Rev. George Miller
Oct 11, 2015
Years ago I met a guy named Sebastian. He was a Life Coach from Britain.
For some reason that I can’t recall, I shared with him one of my favorite passages of literature. It’s by Alice Walker and titled “The Gospel According to Shug.”
It’s a modern spin on the Beatitudes of Jesus. It’s all very touchy-feely, new-agey stuff and says things like:
“HELPED are those who find something in Creation to admire each and every hour. Their days will overflow with beauty and the deepest dungeon will offer gifts.”
Or “HELPED are those who lose their fear of death; theirs is the power to envision the future in a blade of grass.”
The final line is my favorite: “HELPED are those who know.”
I shared this with Sebastian in my own smug way that a twenty-something year-old does when she or he thinks they’ve discovered the Secret of Life, and immediately Sebastian said “Knows what?”
“They just know,” I responded.
“Knows what?” Sebastian asked again.
“They just know,” I replied. For me, the concept of knowing was so simple and natural.
“Well,” said Sebastian, “That’s just the stupidest thing I’ve heard. It makes no sense.”
At that moment I realized that Sebastian and I were not going to be friends. He was clearly all about facts and I was about feelings…of course he was living in an apartment in Manhattan and I was living with my Momma, so who’s to say…
Still to this day, I love this last line. “HELPED are those who know.”
It reminds me of when you’re with your best friend and you can just look at each other and go “Hmm-mmm” because you know what the other’s thinking.
It’s like the opening line from The Tale of Two Cities that states “It was the best of times and the worst of times” and although it appears to be a paradox, you understand it.
This is how I approach today’s Scripture.
Jesus is thanking God and talking about the Father and the Son. He celebrates knowledge that goes beyond wisdom and books, study and research and talks about eyes that can see.
Is Jesus talking about the physical eyes in our head, or is he speaking of something more. The eyes of the heart? The eyes of the soul? The eyes of a child?
Jesus mentions the wise and intelligent, prophets and kings, yet it’s the infants who appear to be held in esteem.
This does not surprise me; I’ve spent years working with children. Though kids can be cruel and can cause a lot of heartbreak, there is at the heart of most children the sense of unspoiled smarts.
Not street smarts, not book smarts, but the kind of smarts that is willing to believe in possibilities.
The kind of smarts that is willing to engage in magical thinking, that has not been fully molded to accept another’s views and is willing to see the world beyond logic, sexism, racism and ruthless greed.
For example, there was the time in 2004 when I was the director for a summer camp
called Kidz Klub in MO. We received our lunches from a government assistance program.
One particular afternoon we had 26 children and 2 adults present. But we only had 23 boxed meals. As if the shortage of food wasn’t bad enough, that day was everyone’s favorite lunch: chicken nuggets.
With nothing else to do, we told the children the truth-there was not enough food for all.
Then we asked them to remember the story of the loaves and fishes, and just in case they couldn’t remember it, we retold them about how Jesus had only 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread, and how Jesus gave thanks to God, broke the bread and it turned out to be enough for all.
So, that’s what we did. We said a prayer, we asked God to make the food stretch to feed all the children.
…then the miracle happened. The kids opened their boxed meals. They shared their chicken nuggets. They passed around their packages of grapes, celery and carrot sticks, they broke their chocolate chip cookies in half.
They were all so well behaved, so calm. So wise and in the moment.
Although I had declined to eat, one of the kids offered me some of her food, as did another child, and another. It was as if they sensed it was a privilege to be feeding me.
By meal’s end we had left-overs, and not just of the carrots or celery, but the nuggets too.
With my own eyes I got to see the loaves and fishes story come true.
Would adults have been so quick to trust there’d be enough for all?
Would 28 college professors or 28 presidential nominees have done such a wonderful job of sharing 23 meals without complaint and have food left-over?
I have no doubt the miracle happened because we were dealing with the faith of children.
There were no adults to tell them that it wouldn’t work or that in times of scarcity they should hoard all they had.
They simply trusted in God and behold, there was enough.
Recently, during our Vacation Bible School in August, we had the opportunity to celebrate Communion with our children.
We shared with them one of the theories about why Jesus used bread and juice for the Last Supper- that they were ordinary items that would’ve been found in anyone’s home.
We said that no matter how rich or poor someone was, they would have had bread and juice at their house, so therefore anyone could celebrate Communion.
We didn’t talk about the complex scriptural symbolism of bread and wine, we talked of them matter of fact…and the kids got it.
We then asked the kids what they thought Jesus would’ve used today for Communion.
The answers they gave included soda, crackers, potato chips, Kool Aide.
Then, to share this theological expression, we celebrated the Lord’s Supper using Gold Fish Crackers and Hi-C.
And the kids got it. They were so reverent, so polite, so in the moment.
The kids weren’t arguing over the theology of Transubstantiation or the writings of Luther of Calvin or the correct procedure according to the UCC.
They just were, and it was holy and it was a joy.
These are just two stories I thought of when I read this weeks’ Scripture. The idea that Jesus doesn’t seem so hung up on formality.
That Jesus is thankful for those who can see the ways of heaven not through brains or books or even their eyeballs, but they can see the Good News in the ways of a child; like eyes that were once blind, but now through amazing grace can see…
…How often is faith actually so simple, but we muddy it up?
How often is faith so illogical, but we try to logic it up?
How often is faith about being in the moment, but we get lost because we’re worried about the past, the future and the tasks that lay at hand?
How often is faith so tied to “What’s in it for me?” that we end up denying ourselves the joy of reaching out and caring for another?
How often is faith chained to answers, facts and things we can find in a book that we fail to embrace the questions and mystery, truths and beauty of personal experiences?
In closing, another story that I don’t think Sebastian would like, but perhaps you’ll enjoy:
Mother Theresa was once asked about her prayer life. The interviewer asked, “When you pray, what do you say to God?”
Mother Teresa replied, “I don’t talk, I simply listen.”
Believing he understood what she had just said, the interviewer asked, “Ah, then what is it that God says to you when you pray?”
Mother Teresa replied, “He also doesn’t talk. He also simply listens.”
There was a long silence. The interviewer seeming a bit confused, not knowing what to ask next.
Finally Mother Teresa broke the silence by saying, “If you can’t understand the meaning of what I’ve just said, I’m sorry but there’s no way I can explain it any better.”
In other words: “HELPED are those who know” and “Blessed are the eyes that see.”
Amen and amen.