Twenty-one years ago Robert Fulghum’s collection of essays, All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, was published and pretty much immediately rose to the top of the national best-seller lists. It lived there at #1 for just about all of 1989 and much of 1990. The title essay spoke truth to so many of us, about how the simplest lessons we learn as children are really at the core of the lessons we need to master even as adults.
Well, our vacation this last week left me pondering a similar essay, “All I Really Need to Know about Human Nature I Learned By Watching 3 Year Olds.” We returned from our annual pilgrimage to the family farm late Friday night. It was a great week of tractor riding, combine driving, corn picking, and Bobcat cruising, with gorgeous weather and even better company. Both of the big kids spent hours at Dad or Grandpa’s sides bumping along the rows and taking breaks to eat dusty sandwiches in the shade. A wonderful fall vacation.
The vacation also allowed the kids to play with their only cousin on one side of the family, YankeeFan. YankeeFan and Godzilla are only about 2 months apart in age, and we had a blast watching those 3 year olds finally really interacting with one another. Or at least most of the time we did. In watching these two little guys, both in their interactions with each other, and as they responded to the adults in their lives, I noticed some things they do that taught me a lot about what grown-ups do, too.
For example, if a 3 year old is being beckoned by an adult, like with that curling finger, an international sign for “Get. Here. Now.” and he does not want to be here, he simply closes his eyes or turns his back, or for a more dramatic effect, does both. If he can’t see it, it must not exist, therefore, he doesn’t have to follow it.
Likewise, when a 3 year old is being called by an adult to come do something he does not want to do, say maybe get his hands washed after eating a particularly sloppy Sloppy Joe, he will simply stick his fingers in his ears to block out the sound waves carrying that message to his brain. If he can’t hear it, it must not exist, therefore, he doesn’t have to follow it. To a 3 year old, shutting down the paths of communication is the same as running outside the realm of her parents’ control.
It’s that whole idea that if I can’t see them, then certainly they can’t see me.
Another thing 3 year olds try to do is to hide from the adults who are called to care for them. Sometimes it’s because they don’t want to do what it coming, like go to bed. Sometimes it’s because they have done something they should not have, like taken a jelly bean from Grandma’s jar without asking. Sometimes it’s just because they want to do something ALL. BY. MYSELF.
You see these 3 year olds, full of human nature, like to test out their independence. Three year olds, full of human nature, have a tendency, just like the rest of us, to want to push the limits of authority. We have a tendency to want to live our lives beyond the reach of those who are in authority over us - - even when it is a loving, caring, providing, nurturing, challenging, encouraging, forgiving, authority, even when it’s the authority of a parent, even when it’s the authority of God.
We human beings, for whatever reason, from the very beginning, have this curiosity and this independent streak that drives us to try to live outside the reach of even God. Intentionally or unintentionally, we do it all the time. We close our eyes to avoid seeing the way the systems that are in place to protect our good fortune are the same systems that keep others down. We choose not to follow when God beckons us to make a difference on behalf of the poor in our own community. We put our fingers in our ears so we can’t hear God’s preference for peace over war, love over fear and hatred, mercy over revenge. We ignore the wisdom of Scripture, of saints of the past, of friends and loved one who speak for God in our lives today.
We even try to just run from God. We try to hide out in our jobs, our hobbies, our destructive habits, trying to live our day to day lives on our own power, our own authority. We try to work out our rocky relationships, raise our children win battles over our neighbors, and find meaning in our day to day lives all outside of and beyond the realm of God our Creator, our Redeemer, and our Sustainer. Like the Prodigal Son we believe we can make better choices with what we have been given when we are away from God than we can in the presence of our divine Parent.
Three year olds try to do it. Teenagers get pretty good at getting close to doing it. Adult attempt it and even applaud when they see it in others, admiring this characteristic they call self-sufficiency. Even the ancient kingdoms tried to live without God; they thought collectively, like us, that they could operate beyond the reach of God, saying “My way is hidden from the Lord.”
But the reality is that they couldn’t. We can’t. Like the psalmist in Psalm 139 says, “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I feel from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there. If I make my bed in the realm of the dead, you are there.” No matter where we go, no matter how far we try to run, no matter how hard we work to ignore God’s leading and God’s authority in our lives, God is there. Who measured the waters in the hollow of a hand? Who enclosed the dust of the earth and measure the mountains on a kitchen scale?
God knows the ins and outs of every bit of creation, the physical land, the flowing water, the heavens stretched out above, and there is nowhere in this creation that we can step that is outside the realm of God’s love and God’s grace and God’s authority. If we put our fingers in our ears God can speak louder than they can block. If we close our eyes God can paint visions on the insides of our eyelids. If we run and hide in the best spot in the world, God will find us because God created that hiding spot and knows its very existence. The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, and the Lord’s care is for the large and the small of it.
The same God who folded the mountains and filled the seas is the same God who was present in Jesus, the same God who walked into towns and synagogues claiming the Scriptures for himself, healing the sick in body and spirit, restoring them to wholeness. With the spirit of God working in him and through him, Jesus sought out those who either tried to live apart from God or who felt their conditions left them separated from the divine presence. His presence on earth demonstrated God’s sovereignty, God’s authority, God’s interest not over just the big picture of it all, but God’s interest in the very details of our lives. While God is so majestic that foundations of the earth were put into place by the divine hands and we look like grasshoppers to the divine eye, in Jesus we discover that God’s care is for even the very intimate, very personal circumstances of our lives. There is no place we can go, no worry we can hide, no step we can take that is outside the love and the care of our God.
Armed with this knowledge, trusting in the constant presence and attention of God, our best response should not be to run away from God who seeks us, but to follow the lead of the woman healed by Jesus. Feeling his touch on her body, experiencing his presence in ALL of her life, she didn’t run to hide from his majesty and power, she didn’t close her eyes to his persisting presence. She responded immediately with joy and praise. She stood and worshiped God.
Ultimately that is what’s asked of each of us. We get caught up in a lot of shoulds and coulds in the life of faith, but ultimately all we are asked to do is worship God who surrounds us with love and mercy and forgiveness, who formed us and the dust of the earth we walk on, who provides for our needs, who heals us from all those things that keep us bent over, weighed down, burdened in this life. All God asks of us is that we worship the one who has this kind of love for us – worship God when the community is gathered, hearing Scriptures that teaches us, confessing sins that divide us, praying for healing to bless us, sharing concerns that plague us, celebrating joys that delight us, all so that we may delight in God who calls us together, giving praise and thanksgiving in all of it for God, who is above all and through all and in all.
We don’t gather here to fill up our spiritual tanks for another week on the road. And although it is a blessing when it happens, we aren’t called here just to fix our lives and spirits when we sense they are broken. We are called here, not to watch as others demonstrate faith and speak about its goodness in our presence. We are called here to work… together… all of us. We are called here to worship and give praise, to honor and celebrate, to recognize and show our delight in God from whom we can’t run, God whose care is for our whole lives. This is what we do when we gather to worship our sovereign God. Worship is NOT about us, our likes, our dislikes, our preferences, our tastes. Worship is about giving God, who is worthy of all praise, glory upon glory, praise upon praise. When we gather as a diverse community it is our responsibility and honor to make sure that all who are gathered can find avenues by which they can do just that with integrity and passion.
And just as God is attentive to our whole lives, we are also called to worship with our whole lives, even when we are away from this place. Worship isn’t the order we follow on Sunday morning or Wednesday night or any other time we gather as the people of God. Worship is what happens anytime and every time we please God by living wholly and completely as the children we have been called to be. Worship is when we tell God and show God our gratitude for the grace we have been given, not just with the words that come from our lips, but with the actions that come from our lives. Worship is when we praise God for an abundance of blessings by using those blessings for purposes God desires.
Living as the best parent or child we can be is worshiping God. Using the talents we have been given to their fullest is worshiping God. Enjoying the creation around us, caring for it with love and attention, working to heal it and protect as agents of Christ is worshiping God. Delighting in the care and company of others is worshiping God. Being attentive to the whispering of the Spirit in times of solitude and quiet is worshiping God.
Worship, for the people of God, is at the heart of what we do, both inside these walls and beyond them. Worship is our number one call in life. May all that we do and all that we say be our worship of God, our way of giving thanks for God’s sovereign grace and mercy.