Blessing Our Children
This week a mother, for the first time, watched a video of her son’s death. She was sitting in a courtroom within sight of the three men charged with his murder.
For that to happen ever, to anybody, is a terrible tragedy. I stood outside that courthouse in Brunswick Georgia for two days this week, speaking with ministers, journalists, and citizens about the murder trial that is claiming national headlines. It was quite a preparation for drawing from this psalm 127 this gospel lesson, a call to love our children, to bless our children, to bless somebody’s children!
This psalm teaches us to love our children at every age and every stage of life.
Of course, it also encourages us to trust God for our home: Unless the Lord builds the house, the work of the builder is wasted. Today we might say it this way: “A construction company will build a house, but it is up to us and the Lord to build a home and a family.”
This psalm urges us to trust God with our community and our country: Unless the Lord protects a city, guarding it with police and soldiers will do no good. We might say it this way: “A community might have a large police force and a country might have a large army, but the security of both is found in the people and their faith in God.”
This psalm pushes us to trust God with our daily needs. It echoes the prayer our Lord taught us to pray: It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for good to eat, for God gives the rest to his loved ones. Here again, we might say, “Get up every morning and go to sleep every night knowing that it is the Lord who provides food to eat, clothes to wear, and sleep to refresh you.”
There you have the triple crown of godly trust in the living God.
But the home run of happiness and contentment and blessing are the children we bring into the world, raise into adults, and love all the days of our lives.
What does the psalm say: Children are a gift from the Lord, the are a reward from God. Children born to a young man and a young woman are like arrows in a warrior’s hands. How joyful is the one whose quiver is full of them! You will not be put to shame when you confront your accusers in the city gates.
We might say it like this today: “Thank God for your children. They are a blessing. Your children are the most important possession you have. Be joyful if you have few or many. They will make you proud, even in public places.”
That reference to a quiver full of arrows points to the two extremes in our society today. Those who have many children and those who have none.
The Dugger family represents the first.
Their television show started out with the name “17 and Counting” but by the time it was over it was “19 and Counting.” It is hard to image one couple birthing and parenting 19 children. In a country that practiced polygamy or in a culture whose king had concubines, that many children might make more sense! In our country, it might be spouse abuse!!
There is a movement in our country called Quiver Full. It takes it inspiration from this psalm: How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of arrows…meaning children! There are about 10,000 families in the movement. They reject all forms of birth control and celebrate very large families.
At the other end of the spectrum is the movement away from birthing children. There are many childless families and many of them by choice. I can name several. They are part of a national decline in the birth rate. The birth rate in the United States is the lowest ever recorded. The teenage birth rate in the United States is the lowest ever recorded. Many contend that these low birthrates are not sufficient to maintain our current population and our workforce.
But here is the gospel lesson: whether we have many children or few children, we receive them as a gift from God.
Children are a gift from God, our text says.
Birth is one of the joyful occasions of life. Announcements, gender reveal strategies, baby showers, and Facebook posts are part of this celebration. They are evidence that babies bring joy. As a pastor and as a parent, I can say that the dedication of a baby is a wonderful occasion. And as a pastor and a grandparent, I can say the same. I was interim pastor of Rosemont Baptist Church in Lexington; and during the Christmas season of 2008, we dedicated Sam, our first grandchild.
Not everybody gives thanks to God for children; just like not everybody gives thanks to God for a beautiful day, or a good medical report, or a new job. We look to God for building our homes; but not everybody does that. We look to God for protecting our country, but not everybody does that. We pray to God to provide daily food. We look to God with thanksgiving when our children are born, as our children grow and learn, and when they launch into their own life. Children are a gift from the Lord.
Give thanks in all things, the apostle commands us.
Some children succeed; other children struggle. But we give thanks to God.
Some children are healthy and strong, but other children are sick or disabled. But we give thanks to God.
Some children make good decisions and follow the rules, but other children make bad decisions and end up in trouble. Nevertheless, we receive them as God’s gift, and we care for them and stand with them.
Some children follow in our footsteps, trusting Christ, loving God, and seeking a fullness of the Spirit. But some children turn in another direction, covert to another religion, find another community of faith or no faith. Nevertheless, we receive them as our children and love them and accept them and give them our blessing.
Too often parents curse their children.
Philip Yancy published his memoir this year. He is a popular Christian writer who has published 25 books. When he was three and his brother was six, their father died. He was a minister. He and their mother wanted to be missionaries. But he died of polio.
Their mother, in her desperate devotion to her husband and her misguided devotion to her God, said, “It will be up to the two of you to fulfill your father’s calling to the mission field.” She laid upon the minds and hearts of those two little boys a calling that God had put on their father.
What had been a blessing to their father became a curse to them. That expectation, carelessly uttered by their mother, dogged them into their childhood and adolescence, and into adulthood. She meant it for good, but it worked an evil.
It became a curse. It confused one boy, the younger, and it condemned another, the older so that he rejected everything: the call to the mission field, the commitment to Christ himself, the confidence that God is real and good and full of grace. He ended up addicted, sick, alone, without God and without hope. He was a cursed man to this very day.
It is a good thing when a father blesses his sons. Or when a mother blesses her daughters. Or in our egalitarian age, when parents, fathers and mothers, bless their children, boys and girls.
It is a sad thing when we curse our children, when we condemn them for not being us, when we criticize them for being their own person, living their own lives, going their own way.
One of the saddest scenes in the Bible is the day that Isaac blessed his sons. In those days, the firstborn son received a special blessing.
Isaac had two sons: Esau the older and Jacob the younger. Isaac sent his firstborn Esau out to kill an animal. Prepare it for the meal, Isaac told him. Bring it to me. We will eat together. Then I will give to you my blessing. But Jacob plotted with his mother to usurp that blessing meant for his older brother. They schemed to trick the aging father with poor eyesight. She helped Jacob prepare the meal and bring it to Isaac while Esau was still out hunting.
This is what happened. Isaac pronounced a blessing upon the son he thought was Esau: May God always give you an abundance of harvest. May other nations serve you. May your brothers bow down to you. All people who bless you, my son, will be blessed.
Isaac blessed his son Jacob thinking he was Esau. When Esau finally showed up, Isaac realized he had been tricked. Isaac said to Esau, Your brother Jacob has taken your blessing. But Esau replied with this wonderful and lingering question: Do you have only one blessing? Don’t you have another blessing for me?
There is a blessing for every child.
Every daughter and son deserve your blessing. Each one deserves your prayer. Each one deserves your attention. And I don’t mean only when they are three years old and cute; or ten years old and wonderful; and 20 years old and flourishing in college.
When they are sick and cannot manage, they deserve a blessing. When they are alone and have nowhere else to turn, they deserve a blessing. When they are rude, and crude, and socially unacceptable, they deserve a blessing. Jacob was a scoundrel, and a cheat and a schemer; and he still got a blessing. Your child at every age and at any age deserves a blessing from you.
Blessing instead of cursing may be the most Jesus-like thing you can do in any and every circumstance. What we call the Sermon on the Mount is a collection of the teaching of Jesus. It begins with nine blessings: a blessing for the humble and a blessing for the merciful, a blessing for the peacemakers and a blessing for pure in heart. Our children need these blessings at every stage of their life.
When they embarrass us, or themselves, they need the blessing of mercy.
When they get angry and curse us, they need the blessing of forgiveness.
When they face daunting and difficult situations, they need the blessing of encouragement.
When they embrace a way that seems so wrong to us, they need the blessing of love and kindness and patience.
Even when they ridicule your faith and your allegiance to Jesus, they need the blessing of patience. For an early Christian hymn reminds us that one day, every knee shall bow, including every knee that has ever found a place under your kitchen table, and every tongue will confess, including every tongue that has lashed out at you, that Jesus Christ is Lord.
In the meantime, you find somebody else’s kids, young or old, and offer them the faith, the hope, and the love that your own kids might reject. Or embrace the somebody else’s grown children who are nearby while yours are off in some far corner of the world.
One of the old hymns that shaped my life is the song “Make Me A Blessing”
Out in the highways and byways of life children are weary and sad.
Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife making the sorrowing glad.
Make me a blessing, make me a blessing, out of my life may Jesus shine.
Make me a blessing, O Savior, I pray.
Make me a blessing to some child today, if not my own, maybe yours!