Near the beginning of the worship service at my church—and I guess at many churches—there is the children’s sermon, in which all the kids are invited up to the front to sit around the minister for a brief message, after which the kids are escorted out to their Sunday School classes so the adults can get on with their adult stuff.
I must have taken part in hundreds of those children’s sermons during my all-too-brief career as a kid, but I remember exactly one.
It was led by Rev. R, the associate minister at the time. We kids sat around him on the stairs to the altar; I’m guessing it was summertime, because, in my memory, there weren’t a lot of us that day. After some brief introductory remarks, Dr. R asked us, basically, what we wanted to be when we grew up. Probably, some of the other kids offered the typical answers you might expect: astronaut, firefighter, teacher.
I may have been the oldest kid there that day, so perhaps I felt a certain responsibility to provide a good answer to Rev. R.. Fortunately, though, I figured I knew how to play this game.
I said “a Christian.”
Rev. R. revealed a slight wince. Not the answer he was looking for, not the point of this lesson. He looked around to the other kids, hoping for more answers. Hearing none, he pointed at his chest. “I want to be ME,” he said.
Ah, OK, so it’s a lesson about self-esteem, about all of us being ourselves, about trusting the moral voice inside ourselves. And I had just screwed it up for him. I could see it in his wince.
So much for MY self-esteem.
But Rev. R. knew what he was doing, and he got through the mini-sermon without further incident. My fellow youngsters and I absorbed the lesson, or didn’t, and we were all shuffled off to our Sunday school classrooms. In all likelihood, none of them remembered the lesson after that morning.
Me, I still remember it five decades later.
It has occurred to me that I have learned Rev. R.’s lesson a little more than he had intended. Because over the years, I’ve come to realize that his answer really was better than mine. Because now that I’m grown up (well, almost, anyway), the “Christianity” I follow is much more of the “small-c,” love-thy-neighbor variety, rather than the “capital-C,” son-of-God kind. In fact, mine is so “small-c” that I don’t really even call it christianity. But I do like to think that if Jesus were here to grade my life according to the precepts he laid down, he’d give me an A or a B. Or at least a C (pun intended, sorry).
So maybe I wasn’t entirely sincere in my answer to Rev. R., all those years ago, but maybe he wasn’t entirely sincere in his, either. When it comes down to it though, I think he landed closer to the target.
I don’t know what ever happened, to Rev. R. I actually sort of hope, though, that he went on to have a successful career as a minister. We could use more like him.