May 13, 2012
Road to Santiago de Compostela, Rebecca Carroll, 2007
I. To rejoice with the blessing of young children is a delightful Mothers’ Day experience for me as a pastor, for the whole congregation, and of course for families. We know how to rejoice with those who rejoice, as Paul wrote in Romans 12:15. On such a joyful day, we don’t think too much about weeping with those weep.
A. For this week’s Hermanutics – a blog sponsored by Christianity Today – Courtney Reissig wrote about mourning with those who mourn on Mothers’ Day. I suspect some of you can identify with her.
Like a lot of doting children, I loved Mother’s Day growing up. The holiday usually involved eating out at a fancy restaurant (not the norm for our family), where we gave my mom carefully composed cards and handpicked gifts. Then I miscarried. Last Mother’s Day I felt deep down that I was supposed to be celebrating that day, yet my arms were empty. Mother’s Day can be a painful holiday for many women. Maybe you are facing the first Mother’s Day without your own mom. Maybe you are longing for a child [who doesn’t come]. Maybe you have a wayward child, and all you want is [a phone call] this Mother’s Day. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the commercials for cards and flowers, and then you throw in the Sunday morning church service, and you are now one conversation away from a meltdown. How do you obey the biblical command to “rejoice with those who rejoice,” when rejoicing feels like a knife stabbing you in the heart?
B. Rather than taking her comments as throwing cold water on Mothers’ Day, I hear it as a call for full orbed love – the kind of love we have been reading about in 1 John. Faith in Jesus conquers the world’s resistance to life by nurturing love between the most unlikely people within and beyond the household of faith.
C. Perhaps you have heard the line, “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.” It is the refrain from William Ross Wallace’s 1865 poem that celebrates the far reaching power of mothers. His father was a Presbyterian pastor who died when he was an infant. He was raised by his mother, and his poem celebrates what she contributed to him. This is the 3rd of 4 stanzas.
Woman, how divine your mission
Here upon our natal sod!
Keep, oh, keep the young heart open
Always to the breath of God!
All true trophies of the ages
Are from mother-love impearled;
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.
II. With our highly individualistic culture and our emphasis on personal faith we easily miss the power and influence of parents, families and households. Four different times the Book of Acts records the baptisms of whole households. The first is Cornelius in Acts 10:44-48. Just so you know the others were Lydia’s in Acts 16:13, the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:33, and Crispus in Acts 18:8.
A. In those very earliest months after Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was pushing the Church out of its comfort zone in Jerusalem. After Stephen’s stoning, the persecution by the Temple authorities scattered them through Judea and Samaria. The first revival came as the unlikely and despised Samaritans embraced the Gospel in Acts 8. Then God called Philip away to proclaim the good news about Jesus to the Ethiopian Eunuch. In Acts 10, the Holy Spirit used an elaborate orchestration of visions and promptings to send Peter to tell the household of the Gentile Cornelius. He was expecting Peter and the Jewish believers who came with him and invited all of his relatives and close friends. (v. 24) Peter had a substantial audience ready and waiting. Starting with his new realization that “God shows no partiality” but “anyone who does what is right is acceptable to him,” (vv. 34-35) Peter proclaimed Jesus.
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
B. In the first century a household was a lot more than parents, 2.3 children, a dog and a mini-van. If still living, it would have included grandparents and aunts, uncles and cousins, not to mention in-laws. Farming families and prosperous families would have included servants and hired hands. While not a model for twenty-first century households, I do believe we can learn something important from the household baptisms in Acts.
1. People take their cues for their major life directions and changes in social context. This is much more than peer pressure. People define themselves by the groups they associate with. Evangelism that focuses on one-at-a-time individual conversions will tend to reach people with the weakest bonds to their groups. To accelerate church growth, we will need to learn how to bring the good news about Jesus to groups of people, to welcome them together into the church.
2. Identification with these groups is more organic than institutional. All organizations that have formal membership are struggling to reach young adults, not just churches. They use the on-line social networks not just for communicating with friends but for seeking input for their decisions. One of my 30 something Face Book friends is an orthopedic surgeon who just had her first baby. She asked her social network for advice about pacifiers for her baby. A couple of months ago another one in the same generation provoked a prolonged discussion by asking why atheists are so adamant about denying God. Why can’t they just let people who do have their beliefs even if they don’t agree.
3. For all of their virtual connectedness, many young adults hunger for deeper loving relationships. As we have been seeing in 1 John, the love of Jesus is both the bond that holds the Church together and the draw for love starved, relationship poor people. Churches will not grow by asking these people to join a religious organization, but I am convinced that when people observe and receive Jesus’ authentic love, they will come to Jesus and to churches in which his presence is vibrant and obvious.
III. Faith in Jesus conquers the world’s resistance to life by nurturing love between the most unlikely people within and beyond the household of faith.
A. We know Peter’s eloquent Pentecost sermon, which he reprised when hauled before the Sanhedrin after healing the lame beggar. But this time, he barely gets started when the Holy Spirit interrupts his sermon by falling on all who heard the word. What is recorded of Peter’s sermon is a personal introduction about his change of attitude toward Gentiles and then a focus on Jesus: who he is, what he did, and that forgiveness comes through trusting him. I don’t know what Peter had planned, but he never got into all of the background Cornelius’ household would have needed to understand Jesus nor did he ask for an overt confession of faith. When the Holy Spirit interrupted, Peter was smart enough to quit preaching.
B. Sometimes I think we talk too much when we’re proclaiming Jesus. We want them to understand everything. The Holy Spirit just wants them to trust. I must say I’ve wondered what I’d do if the Holy Spirit interrupted one of my sermons. Would I just keep going?
IV. Sermon over, people filled with the Holy Spirit and praising God, Peter asks, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (v. 47) This is a rhetorical question. The answer is obvious. No! They should be baptized. We all belong to Jesus.
A. The Holy Spirit had already endorsed them. They didn’t need to have their theology or ethics examined. Sure, they have a lot to learn and needed to grow. Can we trust the Holy Spirit who drew people to embrace Jesus to work through the household of faith to bring them to maturity?
B. Peter does not command the Gentile new believers to be baptized. They might not have had a clue about baptism. No! He commanded the Jewish believers to baptize these Gentiles whom the Holy Spirit has already included!
C. 1 John 5:1 says that “everyone who loves the parent loves the child.” Outside of their families, most of us hardly know the children we have blessed today, but we love them. We love them because we love their parents and grandparents. Whether they are rejoicing or weeping today, we love the mothers and fathers, the grandparents and other relatives. Indeed, we love each other because we love the one who is Heavenly Father of us all.
D. The New Testament repeatedly speaks of the Church as the household of God. Having received the love of God through Jesus, we love each other and actively seek to include those who are hungry for love in this love. Faith in Jesus conquers the world’s resistance to life by nurturing love between the most unlikely people within and beyond the household of faith.