“…Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these the kingdom of heaven belongs.” ~Matthew 19:14 (NRSV)
This past Saturday evening, Susan and I attended a Vespers service at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Knoxville. We were there to celebrate the reopening of the main church, which was badly damaged in an April 2015 fire. The Vespers and rededication was led by Metropolitan Alexios, the Greek Orthodox bishop who oversees the southeastern U.S. region of Orthodox parishes. Along with several Orthodox priests, I participated in the liturgy, along with Bishop Stika, the Roman Catholic bishop of Knoxville.
After Vespers, many of us made our way for a celebratory banquet in the church hall. As we prepared to take our seats for dinner, a young boy made a point of seeking me out, knowing me to be the Episcopal bishop. The boy is a member of St. George and wanted to ask me a question. “Do you know Janie?” It turns out Janie is a young friend in his elementary class and is an Episcopalian. Since I was the Episcopal bishop and Janie is an Episcopalian, the young boy had decided that surely I knew his friend. I told him I did not think I had met Janie yet, but that I was glad to know he knew her and that she had made him aware that she is an Episcopalian.
I wish I could convey to you the enthusiasm the young boy had during the entire exchange. It was clear he loved his parish church of St. George and that his friend, Janie, had shared with him her love of her Episcopal parish church. I also greatly appreciated that the young boy assumed the Episcopal bishop of East Tennessee should know every Episcopal church member in the diocese.
When Jesus invites the little children into his midst, we know he is turning the world’s sense of power and place, of who counts and who does not, upside down. These little ones will lead us and surprise us with what is important and necessary in God’s economy.
As a people who have just marked Pentecost, when the Spirit descends and communicates the Good News of Jesus through all languages, I pray we as a diocese can remain open to the kind of innocent enthusiasm which Janie’s friend expressed to me. Our life in Christ, and our common life in Christian community, is intended to transform us, to renew us, to enliven us in the here and now.
Janie, wherever you are, I look forward to meeting you and hearing your story about your friendship with the Christ who welcomes all, including the little children, to come to him.
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