Sunday, May 8, 2016

Give Me a Sign

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there!

   Seventh Sunday of Easter   C 

Have you ever noticed the church sign out in front of the Methodist church on Main Street?  I was talking with some folks about it just the other day, and we were wondering where they get all those clever sayings.  Some of them are quite funny, others are thought-provoking, and others downright inspirational.  Have you seen what it says right now?  God couldn’t be everywhere so he created mothers!  Isn’t that sweet?  And just in time for Mothers Day!  I looked that saying up to see where it comes from, and a number of different sources were suggested: some say it’s an old Jewish proverb, some say it was written by Rudyard Kipling, and other say it’s from Erma Bombeck.  Regardless of where it comes from, can you guess my first thought on seeing the sign?  “That’s wrong…”  Now, to be clear: I’m not trying to start an ecumenical fight here!  But that saying is flawed on two fronts.

This first is that it sells God short.  One of the things that makes God, God, is that he is everywhere.  God is all-knowing, almighty, and all-present.  He told us so himself.  As we heard in our second reading, from the Book of Revelation, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”  God is eternal, and he is everywhere.  The second thing wrong with that saying is that it sells mothers short, too.  It makes moms little more than a replacement, a substitute, for someone who couldn’t be there.  Of course, if you’re going to be an understudy, being God’s understudy isn’t so bad…but still: a mother’s role is clearly so much more than being a second-string player.

In our first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear a story about St. Stephen—not a mother, but the Church’s first martyr.   We’re told that Stephen has a vision of Jesus, seeing him off in heaven, seated at God’s right hand.  Especially in these days following the Lord’s ascension, that can give the impression that God isn’t actually everywhere: he’s up in heaven while we’re here on our own down on earth.  And then we’re told about Stephen’s martyrdom.  As he’s being stoned to death, we hear him day two things: “Lord, forgive them this sin!” and, “Lord, receive my spirit!”  Those should sound familiar:  they’re things we heard Jesus say from his Cross.  Again, we could get the impression that Stephen is an understudy: just repeating the Lord’s lines.   But what’s happening here runs much deeper than Stephen’s words; he’s doing exactly what Jesus did his whole life long: reaching out to others with mercy, and reaching up to the Father with complete trust.  We can recognize Jesus alive and active in St. Stephen—not distant in heaven, but very close: suffering in him and with him on earth.  God is very present in that moment and in that man dying for his faith.

What’s true of this martyr is also very true of mothers, who also lay down their lives for others.   Yet it’s not only true of mothers, but also of fathers, and of children, and of single people, and of priests, and of religious—of all the Christian faithful.  God is present everywhere, and one of the ways he chooses to make his presence known is in you and me.   We see this in our gospel reading.   Jesus is still at table with the Apostles at the Last Supper, and he’s praying: praying not only for them, but for you and me, too—for all who will come to believe through them.  Jesus makes it clear that just as the Father is in him, so he will be in us.  His disciples recognized the Father’s love and glory in Jesus; he prays that that same love and glory will be apparent in us.   Just as the Father sent the Son, so the Son sends us into the world to make him known: God living in Christ, and Christ living his followers.  That’s so much more than being second-string!  God is, in fact, everywhere, and that’s why he made mothers—and all the rest of us, too: to be present with and in and through us.

 So, if that saying is wrong, what ought we do about it?  I know what you most certainly should not do: do not call the Methodist church and tell them that your pastor said they need to change their sign!  What we need to do is live in such a way that the truth of the matter is abundantly clear; we need to live in a way that fulfills the prayer of Jesus.  We need to be a clear sign for others.  You and I are to live our lives in such a way that people who see us can’t help but say, “I know that God is everywhere.  I know because I’ve seen him: I’ve seen him in them.  Not only have they been sent by Jesus, but Jesus lives in them.”

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