Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day

OK. Here's the Mother's Day message:

We’ve been looking through Acts to see the signs that characterize the Easter Church – how God’s people live in the light of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. So far we have seen that the Easter Church is marked by courage, revival and integration of us “Gentiles”. And this week we see that the Easter Church is a church “On the Move”

Text: Acts 16:9-15

Paul’s ministry was a ministry on the move. Up to this point, the Acts story has focused around Peter, but as the Church grew and matured, a new leader – a new leading evangelist – emerged: Paul. Paul understood the implications of Jesus’ great commission: To proclaim the Gospel to all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. The story we read this morning traces three very important ways the church was and continues to be “on the move”

The first and most straightforward way that the church is on the move is by moving the Gospel message through space. From physical place, to physical place, over hills and through valleys, by land and by sea, the highways and byways of this world become a conduit for God’s message of love. Did it ever occur to you how strange and wonderful it is that the Bible – our Holy Scripture – the book through which we hear God speaking to us by the power of the Holy Spirit – this most spiritual book contains MAPS of actual places on Earth. Not diagrams of heaven. But Maps – not much different that the maps you pick up at the interstate highways’ visitor’s center: Welcome to Illinois. Maps and facilities, next right.
One of my friends quoted a seminary professor who liked to say of the Bible, “I believe in the Bible – from Genesis to the maps!” Now, our edition of the Bible doesn’t have all the maps in the back. The map of Paul’s missionary journeys is found on p. 117 or your pew Bibles. It’s a little hard to read – but the trip referred to in our story this morning was on the second of his missionary journeys. It’s the dashed line – starting farthest on north on the map.
And the author of Acts is interested enough in geography to give us the route by which Paul gets from Asia (up where the map says Mysia) is where he is when the story starts. They he goes to Troas, sails to Samothace, then to Neapolis, then to Philippi – the capital of Macedonia.
And why is Paul on the move from one continent to the other? Because the Spirit of God has given him a vision of people who need help. That vision – of a man of Macedonia, a man who Paul never met but who needed the Gospel – put Paul on the move through space in service of the world-wide mission of the Easter church. Why didn’t he just stay where he was, and minister to the folks in the region around him? Why didn’t he concentrate exclusively on reaching the unchurched- helping the poor and needy in Galatia and Phrygia? Because the Spirit of God helped him to know that reaching out to those far away was an integral part of Christian life.
Let there be no mistake about it – foreign mission is still a vital piece of what it means to be God’s people. The Easter church is still a church on the move through space – touching the lives of those in foreign lands with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is not something about which it is possible for committed Christians to disagree. There is no Biblical or theological rationale for excluding or minimizing foreign missions from the life of the Church. Churches which seek to be wholly local in focus and concern violate one of the principles upon which the church is based. And they do not flourish. In research conducted by John and Sylvia Ronsvalle, who live in north Champaign and are probably the leading scholars conducting and publishing research on church giving and spending issues in the country, the Ronsvalles found that churches that spent less on foreign missions declined in members and influence in the community, actually losing 25% of their members in the years from 1968-2003, while those who spent more than the average on overseas missions actually experienced significant growth and vitality. Churches which were “on the move” through space, sending their mission dollars out to foreign lands, grew in membership by 41% during those same years. Coincidence? Paul would say “no”.
We are God’s Easter people, called as a whole to be responsible for missions far away as well as missions close at hand. Being on the move through space, being involved in ministry with those far away, as well as those next door, is one of the marks of the Easter church.

The church is on the move through space, but as our story shows, it is also on the move through time.

The most obvious reference to time in the story is that it says Paul went out and preached on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a special time in which the Spirit of God seems especially able to move in our lives. OT scholar Walter Brueggemann suggests that this is because the “Sabbath is a day when routines of management are suspended and there is a patterned receptivity.”
You have heard from this pulpit before about the importance of patterning our lives on the calendar of creation – in which every week includes work and the mundane and every week includes a time of rest and focus on the living God. We are creatures made of clay. We are formed out of the dust of the earth by God’s hand. Our creator, who knows us best and loves us most, says that we need to set aside one day out of every seven to suspend our busy-ness and rest and worship Him. It’s in the user’s manual: Every week, one day out of service. Every week.
God’s Easter people are on the move through time – respecting and observing the rhythm of our Creator – which means that we gather for prayer and worship every week to be refreshed and renewed in our faith.
In Paul’s time, the Sabbath still meant Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, but not too long afterwards, God’s Easter people chose to celebrate our Sabbath on The Day of Resurrection – on the first day of the week. Each Sunday is a little Easter, Sunday is the Easter people’s day to put aside our regular routines, our everyday chores, our work a day schedules, and move into a time of openness to the moving of the Spirit among us.
I do not pretend that this rhythm is an easy or effortless one for us. I get up on Sundays, as many of you do, wishing that I could stay in bed, anticipating with a certain amount of anguish, the struggle to motivate my child to get dressed and eat breakfast and get himself to church. Like you, I stand in front of the closet, thinking how much easier it would be to put on blue jeans and work in the garden. And I have to bow my head, as I’m sure you do, and ask God to give me love and patience for the people in this community of faith and, please God, a good sermon. Just like you. I share your struggles with the Sabbath. And, I hope and pray that we also share the Sabbath’s joys: The sense, more times than not, that God has strengthened and enriched our faith through the growing relationships between us, and the beauty of music and liturgy, and the power of His word.
God’s Easter people are on the move through time – and the Sabbath is a special time through which we move.

The Easter church is on the move in space and in time, but, perhaps most importantly, the Easter church is on the move in the hearts of those touched by God. By moving through space, by moving through time, Paul succeeds in reaching Lydia with the Good News of the Gospel. Acts tells us that “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.”
Lydia is a Greek woman, from the Macedonian town of Thyatira, and the first named convert in Europe. Just a note – “worshiper of God” is the term that Jews used to describe Gentiles who lived good and moral lives, who observed that Sabbath and who worshipped the one true God. In other words, Lydia was not a pagan idol worshipper. She was a good woman who, on her own, had attempted to draw close to God. Even though she was already, Acts says, “a worshiper of God” – she was open to hearing something new about the God she loved.
There are so many good and moral people we know. Some of them even pray and believe in a higher power. Some of them are mothers. But what a difference it makes when the Lord opens their heart.
Listen to what one of them, Gini Bunnell, wrote about her opened heart:
Erma Bombeck, that much beloved and much missed voice for all mothers, wrote: "Motherhood is the biggest on the job training program in existence today. Motherhood is not a one size fits all. It's not a mold that is all-encompassing and does not mean the same thing to all people. Some mothers have so much guilt they cannot eat a breath mint without sharing it. Other mothers feel nothing when they tell a kid his entire pillowcase of Halloween candy got ants in it, and eats it herself. Some mothers cry when their thirty-year-old daughters leave home and move to their apartments. Other mothers sell their twelve year old son's bed when he goes to a long scout meeting."
When I became a mother at the age of 23, I had a lot of good things in my mother heart. I had youth, energy, some very good role models for parenting, and a super amount of untested confidence. But I had no relationship with Jesus. Although I had been raised in a church, I didn't know what it meant to have an alive and vibrant relationship with the Creator of the Universe who loved me and was intimately involved in the mundane details of my life. I never had prayed for our sons. I never had called on God's unlimited grace for strength, wisdom or creativity. Instead, I depended on my own power, cleverness, insight and instincts.
I relied on my own counsel until our sons, Doug and Scott, were 12 and 10. Then, thanks to God's unfailing mercy and the persistent prayers of a good friend, I asked God to take up residence in my heart. I asked Jesus to be my King, and I've never regretted it.
I have regretted, though, that I never rocked my babies and sang hymns of praise to them. I have regretted that I never read them stories from the Bible. I have regretted that I never modeled for them how a godly woman deals with stress, difficulty and irritation. I have regretted that when they were toddlers fresh out of the bath-tub and ready for bed, I never taught them to pray.
But, the wonderful good news is, God restores the years the locusts have eaten. One of my treasured possessions is a paper that Doug wrote in high school about a typical day in his life. He began, "It's early in the morning...I can hear my brother, Scott, taking a shower, soon it will be my time. I can hear my parents in the kitchen, getting breakfast and discussing scripture..." We never discussed scripture at that early morning hour. More likely we were shuffling around, talking about things like coffee and cereal. But Doug's perception was that we were in the kitchen, alertly and lovingly discussing scripture. Oh the grace of God, to give him that perception!
And God has given me another chance with our grandchildren. I've been blessed to do with them all the things I didn't do with our own young sons. My young mother heart and my older grandmother heart are very different, and what makes the difference is my relationship with Jesus.” (A Mother’s Heart. Spirituality for Every Day. Cupertino CA)
An open heart, like Lydia’s, hears gladly the Gospel when it is shared, and Lydia responds by opening her home to the missionaries, in Christian hospitality. Her home became a beachhead in Europe for the growing young church and the center of the congregation to whom Paul wrote: “I thank God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy because of your sharing in the gospel with me. I am confident of this, that the one began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”
God’s people are a people on the move: Moving through space, moving through time, and moving in the open hearts of those who give their lives to God. This Mother’s Day, and every day, my we be Easter people, ever on the move.

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