Summary: Interactive sermon, asking what more we can be for our children: mutual submission means respect; parenting means sacrificial love; the church has a responsibility to provide safety.

Takoma Park Baptist Church, August 31, 1997: audience response involved

There are times when all of us need to participate, times when no single person can speak all the truths or do all the work. There are times when a community of people must come together, and think together, pray together, and speak together. This is such a time.

The state of family life in our nation is not good. Too many things show breakdown of the family. In fact, some have even spoken of the family as this decade's battleground, a battleground where, as in most wars, there are no clear winners, only losers. A battleground which is claiming the most vulnerable and yet the most valuable, our children.

The statistics alone should convince us of this. No doubt you read in the newspaper this week that a huge proportion of the young men of the District of Columbia are either in prison, have been in prison, or are being sought by the police. The battle is being lost if that statistic be anywhere near true.

Marian Wright Edelman's Children's Defense Fund helps us picture the statistics very clearly by asking us to think about one day in America. Just one day out of 365 in the year. She says that every day in America, on the average, 38 children die violently. Of these three die from neglect; thirteen are victims of homicide, sixteen are shot accidentally by firearms, and six commit suicide. Thirty-eight children, violently killed, each day.

Then she says that every day in America, 5702 children are arrested. Get that astounding figure: each day, on the average, 5702 children are arrested, 316 of them for violent crimes and 403 for drug abuse. Children arrested!

If you are inclined to say, well, they did the crime and should pay the time, then consider this figure. Every day, every single day, in America, 8523 children are reported as abused or neglected. Now you understand how these numbers work. Today's 8523 adds to yesterday's 8523, which in turn is added on to Friday's 8523, and so on, and so on. And by the close of the day tomorrow, American police and child protective authorities will add 8523 more to their bulging case files. Almost makes you want to stop the clock, doesn't it? Wish we could do the Joshua thing, make the sun stand still! Stop the world, I want to get off!

But the statistics are not all that I have in mind this morning. It's not just numbers that occupy my attention. I am thinking of our own community. I am thinking of how so many of you have told me that you are just not going to go out at night anymore, because you are afraid of young people on the prowl. We can barely have prayer meeting and choir rehearsals because quite a few of you want to get behind that front door and lock it up tight each night. I understand. Nobody thinks you are paranoid because of that. It's just a fact of life.

I'm thinking of something I've been seeing a lot of lately. I am a subscriber to two mailing lists on the Internet, having to do with this community. These are message lists, where people can exchange comments about life in the neighborhood. One list is for Takoma Park, Maryland, and the other is for Takoma, DC. I watch to find out what others are concerned with. Mostly, it's crime. And especially juvenile crime. In fact, I would say that there is almost an obsession with juvenile crime among the folks who discuss things on these lists. I suspect it's a pretty good picture of what our community is thinking about these days.

So, what do we do? How can we solve this? Do we just lock our doors and keep ourselves safe? That won't work forever. Do we call for more police, do we vote for tougher politicians, do we lobby for stronger laws, do we call for longer jail terms?

In a moment I'm going to invite you to participate in this sermon. As I said at the beginning, there are times when all of us need to work on something, times when no one voice needs to dominate, no one person needs to do all the thinking, and no one pair of hands needs to do all the work. There are times, and this is one of them, when all of us need to work together and think together. So I am going to be calling on you to share in the making of this message. But first, a parable.

It seems that once there was a town in which a good many people had become ill. The town built and staffed a new hospital in order to take care of its sick people. They were very proud of their fine medical facility. But, before long, more and more people were getting sick, and so they added on to the hospital, they hired more doctors and nurses, and took care of more sick people. They were immensely proud. But it was expensive. Lots of tax dollars went into building these hospitals and paying these physicians.

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