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Becoming a Son
September 7, 1969


You have another new minister. I hope your reaction is not like one gentleman who said that if you take all the ministers and lay them down end-to-end in the street, he’d leave them there! It is a great privilege for Eleanor and me to come to Palo Alto. It is a great privilege to be appointed to the ministry of the First United Methodist Church. It is a privilege to work with your other ministers, Dennis Nyberg and Tom Krumpe. And I know it's going to be a great privilege to work with you, the children, the youth and adults in the educational ministry of this church.

I would like to share with you a few words this morning to give you a little idea of what I am, who I am, what I am like and what I believe is my central goal for a church school, an educational ministry; a central purpose for all we're trying to do in our classrooms and in our fellowship activities. The  United Methodist Church has quite a statement of its purpose, out of which they write the curriculum and out of which they send their directives, out of which we organize our church school.

“The objective of the church as manifested through its educational ministry is that all persons be aware of and grow in their understanding of God, especially of his redeeming love as revealed in Jesus Christ, and that they respond in faith and love to the end that they may know who they are, and what their human situation means, increasingly identify themselves as sons of God and members of the Christian community, live in the Spirit of God in every relationship, fulfill their common discipleship in the world, and abide in the Christian hope.”

That is quite a statement of purpose and very difficult to achieve. But if I were to take the liberty of taking that large statement, summarizing it and squeezing it into one little phrase, I would say that the purpose of our educational ministry is that every child, every young person and every adult in this church may come to believe. And even more than believe, may come to feel deeply in the very depths of their beings that: I am a son, a daughter, a child of God. I know I'm accepted. I know I belong. I know somewhere in this life is my place. This means that life is basically friendly to me. Life basically wants me. Life has a need that I can fulfill.

This means in three old fashioned words, (I’m still traditional and old fashioned enough that these words have meaning to me), three old words (and not just to believe but to feel and to live) that God loves me. I have been given a name and at my baptism God reached down, plucked me and brought me into his family. He bestowed upon me a name, a name which other people may have, but a name which is still uniquely my own as an individual. God knows every hair on my head and has counted them. God not only loves me and calls me, but he's given me something to do. It is not enough just to feel accepted, it's not enough just to feel that we belong. We’ve been given a task, a job and a mission. God has something for me to do. And he's placed me on this earth to do it—to serve the needs of suffering humanity. That's what it means to be a son of God. This has been a great need for all people to believe and feel in all ages, but it is a desperate need in our own.

I am in the process of reading—I read it across the country every chance I got— the latest novel by James Baldwin, Tell Me How Long the Train Has Been Gone, a biography of a fictitious black actor named Leo Krauthammer. One of his sentences reads, “A child’s major attention has to be concentrated on how to fit into a world with which every passing hour reveals itself as merciless.” That’s true.  Every child’s major tension is how to fit in the world out that door which often is cruel, harsh and merciless. Life is never promised to be easy. It's never been promised anywhere that it would be easy to live. Jesus said the gate is narrow that leads to life, very narrow. Paul said to fight the good fight. He said a crown of life is granted to him who conquers. Life was never promised to be easy. Life is for those who make it, who have the courage, the strength, the stamina and the persistence to make it. This is difficult in any age and in our age, maybe even more so. Some of you went through the depression and think that was the hardest time in which to live and that our young people today don’t know what it is like to have to fight. But I disagree. I think it's just as difficult for them today because the presses are more subtle. It takes an inner fighting, an inner courage and a different kind of attack than it did in another day. But the crown of life is granted to him who conquers.

We had a great summer. The reason I'm coming to you late is that we had quite a camping program back in Minneapolis. After I bandaged up my aches and bruises, I came west. One of my great experiences was to take the senior highs on a canoe trip from northern Minnesota into Canada, far away from roads to travel into into God’s woods. All there is are lakes, trees, loons, animals. There we survived for a few days. It’s a great lesson for city kids, a great lesson to get away from electricity and gas, running water, restaurants and mothers where they have to do their own cooking, their own living out in the rough. Some of the kids had never been on a canoe trip before. When we went across our first portage, one of the boys said, “Do I carry that canoe all alone?” I said, “Yep.” “I can't carry a canoe.” I said, “No one else is going to carry it. If you don't carry it, we don't paddle. Pick it up.” One of our first portages was 1 1/8 miles long carrying an 80 pound canoe and carrying 50, 60, 70 packs of our tents, food and equipment on our backs. Some of the girls didn't know whether they were going to make a whole week of this. One of the girls said after a few portages, “I just can’t carry that pack. You know I'm weak.” I said, “I know, in the head, but pick up the pack. By the end of this trip, you'll be so proud of yourself. You just don't know what you can do.” And she was. What a great experience for her at the end of the week to say, “You know, I didn't know I could do it. But I did it!”

I covet that experience for all of our youth and children. See something insurmountable. Do it, conquer, fight and win, because we're not weak, we’re sons of God of great worth, great integrity, great importance—sons of God. I covet this experience for us, for our children. The pressures of today are tremendous. The competition for grades, the competition of entrance examinations are tremendous. The pressure they feel from their peers—social activities, the morality of our day, social upheaval, decaying values— these are very difficult times. For them, I covet the experience of knowing that they are sons of God. The goal of Christian education is directly related to the self image, to the self concept. What do you think of yourself? How do you feel about yourself? If a person feels that he is evil, bad or hopelessly sinful, of no good and worthless, he will live that way. If he feels he’s a son of God, he will live that way.

I talked to a juvenile judge. I don't know the California system of courts, but in Minnesota, we have juvenile courts and juvenile judges. I talked to one juvenile judge who said that he’s been on the bench many years and has seen all kinds of abuse come before him. He sees a difference. Over these years, has seen a difference between the church youth, the one who was raised in Sunday school, and the one who wasn't. Of course, the difference is not that the church youth doesn't get into trouble. No, we're not immune from trouble because we come to church. A church youth occasionally comes before a juvenile judge. The difference is that the church youth most often is sorry for what he's done. He feels repentant. He feels that he's let someone down, whether it's his parents or his church, or his God, or his ideals. He's let someone down and he's sorry about it. Rather, the non-church youth often feels that he’s no good anyway, so who cares? He will sneer and have a chip on his shoulder. He feels no good and condemned already. He has a low opinion of himself.

I covet for our children, youth and adults that they may come to identify themselves as sons of God. No matter what situation they find themselves in, may they feel and act as if they are sons of God. Our children and our youth are going to be in some tremendous situations. We used to be tempted with liquor and alcohol. Now not only is it liquor, but it's drugs. I covet for all of our children and youth when they find themselves being tempted by drugs or alcohol, I covet for them to feel that they are sons of God, to believe that their bodies are God’s temple and that they are not weak. They do not need crutches; they can handle the situation without the aid of crutches. All of our children and youth are going to find themselves in situations where the crowd urges them in another direction. When they are faced with the temptation to be conformists, I covet for them the firm belief that they are sons of God; that they have a higher loyalty, a higher calling.

All of our children and youth are going to find them sometimes on the other side of the fence where the crowd ridicules them, jeers at them and laughs at them. All across the country, we heard Johnny Cash sing about a boy named Sue. All of our children find themselves in a situation when they're laughed at, when there's some oddity about them, when they're ridiculed, when they are jeered down. I covet for them to believe that they are sons of God  of inestimable worth. All of our children and youth will fail sometimes; it's just a part of life. They’ll fail a test. They’ll  fail to make the team. They’ll fail to get into a play. Or the worst failure of all, his girlfriend will jilt him and the bottom of his world will drop out. When they feel like miserable flops, I covet for them to believe they are sons of God, precious in his sight.

The supreme test of all—I covet for them how they face death; whether it's on a Judean desert, or on a battlefield in Vietnam, or wherever else our  country wants to fight, I covet for them the belief they are sons of God and will meet death with the courage of Diane Pike,  a courage in a belief that life is more than this existence. Even if their young life is snuffed out in some muddy jungle somewhere in some war that most people can’t understand, I covet for them they will have a firm belief that they are sons of God and that their life has meaning. And that even after death, their lives have meaning in God's great eternity. My goal, my central goal as I work with you is that we will come to believe we are sons of God. I challenge you with this goal that you will help in every way possible. Financially, may no lack of money ever cause us to have a mediocre program. May no lack of money ever cause us to do a second-best job. I challenge you that there be no lack of leadership, no lack of interest, no lack of support. I challenge all of us to do the best we can to bring this message to all of us.

Let us pray. Father, we are humbled by our calling into your church. We are humbled with the tremendous task you've given us to serve you in this age, in this time and in this place. Father, we know we are here for a reason. Will you take our minds, our hands, our dreams, our hopes? Will you take us as we are that the educational ministry of our church may be as you would have it to be? In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

© 1969 Douglas I. Norris