This is a sermon I preached at St Paul’s United Methodist in Carolina Beach, NC on May 10, 2015.
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.
As you all know, it’s Mother’s day – it is a day we celebrate the earthly heritage we received from not only our biological mother’s but also from our spiritual mothers – those women of faith that have lead us, encouraged us, and brought us to the place we are today!
For some of us this day is bittersweet as we mourn those who have left us here or those who never made their way here. Some are able to celebrate with those who sit next to them. And for some we will connect by telephone or travel later today or in the days to come.
I have been blessed in my life to have been mentored and mothered by a host of extraordinary women. I carry the lessons and the love of those women with me daily. So, I encourage you to not be bound by biology today but to think of the women in the whole body of Christ who have brought you to the family of God, celebrate them and thank them today.
As I was preparing for today the first verse reminded of a story I used to tell often, and I beg your indulgence to tell it to you today: In 1997 my parents were in an automobile accident. My sister and I had the unenviable task of burying our father while our mother was hospitalized. No doubt it is the hardest thing we have ever done in our lives. As we humans often do in horrific situations, I have held on to humorous moments from this time – like my youngest nephew, who was a young lad at the time and well-schooled by his grandmother, asking if the funeral home gave ‘senior discounts’.
While standing with my sister and her family as we stood in, for lack of a better word – a receiving line, to accept the condolence of people who are but a blur in my memory, a little old lady approached me and asked ‘are you a member of the family?’ My mouth opened to offer a “smart” reply about how I was just wandering by, had on a black suit and thought it would be fun to stand among the family members and hug too many people….instead, my mouth confirmed my lineage as Don and Libby’s youngest. Then to my surprise this stooped little old lady grabbed me in a bear hug Hulk Hogan would have envied and whispered gently in my ear how much she loved me. For me the story ended there….how funny someone would question who you were then claim their love seconds later.
A couple of years ago I made the mistake of telling this story within earshot of my mother. I received proper chastisement (because you’re never too old to be chastised by your mother) for thinking this was funny. But the words of my mother have stuck with me – she loved us, so of course she loved you!
To love the parent is to love the child!
I’ve heard Kathy Bordeaux tell several times how St Paul’s loved them before they arrived and how it was like coming home when they got here….because this church knows and loves Charles and Barbara – of course they loved Chuck and Kathy.
To love the parent is to love the child.
I dare say that none of us here today grew up with an perfect mother (or parent). Because mothers and parents are people they were flawed (although as a side note, the further my childhood is in the rear-view mirror the more nostalgic and idyllic it becomes). My parents may have been imperfect, but I have always been blessed, as you are, with the perfect parent of God.
The inverse of our first verse is also true….to know a child is to see the reflection of the parent.
Invariably when I was younger, and my family would travel back to where my mother grew up someone who knew my mother when she was a girl would say to me ‘you’re just like your mother’.
As a youngster, I hated this! For I was my own person!
As an angry teen, I would argue….I’m nothing like my mother!
As a seasoned adult, I recognize the complement. I can look in a mirror and recognize that genetics creates my reflection but I also can see that my common sense, and my can do approach comes from my mom…and I aspire to possess her strength of character and ability to have faith through life’s most difficult journeys.
It is all well and good that I reflect my imperfect earth parent. But do people see my perfect parent when they see me?
When people see us – do they see God?
In Genesis 33 verse 10 Jacob says “If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably.”
When people encounter you on the street do they see the reflection of God?
The scripture text for today goes on to say (beginning with verse 2): By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
If we love god, it looks like this:
- living like Jesus.
- Our lives reflect who our God is.
How many of you have read the book ‘Are You My Mother?’ It’s a children’s book by P. D. Eastman (Until I looked it up for today’s sermon I always thought it was a Dr. Seuss book) published by Random House Books for Young Readers on June 12, 1960 as part of its Beginner Books series and is still considered one of the top 100 books for young readers.. The plot of the book is that this little bird goes in search of his mother and asks all kinds of creatures, including a steam shovel are you my mother?
I believe we are living in a culture in this day and age where people are wandering around like the little bird asking are you my god?
Are You My God?
- They commit to sport teams – asking are you my god?
- They commit to jobs and careers – asking are you my god?
- They commit to leisure activities – asking are you my god?
- They commit to the pursuit of happiness – asking are you my god?
- Some even commit to motherhood (or parenthood) – asking are you my god?
We are living in a lost society. Where the majority of teenagers have NEVER been thought the doors of a Church! Where the majority of our society is not in a church on a Sunday….any Sunday! The statistics from 2004 say less than 18% or 52 million people regularly attend Church. As opposed to the 40% who claim they regularly attend church…research shows those attend less than 12 times per year.
I recently read a blog post where the author commented that ‘Modern Christianity has this mentality that church is where people meet God. While that can certainly be true in some circumstances, it should never be our focus. People meet Jesus through the way we live. Through the way we speak. Through the way we manifest unconditional love.”
Don’t get me wrong, I believe we need to be in church….I need to be in church. I need to be here to be fed. To be nourished but being a Christian isn’t about church attendance! It’s about being a faithful disciple!
It’s about living for something and reflecting our perfect parent into a world that is searching.
It is taking the real God to a world that is walking through life asking everything imaginable – Are you my God?
We are walking daily beside those who are searching!
We are living among those who are desperate to find something to believe in…
And yet, we are not reflecting our perfect parent!
Is the world seeing God in us?
Does your co-worker think of God when they think of you?
What about your next door neighbor?
Or the guy driving the car ahead, behind or merging into you?
Are they seeing God in me?
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.
Matthew 22: 35-39 says one of them, a lawyer, asked Jesus, a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And Jesus said to him, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
We have a mission…..to love our neighbors!
We have a mandate to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
In yet another reflection of my earthy parents, I am an avid reader of the Readers Digest.
In the April issue they told the story of Viktor Frankl a prominent Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist in Vienna in 1941. With his career on the rise and the threat of the Nazis looming, Frankl had applied for a visa to America, which he was granted. By then, the Nazis had already started taking Jews to concentration camps, focusing on the elderly first. Frankl knew that it would be only a matter of time before the Nazis came for his parents. Once they did, he felt he had a responsibility to help them through the trauma of adjusting to camp life. On the other hand, as a newly married man with a pregnant wife and his visa in hand, he was tempted to flee to safety in America, where he could distinguish himself even further in his field.
At a loss for what to do, Frankl set out for St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna to clear his head. He was looking for a “hint from heaven”. When he returned home, he found it – in a piece of marble lying on the table. It was from the rubble of one of the nearby synagogues that the Nazis had destroyed. It contained a fragment of one of the Ten Commandments – the one about honoring your father and your mother. Frankl stayed and in September 1942 along with his wife and parents was arrested and transported to a Nazi concentration camp. Three years later his camp was liberated, but most of his family had perished (including his wife). In 1946 he wrote a bestselling book about the experience, called Man’s Search for Meaning.
The wisdom that Frankl derived from his experiences in the camps, in the middle of imaginable human suffering, is just as relevant now as it was then: “Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone other than oneself. The more one forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human he is.” By devoting our lives to “giving” rather than “taking”, we also acknowledge that there is more to the good life than the pursuit of simple happiness.
You are put here on earth for a purpose. To share God’s love!
You, we, are the conduit through which the light of God’s love is allowed to shine though to a dark and searching world. Do not hide that light! But lift your gift of God’s love and light HIGH for all the world to see…today and every day.
Join me for our closing hymn….this little light of mine.