Sunday, May 14, 2017

"Look," he said

Scripture Lessons: 1st Peter 2: 2-10 and Acts 7: 55-60 Sermon Title: “Look,” he said Preached on 5/14/17 Pretty much every Thursday morning at 5:00 I go on a run with a group of friends. I don’t run every Thursday morning, but it’s hard to skip because the group assembles right outside our front door. Greg Martin, an Elder and Sunday School Teacher here at the church is among them. Greg always runs with us, because Greg runs nearly every single day. But, one Thursday a month he doesn’t run with us, because one Thursday a month he leaves Columbia at the crack of dawn to drive to Virginia where he spends the weekend with his mother. Greg probably knows that when he doesn’t run with us we talk about him. But what maybe he doesn’t know is that when Greg doesn’t run with us we talk about the example that he sets for us – the behavior that he models to us – how in him we see a pattern of love and devotion to an ageing mother that we can follow. I think it was Roben Mounger who told Greg that people are watching him, and they’re right. I think that when Roben told him that it first made him paranoid and then gave him a big head, but we must all finally accept the reality that people are watching all of us, and I am thankful for the example that Greg Martin sets in his devotion to his mother. Mother’s Day is today, and Mother’s Day is a time to appreciate, celebrate, this most important office, this most important of callings, for people are always watching and children are always, no matter how young or old, among others, children are always watching their mothers. Today, just as I watch Greg model for me how a son should care for his mother in her old age, so also, I’ve watched my own mother care for her parents. Today my mother cares for her father, and I remember when her mother went to visit my great-grandmother in the nursing home even as she suffered with Alzheimer’s and lost all memory of who she or anyone else was. I’m confident that this example influenced my mother, so while she cares for her father today, when I was 9 years old, my sister was 5, my brother was a baby, my mother was 32 and her mother in-law had a stroke. My parents then faced the difficult decision – if my grandmother, my father’s mother, couldn’t care for herself and couldn’t live on her own, what would they do? Put her in a home? Hire a sitter? Renovate the living room to make a bedroom is what they did, and I watched as my mother, with my little brother on her hip, nursed her mother in-law day after day. People are watching. I was watching her. That’s how we learn how to live. That’s how we learn to grow old. And, that’s how we learn how to die. The book of Acts speaks of Stephen, who was stoned. As he died, “filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” As he died a martyr’s death, he looked into heaven and he saw the one he had modeled his life after. There in heaven was Jesus, and as Stephen died standing for the truth, there in heaven he saw the one he had learned from. He again looked to the one whose example had taught him both how to live and how die. So, even in death he wasn’t afraid, because in Christ he had an example that he could follow. Now from mothers we learn like that, but what we learn from our mothers is an incomplete example. My mother didn’t get to learn everything from her mother. Many things she had to figure out on her own or from someone else. Her mother, I’ve told you about a million times. She’s one of my favorite people to talk about. She died six years ago, and to the end she had red hair. My cousin Eric was in preschool and he reported to his friends that their grandmothers looked old with white and grey hair. Not his – his grandmother’s hair was red. “But it’s straight from the bottle honey,” my grandmother responded. She dressed up all the time. She wore pantyhose to the beach. She had a great big golden elephant belt buckle. She shaved her eye brows and then drew them back on with a pencil. She had plastic surgery before anyone was really having plastic surgery, and I remember one day my Mom telling me that she wished her mother had taught her how to grow old. We look to mothers for a lot of things, but we can’t look to them for everything – so hear from Stephen. “Look,” Stephen said, and he saw Jesus, who he had always looked to, not only for an example for how to live, but as an example for how we are to die. Stephen looked to Jesus, and as he died what he said was inspired by what Christ said on the Cross. On the Cross Christ said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” So, Stephen said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” On the Cross Christ said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” and so Stephen said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Using nearly those same words that Christ uttered on the Cross, Stephen died – and do you know who was watching him? People are always watching, and as Stephen died a martyr’s death, standing with the witnesses’ coats at his feet, was a young man named Saul. Stephen knew how Christ died. This young man named Saul watched Stephen die, and you know who this young man named Saul became – the great Apostle Paul. People are always watching. I watch my mother, my mother watched her mother, and her mother watched as my great-grandmother got her hair done every week even in the darkest depths of the great depression. The children of this church are watching us, so we must be mindful, because we are being watched. Just as Stephen watched Jesus, just as Saul watched Stephen – we are being watched and we must be aware of the example that they see, while realizing that our example can’t be everything. In the words of theologian Gary Neal Hansen, noting how Stephen is stoned after he preached a sermon, writes, “Here Stephen receives the worst response imaginable to what was definitively his last [sermon]. Perhaps all unsuccessful preachers should take some comfort here. If their congregations merely complain or fire them, at least they do not stone them.” So even preachers are not Christ reflected to the world for we are feeble and frail, and on Mother’s Day it’s important to acknowledge that we are all being watched, that mothers are always being watched, but it’s also true that the source of so much pain in every mother’s life is the guilt that she is the source of all her children’s dysfunction. Remember Stephen then. How after preaching a sermon that elicits the worst congregational response imaginable, he looked to Jesus, the one who took a loaf of bread and a few fish and fed a multitude, the one who took water and turned it to wine, the one who still takes our lives and makes them something holy and sacred, a worthy offering. And he looks down on us as we offer him our lives just as he looked down on Stephen, which is so important to remember. Earlier this morning I spilled grape juice all over the communion table cloth. I bet that thing is 200 years old, so when I spilled the juice my heart sank, but I looked up and Sue Brinkley’s eyes met mine. She smiled. She smiled like a mother. Off your lives to the Lord your God. Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God, and know that as you do, he smiles down upon you, not as a disappointed father, but as a mother, full of grace and mercy. Amen.

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