Saturday, July 10, 2010

Pray like Hannah: a sermon for the Eucharist, Trinity 6, 11th July 2010

I was part of a small diocesan working party that put together a pack to encourage our parishes to "Pray like Hannah" - with passionate longing, for the children of our communities...We produced assorted resources, including two sets of sermon notes...this is an amalgum of both, and owes alot to Revd Dr Sandra Millar, the "unclaimed treasure" (tm) who is our Children's Advisor

Imagine, if you will, that it's the year 2037

“Today a small item appeared in the Church Times announcing that the last person known to have been involved in the church since childhood has left. Jake became involved in the parish church as a toddler, through a pre school group. He has continued to attend faithfully, but has decided that the pressure of being the youngest is too great. His church is now concentrating on offering museum tours. Since the demise of Church Schools in 2017, Christianity has been an optional module in the life skills course offered by primary schools. Churches continue to offer a range of worship and activities for adults with different tastes and interests. “It's sad we no longer have children, but in enables us to concentrate on our core ministry and business” said a spokesperson.

Well, of course, that's just a piece of imaginative writing...but the situation that it describes is not so very far away. In some churches a question about children's work will elicit a shrug, a sigh and and rueful acceptance of the statement
“We don't have children any more”
As if it doesn't really matter...and as if there is nothing to be done.

But it does matter.....hugely....and there is so much to do.

[Today we have the joy of welcoming A. into the church family...Her parents and godparents will make huge promises on her behalf – that she'll be brought up within the church, helped to know God, shown how to pray...
But we in the congregation make our promises too.
We promise, all of us, to welcome her and uphold her in her new life in Christ.
From today, we are all related to her, united by our baptism, by the life of Christ that we it makes sense that we should care about her, hope to watch her grow, get to know her better...
And we all have a duty to support her as she grows in faith
Like all the children baptised in our churches, A is part of us now...What a privilege for us, to be involved in the life of young Christians as they begin to discover their faith. We can support her practically, by making her family feel comfortable and at home, but we can and must support her too by our prayers...for today is only the first step in her lifelong journey.

But what if there ARE no children in our churches? What if our font remains dry, our junior church empty?
Let's look again at the story of Hannah that we heard just now. As she confronted her own childlessness, Hannah prayed with devotion, fervour, intensity. She prayed from her own need (as a childless woman she was disenfranchised and disabled in her own culture), and she prayed in longing to safeguard the future.
In praying for children, we stand in a similar place.
If our churches are childless, our part of the body of Christ is incomplete and disabled.
But though Hannah's prayer was indeed a petition for herself, to free her from shame and bullying, it was also an investment in the future. It is our children will shape the world and carry the truth of the Gospel into the next century...and the Church that they minister from may be quite unlike the one that we inherited from our parents. Does that sound exciting? Or frightening? Maybe both...– but our God is always doing a new thing, always going before us into Galilee, - so the Christian faith has never encouraged us to settle down and let the grass grow.
Always, always there are challenges...
Before even the child was in her arms, Hannah was preparing to let him go – and it's the same for us. When we pray for children, we must recognise that God may have different directions, different plans for them – we may be asked, as parents are, to let them go to grow and flourish elsewhere, in another place.
What matters is not that we should be able to preen ourselves at our “successful” children's work – but that the children in our community should be able to encounter the living God, and know themselves loved...that they should be introduced to the way of faith and grow to hunger and thirst after righteousness, that they should learn and live by the great commandments of love that we've heard again this morning.
What matters is that those baptised as Christians should truly become “Little Christs” - signs of the Kingdom, each and every one.

Remember, we are praying for our children – not for ourselves.

As always, prayer doesn't change God, but prayer will change us.
This summer, churches across Gloucestershire are invited to pray “like Hannah” for children, - and there will be many ways in which we can engage with this...but as we pray, we're invited too to be ready to be changed by God...
Maybe as we pray we'll see new ways of sharing Good News with children, new ways of being church, new ways of engaging with schools and families.
I'm certain that any church community that truly prays like Hannah will find itself more open, more receptive, more aware of the children in that locality, whatever their relationship with the church.
Because, you know, prayer it may be (it probably will be) that this new attitude of awareness will impact on the way the church relates to children.
Do children matter to us?
We know that they matter to God...and if children are important to the church, this will show in the whole ethos – and children may respond to this by arriving, by returning and by staying.

Or it may be that our prayer will have little obvious impact on our own church...but that's good too. So often we plant seeds whose harvest we don't see directly....but we can be confident that, even if God places those children in a different context for their growth and nurture, our prayer will change things.

Children, Scripture reminds us, are a blessing...a joy, a delight, a sign of God's commitment and the fulfilment of God's promises. Today let's resolve to pray like Hannah, that the children of Cainscross, of Cashes Green & Ebley/ the children of Selsley will be in no doubt that they are loved and wanted by God and by God's people.

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