In our church most Sundays, we have a time set aside in the worship service for what we call Children’s Church. Our associate pastor, Jana Kinnersley, leads this time, and she requires all the small children to come down front and they surround her on the dais.
Jana usually begins her children’s sermon with a question and so often her question brings from the children comments she didn’t expect. However unexpected those answers to her questions are, Jana usually repeats them into the microphone for the congregation. Laughter is frequent in our children’s sermon.
In a similar vein, I received several recent messages from two of my co-workers at the University of Georgia and from a classmate at Truett-McConnell College. The first, Faith Peppers from Roswell, Ga., told the story about her daughter, Anna Grace, who attends preschool at Roswell First Baptist Church, who came home the other day and announced she had learned a new song.
“I said. ‘Oh, let me hear it,'” Faith wrote. “Anna Grace broke into a soulful rendition of the song known to most children as ‘Deep and Wide.’ However, Anna Grace’s version went: ‘Cheese and wine, cheese and wine, there’s a fountain floating cheese and wine….’ I guess we are off to the Presbyterian preschool fulltime next year!”
After Faith shared her story, Sharon Omahen in Griffin, Ga., wrote to share an experience a friend of hers told about a children’s Sunday school class.
“I was testing the children in my Sunday school class to see if they understood the concept of getting to heaven,” the friend wrote.
“I asked them, ‘If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into Heaven?’ ‘NO!’ the children answered.
“‘If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me into Heaven?’ Again, the answer was, ‘NO!’
“By now I was starting to smile. Hey, this was fun! ‘Well, then, if I was kind to animals and gave candy to all the children, and loved my husband, would that get me into Heaven?’ Again, they all answered, ‘NO!’ I was just bursting with pride for them.
Well, I continued, then how can I get into Heaven? A 5-year-old boy shouted out, ‘YOU GOTTA BE DEAD.'”
Sometimes Jana gets answers like that in our children’s church. Some of the answers the children give about such events as the Birth of Christ, Christ’s death on the cross, the resurrection or Pentecost or heaven bring answers so unexpected, they “bring the house down with laughter.”
The laughter comes as much from the fresh look the children take about our religion than from how humorous what they say may be to us as adults. Sometimes their innocence overwhelms us.
My friend and classmate Ben Pethel from Gainesville, Ga., shared an Internet story that shows so well how God uses children and their innocence to teach us great lessons.
Ben’s story: “Last week I took my children to a restaurant. My 6-year-old son asked if he could say grace. As we bowed our heads, he said, ‘God is good, God is great. Thank you for the food, and I would even thank you more if Mom gets us ice cream for dessert. And Liberty and justice for all! Amen!’
“Along with the laughter from the other customers nearby I heard a woman remark, ‘That’s what’s wrong with this country. Kids today don’t even know how to pray. Asking God for ice cream! Why, I never!’
“Hearing this, my son burst into tears and asked me, ‘Did I do it wrong? Is God mad at me?’ As I held him and assured him that he had done a terrific job and that God was certainly not mad at him, an elderly gentleman approached the table.
“He winked at my son and said, ‘I happen to know that God thought that was a great prayer.’
“‘Really?’ my son asked. ‘Cross my heart,’ the man replied.
“Then in a theatrical whisper he added (indicating the woman whose remark had started this whole thing), ‘Too bad she never asks God for ice cream. A little ice cream is good for the soul sometimes.’
“Naturally, I bought my kids ice cream at the end of the meal. My son stared at his for a moment and then did something I will remember the rest of my life. He picked up his sundae and without a word, walked over and placed it in front of the woman. With a big smile he told her, ‘Here, this is for you. Ice cream is good for the soul sometimes; and my soul is good already.'”
I think maybe Jesus knew exactly what he was telling us when he said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me… for such is the kingdom of heaven.” Amen.
Barry Jones is a retired professor and member of Milledge Avenue Baptist Church in Athens, Ga.