While trying to go to sleep last night this story started writing (and continued rewriting over the next hour or so) itself in my head. Which is really frustrating when one is overtired and has to preach in the morning. But I thought I would share it...if I can still remember it that is.... It seemed very profound at 1:00 in the morning.
One Sunday morning the Sunday School teacher came to the minister and said: "Fred, you are needed downstairs. Sally is upset about something and refuses to come up until she talks to you."
Fred sighed. Sally was one of the more consistent children in the Sunday School. She was known to be a bright, witty, caring child. She was also known to be moody, strong-willed, and prone to temper tantrums when she did not get her way. He excused himself from the coffee table and made his way down to the Sunday School room.
Walking in, he found Sally sitting on the floor, tears in her eyes. Lowering himself to sit beside her he asked: "What's wrong this morning?"
Sally turned to him and whispered: "I think God is mad at me....I'm bad....I'm not doing what Jesus wants me to do"
Theologically and philosphically Fred knew that he wanted to say that no God was not mad at Sally. But Fred had spent more than a little time around children, and Fred knew Sally. Sometimes it was important to get a few more details. Who knew what was coming next. So he asked quietly: "What do you mean Sally?"
"Well this morning you told us that story about Jesus telling his followers to give God what belongs to God," Fred nodded, "and last week you told us that God made everything and so everything belongs to God." Fred nodded again, trying to understand where this was going. "Well that would mean I have to give everything in my piggy bank to God and I don't want to do that! I want to buy my mom a birthday present! And so I'm not doing what Jesus wants me to do and God is mad at me!" Sally burst into tears and threw herself into Fred's arms.
They sat like that for a bit. And nobody watching Fred comfort the sobbing child would know how hard he was trying not to laugh. Finally he ended the hug and looked Sally square in the face. "Sally, I want to tell you that you are not bad and God is not mad at you. In fact I think God is very happy with you." Sally looked confused. "Can I tell you a story?" She nodded.
"Okay the story in a moment but first I want to thank you for paying such close attention to the stories we talk about in church. And it is also good that you want to buy your mom a present. Do you remember the end of the story last week?"
"You mean when God created people?"
"That's right. God created people in God's image. What does that mean?"
"It means that is some way we are all like God"
Fred nodded. "Good remembering. I want you to remember that as I tell my story. Okay?" Sally nodded. "Good. Now one of the stories Jesus told was about the end of time. He said that God would gather all the people who had done good things together and say 'Thank you. Thank you for all the times I was hungry and you gave me food, or I was lonely and you visited me, or I had no clothes and you gave me some.' Then all those people got confused and asked 'When did we do that?;' and God answered 'Whenever you did it for someone else you did it for me.' Do you know why I am telling you this story?"
Sally was quiet for a moment. Then said: "I'm not sure, but I think it has something to do with my piggy bank"
Fred smiled, "yes it does. But first let's talk about your piggy bank. I bet each week your mom and dad either give you some money or ask you to bring some money from your piggy bank for the offering right?" Sally nodded. "And you think that because everything you have comes from God you should share all of it with God right?" She nodded again. "But you want to use some of your money to buy your mom a present?" Sally hesitated, then smiled and nodded. "And I bet that you want to use some of that money to buy something for Sally." Sally grinned. "Well that is all okay."
Sally looked at him for a moment. "Are you sure?"
"Sally, who made you?"
And who made your mom?""
"And both you and your mom are made in whose image?"
"Now think about my story. If you do something nice for your mom, it is just like doing something nice for...."
Sally grinned: "GOD! And so buying a present for my mom is another way I share what I have with God?"
Fred smiled back. "I believe it is Sally. I believe it is. And Sally there is one more thing I want you to remember. God loves you. God always loves you. Got it?"
Sally's smile was all the answer Fred could ask for.
"Great, now let's go upstairs and see if there are any cookies left...."