“And He took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, ‘Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me.” ~ Mark 9:36-37a
I remember watching this game at our little house in Maryland. With about five minutes left, the Gators were up 17-14 over Oklahoma in the BCS Title Game. Tim Tebow ran the ball six times in a row before throwing a little “whoop-de-do” pass over the defensive line to put the game away. Anybody who didn’t already think he was the greatest thing since Archie Griffin jumped on board the bandwagon. The kid had two National Championship rings, a Heisman trophy, and was the 25th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Oh yeah, and also he loves Jesus.
Let me qualify what follows with this: I am a huge Tim Tebow fan. And it isn’t because he loves Jesus. It’s because I root for people who work hard. I root for underdogs. I root for leaders who want their team to win more than they want to fill up a stat sheet.
I thought about this a few Sundays ago as our Book-Bearer, a thirteen-year-old wonder-kid named Jeffrey, stood in front of the Altar after placing the Scriptures on the Lectern, raised his hands in the air in classic “rock on” configuration, and bowed before taking his seat with the acolytes. See, Jeffrey has Down Syndrome, and what looks to some like a signal for Angus Young to keep shredding his Gibson SG is actually sign language for “I love you.”
We’re not so different from the world, this strange Christian sub-culture we’ve created. And I’m not talking about the reconfiguration of things like sin and holiness; that’s too obvious. I’m talking about the value systems we take with us to Kroger, who we value, who we lift up as examples, who we want to be like, who we shine a spotlight on and tell our children “this is who you should strive to emulate.”
Think about it. When’s the last time you saw a roadside banner advertising “An Evening with Jake, the Auto Mechanic” outside your local church? Like the rest of the world, we tend to recognize those who would (and are) already elevated for their worldly accomplishments – successful athletes, accomplished businesswomen, decorated politicians – and what that says to kids like Jeffrey is that the Church values the same things in people that the world values, only we tack faith on to the end of that list. It’s nice if they also love Jesus.
When Jeffrey gave his Confirmation essay last summer, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. God has worked a faith in this kid that goes well beyond his ability to articulate it. He doesn’t play football. He may not end up as an influential businessman or politician. He is, however, a shining paradigm of what it means to deeply love Jesus Christ.
St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.”
This is what real community is: Valuing people because they are chosen to be a part of our family, not because they’ve set themselves apart by their accomplishments. When we lift up real family in Church; when we value our Calling in Christ more than our successes and worldly accolades, that value system spills over into the whole of our lives as well.
The next time you’re in Church – or having lunch at Panera, or running around Kroger – and you see some less-than-perfect family struggling to keep their kids in line, or a life-worn daughter pushing her mother around in a wheelchair, be kind to them. People are never burdens, regardless of their value to the rest of the world. We are all simply part of living as the family of God.
So, Fourth and short in the Red Zone, down five with thirty seconds left to go… Give me Tim Tebow. A faithful model of the love of Christ, on the other hand… I’d rather have Jeffrey Dennis.