A u c k l a n d A o t e a r o a N e w Z e a l a n d
a n g l i c a n c h u r c h
The God of Small Things
July 27, 2003
Ordinary Sunday 17 Mark 6:45-52
A six year old was asked to write a story explaining God - One of God's main jobs is making people. He makes them to replace the ones that die so there will be enough people to take care of things on earth.
- He doesn't make grown-ups, just babies. I think because they are smaller and easier to make. That way, He doesn't have to take up His valuable time teaching them to talk and walk, He can just leave that to mothers and fathers.
- God sees everything and hears everything and is everywhere which keeps Him pretty busy. So you shouldn't go wasting His time by going over your mom and dad's head asking for something they said you couldn't have.
- You can pray anytime you want and they are sure to hear you because God and Jesus got it worked out so one of them is on duty all the times.
- You should always go to Church on Sunday because it makes God happy, and if there's anybody you want to make happy, it's God.
- If you don't believe in God, besides being an atheist, you will be very lonely, because your parents can't go everywhere with you, like to camp, but God can.
- But you shouldn't just always think of what God can do for you. I figure God put me here and He can take me back anytime He pleases.
- And that's why I believe in God.
Sounds like the type of apologetic I was taught in an evangelical Theological College. This type of literalism is understandable in children, most will grow out of it with a bit of luck. The other feature of a child's makeup as seen in this explanation of God is idealism; the belief that what they do can make a difference. This is something we should never grow out of.
I learnt this lesson again during the week. For most of the week I had no voice due to severe laryngitis, and watching my kids' reactions was fascinating. My silence was a curiosity to them. My eight-year-old made the most of the opportunity, one-year-old thought I was playing a game and smiled every time I said nothing. Three-year-old took it all very seriously and literally. "Have you found your voice yet Dadda?" he would ask me each morning. He even offered to help me look for it. That's the way of three year olds. When I said the car had been fixed that day, he asked where the band-aids were. Three year old really believed he could make it better for me. And he did.
Or there was another time when eight-year-old handed me an envelope with the words 'Auckland City Mission' on the front. Inside were six two-dollar coins, earned by washing neighbourhood cars. Without fanfare - a freely chosen act of service - he gave the money believing fully that his donation would make all the difference, and it did.
The idealism of children is a theme picked up in Arundhati Roy's prize winning 1997 novel The God of Small Things. Despite the enormity of the social and personal tragedy, the plot and style is straightforward. The story is told for the most part through the eyes of twins who live an existence both privileged and precarious, as children of a divorced mother from an affluent Indian family. It's a story of love and loss, life and death, caste and class, gender and growing up. Above all, as the novel begins; "They all broke the rules. They all crossed into forbidden territory. They all tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved and how. And how much."
This is it. This is the genius of children. Of course we adults spend 15 odd years socialising them, getting them to follow our rules. Yet they have a wonderful sense of spontaneity, they make their own rules. They are fully present in any situation and give when they want to give, and not if they don't. They love when they feel love, they love who they love and how they love. And they decide how much. Again this is always enough.
The Gospel story for today - the feeding of the five-thousand - is framed amidst enormous social and personal tragedy. There is poverty, oppression, sickness and fear. Into this chaos, two people leave their mark. First is Jesus, who chooses to say very little. He gives the impression that he is taking in the sounds around him; hearing the pain of the people, the fear of the disciples, the stormy seas and the cries of illness. He chooses not to problem-solve, and instead allows the space for another unlikely hero to emerge. Second is a young boy, nameless and ageless (although I suspect that he might have been three.) He did what I have seen my own kids do so many times; offer the most brilliantly understated solution to a massive problem. With his packed lunch of sardines and a meager bread loaf, the crowds are satisfied and again the small offering is seen to be more than enough.
Aren't people like Jesus and the small boy what we all long for in the midst of the tragedies of life? That is, someone to be completely present for us, to offer us what they can, which will be just enough. Into our lives and our world, a world of war, famine, violence, struggle. Our lives full of betrayal, fear and frustration. Into our situations a person who hears our cries of pain and a small boy, reminding us that change is always possible. The script for our lives is open, and ready for a miracle.
We celebrate today the birth of a baby, the growth of baby, the milestone of a family, the welcome of a community. We honour today all small things, because small things so often have the largest meaning. We commit to living with the idealistic spontaneity of a child, to give what we can give, and to know that this will be just enough.
I finish with two quotes from Mother Theresa, herself a hero who understood well that change is always possible.
"We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love."
"Oh that we might be faithful in small things because it is in them that our strength lies."