Only in Greece, we learned on Sunday, should one teach a children's sermon involving Greek words. In celebration of Pentecost (or perhaps just coincidentally), a new banner hung at the front of the church, a golden cloth with the word "agape" written on it. When the pastor asked the kids (who were apparently totally wired for the day) what it said, there were several fumbled answers, followed by one very bright girl who replied, "it says agape" (as in, my mouth hung agape as I watched him try to teach Greek to tots). After informing them of its true pronunciation, he moved on to ask them what language it was:
No. (but great guess, eh?)
(Too much laughter to allow for a no.)
He finally gave up and just told them it was Greek.
His eventual goal, you see, was for them to know that agape love is how we are to love one another, and that it is a different kind of love from loving our toys. This in itself almost backfired when he asked a little girl if she loved her mom more than her plastic pony. No, the little girl told us quite plainly, she did not. Then, within a few sentences, the pastor managed to mention the word candy, and it was a total loss from there. At one point, he actually looked out at us and asked with a smile, "What would you do right now if you were me?" When the kids finally left to go to Sunday school, he laughed with us about how unpredictable children's sermons can be. But before moving on, he paused, and his face turned thoughful and serious; "Thank God," he proclaimed, "that things don't always go as planned. Thank God that he surprises us." We were all struck by it, and I realized that sometimes the children's sermon ends up being for the adults, too.
In the sermon, he bravely spoke about hip hop music to a crowd of small town (and partly grey haired) mountain folks. "You may not listen to it," he said, "but your children and grandchildren do." He talked of the typical hip hop protagonist, the "player", and how our disdain for such characters is somewhat compromised by our own likeness to them. We, too, he challenged, find ourselves characterized by manipulating things to our own pleasure, our own ends. Disciples, he reminded us, are to be odd, to be different. We are not to fit the cultural mold of self-satisfying players, and yet we so often do. He quoted Flannery O'Connor: "Then you will know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd."
As he finished, his final sentence almost echoed: "Now I say to you, players, may the disturbance of Christ be with you." The weight of his words lingered for a moment as music began to play and the service moved on.
Bill came in late and sat right behind us (a friend joined me this week). "Just in time," he said out loud as the offering plate came his way. He told us later that he had rushed back from Breckenridge (where he had gone to see a grandson graduate) and hadn't quite had time to put on his "church duds". He showed us the cane that his son gave him in an effort to make him walk less hunched over. Turning it upside down and taking a golf stance, he grinned and explained to us that it would be better used as a putter. Inside, I was smiling at the joy of his company.
Agape. I sensed it from Bill that morning, and I sensed it in the pastor's words. It came through in the many hi's and glad to see you's. I'm sure it was present over the coffee I didn't have time to stick around for. That place, that little church in Green Mountain Falls, is full of agape--enough to leave your mouth agape.