Scripture: Acts 7: 55-60,
May 14th, 2017
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these words of scripture from the Acts of the Apostles, chapter seven, verses 55 thru 60.”
Acts 7: 55-60
55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.
“May God open our hearts and minds to the deeper meaning of this harsh accounting on a day such as this!”
Today, is Mother’s Day! A day set aside on our calendars as a time to honor the mother’s in our lives, both past and present. My mother was a very special person in my life. Not only did she give birth to me, she cared for my every need, as I grew from a small infant… into a young adult. I have many fond memories of those early years. Yet, in all fairness to my mom, I suspect she has some slightly different memories than me. For you see, a child can perceive life only from their limited perspective of life. Take for instance, my memory of any given meal mom prepared for me and my family, it is rather simplistic. I remember the hot scrumptious helping of macaroni and cheese on my plate, or the pot roast served with mashed potatoes and green beans. The hot deep dish apple pie with real Vermont cheddar cheese on the side. I can still picture the two full roasted turkeys on the banquet tables with all sorts of side dishes to complement that special Thanksgiving dinner for our larger families, as we sat down at the table with my grandparents. Yes, I have some wonderful memories, I just can’t help wondering, as the adult I now am, how my mom might have experienced those same moments? If she were asked to testify as to those events, those memories, what kind of a witness would she be?
Mothers, do way more than cook a good meal! She had to manage the planning of those events. Six kids, with a husband that worked two jobs as-well-as managing the chickens and the vegetable garden out back of our house. She also worked a nursing assistance job when she could get the work. Yup, I suspect she would testify to the long hours, the lack of pay, and the hard work. In those early year’s there was no cloth’s dryer so she hung the cloths (outside on some type of cloths line) by hand. And like Pastor Winston’s wife back in Kitwe, Zambia, she often had to wash the cloths by hand before hanging them on her cloth’s line outside. I have memories of us kids washing some dishes and making our own beds, but I have no memories of helping-out in other ways. Somebody kept our home spic and span clean. She cleaned the house, went shopping for the groceries and such. I believe she also managed the budget and paid the bills. I even remember my parents having long loud discussions about that as well! Oh my, what a witness my mother would make if she were to testify to what ‘actually’ went on in my childhood home.
Back when I was growing up, mothers as a group, saw and did just about everything, and most certainly it is the same today, in our current time. They are witnesses to wonderful things, such as: the baby’s baptism, and / or their first communion, or perhaps their daughters first prom, or their son’s first sports event. Exciting times! They also witness to and share in the trepidation at the prospect of their sons or daughters, getting his or her driver’s license… and then being brought home by the local police on one of their first solo drives! Then of course, many face the ‘really’ hard stuff. Son goes off to join the Army, then gets stationed in a war zone overseas. The day comes when the officer and the chaplain knock on the door. Taking their hats off as the door opens, the look on their faces tell the full truth… “we regret to tell you” they begin. Mom’s around the world react the same: tears, shock, outrage… losing a child to war is a horribly heavy burden for any parent, mother and father alike! Or, one of the family is killed in a car accident, drunk driver responsible! Yes, parents witness a lot! I suppose it makes them stronger. Thankfully, not all events are the same. Much of a mother’s burden is seeing her family struggle with the small challenges in life. A failed history exam, a bad experience on a date. Broken relationships fall firmly at the typical mother’s feet.
All told, these life experiences, these opportunities to widen one’s view of what goes on in families and insights on how to deal with every level of relationships; these are the things that being a good mother brings. We lift-up these mothers and the still struggling and dedicated mothers in our community and in our neighborhoods. They are the ones that deserve our full attention to and devotion of. Today, we honor mothers, past, present and future. Our scripture, I chose for our lesson today, may seem harsh as we also acknowledge that today is Mother’s Day.
Yet, every mother knows life is all too real and sometimes we need to hunker down and discuss the tough realities of life! Motherhood, parenthood has never been an easy venture! Those that have taken it lightly are not on that long, long, list of beloved and loved mothers. No, real parents, real mothers, deal with the ups and downs of life as it comes. This means, sometimes, it is really-hard to grapple with all that comes at families trying so very hard to make a going in today’s world realities! As they, as mother’s witness life, their experience and wisdom grows. How they use the teachings of life, as they ventured into mother hood, will be the truth of how they nurture and teach the ones they are charged to care for. Witnessing life is one thing… living it is another!
As we turn to our scripture we hear an abbreviated account of the last words of an early disciple of Christ. Amazingly, he was forgiving of those that persecuted and stoned him that day. The day I confessed all and asked my mother for forgiveness, soon after I got straight and sober, forty years ago; it was then that I saw the deep pain and sadness in my mother as she broke down and cried. It was the beginning of my understanding of how she had suffered during my extended adolescence, and surely, she had longed for the day I would come to myself and come home to my right place in life.
She had surely witnessed to all that had occurred in my life through her portal of mother’s instincts and observation skills. She once told me that she knew the sparkling night light, out in the fields, were not fireflies as one might have speculated at first glance. No, she knew that my buddy and I were out smoking cigarettes and drinking my friend’s father’s beers, as we camped out overnight by the stream that ran through that area. Being a parent, being a mother surely, has its ups and downs.
There was a witness to Stephen’s stoning that horrific day. His name was Saul, a young Pharisee… just finishing his training perhaps, observing the execution of a man simply because he professed a belief in the man Jesus, whom had been executed for his blasphemy against God and the religious elite at that time. What was going on in his heart and mind as he observed this tragedy that day? We know, from the scriptures, how Saul was destined to be confronted by the Risen Christ on his way to Damascus to round up even more Christians to be persecuted for their beliefs.
As transformation took place, and he became humbled and accepted Christ as his salvation, thereby transforming his very life, one can only speculate as to the impact, his memory of what he witnessed that day as Stephen died a martyr’s death, had upon him.
It has been said and restated over-and-over-again: “Christ is our strong foundation,” “the cornerstone of our spiritual household as we honor and serve God.” One theologian goes on with this dialog stating how: “Living into this calling is never easy, which is seen dramatically in the martyrdom of Stephen. And yet, Christ promises to be with us both now and into eternity, preparing us to serve on this earth, but also preparing a place for us in God’s household when we come to the end of our earthly journey.” /Mary J. Scifres/ Saul was faced with his transformation into the Apostle Paul. His conversion was life changing. Yet, he was to live with the burden of ‘remembering’ all of what he had witnessed, as do all who witness the dramas of life. What we see and observe is just as powerful and profound as what we do! We cannot separate who we become with whom we have been along the journey! The challenge is to use our life experiences to better form our current choices and decisions.
Today, we grapple with what it means to be a mother in the “Twenty-First Century.” We as a faithful people, must struggle with the martyrdom of the man Stephen. As modern Christians, we must accept that the witness to this event, once a participate of oppression by his presence, was to become the foundation of Christianity as the Apostle Paul evangelized and planted Christian groups well into the regions of gentiles, the non-Jews, outside of Jerusalem and Palestine. A professor of New Testament studies tells us: “If we make this passage only about Stephen, we might neglect to notice the stones littering the ground around us, which either implicate us or cause us to cry out for deliverance from cycles of violence.” /Matt Skinner/ His message is suggesting to us to be careful of how we judge one another. On this Mother’s Day, we may want to take this to a more personal level, and consequently a more personal meaning. We need to be careful how we look backwards and perhaps judge even, the choices and decisions and yes, the mistakes, which our parents, our mothers ‘in-particular’ caused, through their response to life’s ever changing challenge and test. Surely, they, like ourselves and Saul, have had their own burdens, their own memories of life to carry as they journeyed and witnessed to life’s challenges along the way.
Let us pray for mothers across the lands, pray they are not called to martyrdom, nor forced to witness such a tragic fate for their loved ones! Let us turn our gaze toward God, focusing on the grace and mercy bestowed upon us. Let us pray that the ‘witness’ of mothers now gone, let us pray their lessons, upon life’s journey, were then turned into wisdom… as it was passed forward to the next generation. Also, let us seek to grasp the enormity, the depth and breathe of the challenges parents, mothers specifically, face in the current time. Let us pray that God’s grace and mercy has touched their hearts and their very souls.
Lastly, let us pray the Living Spirit of God propels them ever forward, enlightening their choices as they strive to be the mothers, the very parents, which they coveted to be and thereby have been charged to be! Remembering always, to love as God loves; to forgive as Christ taught and promised for us. Likewise, remembering always: our mothers, parents and caregivers, they now ‘have the opportunity to,’ they now can enrich and enlighten others. This is a gift which they can “pass-forward;’ just as the Spirit has opened-up their hearts and their minds for the pathways in front of them!