Happy Mother’s Day
May 11th Romans 8: 35, 38-39
By Pastor Tim Woodard
First let me wish you all a very Happy Mother’s day! It is just so wonderful that so many of you can be here today, many of you with your families and friends. Be sure to share some of that love with other’s around you; and don’t be concerned about running out it, there is an abundance of love, when we open ourselves to receiving the abundant love of our God.
Please join me in prayer.
This, morning, as we back our way into this wonderful passage from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the struggling little church in Rome, allow me to take you back to when I was first getting involved in ministry. I was a late bloomer in this regard. I entered seminary in 1990, and yes, your math is correct I was already 42; I was age 46 when I graduated with my Master of Divinity degree and age 47 when I was ordained. Now as I began to tell others of my plans to enter seminary and such, my family and friends had various responses. You will see how their reaction to my major life changing decision gave me a lot to reflect on.
So let me begin by telling you how my business associates, upon receiving my news, looked at me like I was having a nervous breakdown; in reflection, I suppose from their point of view I was. You see accepting a personal ‘call’ from God does require one to change or at least alter how one sees the world. My position as a sales representative, of various computer companies, no longer worked for me; nor could I effectively work for them. In like fashion I could no longer believe that financial influence and political power were requirements for my relationship with God. I was now proclaiming ‘publically’ that my first priority was not the corporate good but rather the will of God. Yes, to my business associates, I had truly lost it.
Now my father and my step mother, Eleanor, were a totally different story. You see my mother’s dad, my grandfather had been the pastor of the Congregational Church, but Dad and Eleanor belonged to that Southern Baptist Church on the other side of town. My Dad’s first response, after a long pause, was to clear his throat and say: “Well, Eleanor and I, we have heard that the seminary you have picked ‘Andover Newton Theological School,’ has produce a few good pastors, but, we were hoping you would go to a good seminary like:” And Dad mentioned a seminary in the Boston area that was more acceptable to Southern Baptist Theology, at that time period. Over time he accepted my decision and, as I learned the language of the Bible, we were able to better communicate with each other regarding our beliefs. He died believing (in the language of salvation that he understood) that I had been born again in Christ and thus am saved and I am a Christian.
My Stepmom, Eleanor, and I got along well. I remember clearly the first time I asked her advice about Bible Studies and important passages in the Bible. Bible studies she told me were best directed to studies of the Gospel of John for beginners and Romans was better suited for the serious student. She then went on to tell me how important Romans, chapter 8 was, then she went on to quote to me the verses we are reviewing this morning. I can still hear her say to me as she clasped her Bible loving in her hands: “The Apostle Paul asked the question: ‘Who will separate us from the love of Christ?’” Eleanor looked me in the eye with that bright twinkle she always had. (It was as if she already knew the answer and was just so excited to be telling me.) “The more you get to know our Lord” Eleanor said to me, “the easy it will be for you to understand that ‘no one shall’ ever come between you and the abundant love of Christ.”
Over the years Eleanor had proved her absolute trust in God to me and all those who knew her. She believed with her whole heart, soul and mind that God loved her and that God loves me and you. Sure she had sorrows and pain. That’s what being human entails. But she bore her burden with grace and dignity. I watched her turmoil, as she struggled, with her extended family. She had her cross to bear, we all do. But, that never caused her to stop studying the scriptures or to cease from sharing her faith with others. She and my dad prayed for me for many, many years; especially those years when my life hit its darker moments. They did everything in their power to instill in me that God had not forsaken me and that grace and mercy were mine to be had if I would simply trust in my Lord. I know that they did. Eleanor lived in the spirit of this simple message from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. She shared that strong belief with my father and he was a happier man because of it. My step sister, told me she passed from this life, a year after my dad, with a smile on her face believing with all her heart that she would awaken in heaven – in the presence of the Living God.
Now my dear mother, my mother Lois (Yes, that’s correct my mother and my wife were both named Lois, and so was my oldest sister.) So, let me continue, my mother Lois, was a different matter altogether. She simply said “You’ll make a good one,” (Meaning of course that I would make a good pastor). She then talked to me about her father and the struggles she had as a preacher’s daughter. Mother then offered council about the perils of living in a church parsonage. I remember what she told me when I said the Church in Middletown New York wanted to put me in a newly donated home. “Make sure they pay the electricity” Mom said, as she reminisced about how drafty the old parsonage she grew up in really was. She fretted so when, after I came to Florida in 2006 and bought a house; and as we all well know… the housing market collapsed. It is sad, she never knew the end of that saga; she passed from this life in June of last year, at the age of 94. She would be so pleased to know that I am standing here in this pulpit today, Mother’s Day, working as your pastor. You see, in the end, she was very, very pleased and proud that I had become a real minister.
Now, my friends, they had a different response to my entry into formal ministry. One said to me plainly: “Thank God, now maybe you will stop preaching to us all the time!” A lot of my friends knew that I had never found myself in the corporate world and that I had been trying to ‘sell’ things I simply did not believe in. They were truly pleased for me and all of them virtually and instantly knew it was a good decision for me. They had rightly seen that my work within the business community was interfering with who I was meant to be. A lot expressed the belief that it proper that I had finally realized I could no longer avoid my ‘calling’ to serve God this way. What they seemed to get, and I had not, was that it was me that was keeping me from God, not anyone else. For I had always had the power to step into God’s light and accept my role as a true Disciple of Christ. Seems that Eleanor, Mom and Dad were always right; I was meant to be a pastor.
As most of you know I was ordained by the United Church of Christ on November the sixth, 1994. My journey has brought me here and I have had the privilege of preaching, teaching and being a part of your fellowship for six wonderful and fulfilling months. A lot has happened in my life, in your lives, in this relatively short span of time. I have wrestled with the Apostle Paul’s teachings on many occasions and have often shared those struggles with you. Paul surely struggled with the words of Christ as well. It was back when Paul (then known as Saul) was on his way to Damascus, on a mission to harass and arrest some Christians, for he was one with the Pharisees and the Sadducees. But, on this particular journey, Saul was confronted by the Risen Christ. [Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.] /Acts 9:3-8/
Saul’s struggles with our Lord were real. Yet Christ never deserted him. He sent first Ananias, who following God’s instructions went to Saul and laid his hands upon him so that he would regain his eyesight. Then instructing him in the faith Saul was baptized and became known as Paul. Paul’s works are well documented. This man who had separated himself from the love of God was brought back into the light and did many good works in the name of Jesus our Risen Savior. Surely, Paul, like myself and thousands of other pastors have come to know, it is ‘all too easy’ to put things in-between our relationships with God. But, no one shall come between us and the love of God. It is only when we turn away from God that we are starved of heaven’s abundant love.
My struggle, Paul’s struggle and the struggle of all of humankind is the same. You see, we have doubts and fears and we become resentful. In so doing we deny ourselves of our God given faith, our natural heart felt courage and love. Earthly things can cause us to allow those first doubts to creep into our lives edging our faith out… bit by bit. When we were youthful we had the courage of a lion, we were never fearful of anything or anyone. It was only when we became educated and wise to the world that we began to fear and our courage was eroded. As adults we have felt the sting of failure and the pain of loss and the weight of hopelessness in our constant efforts to find financial security and gather things about us to create that safe and constant nest – a place we call home – and thus, have become resentful of everybody or anybody or anything that stands in our way. Is so doing we have lost our connection with the eternal flow of love; love that God offers us to receive and pass forward like a living stream.
When we again read the words of the Apostle Paul we shall come to understand the truth, the fullness of his words. “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” “No one shall!” No! No one has the power to take away our connection to God’s love through Christ. Not even: hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword!” Have we not become convinced: “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate” us “from the love of God!?”
On this Mother’s Day, let us lift up the love of God, which was passed to those who have mothered us along our journeys. Let us remember those that are now in heaven and those that are still with us.
Be of good heart: God loves us all and all of the mother’s in our hearts and our lives.
Happy Mother’s Day Mom.