I gave the first in a series of children's talks at our church on Sunday in which we will be trying to memorize and understand the Lord's Prayer. It went something like this:
I put on the wall the first line of the prayer, with the opening address omitted, and asked: "So who is in heaven?" I was holding a felt pen in my hand, and was interrupted by my near-two-year-old, who wanted said pen. I gave it to him, because I had another. But my other near-two-year-old wanted that one. So I gave it to him. I would have to borrow it back when I had the answer to my question.
"Who is in heaven?" I repeated. Now, as I'm sure you know, sometimes you can hardly contain the children and sometimes you can hardly get a word out of them. Sometimes I think that, like adults, they are less likely to answer out loud the more obvious the answer seems.
In this case they did not answer. Blank stares. Look up at the congregated adults. Blank stares.
Okay, I committed the classic blunder of the teacher: A dumb question.
Or was it? For some reason I rolled with the silence, and said something that I doubt I would have thought to say if I hadn't spent the last year reading Barth:
"Actually you are right, in a way. We don't know! We don't know who is in heaven unless Jesus tells us. Has anyone been to heaven and back? How would we know who was in heaven, or even that there is a heaven, unless someone from heaven came to us? That's what we believe Jesus is: The Son of God come to earth to tell us who is in heaven. His Father, God Almighty, is in heaven, and He and the Father are One, and God has come to us and has given us permission to speak with Him. So already in the Lord's Prayer we have a miracle. The Son of God comes to us and invites and enables us to say together: 'Our Father, who is in heaven...'"
We went on to talk about "Hallowed be thy name", and I tried to segue from the "fright" of Halloween to the "reverent awe and wonder" of "hallowing" the name God gives us to speak to Him by -- but I can't be too sure how much they were following me. I am glad, however, that I didn't skip over this first line. I imagine they'll have to keep hearing stuff like this to have it sink in, but it seems to me that this is exactly the kind of teaching about God that Christian children need to hear. My kids recently told me that they used to think they prayed before meals in order for the food to cool down.