I met him during my first summer at the historic downtown church where I was appointed. Located in a bankrupt California City, the demographics had changed, and the neighborhood was now living well below the poverty line. The congregation had began re-engaging with their neighbors two-years prior. That summer, over 100 neighborhood children showed up for VBS, not but because of the program, but because we fed them dinner.
I really struggled with the Kindergarteners that year. Some 25 unruly kids using language that had some church women blushing. Caesar was a Kindergartner that I had been warned about. He was a terror all week. He came up to me on Thursday, his clay pot in hand, with a mustard seed planted during science time. Caesar said, “Look pastor, this is how you smoke crack.” He then pretended to light up. My heart broke as I thought, this kid has no chance.
Friday, Caesar came up to me, wrapped his arms around my legs in a big hug, and with a huge smile said, “Thank you pastor. This has been the best week of my life.” He immediately proceeded to run across the room and punch another child in the face.
Each year, for the next 6 years, Caesar would show up at the church for the one week during VBS. It was the same story every year. At the end of the 7th year, he had aged out of the program and there was a literal sigh of relief from some volunteers, with one woman saying, “I’m glad we’ll never see that monster again.”
While most of us won’t teach a 5-year-old how to smoke crack. Each of us can become a stumbling block to someone as we use words that demean and can wound. Our judgmental attitudes and body language are palpable signs of rejection. We say we love everyone… but not that one, and they sense it. Who have you been a stumbling block to? Who do you need to confess to and seek forgiveness from this Lent?
It was the following Easter Sunday, that a young teenager walked into the sanctuary about an hour before worship, came up to me and in a gentle voice said, Pastor, do you remember me? I said yes, thinking to my-self, who could forget you. He looked around and said, I’ve missed this place. Would it be ok if I come to worship today? He became part of the church youth group and the following summer, helped run the media for our VBS.
A seed had been planted. The Prevenient Grace of God had been at work in this boy’s life. In fact, 6 years of seeds had been planted and the seed had turned into a bush which might someday become a tree. I spent time that week in repentance for my attitude, but my heart with filled with joy, humbled in remembering that the Christ of Easter was resurrected for him also.
Luke 17:1-6 Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves. “If your brother or sister[a] sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.
Rev. David McGlocklin is the pastor at Cheatum Memorial United Methodist Church in Edgewood, Texas. If you are ever in the area, David and his congregation would love to have you stop by to worship with them.
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