that from the lips of children you have prepared, you have perfected, you have completed praise?
In our church we ordain ministers, elders, deacons — what does their ordination mean? It means someone feels called to a certain kind of ministry, the call is confirmed by that person’s faith community, then the person is trained (for ministers of the word and sacrament we send that person away for a very long time to a place called seminary). In the case of calling a minister, a church like you looks for just the right person to lead them. When they find him or her – they call and ordain them for a particular ministry. The people of God reserve a place for this person and invest it with authority and responsibility. It’s a place right up here in the center of the God things of the church (for ministers, elders and deacons) and those people who are ordained are expected to lead us towards God.
Ordination means calling out, giving special training, authority, a role and then a physical and metaphorical space in the church to act. Is this really what Jesus is talking about for children?
Well, let’s see. A little earlier in Matthew’s gospel the disciples are arguing about who’s the greatest in God’s kingdom, and this is how Jesus answers: He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name, welcomes me.”
You know, when they ask Jesus this question, He didn’t say: Very important question! Let’s dismiss the children for children’s worship so we can talk about it. NO - he does the opposite. He says to the grown ups: stop what you’re doing and watch – because the children are going to teach you about God. “Unless you change and become like a child – you can’t be a part of my kingdom”
And in Matthew 21 – our story today, children are given a place to shout God’s truth. It’s not a place in the church basement, or far away at a VBS or summer camp. It’s a place right up front at the altar of God in the center of the God-things. And when the Pharisees try to shut it down, Jesus doesn’t say – “well, it’ll be over soon this is just the children’s portion of the worship, just give them a second.” He says – “this is their ordained place. Up front. Praising, singing, shouting and telling everyone clearly who I am. God has ordained them for delivering a special kind of praise.
Jesus is saying “Children have a leadership role to play. Don’t give them a passive role, or think they just need to be entertained. They are ordained, to be in the center of the God things from the back of the church right up here to the pulpit, establishing and perfecting praise.
III. Why are children ordained for praise?
Right now you should be asking a question, and if you’re not, get it in your mind right now: Why? Why is it children who get this special ordination, and why is it so important to Jesus? The answer is found in Jesus’ crucial entry into Jerusalem.
The bible says there was a huge crowd, some in front, some behind him, there’s building excitement. This is a political event for the people, here is a “son of David” entering the city of David. In the context of a Roman occupation, to have someone who can multiply food, raise the dead, and speak with authority to power, make their move and enter the city of David – it was event charged with political and religious significance. The significance isn’t lost on anyone and so they began to treat him as an entering king. The air is electric with expectation and long years of oppression fuel the crowd’s celebration as they follow Jesus into the city. At some point a chant begins. We don’t know who started it. Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!
“Hosanna” was an ancient word. A prayer really. It originally meant – LORD SAVE NOW!. It was a cry for help. And it became used so often it turned into a praise: Lord I praise you – because I know you are the only one who can save now. What a wonderful word. Lord I need you to save and I praise you for saving– in a sense it’s the whole gospel in one word. So the whole crowd is shouting “Hosanna”– and over half the crowd would have been children. We don’t normally picture it this way when we read our bibles –but who was in the crowd, really? It was women, men, families, TONS OF CHILDREN IN THAT CROWD.
They enter the city, then get to the temple. Then all of a sudden Jesus starts SCREAMING at the money lenders. And he begins getting in their face, pushing tables over, and then all of a sudden he as a whip and he starts whipping people. Talk about a way to kill a party. The chant dies instantly. No one’s celebrating anymore. Everyone is staring a Jesus with horrified awkward silence. And they’re silent and maybe even afraid as Jesus begins healing people right in the middle of the temple (that was so against the rules). Well almost everyone.
Over there, in the corner, are the kids. The kids have been watching this whole thing. They watched as their parents shouted and danced on the way into town. They watched Jesus act like a super hero knocking stuff down and healing people. And they watch as their parents stand in uncomfortable silence with a heaviness in the air. Well THIS IS NO FUN! Let’s get that song going again! They join hands and form a circle. AND START SHOUTING - Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest! Why are they shouting?
Because they still can!
The adults could do it on the road when they were outside of Jerusalem, but right here in the middle of church? The adults are quiet. They maintain decorum. Because they know, and the Pharisees prove them right – that one should never shout in church. But the children don’t know that. They give out a shout! HOSANNA! Why are the shouting?
Because they still can!
One of the programs Trevor runs at New City is called City Sail, a free sailing school that teaches kids the art of sailing while providing confidence and communication skills they will use for the rest of their lives. A couple years ago, the two City Sail boats were out on the Hudson River, bright sunny summer afternoon, 9 kids on each boat, and they get closer and ready to pass each other. When they get within hearing distance all the sudden the first boat breaks out “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding!” Other boat shouts back: “In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight!” Back and forth back and forth — and everyone sailing on the waterfront can hear them. Why are they shouting God’s praise?
Because they still can!
These are not strange, inappropriate things, the kids are shouting, these are the responses that are called for. We adults can get so crusted over by life that we don’t give the right response, because we’ve gotten jaded into believing it’s not proper somehow. But Jesus says – children are ordained for praise, because they still can!
That’s why children have a special ordination. They teach us, so naturally. They see the value of a thing and then respond accordingly. Dad, It’s SNOWING!!!!!.” Mommy look at all the pretty puddles, let’s jump in them!!!
We say as grown ups: “You’ve been invited to live in eternal union with the creator GOD….” and we say. Amen.
But you tell a kid – later today we’re going to have ice cream – and they say WHOOOOAAAA!
The flip side is true too – children instinctively know when something is too much for them, and they need help. They have an innate sense of their limitations and their need for help, and they just ask. Adults have a hard time with this. I need help. Let’s all say that together “I need help.” That was hard wasn’t it? Not for a child. How many times a day do they say it? Mommy!!!!! I can’t reach it. Daddy, I got a sliver. Granny – it’s not fair! Auntie – make it right! Children instinctively know they are dependent on others. They don’t have the illusion of being self sufficient. For a child to say “LORD SAVE NOW” is completely natural.
We grown ups can be numb to the beauty of ordinary things and blind to our own need for help. Jesus says – in both of these areas – unless you change and become like a child you can’t really come in to my kingdom.
IV. How do we ordain children for praise?
HOW can we help our churches be a place where children are ordained to lead us in praise?
1. The first thing we can do is get rid of any barriers that might stop children from coming to God. Remember the time — It’s actually in Matthew 19 — when a bunch of parents were bringing their children to be blessed by Jesus, and the disciples are like “WHOA, no no no, you need to get out of here, this isn’t your spot, Jesus has REAL work to do. And Jesus says STOP!! Don’t hinder them, let the children come to me, for the kingdom belongs to such as these. So what are some things in our churches that might hinder our children?
What about our bricks and mortar, our buildings? We’re called to be good stewards
over our “things” but is keeping our stuff clean and perfect more important than
keeping our kids? When our children come to church, do they feel like it’s a place
for them, or something like a museum with a lot of things they can’t touch or use?
2. The second thing we need to do is build on ramps for children. If we want our kids to be front and center we need to build access points for them to get up here. We have to put time, energy, money and leadership into the ministry to children. We need to be creative and not let our time with children be the LAST thing we prepare for. Think about the time someone usually gives to a children’s message vs. the time usually spent on a normal sermon for “the adults.” What would happen if we put the same energy and time into a children’s message?
3. The third thing we need to do is train, train, train. People ask us at NC – how do you do that? How do you get your teens to do all that. And the answer is simple. You’ve got to spend TIME training them to lead well. So we don’t go on trips for snowboarding. We don’t really do a whole lot of trips to Great Adventure. Instead we have training retreats. What if 50% of our youth group meetings were spent preparing our kids for outreach or leadership?
If we want children to have a strong role of up front participation and leading then we need to spend time training those people. If we want teenagers to run the sound booth – we’ve got to train them. If we want teens to lead worship, we can’t come here and wing it.
4 Trust children with leadership…. In the center of the God-things.
Allow them to be up here, reading scripture, offering the prayers, creating ways and spaces
for the shy kids, and every other kind of kid to participate in the life of the church.
Have two kids Shadowing a deacon or an elder, learning the beautiful work of the Body of Christ.
I preached my first sermon when I was in 8th grade, I was 13. It was pretty bad theologically, not horrible, but I know a little more now than I did then. What I remember is people surrounding me with encouragement, hugs, congratulations and love. They welcomed me and wanted me to be in the center of the God things and lead them in praise.
… I want to ask you, if you’re a parent or grand parent or have a child in your life, to stand. What’s your hope for your children/grand children 10 years from now? Where do you want them to be spiritually? 10 years from now, will those children have left the church? Or will they be in the center of the God things, leading praise to God?
Have you not read “From the mouths of infants and children you have ordained praise?”
Matthew 19:13 “Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Matthew 21 “Have you never read that from the lips of children and infants God has ordained praise?” Don’t you know that children have been chosen to be the special bearers of a unique kind of praise to God. I’d like to unpack Jesus view of Children today under that heading – the ordination of children. What is it? Why Jesus calls for it? and How we can do it? What, why and how….
You can’t really understand this word HOSANNA which is at once an admission of desperate and complete need and at the same time is an appropriate recognition of the value of the God who saves.