Friday, October 7, 2011

A Good Try But...

Russ Saltzman over at First Things has done a pretty job identifying the pit falls of the children's sermon and still contending for the use of one.  I enjoyed his words, laughed at his jokes, and thought a bit upon his points and yet, I remain unconvinced that a children's sermon belongs in the liturgy.  Yes, he has traversed the great divide and made his kiddie talks more churchly and, well, less goofy (and, therefore, a whole lot less entertaining to the adults watching), but does the instruction he offers belong in the liturgy?  It is not that what he is talking about is bad -- it is great! -- but that the liturgy is not primarily educational or instructional. 

The goal of the sermon is not primarily to teach but to apply the Word of the Lord (from the lessons of the day) to the daily lives of the people assembled.  Yes, teaching always goes on in the sermon and, indeed, throughout the liturgy.  But no, the liturgy and the sermon are not primarily educational activities.  We encounter God where God has made Himself accessible to us -- in the Word and Sacraments.  These means of grace impart to us the God of gods and most high Lord of all -- wearing the clothing of mercy and grace in order to welcome us into His presence and impart to us the gifts we neither deserve nor dare ask.  It changes the whole direction of the liturgy (Word and Sacrament) when we are constantly explaining or teaching.  Yes, we need to teach but, no, not as a distinct activity within the liturgy.  Even when we do this as a time out moment from the action of the liturgy moving us through the twin peaks of the Gospel and the Sacrament, it becomes like a commercial in the middle of a tense and tightly woven movie script.  Finally, we do not need more words.  We need less words.  We need more concise speech.  Most parishes and Pastors could do with a whole lot less instructional commentary and simply let the liturgy be...

One more thing.  Children's sermons imply that children can take nothing from the liturgy, lessons, sermon, or sacrament -- that we have to manufacture something for them in order for them to "get" something from what happens in the Divine Service.  But that is patently false.  Children soak up the liturgy and pay more attention to the visual images of the Divine Service -- more so than adults.  They learn be being in the liturgy - which, is, truth to be told, the best kind of catechesis. 

Maybe we need sermons for little old ladies who live alone mostly on Social Security or middle aged men facing uncertain employment futures or single college kids dabbling in all sorts of temptations while out on their own or sermons especially for Pastors (who, after all, need to be preached to differently than lay folks, dontcha know).  Gahhhhhhhh.  The liturgy is where God meets us in the Word and Sacraments that are efficacious and effective in doing His bidding and bestowing His grace.  Everyone there receives from this gift -- regardless of age, marital status, gender, economic level, race, or ethnic identity.  Sinners in need of forgiveness come in all sizes and shapes and the grace of God (given to us in Word and Sacrament) fits the needs of us all.

So I appreciated his words but I remain unconvinced about the propriety of children's sermons.... although you are free to keep on trying to change my mind...


Laura said...

If I thought my children were tuned in adequately for the sermon I would be in agreement, as I agree the liturgy itself is the best catechesis. I think, though, if there's a chance they don't understand the scriptures and sermon at the same level as the adults, it might be worthwhile to do a children's sermon on the grounds that they are in need of explication/application of God's word as well as the adults. Some writers suggest that pastors should make sure to include in their sermon something (an illustration which includes a child, for example) geared toward the younger parishioners to help engage them and so that all parts of the service are for everyone. I think this suggestion has merit. My children always remember when the pastor has related a story about his childhood to illustrate a point.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Two things:

1. I don't worry about my little Catechism review where I ask a question and the cognregation reads the respond (followed by memory work and explanation to the kids) breaking up the flow of the service -- if we can stop the service so we can pause and worship how much we give in the offering, we can pause to discuss the Catechism.

2. Don't you realize that my children's sermons really are *for* the Social Security gals, and the parents, and the single college kids who I didn't get to take through the Catechism?

That being said - If I were at a place that didn't have them, I wouldn't be in a rush to introduce them.

Anonymous said...

The kids sermon was introduced in the
LCMS by Directors of Christian
Education. Supposedly they were
trained to do this in the Concordia
colleges they attended. It was a way
to give them visibility to the parish
on Sunday morning.

Soon parishes without a DCE began
having kids sermons and pastors or
laity delivered them. Kids sermons
are feeble attempts to entertain
the adults while the kids' minds

I was in a parish with a female DCE
who gave kids sermons and one family left because they said women
cannot give sermons.

boaz said...

The confessions explicitly say the purpose of ceremonies is to teach. Jesus taught, he told his disciples to teach. This is bedrock. To elevate ceremonies beyond a teaching purpose promotes mysticism. The word is God speaking, but its effective because it teaches about what God did and is doing, not because the word has a magical effect, like some incantation.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting to me that we assume the Word of God needs to be translated for the children. I have been a Christian Educator in the church most of my life of 73 years. It seems to me that if the Word is God (John 1:1), then we need to allow it to impinge upon the hearts and minds of our children as well as ourselves. I have made it a practice to read the text from the Bible to children, particularly when it was difficult to explain. Then let the children tell you what they heard and understood. I have been amazed at their understanding. One of my pet peeves is “dumbing down” the Bible stories “so the children can understand.”

If the children need to be “conditioned”, then perhaps parental help before and after the service would be advisable. I tell my grand-daughters to circle words or phrases, they have questions about in the bulletin. (The text is printed out in our bulletins.) They could also jot down any thoughts or questions and the family could talk about them later.

We spent the past summer teaching children about the liturgy and helping them learn to sing it. There is so much to do in the Lutheran Service if the children are cued to it! I have had children say “Is it over already?” Little children can do three things: “Sing, Pray, and Listen.” Just help them know which one to do at the appropriate time.

I have written and presented children’s sermons, but I don’t advocate them anymore. As Pastor Peters has suggested, setting apart one group from the congregation sends a message that they are “special” or “not Special.”

Elsa Quanbeck

Chris said...

Thank you for saying this because this needs to be said. You are absolutely correct: Childrens' Sermons make the faulty assumption that young Christians are incapable of learning the Christian faith through the Divine Liturgy. To make an analogy, it is like trying to teach someone a foreign language but only using a vocabulary of 100 words when every day language consists of 10,000 words and more.

The addition of the children's sermon (or as it was called in my church the "children's message" which was a huge misnomer; why is it just for them?) was probably done because parents have largely abnegated their responsibilities to teach the faith at home where they could use such "special" language as what you observe at Sunday Children's Sermons.

joel in ga said...

The children's sermon is but a bone thrown to the parents of little children. If pastors really want to include children in worship, let them start practicing paedocommunion.