In the month of August, the attention of parents of school aged children (like myself) is turned to preparations for the school year. Since University UMC is situated where it is, this is typically one of the “high holy seasons” of our particular church, and I’m excited that with a rehabilitated courtyard, some of our practices we do excellently, like offer coffee to passers-by and fun spontaneous things happening in this beautiful part of our church, are able to happen as students are arriving on campus again.
With my recent marriage, I have four school-aged children to prepare for the academic year now instead of two, so preparations for this season occupy even more real estate in my mind. It sometimes seems I’m beset on all sides on children-one for every direction of the wind. This past Sunday when we had a boisterous dozen kids in the children’s sermon who seemed intent on hijacking the carefully constructed sermon snippet I had constructed in my mind, I was reminded of that hilarious and insightful interaction between Jesus and his disciples. Mark, Matthew, and Luke all agree that the disciples “rebuked” those who were bringing their children to Jesus. (Mt 19: 13-14, Mk 10: 13-16, Lk 18: 15-17).
They were obviously annoyed. Perhaps they were stymied in their efforts to have an “adult conversation with Jesus.” Perhaps they were thinking about all the needs of children and how they can’t see to those needs themselves. Maybe the children were running around under everyone’s feet and distracting Jesus from his teaching. They were likely missing the point, dwelling on unintended parts of his teaching: “camel through the eye of a needle? I like camels, one time I got to ride a camel at the marketplace! It spit at Joseph the fruit guy. I laughed and laughed. I like apples the best, they are crunchy. It’s crunchy when I walk on the road. It hurts my feet, can you heal this spot where I stepped on a rock. Jesus?”
I’m reminded of the frequent “interruptions” that children present. In the 20 minutes I tried to carve out to write this newsletter article, the children in my own life (who woke up early despite my efforts to keep them asleep so I could get some work done on a kid-filled day) talked too loudly next to Wesley’s new barn door (he’s still asleep of course), called out for Myranda next to the barn door, had their iPad volume jacked up so the sound of model trains was too loud next to the barn door (hmm, maybe I should move myself away from the barn door, and the early risers will follow me like the pied piper.), had a tummy ache, wanted pancakes, etc. etc.
Jesus seems to be pretty insistent (“indignant” says Mark, who never masks Jesus’ frustration with his disciples) that children and all their distractions are a necessary component of the spiritual life. We can’t just dismiss life’s interruptions. We must deal with them. And sometimes, if we open our mind, heart, soul, and strength to attending to those interruptions with loving-kindness (like Jesus is shown, “holding them in his arms,”) we’ll discover the gifts they bring. John doesn’t relay the same story I recounted above from the synoptic gospels, but he is the lone Gospel writer that identifies the source of the five loaves and two fish—it is “a boy,” one of those perhaps tagging along despite the protestations of the disciples. That’s how the 5000 get fed. Because a boy offers his lunch with wide eyed wonder to the miracle maker. May we approach this holy season in the life of our church with a light-hearted reverence—one that is hospitable to children and all their distractions. Now it’s time to make some pancakes