A Child’s Hymn

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 

 I. Beginnings

The title of our sermon this morning comes from the Charles Dickens poem entitled “A Child’s Hymn” based on the similarities and common themes that are found within both the poem and our scripture this morning.  Our scripture the 23rd Psalm, a Psalm attributed to David, and yet probably one of the most well-known Psalms of the biblical text is an iconic piece within the Christian’s personal scriptural lexicon. Many of us hold it as our favorite scripture, and some if they know no other scripture at all, they know this specific text.  It is likely that as we read the scripture this morning, most of you did not even have to reference your Bibles as we read it. Based on what version you have memorized on your hearts, some may even feel that I read the words wrong. This passage is so familiar because many of us were taught it as a child, back when we were bright-eyed and bushy tailed.  It was taught to us, that it might lay the foundation for our faith, that we might know who we are and whose we are – we are people of God, who choose to follow God because God is a Good shepherd, a comforter who is ever present, even in our darkest moment of need. God extended us divine grace and we chose to accept it, with a pure sense of faith. Our parents and church family wanted us to learn this because they were only trying to instill in us that The Lord is our shepherd, and we shall not want because God is the one that leads us in the paths of righteousness, God is the one that comforts us with God’s rod and staff, God is the one that anoints our head with oil because we can always trust God to be present with us.  A concept that is probably easier to understand with an eager child-like faith.  And whether we encountered this scripture as a child or with the newness of our own faith as an adult, there is something about the pureness of our faith in that moment, it is fresh, it is pure, it doesn’t question that God will be there because as children or even new people in the faith, we know it to be true because that is all we know.  God is going to be there because God had said it, and scripture has affirmed it to be true.  It is a kind of untainted mentality in which we follow God blindly because we are so assured that we are affirmed children of God. Our poem on the other hand, this morning, is a poem that lifts up the same pure, genuine child-like faith, assured in God’s presence and untainted by the world.  It requests God’s presence to watch over and protect, to cover in the midst of peril, and to give rest and comfort.  It holds to the understanding that God is present, a comforter and sustainer, even in the midst of the chaos that life tries to throw at us.

 II. A Child-Like Faith

Hear my prayer, O heavenly Father, Ere I lay me down to sleep; Bid Thy angels, pure and holy, Round my bed their vigil keep. – A Child’s request for God to surround them, that they might be protected as they sleep because again they are assured of God’s presence with them, with us, the people of God.

My sins are heavy, but Thy mercy Far outweighs them, every one; Down before Thy cross I cast them, Trusting in Thy help alone. – A faith that is repentant and yet knowing that Christ has paid the price to atone for their sins.  A humble heart that knows to cast their afflictions before the Christ that brings redemption. If only we could return to this pure and humble reality, giving God ourselves, knowing that we are so much in need of God’s love, God’s protection, and God’s atonement – a process to not only forgive us of our sins but making us one with God in our hearts, souls, and minds.

Keep me through this night of peril Underneath its boundless shade; Take me to Thy rest, I pray Thee, When  my pilgrimage is made – Let us return to this strong confidence that God will carry us through the difficult times of life because God gives us refuge, God gives us comfort, God gives us strength in the midst of the storm. We see that God has also reminded us of this within those familiar words of our scripture this morning as they are similar to the words – Even though I walk through the darkest valley, or from the King James version the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me.  You see this is a proclamation that in the difficult moments, God is and always will be a comforter – no matter how dark it gets and how rough it seems we can hold to the foundation that God is with us, and a very present help in the time of trouble.  Even as we come to the darkest moment of our lives, the very brink of death, God is in fact with us.  May we never forget to look up to see God in the midst of our darkest and roughest moments, when it is so dark we cannot see, let us listen for God’s soft, calming voice.

None shall measure out Thy patience By the span of human thought; None shall bound the tender mercies Which Thy Son has bought. – It is acknowledged that God is patient with us and grants us mercy, extending us grace that we may be able to stand in God’s presence and be called children of God. Because God loved us so much, because God extended us grace and mercy, God offered up God’s son as a sacrificial lamb on a cross that we might be saved, that we might be redeemed, that we might be reconciled back to God.  We were loved by God so much that we were bought with a price – and granted new life in Christ’s resurrection. These words echo the sentiments of Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.  Because we have been given God’s grace and mercy and redeemed and can stand assured that we have new life and we live within God because God lives within us and has called us God’s own.

Pardon all my past transgressions, Give me strength for days to come; Guide and guard me with Thy blessing Till Thy angels bid me home. – We see in this a level of faith that knows that God is ever present with us, pardoning us for our transgressions, but standing with us and protecting us on the journey for the rest of our lives.  Throughout our life we can hold to the fact that God is always with us ready to wipe the tears from our eyes; to comfort us, but also grieve with us; to protect us against danger; to forgive us; and to restore our soul.  We can learn a lot about a pure, child-like, authentic faith from our scripture and our poem this morning, because it returns us to the genuine faith that we once had, a faith that was aware that rough times may come but God is with us because God is the shepherd and we are sheep of God’s pasture.

 III. We Have Forgotten Our Child-Like Faith

Both our scripture and our poem, are exuding a certain level of this child-like faith, a faith that turns to God blindly, without question, because it knows that God is our comforter, our provider, our confidant.  A certain level of trust that comes without question because God is indeed a good shepherd, a provider, a protector.  A thought that a child-like faith takes as fact, a given part of life’s journey.  A certainty in faith that some of us have lost as we have encountered and experienced life, as life has hit us hard.  Our faith is still present but somewhere along the way it has become more difficult to trust God in the midst of heartache, in the midst of pain, in the midst of a chaotic world, in the midst of loss, in the midst of our darkest hour, in the midst of things that cause us to worry about what will happen next, in the midst of our anxiety and our depression – and sometimes we have to admit that it can be a bit hard to put our faith in God, allowing God to hold our hand and to let go, that we might release all control to God.

What happened to that faith that was so pure, that faith that existed when we were eager to please the Lord? What happened to that faith where we knew that God was with us that God carried us through?  When I was young, I can remember my father placing me on his shoulders.  It may have been a simple thing for him, but for a small me it was high up, and good common sense might tell me that I was surely going to fall.  But there was something within me that just knew that my father had me, he would protect me and would not let me fall.  I never even second guessed it because he was a big, strong man, he was my hero, so of course he wouldn’t let any harm come to me.  That is the type of trust that is within our child-like faith that we must return to – trusting God that God has us within God’s hands. And what about a small child who is placed on top of a refrigerator, and the father gently tells them to jump.  The child quite often jumps without hesitation because they know that their father is going to catch them, and he would never let them fall.  What a privilege to have this kind of faith that God will never fail us, and that God will be with us along the journey no matter what the circumstance. God will tell us to take that jump to step out on faith because God is there holding us in God’s hands. God has got us! 

If only we could go back to the time where we knew that the Lord was our shepherd, that we shall not want because he brings us peace as he makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside still waters. If only we could go back to knowing that God restores our soul, and that God leads us on paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

But yet, we have encountered life’s fight, it has given us snares, and thorns, it has caused us pain and turmoil.  We have had the sorrow of losing loved ones, we have felt the struggle of failure, we have wept, we have grieved, we have experienced the pain and separation of a global pandemic, we have experienced the violence that erupts out of racial injustice.  Frankly, we have endured life’s ups and downs and they have made us apathetic at times, they have made us deflated sometimes, they have made us fearful sometimes, they have made us anxious sometimes and we forget to put our faith in God, to know that God is always with us.  We forget to know that it is okay to feel pain, to hurt, to cry, and to weep, but in the midst of it all God is right there comforting and protecting us.  We have forgotten that even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the darkness so deep it threatens to consume us, that there is no need to fear evil because God is with us, God’s rod and staff comfort us.  Because God knows our every need and is here to direct us, to keep us out of harms way.  And just like God is the shepherd and we are the sheep he uses the rod to protect us from things that may cause us harm, and the staff to direct our path and keep us from the destruction we cause to ourselves. Why has life caused us so much pain that we have been led astray that we forget the importance that God means to us? Why have we lost the faith in which we are blindly assured that God is with us through it all?

 IV. Revival of a Child-Like Faith

This morning as we are reminded by the psalm most of us know so well, and we hear the words of this Child’s hymn in which we are encouraged to reinvigorate this child-like faith that we once had.  A faith so strong that it is assured, in that God is with us.  A faith so rooted in God that it knows without a doubt that redemption has come because of a crucified savior that offered himself up in grace for our salvation and was raised from the dead to grant us new life.  It is time for a revival of that kind of faith, because while many of us are no longer children, we are still children of God and we live our lives in connection with God.  Therefore, we are assured that God covers and protects us because even in the face of danger God prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies.  God not only stands for no harm to us, but grants that peace may exist for the sake of all of humanity.  Because we are children of God, God anoints our head with oil and not only blesses our lives, our comings and goings, but claims us as God’s own. When we revive our faith in God to an unencumbered faith, we are then assured that goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I don’t know about you, but I declare this day, that I am seeking a revival, seeking a renewal in which I am returned to a childlike faith, where I know that through all the ups and downs through all the stormy gales, God is with me and I can take a leap out on faith because God will always be with me, guiding my footsteps and directing my path.  Because God is my shepherd, I shall not want. Amen.