Move Up Here

Today is Move-up Sunday, so, I'd like to ask all the kids to come up front and form a line extending out from me. Now, turn towards the congregation and just look out. What does it feel like for you to be up front here looking out at all these folks? Are there any friendly faces looking back at you? (The goal, hopefully, is to have different responses of uncomfortable, shy, quiet, or "cool," showing off, etc. Different kids feel differently when being stared at - being the focus of attention.)

Now, we're going to take a walk to the back of the congregation. Let's stand here and see if things feel a little different. So, looking at the backs of people's heads, instead of their eyes, what is this like? (After their answers…) Does it feel safer? Do you feel like you have more control? Like you could sneak out without being noticed? Or whisper? Or play with toys without bothering anyone. Or be the first one out so you can go home and have lunch? 

Well, if that is how you feel, then you are not the only ones apparently. If you look at the congregation, most people tend to sit in the back. I don't know if their reasons are the same as yours. But it is almost certain at any church you go to, most people leave space between them and the pastor. It kinda makes me feel lonely.

Things weren't that way in Jesus' day. It would have been more like going to a concert to see your favorite musician or singer. You would go early so you can get front row seats. Or Disneyland and going up close to Mickey Mouse. If somebody wanted to have a good life, they needed to hang as close as they could to someone who was famous, you know like getting autographs of movie stars and baseball players. AND, they had to make sure other people saw them there. Because then everyone knew they were special and would treat them special as if all that would rub off.

So, can you imagine on a Sunday morning, everyone running in here as early as they could so they could get to sit on the steps leading up to the pulpit and tugging on my robes, saying, see me Pastor Joan? Look at me. See, I came early so I could sit next to you. You'll remember me when its time to hand out rewards won't you?

But Jesus reminded them that wasn't always the best thing to do. He talked about parties. Jesus mentioned that its not so good to go to the spot next to the bride and groom at a wedding. I imagine you might be familiar with staying real close to the birthday person at their party because you're hoping you'll get a chance to play with their presents first. But the birthday person might have other ideas. They may have had someone really special that you never met they wanted to have be close to them. You know how disappointing it is to get crowded out. How embarrassing it is to be asked to move away. Instead, Jesus says, wait and see. Wouldn't it be better to have the birthday kid say, "Hey, Alex, come here, you've got to see this!"

A lot of us make a lot of noise and carry on and draw all kind of attention because we can't imagine what it would be like if no one ever did notice us. Deep down inside all of us want to be noticed. But we're not exactly sure what kind of recognition we want or need. The truth is if we hang out with people we think are popular we just stand in their shadow and it really isn't us that gets noticed. If we do notorious things, you know, stuff people don't want us to, oh, they'll know my name, but will they really know me?

Jesus reminds us that isn't the kind of attention that we are craving. We need something genuine, something real. There's nothing better than having the kind of friendship that lets us just be us. Jesus talked about the people in his day, throwing big parties and inviting just the rich people. It's like us buying all the things that have the best advertising on TV, the clothes, the games, and the toys, and thinking that will make us popular. You can't buy your way to friendship with stuff, it doesn't last. You simply have to be a person that is real. I hope that some of you know the story of the Velveteen Rabbit. He's a stuffed animal that doesn't have any wind up mechanism inside him to make him move, no batteries, no bells or blinking lights, he doesn't even have legs. But you see, he couldn't be broken either - he was always there to be with the boy. One day when the rabbit was in a room alone with the skin horse, he was told, "Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real."

A lot of adults come to church because they want to have a few moments out of their hectic week with someone who knows them for who they really are. They want to have a place and a time when they don't have to pretend. And they know they have found that in Jesus.

Those same adults bring you here because they want you to meet a real friend and to become a real friend. I'm going to guess that most of you right now hear the stories about Jesus and say, well that's nice and just forget about it the rest of the week. But when you go downstairs to your class, you actually have a chance to get to know God. You have a chance to ask questions that are hard to answer. And, I'm hoping your teachers are prepared to hear those questions when they are asked and direct you to a place to get answers.

We call this "Move-up Sunday." And I suppose in bigger churches, you would get to move up to a new classroom and a new teacher every year. Instead, at this church, Jesus is calling you to move up closer to him. We could actually have a one room Sunday School, but each year you could still move up and never leave your spot or your chair. That sounds crazy, I suppose, but it has to do with how close and real you are with God, not with how many stories you know, how many crafts you can make, or how many songs you sing. It has to do with how much time you give Jesus to love you.

Read other sermons by Pastor Joan