Thursday, September 23, 2004

What I Learned at Vacation Bible School

In the summer of '89 I was Jesus for nine hours.

It was our congregation’s first attempt at a “Living Vacation Bible School”, three nights, three hours a night of full dress re-enactments of Bible times and gospel stories. Allan and I were asked to write the scripts for several of the stage plays. I was invited to play the part of Jesus. I was flattered and not just a bit proud. Allan and I had great fun writing the plays then seeing them come to life in rehearsals.

But as we worked on the scripts and the day approached there was something that began to weigh heavily within me. The gravity of what we were trying to say and what I was trying to show about Jesus became more and more a solemn, sacred consideration to me. I had set out to instruct and convict an audience, but as usual I ended up not teaching as much as being taught and not convicting as much as being convicted myself.

As I struggled with how to portray Jesus it finally became clear to me that the big question was not really, “What am I going to teach these people about Jesus?” It all came down to one thing really: I, who had professed to know Jesus, had to put it on the line… Do I know Him well enough to be like Him? Can I be an imitator or Christ or just an impersonator who happens to look like the stereotype of the way people think He looked? (See the picture taken at the VBS….) Will anyone be convinced? I knew deep inside of me that no matter how good we were at putting words in actors mouths, the words would still betray Jesuss if I didn’t know Him. And even if Allan and I were able to write a good script I knew it could not be played convincingly by someone with no heart for the character. So I went back to the Gospels again to see who Jesus is.

Something happens when you sit down and read the Gospels, not for doctrinal ammunition or to string verses together to make Paul and Jesus say the same thing, but to try to know Jesus, to answer the question “Who must I be to convince someone I am Jesus? What of ME has to go, what of Jesus is missing in me?”

So I was Jesus for nine hours. They were probably the most profound nine hours of my life. I came away humbled at how far short of being in His image I am. I came away humbled at the power there is in even the slightest, cheapest imitation of Him. I came away more in love with Him than ever. I knew something of me had died and by His mercy I was what I needed to be for those few hours, and by His mercy I could be what He wanted me to be for the rest of my life.

Here now are some lessons I learned at Vacation Bible School.

I was part of the auditorium plays. Everyone gathered there first. After the plays the children divided up and went to the learning centers in small groups. I stayed in my Jesus costume after the play was done and wandered around the buildings between class sessions. The kids would see me and yell, “Hey, Jesus!!” and waye. Some of them would give me a “high five” as they walked by. Some came up and held up their arms to be picked up and hugged. I played tag, picked up toddlers and turned them upside down and they shrieked with laughter “Do it again!” I let kids walk on the tops of my feet and walked to classes holding tiny hands.

I was sitting by one of the refreshment tables talking to some of the other cast when a line of children passed by. A small girl, maybe three years old, broke ranks and ran to me. She reached up and threw her arms around my neck and whispered “I love you Jesus.” Just as quickly, she ran back to her line and looking back at me, waved goodbye as they went in the building. Then it dawned on me. In their little minds I was Jesus. REALLY Jesus. This isn’t Steve Robinson they think they are playing with because most of them didn’t even know me. Besides, Steve doesn’t do this kind of things with kids. It hit me like a millstone: How I treat them and how they see me may influence how they see Jesus for the rest of their lives. I had to go sit alone for a few minutes.

I thought about what the kids were seeing that night. I thought about our “adult Sunday school Jesus” and how our grown up teaching about Jesus must impress our kids. I thought about how our “imitation of Christ” must make kids think about Jesus. I imagined it must be like Jesus and His disciples when they walked into town with Christ. The official apostolic motorcade rolling into town, sirens blaring, lights flashing, security all around. Clear the way for the Messiah, VIP coming through, no time for autographs and baby kissing.

And here come the kids. “HEY EVERYBODY ITS JESUS!!!”
Suddenly the disciples’ doctrine powered, dead serious messianic motorcade is surrounded by runny nosed rug rats and reduced to Romper Room. They are scandalized. Jesus, on the other hand is having a ball. The disciples stand back and try to look like they have serious matters to attend to. They stand off to the side, crossed arms wrapped tightly around their chests. They impatiently tap their sandals in the dirt, raising little puffs of dust. After all, someone has to give an air of dignity to this movement. If we look serious and perturbed enough maybe these parents and kids will get the message that we need to be moving along here, we have a mission to accomplish, we have Pharisees to debate at the synagogue in half an hour.
Finally one of them gets frustrated and begins shooing the kids away. “OK people, let’s go…Enough already… Jesus has some important things to do today…move along now…..”

Jesus is sitting in the dirt playing pat-a-cake and looks up at the disciples. He looks down at the ground and slowly shakes His head. He gets up slowly and shakes the dust from the back of His robe. He picks up a child and says, “Peter, James, John, Andrew…Come here you guys. Yeah, you… and the rest of you too.”

Jesus says, “You see this child? This is what the kingdom is all about. We are having a ball. You think this kid is worried about who is greatest, who’s best, who’s first, doctrinal debates, establishing kingdoms or whether or not you think they are qualified to play with me or not? Nope. All he knows is if he comes running to play with me there is no way I’m going to exclude him from the game. They know I’m the Life of the party. And you know what guys? If you ever say or do anything to change that in these little kids it will be better for you to have a millstone hung around your neck and be cast into the sea. And I’m dead serious……”

Jesus looks at Peter who looks like a whipped puppy now. He is looking at the ground digging small furrows in the dirt with his big toe. The others are rocking back and forth on their heels, trying to look nonchalant because all the parents are staring at them now. Jesus’ face grows somber with compassion and He reaches out and puts His hand on Peter’s broad, slumped shoulder. “Peter,” He says, “the Kingdom is so simple even kids can get it….. and Peter…..”

“Yes, Lord?” Peter slowly looks up at Jesus.

Jesus grins. “TAG! YOU’RE IT!!!” and runs away laughing, leading a pack of screeching kids.

That night I carried, hugged, tagged and high-fived to exhaustion.

Because that is how I think Jesus would have done it.


Elizabeth said...

hi s-p
I think you hit the nail *right* on the head.
This is truly wonderful.

MrIncredible said...

Hey. No more cutting and pasting. Write something original. =)