Happy Mother’s Day Message

I was pondering not putting this message on the blog, but I guess…. First off, I messed up the scriptures when I went to put the message together. I was in II Peter rather than I Peter as the lectionary suggested. Next I may have talked about my own family in ways that might not be appealing to all. Fortunately I tend to go off script, so what is here was not exactly what they heard. Let’s just say we had a jovial time again this morning and most of it was because I shared the truth about my own life. May you find some spark of truth and a real message in this, mixed up as it might be.

The scriptures for today were listed as: Acts 7:55-60, I Peter 2:1-10 (actually based it on II Peter 2:1-10) and John 14:1-14. Our title was, “Honoring Mothers.”

Let’s just start with what to me was the obvious oxymoron here today. When I opened up the desk calendar in the office and looked at the lectionary suggestions, I was a little stunned. I don’t understand fully how the powers that be don’t do some coordinating between the secular calendar year and the scriptures of the lectionary. This is Mother’s Day for goodness sakes and the scripture lessons somehow don’t seem to have anything at all to do with anything about honoring your mother. The verses in the gospel of John are more likely to be something you would hear at a funeral, and the writings in I Peter are instructions to tell Christians how to keep away from those who would lead you astray and the story in Acts is just too gruesome to even think about. Stephen who was not even one of the inner circle of disciples in his zeal to share the story of Christ ends up as the first martyr when a mob stones him while Saul AKA Paul watches in approval.

Actually, one of the first times I ever used the John 14 verses at a funeral was at Verna Schock’s, and I thought I was going to NOT like the one daughter-in-law very much. I wanted to read verses 1-6 or even to 7, but she told me I had to stop at verse 3. Interestingly as I was checking the “sermon seeds” in my email for this week, the write-up mentioned that too many people take this passage and only focus on verse 6. So, it got me to looking at the whole thing, especially the opening a bit closer. And there it is in the opening three verses, we hear those final words, the final instructions that Jesus is giving to his disciples before he leaves them, and here is where we can begin to realize the thread between these stories and this celebration of mothers.

First off before we go any further with this, let’s just stop and remember that in some of our past discussions, I have noticed that our wider church is more likely to set today as a celebration of the family, not just the mothers. Personally, I am ok with having a day for Mothers and another for Fathers. It gives a second opportunity for children to be guilted into remembering all the things their parents have ever done for them. I mean really in some homes everyday is children’s day. I am pretty sure if you check with my oldest two daughters that was not the case at our house, at least not where I was involved. But on the other hand they will be sure to tell you that things changed when the third one came along. Let me just say the jury is still out on how things will work for them with their children. For now I am noticing that there is little to no grown up television or movies to be seen when you enter their homes, and even Jessica has started checking in with cartoon channels while she is feeding and rocking one of the twins. Not so much at Grandma’s house.

One more personal note then I will get back to the lessons from the scriptures. This past Thursday I found a pair of matching coffee mugs that I just had to buy for those two “slighted” daughters. The writing on the side said, “Sometimes when I open my mouth, my mother comes out.” I believe they will notice that more and more as they age, whether they like it or not, many of us have been there for me it is more and more each day.

So what is the thread of Motherhood and mothers that comes from these scripture lessons. The one in second Peter could almost be compared to a mother lecturing her teenager as he or she is walking out the door. Last night was prom in Linton and we drove up to watch grand march. We attended somewhat because my niece Elisabeth was in it since her boyfriend is from there, and we also went as coaches just to let them know we are aware of where they are and that we are thinking of them. There were no lectures in practice on Friday, but plenty on Monday when they had their Jr/Sr banquet and that is sometimes reason for concern.

Some people might think that children/teenagers should be allowed to make their own decisions and especially their own mistakes. I would rather go along with the words of Peter as he spoke to the early Christians telling them about the false teachers that will try to infiltrate them, and how God was not so lenient with the angels who rose up against heaven, and even the story about the days of Noah and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Yes, God is a loving God, but as Peter points out, those incidences of rebellion and disregard for God’s laws were not tolerated. And we probably all know well that Mothers, too have their limits, and when they set them it is with the safety and well being of their children in mind.

Now of the three passages we read today, I think the text in John is the easiest to relate to the actions and the love of a mother. This chapter is part of that long narrative in John about the final night Jesus is with the disciples before he is betrayed and arrested. Chapter 13 begins with Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, then there is the last supper and in this chapter Jesus tells his disciples that he is going back to his father’s house to prepare a place for them. What a wonderful promise. He was going back to his home, to get a place ready for them and then he promises to return again to bring them to that house to live with him. Now it didn’t happen immediately and not all at once, but in their order each of the disciples was welcomed home to the place that was prepared just for them. And the great thing about this story is that it is meant for each of us in just that same way.

Let’s stop and think about this for a minute. How many of us have gotten our homes ready for someone to come and stay? At our place it becomes a major operation, especially at this time of year when the dust has piled so high on some of the shelves that I can write my name in them, then there are the dust bunnies who are big enough and old enough to be named and demand pet beds, and we won’t even discuss the windows. My mother used to tell me she always knew my house because it was the only one on the block whose windows were not washed.

We will likely have all the children at our place for a short time in June and I am already getting nervous about how we will get everyone into a room let alone into a bed that isn’t piled high with junk. I have to admit that my grand plan to eliminate some of the clutter from the house around the time of Lent fell by the way side after the first bag went out the door. Hopefully this summer there will be a little more cooperation from my hoarder self on this business of letting go.

Considering the sort of preparation we as humans go through to invite someone to a stay over visit, or the act of helping someone move into a new or different home, it is sort of hard to consider Christ telling us that he is going to prepare a place for us to live. This really doesn’t strike me as God’s work, to provide a home for us, yet that is what Jesus promises. “If it were not so, would I have told you…” If we as human parents stress and fuss and work to provide a place for our children to come to stay or even help them to find a spot to live, how much more do you suppose Christ has worked to provide a home for us, a place for us to join him in paradise?

Now the story from Acts almost seems like it should just be ignored in this discussion about honoring our mothers. How can we possibly see any sort of nurturing, mothering, loving story in this horrible account of a group of people turning into a mob that stones a man to death, and what about the man who stands quietly by holding their coats and allows them to do it? The horror of it just seems too much to even think about. The thread here comes from the words of Stephen as he is being stoned when he looks to the heavens and prays, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” His final words were much like those of Jesus who in his final words said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is the same sort of love that mothers have for their children.

OK, yes there are times when we want to shake our fist and give them the Peanuts gang version of Lucy, “I will give you five reasons” and there are those exceptions of mothers who are more involved with things that are harmful–alcohol and drug abuse and such, but when you think of a loving and a caring, nurturing mother, you hear the same sort of words that Jesus and Stephen used in forgiving the mobs.

Mothers and fathers both want what is best for their children. They want a life that is better than the one they had, but the best that any of us can give our children is the story of Christ’s love for us. I am sure we would all agree that the best we can do for our children is not just to give them our love, but to give them the opportunity to share in God’s love.

And if any of you have not had a call or a card or a notice from someone today, let me say to all of you Happy Mother’s Day from me. In looking up the word mother I found such definitions as a woman exercising control, influence or authority, someone who is the origin, source or protector, to that I would add someone who nurtures or cares for another, regardless of gender. As I look around our congregation, I see, so many examples of ways we act as those descriptions for each other and it doesn’t matter our gender. Maybe that is who we are as a congregation, maybe that is what it means to be the church for each other. As we leave today on this beautiful Mothers’ Day, let’s remember to be that person who loves others just as Jesus did. And let’s reach out to others as our mothers would reach out to us. Amen!

Love for all, Earth Sunday

The scripture lessons for our Earth Sunday message were: Acts 11:1-18, Revelation 21:1-6 and John 13:31-35. The title is above.

Sample of one of the pictures from the Earth Day power point.

Sample of one of the pictures from the Earth Day power point.

We started the message today with pictures of nature, sunrises, sunsets, animals, flowers garden produce, and it was all in an effort to make us think about the earth that we live on, the world we are a part of. Hopefully those pictures were esthetically pleasing. Hopefully they gave you joyful thoughts. Hopefully they were the sort of pictures that make you want to care for the earth and all that lives and grows on it because in reality, that is essentially what we were created to do. At least that is how I interpret the creation story from the first chapter of Genesis, we, humankind, are to take care of the earth and all that is in it and that is quite a responsibility.    So, my interpretation of this earth loving, tree hugging sort of thing is tied a bit to the words of Jesus that we read in John, but I want to save talking about them until a little later.

The scripture lesson we had from the book of Acts, today, tells us a story about Peter being the disciple who went out and shared the good news of Jesus with the Gentiles. This word, Gentiles, originally was a word that meant nations. But when God made the covenant with Abraham and his offspring and they separated away from others, the term Gentiles came to mean those who were not descended from Abraham. The break came mostly because the others worshiped idols and so were not part of God’s chosen race.

In this story, in the vision and the actions of Peter, we see that God has opened the door of salvation through Jesus for all people. In his vision when Peter sees all of the different animals that the Jewish people considered unclean, animals they were forbidden to eat the flesh of, and the angel’s voice told him to eat of it, the meaning is that Peter was to go to the Gentiles and proclaim the story of Jesus, to teach about Jesus death and resurrection and to baptize even the Gentiles into the salvation that Jesus brought to earth. For us this is great news because it means that this story is not just for the Jewish people and not just for the people in the time of Jesus, but it is for all nations at all times, and it is for us. But I kind of sort of think, we already knew that before today. This story in Acts is nothing new for those of us sitting here today.

So, what about the next scripture? The nearly last chapter in the book of Revelation talks about a new heaven and a new earth. For those who are…oh what do we call them, Apocalyptic thinkers, this is a great chapter. You know what I mean, those who look at the events of the world and throw up their hands saying the end is near. The fact is, it doesn’t matter which time you are in, there is always something that points us to the end times. There is and was and always will be something going on in the world that is so bad it can indicate we are near the end. The truth is we don’t know when the real end is, and so we have to live in the here and now. We need to live as if there is a tomorrow, and that what we do today matters for that tomorrow.

Something about this reminds me of a sitcom, I think it was an episode of Becker, the test results of a patient were mixed up and this man thought he had end stage cancer and only had a few weeks to live. He ended up quitting his job, spending all of his money, getting rid of everything he had only to find out that the lab had mixed up the papers and he had something minor, and now he was basically out on the streets with nothing. This scripture lesson should not put us in that sort of mindset.

What it should tell us is that God cares. Besides the lesson about the someday, the eventually time when this world ends as we know it, there is the hope and the lesson that God is more than just a creator who sits back and allows things to play out on their own, or at the least just watches what happens to us. Verse 3 says that a voice came from the throne saying that God’s dwelling place, God’s home is with mortals, with us. And later in verse 4 it repeats the words we heard last week, the words that assure us God cares for us. It says again, that God will wipe away the tears from our eyes. If that doesn’t mean God cares, I am not sure what does.

And so we turn to the message for the day, the words from John’s gospel. This lesson today is the final commandment that Jesus left for the disciples, the commandment to love one another as he loved them. One of the readings I looked at for this week pointed out that the sort of love Jesus was talking about was not just the difference between the types of love you have for a spouse vs. love for a child, or other family member or friend, and on and on. The difference in that reading was between the act or feeling of love and the action of love.

According to the writer, Jesus was talking about way more than the feeling of love that we might have for each other whether in a friendship way or a family way or a romantic way. The word love in this commandment is not how you feel about someone, but how you agree or decide to act toward someone. Jesus commandment says we are To Love one another. Love, then become not just a feeling or a thing, but a commitment to a way of behaving.

Let me share one paragraph from the book…How can we love as Christ has loved us? How can this love be so evident in our lives that those around us will know we belong to God? (Song we just sang…”They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love”) When it comes down to it, this is where our faith really becomes tangible. When love becomes a commitment, it produces actions in our lives. It means going that extra yard to do something for someone, taking the time to talk with someone and work through tensions and problems. It means not giving up when we don’t get our way, but learning to live with differences ( The Minister’s Annual Manual 1994-1995 pg. 370).

[What an amazing idea, imagine if all our national politicians acted this way]

Jesus commanded us to love one another, and that doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything that someone else says or does, but it is a matter of concern and compassion and grace and at the least civil respect. What is that saying, you tell children when you aren’t pleased with what is going on, “I don’t like what you are doing, but I love you.”?

Love is a commitment. Love as Jesus commanded it doesn’t turn and run or give up at the first sign of trouble. This is true in a marriage, a parent-child relationship, a friendship, the church fellowship, really a partnership of any kind. If we love as Christ, loved we are willing and able to work through many problems and issues.

And then we come to a couple of recent readings from our devotional booklet, The Upper Room. I was struck this week by the reading on Thursday and Saturday. The message on Thursday gives us great reassurance and what I would almost call relief, as we read that love is more than something we are expected to do. Love is what God does, and because God loves us, we are then able to love others. Love doesn’t start with us, it starts with God. One line in particular says, “…endless, abounding, overflowing and incredible supply.” This makes me think of the spring of the water of life mentioned in Revelation. This particular devotional even mentions God as the Alpha and the Omega. Again, I am thinking less and less that these things are coincidences.

The reading for Saturday talks about how children in a kindergarten class go about learning their calendar lessons. The class described was one of caring and encouragement. The children were taught to clap when their classmates answered correctly and to encourage when they couldn’t remember and to help the others to learn the correct answer. The writer used this lesson to remind us that we are to encourage others in their growth and learning as Christians. As the church we are not the judge and jury, we are the examples and teachers and leaders.

This brings me to the person story for the day. It is from one of our track meets this past week. We went to Fessenden, ND on Tuesday. If you remember Tuesday morning, we work to a good amount of fog. It was misting on and off most of the morning. We kept waiting for the call that the meet was off, but it didn’t come, and when we loaded the bus around noon, the sun was shining in Linton, and the wind had died out, and we thought it would be a great day.  By the time we hit the interstate and got to Steele and started heading north, the fog was back. James was having fun trying to keep the windshield from fogging over while maneuvering around curves on a road that was without shoulders. It was a fun trip, let me say. Anyway when we got there, we found the track was indeed surrounded by mature trees, so any wind there wasn’t really a factor, and that was nice. But the setting sort of reminded me of the story, Bridge to Terabithia, because there were footbridges from the track to the field events. None of that is really important to my point; it is just a picture for you.

At this meet, we finally had our new team t-shirts, and while we were waiting for an event to start, a lady came up to the girl beside me and asked if she could take a picture of the saying on the back of the shirt. I hadn’t really thought about the saying much, but we were all impressed that she liked it until she told us why she liked it. She wanted it to laugh about how some of the people of her church acted. [picture of shirt or shirt] The back of the shirt says, “We are not here to take part, we are here to take over.”

Now, this might be a great attitude for an athletic team who wants to be the big winners, but this is not really a great attitude for a group of people out to share the love of Jesus with the world. Christ’ love is not about being the winners; it is about winning others to Christ’s love. It is about loving.

And finally one last thing, though we have not spent the entire message talking about the earth in an Earth Sunday sort of way, I believe that the love Jesus commands of us reaches beyond the bounds of human beings. If we really love as Christ loved, we are also caretakers of the earth. Living in the type of communities we have in our area, I am not sure how we can be earth haters, though I am sure there is something we can all do to ensure that those after us continue to have the sort of lifestyle we have.

If you follow some of the news from the national office and from around the area, there is an effort to protest fossil fuels, and the new pipeline coming through the area and probably other things too. Those are all things we may have opinions about perhaps even mixed opinions. To paraphrase my son-in-law he says he understands all that people are against and why, but he also says, “just let me get my student loans paid off, then I will hug any and all trees that need hugging.” Sadly that is where we all are on some of these issues. How do we balance our needs to the needs of the future?

How do we fulfill Jesus commandment to love one another as he loved us? How do we love as a commitment instead of as a feeling? The answer is that we draw from the love that God gives to us, and we keep going back to that well on a daily basis and in Christian fellowship. Let’s make sure to drink deeply from that well this week, Amen!

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