Posted by: Philip Rushton | June 20, 2011

Paper-Mache Meets Gothic Revival: Thoughts on the spiritual significance of caring for children

Our formal gothic revival sanctuary has been transformed into a child’s wonderland. A huge paper-mache sea creature, which looks like some sort of hybrid between a beluga whale and an alligator, hangs from the fragile chandelier. The lectern is covered with a beach umbrella and is surrounded by cardboard sea otters who swim among the paper waves below. The organist is blocked from view by a large beach mural which reads “Big D’s Diner.” Pastor John must walk around the mural, past two surf boards and a collection of beach balls to indicate to the organist that the offering is over and it’s time to transition to the doxology. The choir is relegated to the steps below the stage this week and a singular beach ball hangs precariously above the choral director. It is Vacation Bible School week at Longview Community Church!

The juxtaposition between VBS decor and Gothic Revival architecture is a beautiful sight. It is a visual reminder that children belong at the center of the Christian community.

In Mark 9:33-37 we discover a similar juxtaposition. In this scene, the disciples are caught arguing over who is the greatest. These raggedy fisherman have gotten in with a popular rabbi, which gives them hope that they might move up a few notches in the social ladder. This would have been enticing in a culture where upward mobility was rarely possible.

However, the narrative is soon interrupted by the unlikely presence of a child. As the disciples argue about spiritual greatness, Jesus invites a child to come into their midst. In the ancient world children had very few rights and were viewed as being unimportant until they were old enough to contribute to society. So it is is unexpected that a child, who would usually reside on the fringe of society, would take center stage. Jesus proceeds to tell his disciples that if they want to do something truly great they should embrace and care for children.

In this text Jesus reminds us that spiritual greatness involves simple acts of love and care to the vulnerable among us. Ched Myers puts it this way. “The follower of Jesus must expect the fate of a subversive, but the ultimate choice of the cross must also be daily reproduced in the concrete life of the messianic community. The way of nonviolence means being attentive to the actual dynamics of social power and privilege among family, friends and neighbors.” What Myers means is that the high calling of discipleship takes root in the ordinary everyday relationships we have. The danger for us is that we will get so caught up in wanting to change the world that we ignore the needs of the vulnerable people that are right in front of us. Like the disciples we may shun the call to spend time with children because we want to do something that seems more profound or important. Jesus reminds us that one of the most important things we can do for his kingdom is to hang out with kids.

Here’s to a great week of VBS!

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