"Thanks be to God for [this] indescribable gift:" the end to our second reading this morning. So what exactly will we say is that "indescribable gift" this week, whether we travel hundreds of miles away or we simply stay put and wait. Is the gift the first distant relative who comes in the door and unleashes the strongest of hugs on us, truly starting the holiday we call Thanksgiving? Or is the gift sitting around the table with the whole family gathered: all the different stories, all the different points in our life, all the different outlooks on our nation and the world, all brought together united by nothing more than a pure love for each other? Or do we not want to be so sentimental about the day and just say the gift is simply all the food and football thrown in for good measure? What is the indescribable gift?
For me, there's just something about the children, and I can't quite describe it. I have nine nieces and nephews, ranging from age two to thirteen, and I must admit to you there are times when I get emotional just watching them be themselves, just having the opportunity to be under the same roof with all them even if it is only for a few hours, and I can't quite explain why I react that way.
Maybe it's because, in the church, we tend to use children out of our own selfishness. We want young people singing up front in choirs and coming up in droves to the children's sermon, because they're just so cute. They're so precious. They're so young. They have so much potential to sing, to acolyte, to get confirmed, to give in offerings, to lector, to usher, to be on committees, to be on council, to get married, to have their own children, to keep our church going. They're just so cute! And if anyone steps in the way of any of that happening, God have mercy on that person's soul, because they provide that essential attraction to new people, including, hopefully, younger families, so that our church as a whole will just be so darn cute.
But in the middle of all that obsession is the children, who turn out to be nothing more than a sales pitch, on the same level as the commercials for a certain holiday coming up that's already more than you can bare. So we have to wonder is it possible that the young people have something much more to offer than we're willing to give them credit for in a church that's run by us so filled-with-wisdom adults? Is it possible that there's more to the youth than their smiles and standing up in choir formation at the front of a church? Or do we just want them for our own personal enjoyment and satisfaction?
What about the youngest of children who watch us with those eyes as wide as the moon, watching our every movement, investigating our every facial expression, dissecting the entirety of our behavior, with as wide of eyes as God, Who cares about so much that we will never escape the divine sight. And through that Almighty care and adoration God blesses us with the most precious gift of new life through the children. However, with that gift comes the oftentimes daunting honor to impact their reactions to other human beings, and how they will carry themselves for decades to come, as those wide eyes watch everything about us, whether we want them to or not.
Or how about those loud youth who shout during that song after Communion (or the arrogant inexperienced pastor who encouraged them to do it)? Shouldn't that be reserved for after church, so that we can ensure worship be quiet and meditative for the entire hour? Couldn't the young people wait just a little while longer to be...children? Or is it possible they're making us realize how exciting this unbelievably gracious God truly is, how much passion should be going through your entire body that you can no longer keep it to yourself? Is it possible that's what worship was meant to do all the way from the beginning of time?
Or what about the young people who come to the altar rail for Communion with the rest of their family, and as their parents and grandparents are given bread to eat the child of course assumes their inclusion and tries to steal the bread from the guy who walks around with more than enough for everyone. Our reaction? "It's just so cute!" But what if we should be closer to that child's deepest yearning for the bread of life, than our routine run-through of it all? What if we realized what that bread truly meant? What if it was Jesus' body? What if it was tasting the sacrifice He made for us and for the world, including the children? What if it was filling our body with the holy sustenance that ignites our faith for an eternal lifetime? Wouldn't we just want to seize it out of whosever's hands with as much determination as grabbing onto life itself?
After all, that piece of bread is as indescribable of a gift as the children themselves. And yet we're still more than a little hesitant to give up their cuteness, just as hesitant to allow the possibility that we still have much to learn about this God, including the sacrament of Holy Communion that we take partake on a weekly basis, that we feel like we know as well as believing all children are the same cutesy unfulfilled potential little ones, who need to come to church to make us already-did-more-than-our-fair-share adults happy.
So maybe that's why I get emotional each opportunity I have to see my nieces and nephews, to see them outside the realm of the church, to see them as incredibly gifted and talented and loving human beings; to see them not as young people who will at some point contribute to society, but to see them as overwhelming already wonderful servants of God, who teach me so much each and every time I have with them that through every decibel of laughter, every ounce of strength from a hug, every minute of conversation is a precious glimpse of the very new life God unleashed on this world through Jesus Christ; and the resurrection that set us free to live this life not out of adult cynicism, but with the freshest of hope that only the youngest of us can offer. And so this week, this Thanksgiving, and all the days that come thereafter, thanks be God for the indescribable gift of the children of God forevermore. Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon