" Is Jesus In The Cookie Jar ? "
Rev. Peter E. Bauer
Imagine, you are attending a medium size church in a large American city. During the worship service, there is, of course, the Children's Sermon. On this particular Sunday there is a person giving the children's sermon. Unfortunately, the children's sermon makes no sense, is very fragmented and leaves listeners wondering what if anything was the message ?
Now, as the church service ends, a four year old boy comes up to you and says,
"That person needs to be talking about Jesus and not cookie jars ! "
There is a real challenge here presented to the church. How do we talk honestly and authentically about what it means to be a person of faith, in this instance a Christian person of faith ?
Especially, how do you talk to children in a way that will be age appropriate and in a way that will make sense to them, and their parents and an entire congregation ?
Unfortunately, there has been a tendency within Christian churches to " dumb down "the message to parishioners be they children or adults. You can walk into churches these days and some will resemble football stadiums, with giant screens on the wall with soundboards to project the order of service, the hymns, the readings etc. along with the obligatory praise band. Gone are the organs, especially pipe organs. Now it is all guitars, and drums. One prominent Baptist Church sold its pipe organ to a Presbyterian Church and now all of the music there is without an organ. Have we lost a sacred connection ?
I've listened to children's sermons evoking jelly beans as a means of currency, ministers teaching a camp song to parishioners and literally turning their back on the worshipping congregation and shaking their derriere.
He probably didn't realize it, but our four year old budding theologian asked a critical question
"Why aren't we talking about Jesus instead of cookie jars ?.
The Sunday School Movement started in Britain in 1780 and soon spread to the United States. Sunday Schools were initially designed to promote literacy and the cultivation of morals and ethics for young students. Primarily organized by Congregational missionaries and others, they wanted to encourage and develop a biblically literate population.
Today, depending upon the congregation, you might be hard pressed to find someone who knew the difference between Nicodemus and Zacchaeus, let alone Salome.
It's not that we don't have good curriculum for Sunday School. The Episcopal Church, The Presbyterian Church (USA) and The United Church Of Christ have all developed very sound, well researched and appropriate curriculums for children, adolescents and adults. Resources like " The Four Vision Quests Of Jesus " , "We Believe: God's Word for God's People "and "Our Whole Lives " have addressed sensitive issues like faith formation and human sexuality in a thoughtful way.
So why are we still hearing on Sunday mornings about cookie jars, rainbows, caterpillars, spiders or empty coke cans ? Is it that people are lazy or might it be that we are actually afraid to talk about faith with others for fear of their reaction ?
Our four year old's question is one that we need to ponder. Yes, Jesus is alive and present with the universal body of the Church, as articulated by Christian doctrine.
Yes, also cookie jars can be filled with delicious delights or they can be empty.
I hope that the religious educators who teach us about faith, especially those who teach our children, will have the courage and the tenacity to do the work, the preparation to have us remember that discovering faith can be like opening a cookie jar filled with good things to eat, with wonderful aromas, instead of being left with an empty cookie jar and feeling disappointed and cheated at not being able to discover something more.