This past month would count in my life as “the month of the child.”
I suppose for most parents, “back to school” is very child-centered. For me this past month has also included “back to Sunday School”, my youngest daughter’s birthday and my oldest daughter beginning her last year at a school she’s attended for eleven years. In our church community, we all cautiously rejoiced at the birth of twins and welcomed them in baptism, and in nearly the same breath, told them both goodbye for now. In our extended family, we had news that our cousins will in fact get to adopt two sweet girls who need a home. We’ve seen the first smiles and first laughs of friends children over the internet. This very weekend, we got to spend time with another cousin and her children, who are her spitting image.
Tonight this is pause in thanksgiving for the month of the child. And today was one of my favorite Gospel readings.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me. Mark 9:33-37
I usually LOVE to do the Children’s Story (sermon) in worship, and you would think I would have looked forward to this one. However, I’m a stickler for not wanting to stage a cheap laugh (even though sometimes it happens), or teach the adults through the child’s unknowing responses (even though sometimes it happens). I really want to be authentic with children–so today I struggled getting ready.
It would be so easy to just say, “Hey, kids you transform adults completely into jiggling vats of Jello because they love you so much. You drive them crazy, some, if not most, of the time. But they are addicted to you, because you are the closest glimpse of God most of them will ever see.” While true, I’ve heard that Truth is best welcomed when disguised as her sister, Story, so I stuck with the Gospel story.
So, the story hatched–it seemed safe. In telling the Gospel, I would line the children up in a line and remind them how it feels to be “the line leader.” I knew they’d been working on this at school. I’d seen them in the church hallway during the week, holding onto the little rope with handles. So during worship, the really wise ones, un-tainted by too much school yet, shook their heads and teared up at the mention of standing in line. Standing in line is hard when you are a child. Adults do it with ease, forming a line at the drop of the hat. We relish orderly establishments like the bank, theme parks and Southwest Airlines that have made “standing-in-line design” a career option.
I wonder if adults are okay with standing in line because it speaks to what Jesus’ disciples were arguing about–who gets to be the first-est with the most-est? It is a safe feeling to know your place. As long as there are fewer in front of you then there are behind you, one might feel pretty good. Lines are great because you don’t really have to look any one in the eye, touch them or react in any other way then step forward when it’s your turn.
Children don’t stand in lines well. They clump and circle. They relate and cling.
So I thought I could get the children in the line, and move the ones at the front to the back, but I didn’t really know how it could end. I knew that somewhere in that last part of the Gospel, rested the really important part, but I was going to have to wing-it. I really don’t like to wing-it, but I’ve done it enough to know that there lies the Spirit. Somehow, in the midst of children and chance, the ether catches fire and evaporates to insight.
Jesus put a little child AMONG them.
One cannot put a child “AMONG” folks that are in a line. If we think we are in a line, needing to gain on the guy in front of us, and hold back the guy behind us, we are wrong. The disciples then and we today, are in an amorphous clump–just like what the line of the children disintegrates into as soon as given the chance. We are clinging to each other–whether we know it or not. The clump is not necessarily a hand-holding, daisy-chain wearing, Kum-ba-jah singing clump of happy people. But it is relational and responsible to the whole.
So to all teachers out there, my apologies. I told the children, “Jesus messed up the line. Look! When we come close to each other, we are more like a circle.” Maybe you could get a bunch of hula-hoops for them to hold onto to walk down the hallway?