I remember one prayer and Bible study group from a few years ago. At the beginning of the meeting we sang a simple gathering song. Reese was so hell-bent on disruption this particular evening she managed to make disgusting noises through the hand Mindy had clamped over her mouth.
Oh, well. Reese had missed a nap and so became the tyrant of all she surveyed. Our little Mussolini, if you will. But, Reese also wanted to be the center of the action and attention. Any other arrangement was not going to do.
The first time Reese was in public worship she was 12 days old. During her short life the church community has been so good to Reese with what we Christians often call “unconditional love”.
The church has blessed her with attention, smiles, games, little kindnesses – all the things that make unconditional love take on flesh and blood. I’m sure Reese has felt like the center of the whole, happy universe.
This has been a very good thing, and one we are deeply thankful for as parents. Children can never have too many joyful, safe adults around them letting them know they exist, and that their existence is a very good thing.
But Reese is not the center of the universe. There are other people in the world. And learning this through the church is as good and important a lesson as the one about unconditional love.
None of us is the center of the universe; God is. This is often easy to confess with our lips, but harder to confess with our lives. Honestly, I think it’s one of the reasons it is important to give money sacrificially to my community of faith.
But anyway we slice it, a part of the Christian Good News is that through Christ Jesus we who are not the source and center of the universe can share in the life of the God who is the source and center of the universe.
People can lose track of that good news almost without realizing it.
An influential Christian author named Brian McLaren said he remembers as a young Christian being told to recite John 3:16. However, the newly-baptized McLaren was told to replace the word “world” (literally “cosmos”) with his own name. “For God so loved BRIAN he gave his only begotten son….”
McLaren wrote that, of course, there is a degree of blessed truth to that verbal experiment. God’s love is personal. God is interested in forgiving us, healing us, and restoring us as unique persons made in God’s image.
But McLaren also correctly said that the replacement of “world” for “my name here” is also a great risk. If left alone to run amuck in our spirits, the idea gets things horribly backward and can debilitate us spiritually.
God loves and is restoring THE WORLD in Jesus, and so by God’s gift I (or you or any of us) get to be a part of that great, big, dance-for-joy story. By being a part of it I am caught up in this salvation myself. Yet I’m not the center of it. Nor am I its engine or its master.
In the resurrection of Jesus we first and foremost celebrate that God is recreating the universe, the “whole enchilada” of which I (or you or any of us) are just a little piece of cheese or perhaps a slice of olive.
Bono, the lead singer of the band U2, talks of always seeking out a certain priest before the release of an album. Bono wanted the priest to bless the album and the work that went into it. The priest was happy to oblige.
One time, however, the priest told Bono he might want to turn things around. He might think of looking around for what God was doing and be a part of it instead of always asking God to come and bless what Bono was doing. The priest’s point was that U2 was not the center of the universe, God was. And God had some great things going on that Bono might want to be a part of.
This perspective shift was part of what led the singer to become involved with the poor and HIV-riddled, especially in Africa. And that ministry has helped save millions of lives.
Reese is not God. Neither am I. I’ll let you answer for yourself.
But thankfully the real God is always looking for partners to help love and heal the world. I think living into this can radically change how we look at life around us, how we choose to spend our resources, and maybe even how we look at the Lord.
When the “bad” news finally hits Reese fully (does it ever hit any us fully?) and she realizes this is not a Reese-o-centric universe, she will likely be mad. But, she’ll be better (and happier) for it in the long run. As we all are, I think. Eventually at least.