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October 17, 2004 (Pentecost 19/Children’s Sabbath)
Pastor David Barber
Sisters and brothers, grace be unto you and peace from God our loving Creator and from our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
This morning in our parable from the Gospel we have two primary players. We have a powerful judge in a society where males command and females obey. This judge is so powerful we're told that he neither feared God nor people.
The second player is a poor powerless widow. Because her husband is dead, she has no male to provide for her, protect her, and to plead her cause. She's been taken advantage of, and she wants justice. So she pleads her case to this powerful and cold-hearted judge. But he refuses to grant her justice.
What does she do? Does she go home like a good woman should in this society? Does she simply accept the answer and not make a scene--thinking to herself, "Well, that's just the way things are?"
No! She continues to pound away at this judge--I want justice! I want justice! I want justice! Finally, she wears him down and he grants her the justice she deserves. Jesus asks, "Will not God grant justice to God's own elect who are crying out day and night?
Today we are observing the Children's Sabbath, and on behalf of all the children in our nation, we cry out to God day and night for justice. We continually and persistently pound at God's door and we pound on the doors of the powerful so that all the children of God receive the care and the justice they deserve.
The theme for this year's Children Sabbath is "Say that I'm a Child of God." This morning I've asked two people--Peggy Anderson and Michael Preston--to share with us how they incorporate this theme and their faith in their teaching. Together they have many, many years of dedicated service to children, and their persistence and devotion on behalf of children mirrors the widow in our Gospel who labors diligently for justice against powerful and overwhelming odds.
May we also be diligent in our own way on behalf of children--the children of our congregation and the children of our nation and world. May our words and our actions affirm and declare to them that they are indeed, a child of God.
"Child of God"--Peggy Anderson (Webmaster's note: Peggy teaches PE at McKinley High School in Honolulu.)
By the grace of God we are all his children. Some of us may have outlived "child"--but we were still made in his image. A poem I love makes that clear:
A diamond in the rough
But someone had to find it
But when it is found,
It is so easy to remember the "polished gems"--those who have graduated and are now teaching--the lawyers and judges, the doctors. But all children are not so "polishhed."
In the early '90s, I had a student. He was a big boy--dark, frightning to behold--but mellow and with a twinkle in his eye. When dealt with one-to-one, he was a helpful and kind, but he still needed a little "polishing." His parents knew he was faltering, but they were really loving him and supporting him. Then over a week-end-he was involved with a "gang fight" and killed someone. He was sentenced to Halawa and sent to a mainland prison to complete his sentencing.
Well, Jed is back now. Although I have not seen him, I see his Mom often. He is still loved and supported, and has hopefully been reformed.
Over the many years i have been teaching, I have had generations of the "Tate" family--
the many alienated--ESOL or special needs students--who get their attention by acting out.
They are the diamonds who still need polishing and buffing.
And often, I find that I must "hold on til there is nothing in me except the will that says hold on.
Then I remember:
He drew a circle
But love and I had the wit to win
In each child, there are infinite possibilities for good and evil. The kind of influence with which they are surrounded greatly influence their future character.
Kill them with...kindness!!
Michael Preston (Webmaster's note: Michael teaches at the Honolulu Waldorf School.)
Pastor David asked me to give a short talk on this special Children's Sabbath Sunday, in relation to my work as a teacher.
Kahlil Gibran has a saying somewhere that our children are not ours but arrows shot from God through us.
We know many children suffer from not having a home, food or parents. They are like arrows that hardly leave the bow. A woman I once met in a conference did incredible work in Rio de Janiero, going around the streets collecting orphans and giving them a good home.
But if children leave the bow in their flight, then it should have a direction and that is where I think teachers can help.
We are born from God, training clouds of glory as the poet Wordsworth says. And many children, if not most, feel this and feel they have something to do on this earth, to remember the flight they must take.
I felt this a child and it led me to my work as a teacher.
I was born and brought up in Uganda and Kenya and attended the Anglican church there. My mother was a wonderful example to me and my two brothers; quiet and sincere in all her dealings, she took us regularly to church. I remember getting special stamps from Sunday school and poring over a beautiful illustrated New Testament, that had amazing paintings done by someone who had lived in Palestine. I also remember the uplifting and powerful singing of the Buganda women's choir at Christmas time in Namerembe Cathedral in Kampala, Uganda.
When I was 13, our family emigrated to Auckland, New Zealand. At first I attended a nearby Anglican church and at the age of 14 was confirmed.
However, as with most teenagers, these years were years of exploration.
I became friends with a boy who had grown up in Malaysia and emigrated to New Zealand at the same time as my family had. We became best friends and our friendship was energized by our common interest in philosophy and religion. We both read and were very influenced by a book called 'The Outsider' by Colin Wilson. I remember how serious and simultaneously crazy my friend Johannes was, when one day after reading about Nietzsche's idea of living dangerously, he ventured a motorcycle ride with me as passenger.
Before I knew it, he was roaring up the wrong side of a hill. When we reached the top and no car obliterated us, we knew how precious our lives were. However Nietzsche did not have a great attraction for me after this.
Whereas Johannes tended to do crazy things, I tended to read about people who did crazy things or had different or radical ideas. I was led to read Dostoevsky and writings of mystics and religious thinkers. 'The Varieties of Religious Experience' by William James and 'The Perennial Philosophy' by Aldous Huxley became important way signs for me. Through my reading, it seemed to me that Western thinking and science had reached a threshold where what lay beyond the sense world was inaccessible, yet all great writers and religious teachers pointed to spiritual realities. I had always felt to be true what Wordsworth expressed so well in his poem "Intimations of Immortality."
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting
When I reached my final year of High School, I knew I had to do something that was more than simply following the preordained track of just going straight to college. I had heard of the New Zealand organization, Volunteer Service Abroad, and that each year they selected certain high school graduates and sent them to different islands in the Pacific for a year of service in a local school or other organization.
So it was, that three months before I turned 18, I landed at a little airstrip on the island of Espiritu Santo, part of the island chain formerly known as the New Hebrides and now known as Vanuatu.
I was given a small hut on the grounds of the Presbyterian mission school overlooking the village of Hog Harbor and assigned a class of seventeen children with an age range of eight to about thirteen.
It was a fantastic year. I don't think I was a very good teacher but enthusiasm and ignorance carried me along. The fact that I was so young made it much easier for the villagers to open up to me. They invited me into their homes, took me fishing and told me many stories and customs. Along with this I was assigned to do some of the Bible readings and short studies in assemblies. This led to my reading the New Testament, especially the letters of St. Paul. During the year, my mother sent me a book called 'Scientist of the Invisible'. It was an introduction to Rudolf Steiner's life and thought by Alan Shepherd, an Anglican Bishop in England. While the school Bible readings and my study of the letters of St.Paul refreshed my childhood faith on a new level, this book also had a deep impact because it opened a world of understanding into knowledge of human spirituality and its connection to the natural world.
When I returned to New Zealand I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I also wanted to be in a school or education system that recognized the spirit not only in each person, but in nature and in human imagination and thinking.
This led me to train as a Steiner or Waldorf teacher as well as getting a state training in England and teaching in English state schools for three years. Since then I have worked as a Waldorf Teacher for twentytwo years.
The role of imagination is very central. All subjects in the Lower School are taught through story and or an artistic approach. Even a mundane subject such as basic arithmetic is taught so that children experience relationship and wholeness, not abstract atomism.
Later, when the children have science lessons, a phenomenological approach is taken so that children are not alienated from their natural joy in nature and their sense of connectedness with the world.
There is a sense of a Renaissance spirit in Waldorf schools. A spirit that I found Russian people deeply attracted to when I visited Russia on an education tour.
Today Steiner schools are being set up in countries with different religious faiths. The Waldorf approach serves them well because it is universal in its founding and remembering our connection with God in every detail of the school day.
However there is a deeper strand. Steiner believed that Christ's coming was the turning point of human evolution and that our very teaching methods should bring Christ's humanity and centeredness.
My work requires me to focus all my teaching so that it remains in touch with the grace and beauty of God's creation in us and around us. But it also asks for constant realignment, to know that it is not any personal effectiveness but Christ that enables us to have any deeper or lasting significance in our work.
It is my hope that Children's Sabbath not only recognizes that we are all children of God, but that as adults we have a special responsibility to help children who are newly come from God not to forget the clouds of glory and to bring awareness of God's spirit in all we do. This is what I think teaching can contribute to and what Waldorf education sees as a sacred task.
I would like to finish with a verse we say every morning at the beginning of school in every classroom. It is echoed round the world in the more than 650 Waldorf schools in most countries of the world. It is said in two forms: one suitable for younger children in the first Four grades. And in different words for Grades Five through Twelve. It celebrates the joy of learning and the grace of God in every area of our lives.
I will read you both verses:
The Sun with loving light
In the lower school, Waldorf Class teachers accompany their classes from the first to the eighth grade. I am in my final year, the Eighth Grade, and so I will conclude with the verse we have been saying every morning since the Fifth grade.
I look into the world,
I look into the soul
Copyright © 2004 David Barber, Margaret Anderson, and Michael Preston
Comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org