[Given March 30, 2014 by The Rev. Fr. Marcus Halley – St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church – Kansas City, MO]
Come, Holy Spirit.
Take our hearts and think through them.
Take our mouths and speak through them.
Take our hearts and set them on fire. +
This morning as we continue our sermon series on “What Keeps You Up at Night”, I want to talk with you a little bit about “How Do We Raise Kids in a Crazy World?”
You might be wondering what I, being single and without children, can tell you, many of you having children [and grandchildren] of your own, about what it means to raise children. Your might also be wondering what these scriptures have to do with raising children, especially our Hebrew bible reading from 1 Samuel.
It isn’t so much our scriptures in particular that I want to focus on. Rather, I want to use the context wherein they were written as our point of departure. Much of the Hebrew Bible was written when the Jewish people themselves were traversing a Crazy World. The Temple had been destroyed, their nation had been conquered by Babylon, and they had been carried off as slaves.
Yet, against this backdrop of craziness, the Jewish people began the process of writing down the oral traditions into what we know today as the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible. They wanted to ensure that they could tell these stories to their children to help raise in the “fear and admonition of the Lord.”
I have no children of my own, yet, but I do know what it means to be a part of a village. As the African proverbs states – “It takes a village to raise a child.” So for a few brief moments, allow this village griot, an African “sacred story-teller,” to share with you three ways that all of us can help raise up our children in this crazy world. Perceive. Prepare. Pray.
First, we must Perceive. We must perceive that the world we live in has a value system that is different than our own, as citizens of the Heavenly commonwealth.
In his seminal theological treatise on our dual citizenship on earth and in heaven called The City of God, St. Augustine of Hippo enumerates the difference between the values of this world and the values of heaven when he says “…two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self… the heavenly by the love of God… The former… glories in itself, the latter in the Lord.”
By his life, Jesus instituted a new order. Whereas the old order was about the status quo and blind maintenance to unjust systems, Jesus reinstituted a prophetic call for justice that is wrapped in warm bosom of mercy.
Mercy that extends. Mercy that enlarges. Mercy that expands. Mercy that grows. Mercy that forgives. That’s what we are called to value as a citizens of that Heavenly City.
It is clear to me that our society needs a lesson in “mercy.” Since Capital Punishment was reinstated in the 1970s, 1,372 sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, have been put to death in this country, 73 in the state of Missouri alone. In his sermon “Love in Action,” The Rev. Dr. Martin King states that “Capital punishment is society’s final assertion that it will not forgive.”
But aren’t we as Christian called to forgiveness? Do we not pray for our own forgiveness every time pray the Lord’s Prayer?
In a mediation entitled “The Twofold Encounter,” Dr. King’s mentor, Dr. Howard Thurman writes,
There is an august impertinence and an utter arrogance in coming before God seeking for one’s self at His hands what one has refused to give to those who walk the common way from day to day. ‘Forgive us our debts and we forgive our debtors’: this is the timeless utterance, the password that relaxes the Angel with the Flaming Sword who guards the entrance to the Holy of Holies. No man can be happy in Heaven if he left his brother in Hell.
Retribution and revenge may be our reaction, but from the cross, Jesus, a victim of capital punishment, proclaimed a higher law – forgiveness and reconciliation.
If we are going to raise our children in this crazy world, we must be perceptive enough to identify that it is crazy, that there is a “Just Order” that runs counter to the mercy that God is calling us to incarnate in the world. Scripture encourages us in 1 Peter 5:8, “Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion, your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” As village elders, we have to stand on the wall, be vigilant, and be watchful.
Not only must we perceive, but if this village is going to raise our children in this crazy world we must prepare them.
By writing down the stories of their faith, the Jewish people were ensuring that untold generations would be able to tell these stories to their children. To the faithful Jewish people these weren’t fairytales. They were accounts of a God who sought relationship and a Law and a Covenant that gave them an identity.
After giving the people the Great Commandment, the Shema (the “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”), Deuteronomy 6:7 instructs parents to “Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down, and when you rise.”
This is about Formation. This is about the intentional act of raising up their children and notice where it starts – in the home.
As inheritors of this tradition of formation, this is something we are called to do as well – engage in Christian Formation beginning in the home.
What does this look like? This looks like praying with your children, reading scripture with your children, talking with your children about Jesus, and allowing your children to teach you about faith.
You see, part of preparing our children for this crazy world is teaching them that they too have something to give the world, they too have a voice worth hearing, and a faith worth sharing.
As a village, we have to place our young people on the Potter’s wheel and allow them to be shaped and formed after the image of God. We must allow spaces in our lives to allow the Potter to prepare them for this crazy world. The Prophet Isaiah says “O Lord, you are our Father, we are the clay, and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
So not only must we perceive the different value systems at work in our world, and not only must we prepare our young people by making Christian Formation an intention in our homes, but finally we must pray and trust in God.
The world we live in is crazy, but the reality of it is this – it’s no more crazy now than it has been.
Can you imagine raising children as an exiled Jewish community under Babylonian captivity? That was a crazy world.
Can you imagine raising children in 1st Century Palestine under Roman rule? That was a crazy world.
Can you imagine raising children after the fall of the Roman Empire, during the onset of the Black Plague, in the middle of Protestant Reformation and the religious wars that followed, or in Sub-Saharan Africa during the onset of the Slave Trade? Those were crazy times in our world and yet parents, proud mothers and fathers, grandparents, villages and communities rallied together and raised up generations.
I believe these countless generations were able to raise up children during crazy times by harnessing the power of prayer.
Psalm 61:2 says, “From the end of the earth I call to you, when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you are my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.”
When we’ve done all we can do as a village, all we can do is trust God – the very same God who has the unsearchable corners of the unfathomable cosmos tucked securely in the palm of God’s unchanging hand. And even though we may walk through the darkest valleys, we can do so fearlessly. That’s what our Psalm says. We can walk fearlessly because God is with us.
Raising children is the ultimate act of trust and detachment. As a village, we raise up these young people, we love on them, we support them, we wipe their tears when they cry, we high-five them when they do things well, we correct them when they make is mistake, we pray for them, and there comes a time when we have to let them go out into this crazy world and make the choice to be whom God has called them to be.
Yet, we are called to pray without ceasing for their well-being, their safety, and their success.
We are a village coalesced under the crimson standard of Christ, and though the world may be dark and crazy, we are called to raise up children of light, who have their identity illumined by their relationship to God, young people who will pursue justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
That is our sacred charge.
That is our divine duty.
 Augustine of Hippo. The City of God, trans. Marcus Dobs (New York; The Modern Library, 1993), 477.
 Martin Luther King. “Love in Action” in Strength to Love (Minneapolis, MN; Fortress Press, 2010), 34.
 Howard Thurman. “The Twofold Encounter” in The Inward Journey (Richmond, IN; Friends United Press, 2007), 137-138.
 Isaiah 64:8 (NRSV)