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A Homily for Children's Sunday

Rev. Dr. Karin Case
Sun, Jun 10

Text: Isaiah 44:1-8

 In my first parish ministry job, I was responsible for the Youth Ministry Programs—Confirmation Class, Sunday Night Youth Group, Wednesday Night Discussion Group, and annual Mission Trips. Perhaps my favorite discovery in those years came when we did group-building exercises that focused on collaboration and problem-solving. Youth are brilliant at this. Given the opportunity, their native social intelligence really shines!

 Of course, group cooperation is a useful ability for humans at every age and stage—from nursery school, to college classroom, to committee meeting. 

 In Youth Ministry, cooperation was particularly necessary when we took large groups on mission trips. For example, our church took fifty kids on a sister-city trip to San Marcos, Nicaragua. The group was so large that we divided into two travel groups—with half flying through Houston and the other half through Miami. Then this: imagine thirty kids in the international terminal at the Miami airport returning from Managua to Boston. What happens when one person loses their luggage and another gets stuck coming through customs?

 Of course, you have protocols and contingency plans, but what helps most of all, is when every member of the group is attuned and responsive to the whole. 

 What I discovered early on in youth ministry is that teens often have remarkable social intelligence. They are creative, resourceful and collaborative in ways that far outstrip my generation. I’m sure this is the result of opportunities and education they’ve received—a truly different approach to human development than in my generation. (Remember when all the desks were in straight rows and you worked mostly on your own?)

It’s a beautiful thing, watching youth navigate a high ropes course, or a set of group-building challenges. Start with eight people standing on a 6-feet-square tarp. Now, turn the tarp over without anyone stepping off the tarp onto the floor!

 Or this. Figure out how to get fifteen people over a 10-foot wall. It’s beautiful thing, watching teenagers kick into problem-solving mode. They begin to notice and appreciate individual gifts that contribute to the whole. In the case of the 10-foot wall, they start to think about who is particularly light, or strong, tall, or nimble. Or kind or thoughtful or clever. They wonder, “How can we use our collective abilities to succeed together?”

 According to anthropologist Kristen Hawkes, this very same social intelligence may be partially responsible for the survival and evolution of the human species. (1) She notes that humans show an orientation towards cooperation and collaboration that far exceeds that of any other primates.

 A prevailing hypothesis has been that humans needed to collaborate for hunting and warfare. Hawkes argues instead that it is in social groupings of mothers, grandmothers, and offspring where this social intelligence has developed. In family groups foraging for food, young children are fed by people other than their mom and they develop social intelligence with early cues such as pointing, sharing, and paying attention to social cues like smiling and frowning.  (2)

 Hawkes and her colleagues argue that this social intelligence not only enables our survival, but makes us distinctly human. We—among all the primates—have a kind of social intelligence built into our DNA. We are inherently relational.

 Perhaps this relational intelligence is also what makes the church thrive. Collaboration, care and commitment keep our faith strong and allow us to pass it down to new generations.

 Today is Children’s Sunday. We celebrate our children, thank our teachers and recognize our graduates. We lift up the importance of learning in this community of faith.

 As I see you here this morning, children, I have so much pride in how you are growing up. You bring so much joy. I love your humor and intelligence, your sensitivity, questions, your good hearts, kindness, and exuberance. I appreciate your willingness to try new things. I’ve seen many of you do that this year! You’ve tried baking communion bread, leading a book discussion, reading in front of the whole congregation, helping collect the offering—so we can reach out in love to the world around us. I celebrate you—not because of something you have earned or achieved—but because you are ours and we love you. It’s really that simple.

 I celebrate this community of co-learners and lift up the gifts of curiosity and commitment and loving relationship. Thank you—teachers—for creating the space for our children to thrive. Thank you for missing Sunday morning worship (some of the time) so that our children can grow in love and faith—all the time.

 The relationships we cultivate with each other are vital for nurturing our community. But there’s something more! It is our relationship with God—first and foremost—that gives us life. We speak of a God who chooses and names us, who knows us, even before we are formed in our mothers’ wombs. It is this God, who pours out the Holy Spirit on us—as a community—and graces us with power and wisdom and courage. Thanks be to God! 

In his beautiful, poetic way, Isaiah reminds us of God’s promise:

 I will pour my spirit upon your descendants,

   and my blessing on your offspring.

They shall spring up like a green tamarisk,

   like willows by flowing streams.  (Isaiah 44:3-4)

 On this third Sunday in the Season of Pentecost, this Children’s Sunday, let us remember that God’s love is like a great aquifer, that runs underground, causing new life to spring up—a Source that never runs dry. God’s blessing is mightier—even—than the great acts of creation and deliverance. God is—from the beginning—relational, pouring out blessing and calling us “beloved.”

 Friends, then let us be like willows and tamarisks seeking life-giving water. Let us take root and grow and blossom, in this place of blessing.

 May it be so, from this generation to the next. Thanks be to God!


1) https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/06/07/617097908/why-grandmothers-may-hold-the-key-to-human-evolution

2) John Poole, https://www.npr.org/series/607483398/-howtoraiseahuman 

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