One of my favorite passages in the Bible comes from Matthew 18:1-4 where Jesus is teaching His disciples about true greatness. The disciples are thinking of greatness in the typical fashion of power, authority and position. I would have loved to have been there that day when Jesus defined true greatness.
… He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
I have a sneaking suspicion that if there happened to be a little child with Down Syndrome or Autism in the crowd that day, Jesus would have pick them. For even the most intellectual of us are all mentally handicapped in the shadow of the Almighty.
After choosing a child from the crowd, and probably placing the child on His lap, Jesus sets the example and definition of true greatness:
“Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
Greatness is defined by humility; the humility of a child. And even though children are not always humble, they are very good teachers of humility. Nowhere is this more evident than in the life and family of a child with special needs.
I smile even now as I think about the time we visited a large church in Louisville, KY where I was attending seminary. We took Jake to the nursery with the other kids and settled into the pew for some good edification from the well known pastor and preacher, who also happened to be a Dean and Professor at the seminary.
About half way through the sermon I noticed the Nursery Director peeking through the doorway that led to the choir loft behind the pulpit. (This Nursery Director ended up being one of our best friends--Jake always had a gift for choosing some of our best friends.)
It soon became obvious that the Nursery Director was searching for something, or someone. As I scanned the empty choir loft I found what she was looking for. The soft red hair of my son slowly began to rise above the choir chairs centered right behind the pastor.
As Jake rose from the balcony like an angel in a Christmas pageant, every eye in the congregation became fixed on him. Jake, knowing that he had now fully captured the attention of the congregation, stood fully upright crossing his arms with a smile of victory. The Nursery Director began frantically trying to coax him towards the door with no success. He wasn’t giving up this spot for all the animal crackers in preschool.
What made the situation even more chaotic was the fact that Jake had positioned himself right behind the pastor and so it appeared to the pastor that all eyes were on the preacher and the sermon. However, it became rather confusing for the pastor when the entire congregation began to snicker at the antics of the nursery worker trying to persuade Jake.
The snicker turned into a steady rumbling laugh as the nursery worker got down on her hands and knees and low crawled like an army commando behind the chairs trying to capture Jake only to be thwarted as he ran down the isle to the next row of chairs. Finally, when Jake sternly crossed his arms in defiance and shook his head as if to say, “No way teach” the congregation broke out into a full belly laugh.
The pastor grew more uncomfortable still not knowing what all the commotion was about, no doubt wondering if he had said something funny, done something wrong or his pants had just fallen down.
In the meantime I sank lower and lower in my seat looking for the nearest exit leading to anywhere but here, until my wife finally elbowed me and said, “Go get him!” In my humbled state, I rose from my pew walked to the front of the church, up into the choir loft, and led my son back to the nursery from which he had escaped, both of us waiving to the congregation in proud humiliation.
I’m not sure what the pastor was preaching on that morning. For the life of me I cannot remember a single word or verse from his message. But neither the pastor, the Nursery Director, nor I will never forget the message that Jake preached that day to about 600 people.
It was a sermon on humility--the humility of a child.