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Duration:14 mins 28 secs

Our scripture text for today comes from the prophet Jeremiah, chapter 1, verses 4-10 and can be found on page 796 of your pew Bible if you would like to read along. Jeremiah’s call story is, in some ways, not surprising – God calls us, we make excuses, God says he will help us, and suddenly we find ourselves living into this new life. Let us listen in this morning as a young Jeremiah encounters God:

4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” 7 But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
8 Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.”
9 Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
“Now I have put my words in your mouth.
10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”

Those of you who were with us last Sunday might remember that during the Time with Children, our Director of Christian Education Joy Maple shared a wonderful rendition of the theme song from the Public Television series Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. That song ends with the classic question, or is it a polite request, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Now, I was a public television watching child of the 1970’s and 80’s. So as I was reflecting on Mr. Rogers’ question and the many scriptural questions our guest preacher Jill Duffield asked us last week about what it means to be a neighbor, I was reminded of another song from a public television show of my childhood, Sesame Street. Debuting in episode 23, human cast member Bob sang:

Who are the people in your neighborhood,
in your neighborhood,
in your neighborhood
Yes, who are people in the people in your neighborhood.
The people that you meet each day?

Bob would then meet at least two different Sesame Street Muppets who held different jobs. In that first episode, he met the postman and the firefighter. Using the same tune the Muppets would sing about whom they were and the kinds of things they did in their job. Almost every Muppet on Sesame Street appeared in the song at some point for there are a lot of people in the neighborhood.

This month at Reid Memorial, I am encouraging us to think about our neighbors, how we love them in the same we love ourselves, how we show our neighbors mercy, and how we are Christ to them as Christ has been to us. And it seems to me that the first step to faithfully living with and serving our neighbors is actually getting to know our neighbors. For who are the people in our neighborhood that God wants us to love?

Now, right up front, I want to tell you that I myself have some work to do literally with my own neighbors. The way our house sits in our neighborhood, there are two neighbors across the street and one on each on each side. While I know several families in other parts of our neighborhood, I am embarrassed that of those four families closest to us, I can call only one of them by name. I wave. I am very friendly with the other three. But I really do not know my neighbors.

And I wonder if that might be the case for us here at Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church. If we are truly to love our neighbors, how well do we know the people in our neighborhood? And if we want to know our neighbors better, where do we begin?

With the help of our scripture text this morning from Jeremiah, I want to encourage us to start with the children in our neighborhood. For the word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Even before we are born, God knows us. God has called us by name and declared, “You are mine.” The fact that Jeremiah objects to being a prophet because he is “only a boy,” holds no weight for God. Being a child does not exclude someone from knowing God’s love and call.

In fact, God loves the children so much that when God comes to us as Jesus Christ, he is born as a baby, as a child. In one of the more memorable moments of Jesus’ teaching ministry, little children are brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. When “the disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.”

Yes, the kingdom of heaven belongs to the children. So, if we are going to begin getting to know our neighbors so that we might share with them the love that Christ has shown to us, we can begin with the children.

As a church we are blessed to have many children to love. According to our church records we have 151 children and youth aged 18 and younger on our church rolls. That’s right, 151 children and youth! Of those 151, 44 are children preschool aged, so age 5 or younger. The future of our children and youth ministry is bright!

Even more, on top of the children on our rolls there are an additional 115 children enrolled in the Mother’s Day Out and Preschool. Those children and their families come through the doors of Reid Memorial five days a week. Yes, we are blessed to have more than 260 children a week to get to know, to love, and to care for here at Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church.

If we are going to be neighbors to the children of our church and the preschool, we need to get to know them. We need to be able to call each of these children by name. In worship every Sunday Joy Maple does such a wonderful job calling the name of each child as he or she comes forward for the Time with Children. We should all be able to do that. We should be able to call each child of this church by name.

To know the children of our church is going to take some work and effort. First, it will take an investment by our parents to bring their children to church and church activities. And second, it is going to take some work and effort on all of our part to show up when the children are present, to get to know them and their parents. If this is a true community of faith, loving our neighbors in the way that Christ loves us, we are going to need to spend the time and make the effort to get to know the children of this church.

And as we become neighbors to the children of our church and Mother’s Day Out program, we will quickly begin to realize that we cannot limit our love of neighbor to the children who already make their way through the doors of this building. There are many more children in our neighborhood. So who are the children in our neighborhood?

Let’s think about the schools which are within a 1.5 mile radius of our church. Literally directly across the street is the Episcopal Day School with 355 students. Not all of them are Episcopalian (and even if they were we like them too)! We are already neighbors with the children of EDS as we welcome them to our sanctuary for their opening and closing convocations, share our parking lot, and a variety of activities. But how many of those children do you know?

Just down the hill, we can almost see it from here, is Richmond Academy. Chartered in 1783, Richmond Academy is the fifth oldest public high school in the United States still in existence today. Did you know that in 1791 President George Washington delivered the commencement address at graduation! Today there are 1347 High School students enrolled at Richmond Academy.

Lamar-Milledge Elementary school is not much farther away. It is in the Harrisburg community. 430 students in Kindergarten to fifth grade are enrolled at Lamar-Milledge. More than 96% of the students there are eligible for free lunch. 90% of the students are children of color, with almost all of those being African-American.

A mile and a half the other direction down Walton Way is Langford Middle School with 850 students. But very similar demographics to Lamar-Milledge Elementary: more than 96% of the students are eligible for free lunch and 91% of the students are children of color.

In those four schools, EDS, Richmond Academy, Lamar-Milledge, and Langford Middle are almost 3000 children and youth. Within a mile and a half of our church five days a week there are almost 3000 children and youth in school. How well do we know our neighbors?

What would happen if each of us decided that we were going to get to know two or three of those 3000 children? Two or three children who go to school within a mile and a half of our church but who are not members here? What might that do for the children of this community? What might that do to us as a church? What might happen to those schools and this neighborhood if we intentionally got to know the children?

Perhaps we might begin to make an impact on the 40% of children in Richmond County who live in a high poverty area.

Or maybe we could be of help to the 65% of fourth graders in Georgia who are not reading on grade-level.

Or perhaps we might encourage the 21% of Georgia High School students who drop out before graduation to stick around and get their degree.

Or maybe we might even provide a home or two for some of the 14,000 children in Georgia currently in foster care.

Do you think that we just might draw a little nearer to the kingdom of God? For Jesus says it belongs to such as these.

Before we were born, God knew us. Before they were born, God knew the children in our church and in our neighborhood. And I believe that God has entrusted the children to our care. If we are to love the children in our neighborhood, we need to get to know them. And if we do, I suspect that we are the ones who will find our lives truly changed.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

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