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Seventh Sunday of Easter Cycle C (1)
Now that baseball is in full swing, I thought you might enjoy a story I was reading recently concerning former Cleveland Indians pitcher Bob Feller and Minnesota Twins outfielder Denard Span. It seems these two players from different eras have something rather odd in common: Both men during baseball games hit their mothers in the stands with a foul ball. Feller hit his mom in 1939 (he broke her collarbone); Span hit his during a spring training game in 2010. Fortunately, both moms made full recoveries. (1)
That’s an interesting way to welcome you on this Mother’s Day, isn’t it? No sentimental piety for us. Just kidding, of course. We honor our mothers today. Mothers make many sacrifices and we are very thankful for them. As someone has said, “The hand that rocks the cradle usually is attached to someone who isn’t getting enough sleep.”
It’s not easy being a Mom, even if your son doesn’t hit you with a foul ball. Maybe you can relate to one Mom who wrote to Reader’s Digest. She says it had been a rotten morning. Her three kids were wired and driving her crazy. Counting to 10 wasn’t cutting it, so to release the pent-up frustration, she walked into her bedroom closet, shut the door and SCREEAAMMED!
It worked. Afterward she felt much better. Ready to face the rest of the day, she opened the door and was greeted by three terrified faces.
“Mom,” said her five-year-old. “I told you there was a monster in that closet!” (2)
I’ll bet those three youngsters stayed away from that closet for a long, long time.
Being a mom isn’t easy, but it is the most important single job in the world. It is our moms, with help from our dads, to whom God entrusts our care until we are able to make it on our own.
Our lesson for the day comes from the Gospel of John. The setting is still Maundy Thursday. After the symbolic washing of his disciples’ feet, Jesus prays what has come to be known as his “High Priestly Prayer.” This is a rather lengthy prayer, in which Jesus first prays for himself; then for his disciples. In the final portion of his prayer which begins with this verse, he prays for future believers. Listen to how this portion of Jesus’ rather lengthy prayer begins:
“My prayer is not for them alone . . .” Here he is referring to his disciples. “Holy Father, I pray not only for them,but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one,.” That’s us. So Christ is praying for his disciples and he is praying for those who will be reached through the disciples’ witness. In the first generation of Christians all who believed in Christ did so through the witness of the apostles, whether directly or indirectly. And, that chain of believers continues even to this day. Christ prays for all who believe because of the testimony of those first saints, including us.
So that’s the first insight we find in this lesson: When Jesus prays, he prays for us. You and I are included in his prayer.
That should bring us some comfort. “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.”
What an incredible piece of information that is. Christ prays for us. If we were to turn over to the epistle to the Hebrews, we would learn that Christ is still interceding with the Father in our behalf. We read in chapter 4: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (14-16).
To me that is incredible good news. When we bring our requests to God, Christ is right along side us, interceding in our behalf.
Mother’s Day story that comes out of World War II and the horrific holocaust which took the lives of millions of people. It is the true story of Solomon Rosenberg and his family.
Solomon Rosenberg and his wife and their two sons as well as Solomon’s mother and father were arrested and placed in a Nazi concentration camp. It was a labor camp, and the rules were simple: As long as you could do your work, you were permitted to live. When you became too weak to do your work, then you were exterminated.”
Solomon Rosenberg watched his mother and father marched off to their deaths, and he knew that next would be his youngest son, David, because David had always been a frail child.
Every evening Rosenberg came back into the barracks after his hours of labor and searched for the faces of his family. When he found them they would huddle together, embrace one another, and thank God for another day of life.
One day Rosenberg came back and didn’t see those familiar faces. He finally discovered his oldest son, Joshua, in a corner, huddled, weeping, and praying. He said, “Josh, tell me it’s not true.” Joshua turned and said, “It is true, Poppa. Today David was not strong enough to do his work. So they came for him.”
“But where is your mother?” asked Mr. Rosenberg. “Oh Poppa,” he said, “When they came for David, he was afraid and he cried. Momma said, ‘There is nothing to be afraid of, David,’ and she took his hand and went with him.” (3)
It is a sad story of a mother’s love for her little boy. Now, transfer that image to yourself and Christ, with Christ in the role of the mother. Fearfully you approach the throne of God. Why fearfully? Because you know you are not all God means for you to be. You have no merit at all to petition God for His love and mercy. But alongside you is one who has volunteered to stand with you, giving you comfort and confidence.
Jesus reassures us that we can come to God as any child can come to a loving parent. We can pray, “not as outsiders, but as God’s children, tenderly, honestly, and confidently. In our secret, whispered prayers, we are known so well that God, like a mother listening with her heart to her children, can finish our sentences.” (4)
Christ prays for us and all who believe on his name. That is the first insight that braces our hearts. Here is the second: In this passage, he makes a specific request in our behalf. He prays for our unity. That is where we draw our strength: we are bound together with one another and with him.
Listen to his words, “Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us,.
Pastor and popular author David Jeremiah says that his church once built a ministry upon what they called the Triple Cord Prayer Ministry. “Take a piece of string and you can snap it with little effort; but entwine it with two other cords and it will withstand all your efforts to break it. Together, we’re greater than the sum of our parts.
“This is a godly principle at the very center of how God works in the world,” says Jeremiah. “He works through people intertwined together, even with all the messy knots and entanglements of our being involved together. Alone, we are so limited; together, we can forge movements that change world history.” (5)
A pastor one evening was having dinner in a restaurant and happened to sit next to a young couple. He began to talk with them about their religious experience, how they felt about religion. They were a deeply committed young couple; they loved the Lord very much. They were Roman Catholic and talked about their concern for Christian unity and how in Jesus Christ all of us have been made one.
The woman reached into her purse and took out a card. She said that it was a portrait of Jesus that illustrated the meaning of Christian unity in a powerful way. Her card was very wrinkled; obviously she had had it for a long time and had looked at it a great deal. As you looked at this picture at arm’s length, you could see an ordinary picture of Jesus, but if you held it up really close, you could see that this portrait of Jesus was composed of forty-eight different faces. And there were all kinds of people: They were young and old, black and brown and yellow and white, male and female, all kinds of human expression were right there in that painting. (6)
In praying for us, not only did Christ carry us in his heart before the Father but he makes some special requests. The first of these is for our unity. A divided church, in many ways is a scandalous affront to the uniting work that Jesus did on Calvary by bringing us into relationship with God the Father and ultimately bringing us into relationship with each other. That is why we are known as the body of Christ.
The unity that he desires for his church is the same kind of unity he has with the Father. “The real church is a body of men and women united to each other because they are united to Christ.”
Our unity as the body of Christ is our primary witness to the world to the truth of Christ. Do you remember that little folk song so popular in churches in the 60s? It was composed by Peter Scholtes and it went like this, “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.”
And particularly the chorus:
“And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” (7)
The content of this little song comes directly from this prayer by Jesus. If you want to witness for Christ, the first thing you need to do is to love your brothers and sisters in Christ. We are a family, his family. And Christ is the head of our family. We are in him as he is in the Father.
It reminds me a bit of an inspiring film from the 1990s titled, Mr. Holland’s Opus. Those of you who have seen the film know it’s about Glenn Holland, a musician and composer who takes a job as a high school band director to pay the rent so that, in his “spare time,” he can strive to achieve his true goal–to create his opus, his greatest piece of music.
Soon, however, he becomes overwhelmed by his teaching job and the needs of his family (including an infant son who is deaf) and has very little time to work on his masterpiece. He works long hours, he deals with difficult students, but, in spite of his best efforts, the band does not sound very good. Nevertheless, despite his apparent lack of success, he comes to believe this is where he’s supposed to be. And as the years unfold the joy of sharing his contagious passion for music with his students becomes his new definition of success.
At the end of the movie we find an aged Mr. Holland fighting in vain to keep his job. The board has decided to reduce the operating budget by cutting the music and drama programs. After thirty years, Mr. Holland is forced into retirement.
As the movie winds down, Mr. Holland returns to his classroom to retrieve his belongings. It’s a few days after school has let out for summer vacation. As Mr. Holland, his wife, and their now grown-up son, Cole, are cleaning out the last of his belongings from his old classroom, they hear music coming from the auditorium. To his amazement he discovers in the auditorium a capacity audience of former students and teaching colleagues and a banner that reads “Goodbye, Mr. Holland.” His students have planned a surprise assembly in his honor. In that assembly they play the opus he never had published, the opus that had been his original passion.
The surprise emcee of the event is the state governor, who many years before was a discouraged clarinet player in Mr. Holland’s music class. She says, “Mr. Holland had a profound influence in my life (on a lot of lives, I know), and yet I get the feeling that he considers a great part of his life misspent. Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his, and this was going to make him famous and rich (probably both). But Mr. Holland isn’t rich and he isn’t famous, at least not outside our little town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure, but he’d be wrong. Because I think he’s achieved a success far beyond riches and fame.”
Looking at her former teacher the governor gestures with a sweeping hand and continues, “Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each one of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony, Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. And we are the music of your life.” (8)
It’s a beautiful film and I know that the analogy is imperfect, but we need to know that we are Christ’s opus. He gave his life for the express purpose of bringing into being this group of people. On the night before he was crucified, Christ prayed for us. He prayed that we might be unified as his body. This is where we draw our strength during times of need, and this is our best way of witnessing to the truth that Christ is alive and at work in the world: “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, And we pray that all unity may one day be restored. They’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
1. Uncle John’s 24-Karat Gold Bathroom Reader, Bathroom Readers’ Institute, (Kindle Edition).
2. Elizabeth Twolan, Reader’s Digest, Apr. 2005, p. 48.
3. Melvin M. Newland, http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/a-mothers-love-melvin-newland-sermon-on-mothers-day-35609.asp.
4. The New International Lesson Annual 2014-2015: September 2014 – August 2015 (Kindle Edition).
5. Slaying the Giants in Your Life (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2001), p. 51.
6. Dr. James L. Kidd, http://www.lectionarysermons.com/AdvKidd?1.html.
7. Copyright 1966, F.E.L. Publications, assigned to The Lorenz Corp., 1991.
8. Adapted from a sermon by Joe Harding, http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/need-a-friend-joe-harding-sermon-on-endurance-51344.asp.