LET THE LITTLE children come to Me.
With sleep still in our eyes, two fellow YAVs and I filed into the pastor’s car to be commissioned at the Presbyterian Church of Upper Montclair. Having never experienced a Presbyterian church service before, I braced myself for an hour of stoic, wordy worship with “the Frozen Chosen.”
As is often the case, my preconceptions were misguided.
The hymns burst with color and expression at the pianist’s fingertips. A young man performed an original song that I would buy – yes, buy – on iTunes. Pastor Lauren opened her sermon with a Harry Potter reference to draw connections to today’s injustices and the story of Ruth the Moabite.
But there’s one scene that will be forever imprinted in my memory.
The pastor invited my fellow YAVs and I to the stage. As we turned to face a room of people we had never met before, three children got up from their pew and stood before us. They beamed up at us, faces full of hope and wonder. And one by one they asked us a series of questions.
Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, seeking to show God’s love in all you say and do?
“I will, with God’s help.”
Will you meet the persons in your community right where they are and accept them just the way they are?
“I will, with God’s help.”
After each question, they would look up at us with expectation. I could not break their gaze.
Will you open your heart to the beauty and brokenness of this world, admitting that you cannot do everything, and trusting in the healing power of the Holy Spirit who brings hope and laughter out of despair and even death?
My heart lurched. I imagined these words settling into the foundation of their hearts and building paths of lifelong discipleship.
In that moment I felt the weight of accountability. The words I repeated were no longer just a ritual. They were a promise.
I wish I could transport you into this memory like a Pensieve. It was a powerful moment – and it was mad cute.
The Christian gospels tell a story of mommies and daddies coming up to Jesus, shoving babies into his arms and asking him to bless their children. His disciples start to get annoyed. I imagine them turning on crowd-control mode as they start shooing away the women and children and saying, “Jesus is busy. Go bother someone else. Go home.” But Jesus rebukes his disciples and turns their idea of status upside-down.
Jesus says, “Let the children come to Me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” (Mark 4:14-16 NLT)
Sunday morning’s service could not have moved forward without the boy and girls standing before us. They were not an add-on or an afterthought. They played a prominent role in the gathering.
The older I get, the easier it is to tune people out. We adults start to get predictable. We go through the motions. We choose what or what not to say based on how we think people will respond, rather than on our convictions and values. At least I do.
Affirming my commitment to service before these children was truly humbling. It moved me to take a step back in the midst of an intense week and recall the reasons I am going to Colombia. There is no one for me to impress, no one for me to save. I go as an extension of God’s mercy – not because of anything I say or do, but because I’ve been invited to join God’s work in Barranquilla. And as I live and work, I am to receive the reign of God like a child. I am to learn from children and those who are like children.
So when the months begin to slow and my resolve wears thin, I will remember this moment and the promise I made when I stood in a church somewhere in New Jersey, before the pure and powerful presence of these three children.