Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Easter 05/13/2018

Today is Mothers’ Day. It’s a Hallmark holiday not a church holiday and it always brings to my mind my worship professor at seminary who was quite disdainful of pastors who preached cutesy Mothers’ Day sermons, you know “M is for the million things she gave me,” rather than focusing on the texts appointed for the liturgical day which today is the Seventh Sunday of Easter.

I think you know by now that I couldn’t preach a cutesy Mothers’ Day sermon even if I wanted to, but I am aware of the significance the day has for some and while I don’t know a lot about being a mother, I do appreciate the role that mothers play and I’m thankful for having a mother who was always there for me with pretty much unconditional love. It’s something we perhaps take for granted as kids, I’m sure I did, but especially when I started teaching school I realized there were too many kids who didn’t have what I had. Honoring mothers does have its place.

Still, I haven’t forgotten the words of my worship professor so I’m reminded again that it is the Seventh and final Sunday of Easter as well as being Mother’s Day. The challenge for me then on days like this is to try and find a connection; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s a reach like my children’s sermon with the sad pieces of candy last week.

Like I said, I don’t know much about being a mother, but I would guess that for most mothers, there are times or there were times that, despite how much you love your kids and wouldn’t have it any other way, there still can be times that you would just like to escape, at least for a little while, to escape and not have to do all those things you do day after day, week after week, to escape for a little peace and quiet, maybe to even turn the tables and have someone take care of you for awhile. If that’s true, I think I have a connection with today’s gospel. If not, I’m moving forward anyway.

In reality, I don’t think it’s just mothers. For most anyone, whatever your role is, there is something tempting about escaping from the day to day reality and pressure of your world even if you mostly like what you do. That’s kind of what the travel industry is all about, coming up with packages that get you away from it all so you can leave the day to day pressures of life behind. It’s also true that studies show that such escape is good for you; it’s good for your physical and mental health and makes you better at what you do when you get back.

The church and worship can be a place of escape for some, a time outside of time, away from the ordinary demands of life and hopefully a place where a different message is proclaimed and heard, the presence of God is felt more closely. The desire for that kind of escape has actually been a prominent feature of church history. The monastic movement began and continues as a way of life that attempts to set different priorities, often in remote locations, focusing on worship and prayer, trying to live apart from the world’s demands although I don’t think those demands are ever totally eliminated. Through the years there have also been various faith based communes and utopian communities that have been escapist to one degree or another, some fairly innocent, some though led by characters who have turned out to be rather dangerous.

The point though, is that while most of us aren’t going to become monastics or join some alternative community, to some extent we do understand what motivates such groups; mothers and others understand the desire to escape what can seem to be unrelenting demands.

In today’s gospel reading, we get hints that this desire might have been present in John’s community. There’s a lot we don’t know about John’s gospel; it’s attributed to St. John, identified in the gospel as the disciple whom Jesus loved although many scholars think it was written too late for John himself to be the author of the final version. Still, his influence and his memories of Jesus are quite likely a key part of what was written but like all the gospels, besides telling and interpreting the story of Jesus and proclaiming faith in him, what was going on in the community of believers also winds up as part of the mix and is reflected in the text.

Throughout John, there are clues that the community out of which the gospel comes was facing persecution. Repeated reference to “the Jews” is an indication that those professing faith in Jesus as the Messiah were not being well received by the religious authorities. It’s perhaps similar to the way Jesus himself was not well received by the religious authorities. From that, it’s easy to imagine some of those in John’s community wishing they could escape, to get away from those in power, to go someplace where they could be together and recall the things Jesus said, to share in the bread and wine of Holy Communion and not have to defend their beliefs and practices to anyone. The same impulse was probably present among the first disciples that gathered around Jesus. It’s like in the story of the Transfiguration when Peter suggests that they just build booths and stay on the mountain…but Jesus says “No.” Jesus isn’t about escape.

Today’s verses are from what is known as Jesus’ high priestly prayer. Jesus is about to be betrayed and arrested and prior to that he prays for his disciples and whether what we have are verbatim words of Jesus or more likely interpreted words of Jesus, the idea of escape is addressed, and…it is rejected.

Jesus says of his disciples, “They do not belong to the world, just I as do not belong to the world,” which might make it sound like some kind of escape from the world would be desirable. But no; praying to the Father, Jesus also says, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” Christianity isn’t an otherworldly escape. Jesus was sent into the world and the mission of those who follow him is also in the world. The perennial question then, for them and for us, is how are we to be in the world without belonging to the world?

That’s where it gets tricky, because as much as we might sometimes have that desire to escape this world and some of the demands of life, the reality for most of us is that there’s a lot about this world that we like. Not belonging to the world though means not allowing the values of this world to define us when those values run contrary to the life and teachings of Jesus, a life and teachings which were about love and forgiveness, welcome and acceptance, sacrifice and breaking down boundaries. It is easier said than done though and preaching against the things of this world, some of them things that bring us joy and make us happy, preaching against them can just come across as holier than thou sanctimony and make it sound like the goal of Christianity is to be miserable.

These days, I think being in the world but not belonging to it means not giving in to the negativism and cynicism and fear of those who are different that seem so prevalent. Jesus did proclaim a different way to be in the world and it was a way that centered on hope. The gospel is a message of hope in the midst of the brokenness of the world. It’s a message that tells us that new life and possibilities come out of what might seem like hopeless situations. The gospel is a message that tells us that death of Good Friday was not the last word, but rather it is the new life of Easter. The seven weeks of the Easter season do come to an end this week, but every Sunday is an Easter celebration because the good news of hope and new life is what we need to hear week after week. Christ is Risen and because of that, the world is never without hope. Being in the world but not belonging to it, we are messengers of that hope, we are messengers of that truth.

We are called to be in the world, not to escape from it, but that’s not to say that escape doesn’t have value. Whoever you are, time away, escape, retreat, sabbatical, vacation, whatever you choose to call it, can better equip you to be in the world, can better equip you to be a messenger of hope.

So, on Mothers’ Day, maybe M isn’t for the million things she gave me, but…maybe for you, maybe for me, M is for Mother being a messenger, a messenger of hope when we most needed it.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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