Precious Grace: The Children Shall Lead Us

Timothy C. Ahrens

The First Congregational Church

United Church of Christ

Columbus, Ohio

March 26, 2000

I Corinthians 1:18-25; Mark 10:13-16

(IV of VII in Series "God's Amazing Grace")

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Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our salvation. Amen.

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John Newton wrote in verse two of "Amazing Grace," "`Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved, how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed." "Precious grace" is a gift from God I have witnessed in children.

On Christmas Eve, 1993, my congregation was blessed to host three families from the Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN). The poignancy of homelessness was never clearer on this cold, wintery night as we gathered to celebrate the birth of our Savior born in a barn to sojourning parents. We had welcomed the three families with their ten children on Sunday, December 19 and we had built our church family's Christmas celebration around their presence with us. The main hallway in the Christmas Education wing had a Christmas tree in it with many gifts around the base for the children of our guests. It was awesome!

That night, as the angels spread their wings, our homeless guests were part of the heavenly host. As the shepherds came forward to worship the newborn king, all of us felt humbled knowing that four of them had slept under the stars with no place to lay their heads in recent weeks. It turned out to be the most beautiful Christmas pageant ever.

After "Silent Night" had been sung, the shelter guests had gone to bed and most of our church members had headed home, I found two children in the hallway talking - one from our congregation and one from our guests - both of them, angels. Our guest, Isaiah was giving one of his gifts to Katie, our member. He said, "Here, take one of my gifts. I have so many already. I'd like to share one with you." The Precious Grace of our newborn Savior was alive in Isaiah!

In a pediatric cancer ward in the early 1960's a young oncologist at John Hopkins University was battling leukemia in a host of children. At 12 years old, Sam was the last survivor in a test group who had been given large doses of chemotherapy to reverse the effects of this child killer cancer. Parents and children had been told that if the doses of chemo didn't kill them, it could possibly cure them. They had also been told that without the chemo, they would not live. Late one night, the doctor, now totally unsure of himself for having witnessed the slow death of the test group, entered Sam's room to monitor his vital signs.

Sam called the doctor to his bedside. "Hi doc,' he whispered. "I just wanted to thank you for your courage, doc. It took a lot of courage to administer all these drugs to me and the others. I know they're all gone. So for all of them I just want to thank you for allowing us to be part of saving generations of children's lives. Thank you. Don't ever give up because some day soon, you are going to beat this disease and I want to die knowing I helped you." During that night, Sam died. The Precious Grace of God alive in a dying Sam, led the John Hopkins team to find cures for childhood leukemia.

As a mother, author, Madeleine L'Engle would sometimes jot down in her journal comments she heard here children say. Her youngest son, when he was little, used to have leisurely, intimate, and long conversations with God at bedtime. Although she noted that his prayers were often extended to inordinate lengths in order to prolong bedtimes, she felt that was all right. After all, she thought, it's never a bad thing to extend conversations with God, no matter what the reason. One rainy Autumn evening, he paused in his litany of "God blesses" and said, "O God, I love to listen to the rain; I love to listen to you talk." On another night, following a moment when he saw adults huddled around the radio listening to news during a world crisis, he paused and said in a rather dictatorial voice, "And God, remember to be the Lord!" Madeleine writes, "It took a four-year-old to remind me in my own praying that God is the Lord who is in charge of the universe no matter what we do to mess it up" (M. L' Engle, The Irrational Season, New York, Seabury Press, 1977, pp. 60-61). The Precious Grace of God's Holy Spirit coming from the prayerful hearts of children teaches us to believe and pray.

Jesus knows that God's precious grace is alive and well in children. In Mark 10:13-16, while disciples rebuke the children who make their way to Jesus, Jesus himself embraces the children. From the disciples' perspective, children couldn't march, organize, plan, lead or provide financial support for the Jesus movement. What role could they serve in the Kingdom movement? From Jesus' perspective, that was exactly the point. He knew that a child can receive the kingdom of God without offering, without claim, without calculation. A child comes to the kingdom of God with genuine qualities of humility, trust, and obedience and with a short memory for the wrongs of others. Nevertheless, the qualities of adults or children do not qualify them for the Kingdom of God because neither children nor adults can ever qualify for God's Kingdom -- we come to the Kingdom through God's Grace. It is precious grace.

Today, through the grace of God, one more child of God has been welcomed into our family of faith. Certainly, Adam Brookins Wade has done nothing to qualify for the Kingdom. At four months old today, he has not produced anything, or done anything, or earned anything to win a place in God's Kingdom. And even if Adam was 40 months old or 40 years old, what has happened here are pure grace, simple gifts, God's love made manifest in Christ Jesus by water and by Holy Spirit. Adam, has been washed in the water of baptism and through his sacrament, he has received grace upon grace. God knows he needs it. His parents, grandparents, and godparents know he needs it. We know he needs it. To face this world full of tyranny, tumult, and troubles, each one of us needs such precious grace!

In her little book, Guide My Feet: Prayers and Meditations on Loving and Working for Children, Marion Wright Edelman, and founder and president of The Children's Defense Fund writes:

As we face a new century and a new millennium, the overarching challenge for America is to rebuild a sense of community and hope and civility and caring and safety for all our children. I hope God will guide our feet as parents - and guide America's feet - to reclaim our nation's soul, and give back to all our children their sense of security and their ability to dream about and work toward a future that is attainable and hopeful. Let us begin by praying that God's spirit will be born anew within and among us. (M.W.Edelman, Guide My Feet, Boston, Beacon Press, 1995, xxviii).

As we enter into a covenant with Adam and his family this day, may Dr. Wright's words guide our feet to paths of justice and righteousness in Christ's name and spirit! And may the generous words of Isaiah of Christmas Eve; the courageous words of Sam on the eve of his birth into eternal life; the prayerfully challenging words for "God to be the Lord," and the grace-filled welcoming words of our Savior call forth the precious grace of God as the children lead us in this hour of first belief. Amen.

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