I grew up around trains and railroads. My dad loves them. He took a job as a conductor on a local railway when he was a teenager, built a model railroading layout that to this day never fails to elicit awe from the visitors who see it, and would take us as a family to almost any railroad museum or exhibit to be found within a three-hour radius of anyplace we happen to be visiting. In addition to this, the pastor of our home church during the years I was growing up in Louisville was also a railroad fan, which contributed to his friendship with my family (even in the years that have followed his association with our church). I know more about railroading than your average person, if purely through osmosis.
Yet, somehow, I seem to have never heard a children’s sermon that referenced trains until yesterday's Sunday worship gathering. With Knox Presbyterian Church pastor Matt Colwell’s permission, I paraphrase it for you here.
Once the children were assembled up front, Matt explained that he had gotten permission from his daughter to use some of her toys for this lesson. Holding up a popular train engine toy, the children quickly identified it as an engine. He then held up two more cars: one a passenger car, and the other a car used for carrying milk.
Matt then asked the children a question: “Can the passenger car get anywhere on her own?” The answer, of course, is “no.” Likewise, the milk car can’t go anywhere on her own. The engine, on the other hand, can, and for either of the other cars to get anywhere, they need to link up with the engine.
The engine, however, doesn’t have very much room to carry passengers, and would be wildly ineffective at carrying milk. To accomplish either of these goals, the engine must link up with the other cars to form a train. And, of course, one can link a great many cars to a train, so it can do a lot of different things when all the cars are linked together.
In this way, God works through the various members of a church community as the Spirit joins us together. Matt illustrated this by having the children join hands in a line all through the center of the congregation, and then asking the members of the congregation to join hands and link together with the line of children, thus the entire church was connected.
Of course, the stated goal of a children's sermon is to reach children, and I hope that this one achieved its goal. However, the children's sermon is often used in churches to serve as a kind of prelude to the sermon given later in worship, and that was certainly the case at Knox. The MP3 file for the sermon hasn't been posted yet at the time of this writing, but it should be made available at this page. Just look for the sermon from 1/23/11 (as of 2/1/11, a sermon more recent than this one has been posted, but the 1/23 sermon still hasn't. I don't know if that means that it won't, or if there's just been a delay).