Reading the Word in Time on the Methodist Church web-site this morning has got me thinking. The disciples were concerned with who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus brings a small child amongst them and points to her humility. Today's writer Ric Stott brings another perspective:
Now, either children were very different in first century Palestine or Jesus doesn't know much about children. They are so often consumed with who is the fastest, or prettiest, or who's got the biggest slice of cake or the best toy. "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" sounds like a pretty childish question.
I pondered that for a while and I have to concede that he is right, children today (certainly in the west) are often consumed by these unnecessary questions, what they look like and what they have are seen as all important- and they become marks of status. Why are children like this? Well quite simply because children are doing what children do, they are emulating the adults in their lives!
Although we don't like to admit it we live in a culture that is consumed by image; just think back if you can to Susan Boyle's first appearance on X-Factor. Can you remember the judges faces and the audience reaction before she opened her moth to sing? Of course she has gone on to become a successful recording artist, and has undergone the "required" make-over, and the fact that, that makes us all more comfortable with her is an indication of the shallowness of our culture and an indication of our willingness to paper over the cracks of our brokenness with surface remedies!
These surface remedies become stumbling blocks to reality- we are no longer in touch with the true value of our humanity- we fail to declare that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, we forget that we are loved for who we are and we contunually try to make ourselves something other, and loose touch with our true value in the process. We are so surrounded by the stumbling blocks of our culture that we fail to notice that we are falling!
Church is not immune to these stumbling blocks, and the more middle class we become the further we find ourselves from Jesus teaching. If children were different in first century Palestine then what were the stumbling blocks Jesus was referring to? Could they have been the demands of religion, the rules and regulations of life that prevented people from living in freedom? Here I think we find a double problem in the church of today- for while we are very often slaves to our culture we also rebel against it, we create our own rules and sets of criticism and end up not knowing which way to turn. We become victims of our own double standards.
All of this is a long way from Jesus call to live freely and lightly:
"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." (Matthew 11:28-30)
How then do we escape the stumbling blocks and recover our lives? Ric Stott suggests:
"Perhaps there is another childlike quality that Jesus is alluding to – that ability to live fully in the present, experiencing life deeply without concern with what happened yesterday or worrying about what will happen tomorrow. A child can run joyfully with total abandon across a beach, delighting in the splashing of the waves and falling exhausted, giggling into the sand in a way that most adults are far to uptight and concerned about self-image to emulate."
Living freely is not as easy as it sounds for to live free we need to break free from the demands of our culture and religious notions, we need to discover the God colours and flavours in our lives so that we can respond to Jesus challenge:
"Let me tell you why you're here; You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
"Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (Matthew 5: 13-16)
Maybe in this we will begin to be those who:
"Prepare for God's arrival! Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God. Fill in the valleys, level off the hills,smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks.Then God's bright glory will shine and everyone will see it. Yes. Just as God has said." (Isaiah 40: 3-5)