Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Danger of Sentimentality

This Sunday is Baby Day in the Church of the Nazarene. As a result, I have chosen to deviate from the lectionary readings and use scripture readings that speak more directly to or about children and youth (Psalm 78:1-7, Joshua 4:1-8, 1 Timothy 4:11-16, and Matthew 18:1-6). I will be giving the children's message this Sunday (my first time doing that) from the 1 Timothy passage. My sermon is probably going to make use of the Joshua and Matthew passages but will be about half as long as usual in order to make time for the Baby Day introductions.

As I reflect on these passage of scripture and think about what this Baby Day service is all about, I am repeatedly reminded of how we are in danger of reducing the gospel to nothing more than warm, fuzzy sentiments. It is all too easy to confuse the gospel with all things cute and cuddly or to confuse it with anything that is emotional or makes us feel good inside and forget that the gospel is a radical, challenging, and world-changing message. It is easy to reduce the gospel to nothing more than family values and forget that Jesus said that he came to turn children against their parents and brothers against sisters.

Now, of course, this does not make a celebration like Baby Day contradictory to the gospel; far from it. This celebration is intimately tied to the gospel in many ways. It reminds us that God is continually creating new life among us. These new, little lives that we celebrate on this day give us hope because they remind us that God is not finished with his loving and creative work on this earth which means he is also not done creating new life in us as well. Baby Day also reminds us that God has entrusted us with a significant role in this life-giving work. This is true not only in the biological sense but also because God has entrusted these children to us so that we might raise them to be faithful disciples. That represents a remarkable risk on God's part; allowing broken, sin-scarred human beings to shape and mold these most recent additions to God's creation. The family is an important part of the gospel because for most people it is the first and most complete means of discipleship.

However, as we celebrate these new lives, God's creative work, and our part in it, we must not forget why we are celebrating. We must not lose the gospel in the adorable faces of our children because if we do, we will have failed them. I know that when my 3 month old daughter smiles at me I would give almost anything to keep that smile on her face. It is precisely for that reason that her smile and her happiness can so easily become an idol for me. We are all in danger of allowing our families to become idols for us because we are naturally inclined to give the kind of total allegiance to them that we are called to give only to Jesus. As we celebrate our babies this Sunday, we must not confuse the sweet and sentimental with the true life and hope of the gospel message.

1 comment:

Christy Gunter Leppert said...

Hey Dave.

For Baby Day... I made a movie (in movie maker) that starts out with the phrase... "Our Babies Remind Us of Our New Life In Christ" and plays the song "There's Only Grace" by Matthew West. Then I show pictures of our babies... and then when he says, "A New Life Has Begun" I put the words on the screen. Then at the very end (after lots of pictures of our little ones) you see the words "Celebrate Our Babies Today," "Celebrate Our New Life In Christ Together," and "Baby Day, Wichita First Church of the Nazarene." It's pretty sweet and tells the same thing you have described here.