October 17 , 1999
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
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Scripture Reading

Matthew 22:15-22
Exodus 33:12-23

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Sermon: How are the children?

Once a week or so my husband and I get a call from our parents in the

Midwest. Early in the conversation they always ask, "so, how are the kids?"

And we talk about each one of our children and they tell us about the other

children in the family. Most of whom are not so young anymore. Their

question just refers to our immediate family.

In Africa the traditional greeting between Masai warriors is "And how are the

children?" And even warriors with no children would give the traditional

response "all the children are well." Their greeting acknowledges the high

value that their culture places on their children's well being. Their

response means that peace and safety prevail, and it means that life is good,

that the struggles to exist do not preclude proper care of the children.

And how are the children?

It is no accident that the SYF Fire group asked you to fill out the "Violence

in Schools" survey this morning. If you didn't have a chance and still would

like to contribute your thoughts I know that they would be happy to accept


Not only is this the Sunday when we remember the colleges and universities

that educate our young people, this is also a new Sunday for the UCC, called

the National Observance of Children's Sabbaths Sunday. This is a day when we

are invited to focus our prayers and our attention on children. We are

invited to measure the health of our society, our world, by the condition of

the children. We are asked to let go of determining the state of the nation

by the health of the stock market or the rise of inflation or the cost of

gas. Today, we ask, "how are the children"

This past summer I had the privilege to hear Jonathon Kozol speak at Synod

which the Biennial meeting of our denomination. Jonathan Kozol is an author

who has written many books on the welfare of children, advocating for

widespread systemic reform, leading to educational equity.

I was hooked by his description of one child's life, Anthony, in the South

Bronx. Mr. Kozol met Anthony at a day-care center and school run by an

Episcopal Church. He told us about families where both parents worked 2

jobs, to make ends meet. The church offered a program where the parents

could drop the children off in the morning before school and pick them up

when they got off work at night. The church took care of everything in

between. Then he talked about 5 year olds that were lifted out of bed at 5

am, and with bag of their clothes, dropped off at the church. They ate

breakfast there, they got dressed there, and they went to school from there.

They returned in the afternoon. They were given snack, supervised during

their play, given dinner, helped with their homework, bathed, put in their

pjs, and put down to sleep on a mat until their parents arrived at 11 p.m. to

pick them up. They were taken home, and the next day the whole routine began

again. And… These are the lucky children. Many other children go home

after school to an empty house, fix their own dinner and put themselves to


According to Kozol in his book, Amazing Grace, schools in the South Bronx

spend an average of 6,000 a year to educate a child. Do you know that in

Westchester County, schools spend an average of 18,000 per child per year?

Did you know that the City of New York spends 70,000.00 a year on each

juvenile in their penal system?

And How are the Children?

It is not easy as parents and grandparents to watch the way the world/society

is spinning faster and faster. The economy is booming, but not for children

who are already caught in poverty. It is not easy to watch children killing

children and listen to our nations leaders squabble about whether safety

locks on guns are cost effective or whether gun control will violate rights.


On the playground behind the church is a little merry-go-round. Every year

when we pick pumpkins a huge group of kids and adults end up back there

because it is where we store the pumpkins. The little kids always love to

get on that merry-go-round. Every year, just when it is packed with little

ones, a bigger kid decides to help push it. What happens when it gets going

too fast? The little ones just fly right off - they are defenseless in the

face of that fast and oblivious force. Is that what is happening in our


You know when we were growing up we had well defined fears, ones that

everyone understood. We had wars, both hot and cold, we had the atomic bomb

and the threat of total annihilation. But these things were the problems of

the entire world. Parents and kids shared a common fear that was real and


That just isn't the case today. On the surface, things appear to be great,

but the reality is the gap between rich and poor is growing, and still the

world spins on its Internet axis, faster and faster. Things aren't ok - we

have evidence - the children, all over our country and the world, are being

lost, in many different ways.

What is the answer? Well, it is a complex problem, and I don't want to imply

that there are simple solutions - but I do believe that we can begin with the


In the Exodus reading we hear Moses and God talking. This passage takes

place right after God has found the people worshiping the Golden Calf. God

is discouraged and tells Moses that rather than accompany them, God will send

an angel with them into the Promised Land. Their continual worry and worship

of the wrong things had gotten out of hand. Moses tells God that "If you

don't go with us, we might as well not continue. For without you we are


And in our reading from Matthew Jesus tells the people - "Give to God the

things that are Gods."

Are we on the right track? Are we worrying about the important things? Are

we giving to God what is God's?

What can we do? A few weeks ago I said that we need to speak of our faith to

our children and grandchildren, because in our world, today, we need words to

back up our actions. Today, I want to say to you - after you talk of your

faith to the children, take some time, and listen to them. Pray for them and

with them, find ways to ease their fears, find ways to give them what they

need - because, they need you. They need your love, your affection, your

intervention, your protection, your trust, and your willingness to support

them in all of their endeavors. You listen and watch. The children will

tell you what they need. It will be easier to know what to do next after we

discover the problem. Listen to the children.

After all, that is exactly how Jonathan Kozol does his research, he goes into

communities and schools and he listens.

How are the children? Are you listening to their answers? Let us give to

God our thanksgiving and worship by honoring and caring for the children of

the world. If all of us felt an equal weight for the daily care, protection,

and education of the children of the world, we would have no trouble saying,

"Yes, The children are well."


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