Sunday, June 11, 2017

Jesus Loves the Little Children

Dianne Hudnall, a founding member of Blue Bucket Books, reads to 3-year-olds at LaPetite Academy.

Best-selling author Robert Fulghum says all he really needs to know he learned in kindergarten. That’s where he learned the really important lessons of life, things like: share everything, play fair, wash your hands before you eat, say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody, flush, and warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.[i]

And Karl Barth, the famous theologian who opposed both liberalism and Adolf Hitler, wrote four volumes in 12 parts. Each was 500 to 700 pages long.[ii] But, when a student asked him to summarize what he believed, Barth replied, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”[iii]

Sometimes the deepest truths are expressed in the simplest of ways.

It’s been said that the Bible is a love story. It is the story of God’s amazing love for all of humanity. That message has been summed up in another great song that many of us learned in Sunday School: “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.”

We see that clearly at the end of Matthew’s gospel. The way Matthew tells the story, the eleven have HEARD about the resurrection of Jesus, but they have not yet SEEN him. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had gone to the tomb, but instead of tending to the dead body of our Lord, they encountered an angel who told them the most amazing story. “Jesus has risen from the dead! Look and see for yourself. He’s not there. Now go tell the others. Tell them to go to Galilee. Jesus will meet them there.”

So the two women hurried away. They were afraid, but they were also filled with joy! Could it be true? Was Jesus really alive? If so, what did it mean? They ran to tell the others, but, all of a sudden, Jesus was right there with them! The women went to him, and they bowed down to worship him, grabbing at his feet, as if they were afraid he might leave them again! But Jesus tells them not to be afraid. “Go!” he says. “Go and tell the others. Tell them to go to Galilee. They will see me there.”

So the women swallowed their fear, and they went and told the 11 exactly what Jesus had told them to say.

And, sure enough, the 11 go to Galilee, and Jesus is there! As soon as they see him, the 11 begin to worship, even though some of them aren’t quite sure what to believe about this resurrection story. And who can blame them? It is quite a tale! But they could not deny the truth that Jesus was right there in front of their very eyes. And that was all the reason they needed to worship!

I imagine the temptation would have been great for them to just stay there. With Jesus. Up on that mountain. Praying and praising God. Up there where it was safe. Just the 11 and Jesus. Just the way it used to be. But Jesus had other plans. “Go!” he said. “Go and make disciples.” And not just there in Galilee. At home with the folks they knew and liked and trusted. Jesus sent the 11 out into the world! To EVERY nation.

“Teach everyone,” he said. Young and old. Rich and poor. Male and female. Jew and Gentile. Teach your friends and your enemies. Teach those who are like you and those who are nothing like you. Teach those who believe what you believe and those who don’t believe ANYTHING you believe. Teach everyone. ALL nations. Everyone.

Truly, Jesus loves ALL the little children of the world! And you know what? Dianne Hudnall does, too.

Dee taught young children for about 39 years! Can you imagine 39 years in a classroom full of 20 little wiggly, giggly livewires? I can’t! I’d go nuts! But Dee says, “I found my niche. I knew that’s where I needed to be.”

She began her career as a first-grade teacher in Arkansas, but, when her family moved to Memphis, Dee focused her attention on pre-schoolers. She had a real gift for working with children from other nations.

Over the course of her career, Dee taught children from 26 different countries. When she would find out that a new child was coming, Dee would get material from the child’s native land so that, when he walked into the classroom, he felt like he was home. For instance, if a child was coming from China, Dee displayed Chinese newspapers and chopsticks and books about pandas. One year, Dee was assigned a child from Korea, so she got someone to come read to the class in Korean. What Dee created for her students was not a classroom in America. It was their classroom.

As a result of her efforts, Dee received the Diversity Teacher of the Year Award from Nick Jr. The following year, she was chosen from a group of 2000 teachers to receive the Diversity Champion Award.

But more important than accolades is the impact that Dee had on each child’s life. Most of her students did not speak English. Many had not even HEARD English, but, after one month in Dianne’s classroom, they would jump in her arms and say, “My Dee!” She loved them, and they loved her. She earned their trust and respect and their hearts.

Dee taught them many things. She taught them to be patient and respect each other. She taught them to FOLLOW rules and to APPRECIATE rules. She even taught them that learning can be fun!

But, most importantly, Dee taught them about God. It was a secular school, so Dee could not teach Bible stories, but she taught them about the Creator when she helped them see the beauty and power of creation. Together, they raised butterflies from caterpillars and petted a lynx and admired a boa constrictor and played with a big box turtle and hopped around like frogs! They hugged trees and picked up litter because Miss Dee told them that, if we want the earth to be happy, it’s up to us to take care of it.

Dee taught them about Jesus when she loved them and took care of them and helped them find ways to love and care for others. Every child in Dee’s class was paired with a buddy, and they helped each other. And Dee taught her students about logical consequences. If you stack big boxes on top of little boxes, they will all fall down. Likewise, if a student was in a play center and argued with other kids in that area, he had to leave the center until he could play well with others. Dee also taught her students to recognize other people’s feelings, which is the first step in meeting people’s needs.

So Dee taught her students about God and about Jesus, and, though they may not have known it at the time, Dee also taught her kids about the Holy Spirit. She was not allowed to talk about religion, but she always wore a big cross necklace, and, any time a child asked about it, Dee knew the Holy Spirit had given her an opportunity to talk about God, and she took it!

Dee’s openness to the Spirit encouraged others to follow God’s leading. One year, the classroom mouse died, and one of the students led a funeral for it. Then on 9-11, that same girl went into the playhouse and started praying for everyone who was hurt. Many of the other children heard the girl praying, and they climbed into the playhouse and joined in.

Go! Jesus says. Go and make disciples of ALL nations. Make disciples of them. Teach them about Jesus. Lead them to commit their lives to Christ. Train them to follow the teachings of Jesus. Give them the tools they need to grow in faith. Teach them about all about God. Help them see God at work in the world. Teach them to love and serve others, especially those with special needs. And, when you see the Holy Spirit at work, call it to the attention of others so they can learn to sense God’s presence, too. Go, Jesus says! Go! Don’t be afraid. You can do it.

But we aren’t all called to be teachers. Some of us are not very good with kids at all! And that’s okay. There are lots of different ways to make disciples.

Pamela Lappen makes disciples in Las Vegas by leading dance classes for people with Parkinson’s disease.[iv]

And the people of Northwoods UM Church in Jacksonville, North Carolina, are making disciples by hosting a monthly dinner for men and women whose spouses are deployed in the armed forces.[v]

And, during hot summer months, members of City on a Hill UM Church in Woodstock, GA, make disciples by placing bottles of cold water and a note of thanks for their mail carriers every Monday.[vi]

We make disciples whenever we share the love of God with others. And there are as many ways to share God’s love as there are people in the world who need it.

Go, Jesus says! Go and make disciples! Don’t be afraid. You can do it. I will be with you. Always.

“Go, make of all disciples.” We hear the call, O Lord,

That comes from thee, our Father, in thy eternal Word.

Inspire our ways of learning through earnest, fervent prayer,

And let our daily living reveal thee everywhere.[vii]

[i] Robert Fulghum. “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things.” New York: Ballantine Books, 1986.
[ii] “Karl Barth: Courageous theologian.” Written by the staff of Christianity Today. Published at Copyrighted 2017 by Christianity Today. Accessed June 10, 2017.
[iii] Trevin Wax. “Top 5 Christian Theologians: Karl Barth.” Published August 22, 2008 at https://blogs/ Accessed June 10, 2017.
[iv] Christine Kumar. “Dancing with Parkinson’s.” Interpreter Magazine. January-February 2017. Published online at Accessed June 10, 2017.
[v] Christine Kumar. “Military families support one another. Interpreter Magazine. November-December 2016. Published online at Accessed June 10, 2017.
[vi] “Cold water for mail carriers” published on The Interpreter Magazine website at Copyright 2017 United Methodist Church. Accessed June 10, 2017.
[vii] Leon M. Adkins and Henry T. Smart. “Go Make of All Disciples.” The United Methodist Hymnal. Nashville: The United Methodist Church, 1989. 571.

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