"An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside Him. Then He said to them, 'Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes Me, and whoever welcomes Me welcomes the One Who sent Me. For he who is least among you all - he is the greatest'" (Luke 9: 46-48, NIV)
This morning I conducted the funeral of a one year-old baby, the second of twins of whom the first died late last year. And, as always, one feels so inadequate as a minister, for nothing that one can say will bring their dead child back.
Often at times like this one ponders the justice in a child dying so young. As on the two previous occasions where I was called upon to preside at the funeral of a young child, I felt that it is far easier to do funerals for people whom the Lord has called home at an advanced age - phrases like "a good innings", "long and faithful service", and "a life of witness to God's grace" come to mind. On the other hand, what can one say about a child who lives on this earth a mere 19 months?
But then I realise that, as the above Scripture passage indicates, there IS something that one can celebrate, for young children truly ARE the greatest when it comes to being in Christ. Although we are all born with the same inherent sinful nature, somehow children seem "less defiled", possessing a purer faith than we as adults could ever understand. At the service this morning I related the experience of my own son who, at age 5, climbed up onto the kitchen counter and then yelled, "Daddy, catch me", and as I turned to respond to his call I saw that he had already laubched himself at me, having not a shadow of a doubt that Daddy would catch him. Do WE have that kind of faith, prepared to launch ourselves out into the great unknown, confident that our heavenly Daddy will be there to catch us?
Another aspect that I touched on was the time we were sharing testimonies during a church service, where people were standing up and saying thinks like "I received Jesus as Lord and Saviour on xxx date". In my own case, that glorious day came on 1 February 1987. But my son (who was 7 at the time) was really concerned that he did not have such a date, and thinking I was about to experience the joy of leading my own son to Christ, he responded with this earth-shattering statement: "Dad, I don't have a date like this, because for as long as I can remember, Jesus has ALWAYS been my Lord!"
On the way to the gravesite, I mentioned to a couple of the Local Preachers that I have learned more about faith in God from one child than from 100 preachers. Yet it saddens me that often we still adopt a "children must be seen and not heard" as we quickly hush our children whenever they so much as blink in church! Then we wonder why our young people leave the church as soon as they have been confirmed. Be honest, if all you ever heard for 16 years was "Quiet! Stop! Shush! Don't", wouldn't YOU want to bail out at the earliest opportunity?
Somehow we in the Church have become so "arse-about-face" about who is most important (excuse the terminology, but I can't think of a better description for our confused state at this time). The minister gets put up on this massive pedestal, followed by the local preachers, society stewards, and so forth. What happened to servant leadership? The Gospel passage that I read this morning seems to indicate that the greatest in Jesus' eyes are those whom we regard the least. If our Lord and Saviour has shown His willingness to get down in the dirt to wash the disciples' stinking feet, how much more should we be willing to serve? And it struck me that my attitude should be that each time I move "up the ranks" (for want of a better way of putting it), my desire to serve should increase. That piece of Tupperware that is wrapped around my neck should have the word "Servant" stamped on it, for that is indeed what I am called to be.
The fact that we had the service at the grandparents' house rather than at the church drove this point home even more strongly. Logistically it was not possible for the family to arrange bus transport from the house to the church, then to the cemetary, and then back to the house, so it was easier to have the service at the house. For this reason the stewards were initially reluctant for me to participate in the service as minister, because it was not held at the church. But what is "the church"? Is it bricks and mortar? If so, then what makes a house different? Is is not also built out of bricks and mortar? But if we who are gathered in God's name constitute the Church, then wherever God's people are gathered together becomes a church.
Lots of lessons, from a relatively short service. Little Jolene Maarman, who lived for such a short time and was probably barely walking, was therefore a greater witness to us present this morning than many a person who has walked this earth for 70 years or more. May she rest in peace, together with her twin sister who died last year, and may God bring comfort to her family at this time.
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