How often as a father was I “invited” to a tea party from a young child. Either squatting in tiny plastic chairs, or sitting on the floor … receiving with thanks a plate either empty or with non-edible plastic food … an empty cup and saucer to be slurped noisily and with appreciation … and the table conversation with inanimate objects who (in that setting) were the child’s talking and breathing friends …
I, as the provider of the real food, the life-giving sustenance, the taken-for-granted fuel of life that same child consumed daily without a thought … The same provider of all this child received and expected, desired and craved, refused and cried if not exactly as they wanted …
Here was I partaking of a meal devoid of any of that.
A representation I happily joined as many times as invited. For I was the guest of honour. The one to whom this was all being given back. I was being given everything this child had – themselves in that moment – and they wanted me to be at the centre.
I have that same sense of a child’s tea party as I read these verses. And, for the first time in a long time, “get” anew much of the rituals of church service, the elaborate scripts of worship, the emptiness of so much of the ritual of giving – it is not the product, it is the intent … the desire … the invitation.
And something more than that … “(as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’)” … priorities.
I remember our firstborn male. Our “line” was assured. Our genetics were assured. Our eternity was assured. Not as formally or as consciously as I can now write – but “that” was all there in the moment I first knew our firstborn was a boy. And here the words: “holy to the Lord” – that relationship made physical and forever. A tangible and real connection of creation. Not a bad law – but a law given of love.
And as I sit here remembering our own firstborn, other verses come to mind: the widow and her mite. Another imaginary tea party. Another real invitation and offering. The physical and tangible “stuff” being irrelevant. The inner (and real) love being the key to life.
And then back to these verses: “And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.”
For the love we have for our child means our child can do no wrong. Our love means our child is always perfect (even when the evidence tells us he is not). Even as we discipline that child … even when we tear our hair out … our child is perfect and loved. Yet to hear others elevate this child, to hear plaudits rained down on our child’s head … ?
THAT was always a “wow moment”. And just like us – for Mary and Joseph too. Even though they “knew” – Jesus was still their perfect loved child – disciplined and a regular frustration – just like any child.
Which leads me to relationship. Above all to relationship. And another thought.
Relationship breaks the rules. There is no back to front, right way or wrong way, right way up or wrong way up … relationship IS relationship. Relationship is living and changing. Relationship IS alive.
Except that is not what I was taught about God and Jesus.
I was taught that God and Jesus owned me. That I was a servant and sinner. That I was forgiven – but NOT by grace freely given. I was forgiven ONLY when I believe I needed to be forgiven (and forgiven and …).
But what if I never think that? What if I never believe I am a sinner? What if I believe God Soft Hands Jesus and I have become best buds … perfect soul mates … eternally connected … ? What if getting dunked in water (or even sprinkled as a token) has no appeal or relevance to “us” …
What if the pretend tea party of religion with a corporate script has no sincerity for me?
Will you accept my “offering” – will God … ? And will you accept me … ?
Because these verses also come to mind: “The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.”
I think at every pretend tea party … every faith …
It’s all about relationship.