Taking Them Seriously: Children and Spiritual Gifts
Bob had been a head usher for years.
He was like a professional—there every Sunday in coat and tie, ready hand out bulletins,
Take the head count, and get people where they needed to go.
For many years, Bob lead a team of ushers.
But in recent years, the church had grown smaller and older, and many of the ushers moved away or died.
The few ushers that were left were making noise about how we needed more ushers
I of course announced it from the pulpit, put it in the bulletin and newsletters, to no avail.
No new ushers.
Then one meeting when we were talking about council leadership,
The congregational president joked, “Lucy should be council president. She gets stuff done!”
Lucy was a kid in the congregation, eight years old.
The president had noticed her on church clean up day taking charge of dusting in the sanctuary.
She DID get stuff done, and she got the other kids involved, too.
That got me thinking about Lucy… maybe if I paired her with Bob, he could show her the ropes as an usher.
I tested the idea with Lucy’s mom, who thought it was great. Lucy loved responsibility.
Then I asked Bob if he would partner with Lucy.
He said yes.
What I didn’t know was how skeptical Bob was.
After all, he had been doing this usher business for years.
It was a serious ministry, not kids’ stuff.
Ushers play a critical role in helping newcomers feel comfortable, keeping church statistics,
Being on hand in case of an emergency.
He wasn’t sure Lucy could or frankly should be an usher.
But the first Sunday of Lucy’s instruction went well—
after being in church every Sunday for years, she knew what was supposed to happen.
She followed Bob’s directions and even picked up the pews after worship.
Bob was pleased.
And as the weeks went by, Bob was more than pleased—
he grew to love having a younger friend to mentor and share worship with.
St Paul in his opening of his letter to the Corinthians that we read today references spiritual gifts.
Spiritual gifts are abilities given by God that unify and build up the community of Christ.
What the council president noticed in Lucy was her spiritual gift for leadership;
Bob and I helped her to put her gift to use.
In the case of the community of Christians in Corinth, they were a gifted community—
As Paul says, they were ‘not lacking in any spiritual gift.’
Paul praises the Corinthian Christians as ‘being enriched’ and ‘being strengthened’ and ‘given gifts.’
It seems they were rich, indeed.
But notice- all the language is in the passive voice:
“those who are sanctified”
“The grace of God given to you,”
“for in every way you have been enriched”
“he will strengthen you to the end”
“you were called”
The passive voice emphasizes that it is God’s action that is working through the Corinthians.
That is a critical understanding about spiritual gifts.
When we use our spiritual gifts, it is actually God acting through us.
Spiritual gifts are not our possessions, but rather are a ‘grace thing,’ that moves through us and is passed on.
God blesses us with a particular gift so that we may bless others.
I think this is a really important point for us as a community when it comes to how we think of children.
Do you remember how much of growing up is just waiting?
Waiting until you are this tall to ride the rollercoaster or swim in the deep end of the pool
Waiting until you are a particular grade to be a reading buddy or a particular age to get a job, drive a car.
It even happens here at church.
You wait to go to Sunday school, to get your first bible, to take communion, to become an acolyte.
Perhaps it makes some sense from a developmental perspective—
kids are ready for new responsibilities at certain times in their lives--
But it doesn’t make much theological sense.
As Lutherans, we believe that spiritual gifts are given at baptism.
That means that from the time many of our children are babies, they possess gifts
Like leadership, service, hospitality, intercession, or mercy.
Why presume that they need to wait until a certain age to use their gift?
If a spiritual gift is a ‘grace thing’ then it’s God’s action through a child
And God can act at any time, though any person God choses.
Like Lucy, kids can be guided toward opportunities to use their gifts at a variety of times in their lives.
What they need are people like the council president and Bob to invite them and mentor them.
I have witnessed firsthand the spiritual gifts of children.
I remember my god daughter donning a parament and lifting up her arms to mimic prayer.
I might have thought she was ‘playing pastor,’ but when I noticed how reverent she was,
I realized she wasn’t playing, she was practicing.
She absolutely believed that when she lifted her arms and spoke the words, God was listening.
Would that we all had such faith!
I have seen the joy in the eyes of the seniors as our confirmands led worship at Luther Ridge assisted living.
My sermon was nothing next to the witness of these young people,
who connected the elderly residents to a wider body of Christ, and to the cycle of life itself.
I heard it in the story of one of our young adults here at SM,
who was befriended by a group of ‘old guys’ at the coffee shop and was eventually invited to church.
The spiritual gift of that relationship goes both ways, enriching both the young adult and the ‘old guys.’
As church we have the gift of being intergenerational.
It is a rare feature in a society that most often sorts its generations into age groupings.
We live and socialize with people mostly our own age.
Perhaps work is a place where you cross that barrier.
But are younger or older people your equals?
Church and family are two of the few places where people have meaningful, non heirarchal relationships
We are therefore in a unique place to recognize and lift up the spiritual gifts of children and young people.
We take kids seriously as full members of the Body of Christ—
Because by virtue of their baptism, they are.
We are trying some new practices to reflect this understanding and to lift up the real gifts of our young people.
Currently we have a high schooler who is a communion assistant—we’d like more.
A few altar guild members have invited their grandchildren to help them prepare our sanctuary for worship.
In Sunday School, we are making intentional connections to our worship life,
Preparing to teach the pre K and Kindergarten children how to polish brass
and take care of mini paraments—because even at that age, children have gifts to share.
And on the fourth Sunday of the month at 11am, you’ll see Sunday school families joining our seasoned ushers
And Sunday school students reading the scriptures.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
You all know that living out your faith is so much more than one hour on Sunday morning.
What ways are you in relationship to a young person, in your family, at church, or neighborhood?
How can you learn about spiritual gifts, and what that young person might be able to share?
Who might you pray for, and who might you mentor?
As we live into our congregational goal to reach out to people of all generations,
we have a major asset that may still be largely untapped –
that’s the ability to see our children and young people as full fledged Christians,
and to invite them to make meaningful contributions to this community.
Like the Corinthians who were all new Christians varying ages,
Here at SM it doesn’t matter how old you are or how many years experience you have.
We are all a part of the Body of Christ.
We have been strengthened and enriched, and when we consider our full community,
including our children, we are not lacking in any spiritual gift.
God is doing God’s Grace Thing with us and through us—
God is doing God’s Grace Thing with all of us.
It’s a wonderful thing to share.