Who Teaches Whom?

A sermon delivered by Dr. Randy K. Hammer, November 13, 2016

Isaiah 11:6-9 ESV

A few months ago, we switched television cable companies, and we had to do some re-learning and reprogramming on our television remotes.  We also have a Roku device (anyone know what Roku is?) which gives us access to movies through Amazon Prime and Netflix via the Internet.  That needed to be programmed as well.  I was struggling with the remote programming.  One of our grandsons, who happened to be nine at the time, said to me, “Give me the remote.”  And he took it from me, and his little fingers began to fly across the buttons.  In less than a minute he had completed the programming.  It makes you feel sort of stupid, doesn’t it?  So as I noted in today’s “Thought for Meditation,” whenever we need electronic technical advice, I go to the expert – our now 10-year-old grandson.

Segueing to today’s sermon title, such raises the question, “Who Teaches Whom?”  I grew up in an environment where it was understood that adults did the teaching and children did the listening and learning.  Adults had the answers, and custom said you didn’t question an adult’s authority.  An old saying in my home community was, “Children are meant to be seen, not heard.” But today we are much more open to the idea that children may have much to teach us – if we are willing to listen and learn – just as we have much to teach them.

In sharing my thoughts with you today, part of what I have to say is a personal confession of sorts.  If I could rewind my life to the time when our children were of nursery school and elementary school age, I would do a lot of things differently.  One of the things I would do differently is be more understanding and less authoritarian, and I would spend a lot more time talking with and listening to our children and I would be more open to what they might have had to teach me.  And now I have no doubts but what our children could have taught me more, had I been more open to listening to them and willing to take the time to do so.

But as with many parents and grandparents my age, in some ways I am trying to do differently with my grandchildren than I did with my children.  I am trying to be more open, more willing to listen, have a humbler spirit, realizing that I can learn from them.  Perhaps those of you who are grandparents can relate to that.

Well, the sermon text for today from Isaiah speaks of a time when children will do the leading.  The time of universal peace and harmony spoken of when “a little child shall lead” a calf and a lion together obviously was a prophetic dream that has not yet been realized.  As we look at our world today – a world that in many ways is marred in chaos and filled with violence and political, racial and religious divisions – the prophet’s vision of a time of universal peace and harmony seems even more unrealistic and unattainable today than perhaps in a long time.  But every now and then, a story comes along that lifts our spirits and instills a sliver of hope.

To give an example, you may recall seeing on the news back in September the story of the little girl who addressed the Charlotte, North Carolina, City Council.  Zianna – a young, African American girl of 10 or so – delivered her emotional message with tears streaming down her face: “It’s a shame that our fathers and mothers are killed and we can’t see them anymore.  It’s a shame that we have to go to their graveyard and bury them.  We shouldn’t have tears.  We need our fathers and mothers to be by our side.”  The Charlotte City Council, as well as the country at large, was moved by Zianna’s plea.  To expand upon the prophet’s dream, “a little child shall lead them.”  And as the Psalmist put it, “out of the mouths of babes” (Psalm 8:2).

Perhaps you have heard of Joni and Friends Camps for families who have children with disabilities.  The organization was started by Joni Eareckson Tada, who as a young woman of 17 became a quadriplegic through a swimming diving accident.  Joni became famous as an artist who paints by holding the brush in her mouth.  Joni’s disability instilled within her the passion of starting a Christian organization to support families with children who have severe physical and mental disabilities.

At a Joni and Friends camp a few years ago, a four-year-old girl with developmental disabilities became the social butterfly of the week.  She happily flitted around to smile at anyone and everyone she saw, and she made no distinctions regardless of the age, race, or severe physical disability of those she engaged with.  She would walk up to someone in a wheelchair, regardless of what they looked like, and touch them on the arm and offer them a smile of acceptance.

Now granted, the little girl was limited in her perception and understanding, and she didn’t know enough to make distinctions based upon appearances.  However, the lesson the little girl embodied should not be lost – how much better off the world would be if we, like her, could look past the disabilities and differences, race and religion, and offer a loving touch and smile of acceptance to others who are different.

Allow me to share one more story.  Alex, a six-year-old boy from Scarsdale, New York, wrote a letter to President Obama, asking him to send a Syrian refugee to live with his family.  “We will give him a family, and he will be our brother,” Alex wrote.  In his request, Alex was referring to the five-year-old boy whose picture was widely circulated after he was rescued from his bombed-out house in Aleppo.  The White House published Alex’s letter, and the president read it at a UN Summit on Refugees.  In keeping with the prophet’s dream, God grant that a little child might lead us.

The truth is, children have so much to teach us in so many different ways, if we are willing to listen and learn from them.  Not only about how to program our computers or electronic gadgets, but about peace and harmony, honesty and integrity, acceptance and tolerance.

Well, the United Church Nursery School is a place where children are accepted and appreciated, regardless of their differences.  It is a place where children are held in high esteem.  Our Nursery School has been a place where for well over 50 years children are respected and listened to.  And our Nursery School philosophy includes the idea, I believe, that we can learn from the children as well as teach them, if we are willing to engage with them.

So again today, we set aside this second Sunday of November as a day to celebrate the wonderful mission of our United Church Nursery School to the greater Oak Ridge community, our Nursery School teachers who do what they do on little pay as a labor of love, and  our dedicated Nursery School parents.  But let us today primarily celebrate our church and Nursery School children who are persons in their own right and who have much to teach us, if we are willing to listen and learn and sometimes let them lead us.  May it be so.  Amen.

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About randykhammer

Minister and writer
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