Children's Sabbath

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year A

The purpose of the Children’s Sabbath observance is social advocacy for the needs of children throughout this nation. This year’s theme is “Moving Forward with Hope: Love and Justice for Every Child.” Children’s Sabbath–a weekend-long observance, primarily in the community–should not be confused with Children’s Sunday, a Sunday worship observance that focuses primarily on drawing attention to the children in our own congregations. For this reason, it is not recommended that today’s worship service be given over to “children’s programming” as such, although it is always recommended that children be given as many opportunities to lead and participate in worship as possible.

Children's Sabbath

Each year the Children's Defense Fund selects a theme for the National Observance of Children’s Sabbath that encourages prayer, education, and service to help children and families. The United Methodist Church observes Children's Sabbath on October 8, 2017. Congregations are invited to hold special worship services, education programs, and advocacy activities to engage people of faith in the lives of children and their families.

While United Methodists observe Children's Sabbath on October 8, the national dates for the observance of Children's Sabbath this year are October 20-22, 2017. The theme is "Moving Forward with Hope: Love and Justice for Every Child." We urge you to explore events in your own community that your members may support and attend over this weekend. You may also wish to explore and utilize the worship resources provided by the website.

The Children’s Defense Fund provides a wonderful free, downloadable booklet of activities and worship services

I have, nailed to the main entrance doorpost of my home, a mezuzah that I bought over twenty years ago at a kibbutz in the Galilee region of Israel. It is made of sterling silver, but has become quite tarnished after many years of hanging in the doorposts of my homes. Its place today is the fifth home of mine in which it has hung.

(For this sermon, on Children’s Sabbath, it might be nice to have an example of a mezuzah to show to the congregation, or even inexpensive ones to give away to the children or to each member.)

Inside my mezuzah is a rolled up paper scroll with the Shema written on it in Hebrew. The Shema is one of the fixed daily prayers in Judaism. It has been recited morning and evening by observant Jewish people for many generations: Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. It is traditional for Jewish people to say these words as their last words in this life. Observant parents teach their children to say these words before they go to sleep at night.

The idea behind hanging it on the doorpost is to be reminded of this prayer whenever one enters or leaves the house. It is a way of reminding people of Jewish faith to remember who they are and to whom they belong each time they come and go from their home.

Today, we are celebrating the National Observance of Children’s Sabbath. Sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund, this celebration is a way for us as people of faith to celebrate all children as sacred gifts of our Divine Creator. It is also a day for us to reflect upon and renew our commitment to care for, protect, and advocate for children.

Children’s Sabbath is not connected to a single religious tradition or faith community. It isn’t specifically Christian, or United Methodist, although as United Methodist Christians, we are called to reflect upon our commitment as disciples of Jesus Christ to care for, protect, and advocate for all people, especially the children of the world. But we do this knowing that other faith traditions besides our own—Jewish, Baha'i, Muslim, Sikh, Unitarian, and over two hundred other faith communities that exist across the United States—are joining in this common cause.

What does it mean for us to care for, protect, and advocate for children? As in the Jewish tradition, part of what it means is to pass the primary teachings of our faith on to the next generation. Just as the Jewish parents teach their children to pray the Shema before going to sleep at night, so do we, as Christians, teach our children what it means to be followers of Jesus Christ.

As followers of Jesus, we teach our children the stories of our faith contained in both the Old and the New Testaments. One of the first teachings we offer to children is to help them learn the Ten Commandments. And so, it seems particularly fitting that on this day in which we celebrate Children’s Sabbath, that the lectionary text reading from the Old Testament is the Ten Commandments.

The reason the Ten Commandments are a great place to start when teaching the basics of what it means to care for, protect and advocate for children, is because the Ten Commandments are about upholding the basic human rights and dignity of other people. The commandments provide clear, concise, basic, easy-to-remember principles for what it means to live in community with others. They help children, and all of us, understand that our relationship to our Creator God is inextricably connected to our relationships with other people. As Jesus so succinctly summed it up, we live out our love of God by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.