5 11 2014

Rocky Grove Avenue Presbyterian Church                                     Pastor Sue Nageotte

Mother’s Day – Fourth Sunday of Easter                                                           May 11, 2014

“In and Through the Life-Gate”

                                                         John 10: 1-10, Acts 2:42-47

Good morning, and happy Mother’s Day!   My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed our vacation time, but it is very good to be back home and to be back with you all.

Before turning to our Scripture texts and message this morning, I’d like to offer a special prayer for mothers.   Would you pray with me, please?

Most gracious and holy God, you are our Creator, the giver of all life.   We thank You for our mothers to whom You have entrusted the care of every precious human life from its very beginning in the womb.

To mothers You have given the great privilege and responsibility of being a child’s first teacher and spiritual guide.   Help mothers to grow daily in love, knowledge and under-standing of Your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and grant them the wisdom to impart this same faith to their children, and to all who depend upon them.

Watch over each mother with Your Fatherly care, we pray, and help her to know how very deeply You love her and each child you have entrusted to her care.   Provide for her physical, spiritual and emotional needs. Give her courage in times of fear or pain, faith in times of uncertainty or doubt, hope in times of trouble, and joy in each child.    

Assist all “spiritual mothers”, those who, though they may have no children of their own, nevertheless selflessly care for the children of others — of every age and state in life. Whether it be in nursing, teaching, child care, mentoring – in counseling such as the workers at ABC Pregnancy Center — or some other capacity, guide and strengthen these “spiritual mothers” as they nurture others who are made in Your image.

Also, Father, we beseech You to send Your Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to all mothers whose children have died, who are ill or estranged from their families, or who are in trouble or danger of any kind.   Help grieving mothers rely on Your tender mercy toward them and all Your children.   And we lift up to you the secret grief, guilt and anguish of those who have had an abortion. Help them to open their hearts to receive your forgiveness and healing love.

We ask your blessing on all those to whom You have entrusted motherhood. May Your Holy Spirit constantly inspire and strengthen them. May they ever follow the example of Mary, mother of Our Lord, and let their lives be shaped by her fidelity, her humility, and her self-giving love.   May all mothers trust in your grace throughout this earthly life, and may they look forward to eternal joy in Your presence in the life to come.

We ask all these things through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever –   Amen

Let us return, now, to our passages of Scripture.   In our first reading, from the Gospel of John, Jesus uses the metaphor of the shepherd and his sheep, to describe our relationship with him and with other believers.   Although first-century Judea was filled with sheep and shepherds, verse 6 tells us that even Jesus’ followers didn’t understand what he was trying to say.

You may have heard about the pastor of a wealthy suburban congregation who was speaking to the children in Sunday school.   He explained that as the pastor he was like a shepherd, and the members of the church were like his sheep.   Then he asked, “What does the shepherd do for the sheep?”   The children looked at one another uncertainly, so the pastor repeated his question.   “What does the shepherd do for the sheep?”   Again there was silence.   Finally one little fellow put up his hand eagerly.   “Oh — I know –

I know!   He fleeces them!”

It is very true that people who make a business of raising sheep hope to profit from the wool and milk of their flocks.   But raising sheep is by no means an easy business.   Lambs may be soft and cuddly, but if you’ve ever been around full-grown sheep, you know just how strong they can be. And fast, too!   Nevertheless, sheep need guidance, care, and protection.

We are familiar with the metaphor of Jesus as the Good Shepherd who knows every one of his flock — the Good Shepherd who goes out into the wilderness to find even one lost sheep — the Good Shepherd who will even lay down his life for the sake of his sheep.

But in today’s passage, Jesus says something strange. He says, “I am the gate for the sheep.”   When we enter through him, we become members of the family of believers.

Scripture says clearly, there is no other name under heaven by which we may be saved.   Salvation is found only in Jesus.     Spiritual birth – birth into eternal life – comes only through Jesus.     Some people are offended by this.   They complain that Christianity is too narrow.     But no one complains about the way they came into this life.   No one complains that they had to be born of a human mother.    So why should they complain that God has said that in order to obtain eternal life, we must be saved and born again through Jesus Christ?

And when we experience this new birth, we become members of a family of believers.

All of us have had different experiences, thoughts and emotions about being “family” —   experiences gained as we were growing up, as we visited the homes of our friends, and later, as we grow into adulthood, most of us establish our own families (whether they include children or not).   Pastor Rick Warren writes, “Our families on earth are wonderful gifts from God, but they are temporary and fragile, often broken by divorce, distance, growing old and inevitably, our family bonds are broken by death.”

We know how wonderful family relationships can be — and we also know the pain and sorrow when family relationships are strained and broken.     On holidays – including Mother’s Day — we may feel very intensely the pain of separation from loved ones, either by distance, by disagreements, or by death.   But the pain of separation should not lead us to despair.   Pastor Warren continues:

“Our spiritual family – our relationship to other believers – will continue throughout eternity. It is a much stronger union, a more permanent bond, than blood relationships.”

Belonging to a spiritual family does not happen magically. It involves God’s grace and our response.   Our response involves time, effort, and the willingness to learn new ways of being together and being with God.   But we may be surprised to find that belonging to a healthy spiritual family is not, primarily, about attending worship on Sunday mornings.   Listen, now, to our second text, which describes the life and practice of the early church.

What you are about to hear takes place immediately after Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon that small group of frightened disciples and led them out into the streets of Jerusalem, praising God for his mighty power in raising Jesus from the dead.   And on that day, Scripture tells us, 3000 people believed that message of salvation and were added to the family of faith.

[Listen now to God’s word as it is found in Acts 2: 42 – 47]

So how did this early family of faith live?   They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching — teaching that was based in the Hebrew scriptures, but also, teaching about Jesus’ life and preaching and healing power, his death and resurrection, and his ascension into heaven.

They devoted themselves to the fellowship – that is, to strengthening their relationships with other believers.

They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread — eating their meals together, and also remembering the Lord’s sacrifice through the sharing of bread and wine, just as he had commanded his followers at the Last Supper.

They devoted themselves to prayer.   And those who had much, shared with those who were in need.    

Did you notice?   NOT ONE WORD about temple hierarchy.   Not one word about priests.   Not one word about committee meetings!   Instead, that early church grew because they lived like a family.     That’s the kind of people that God desires us to be.   May the Lord lead you and me, and all of us, in the year ahead so that we can be