Sunday, May 8, 2016
Now that baseball is in full swing, I thought you might enjoy a story I was reading recently concerning former Indians pitcher Bob Feller and Minnesota Twins outfielder Denard Span. It seems these two players from different eras have something rather odd in common: Both men during baseball games hit their mothers in the stands with a foul ball. Feller hit his mom in 1939 and broke her collarbone; Span hit his during a spring training game in 2010. Fortunately, both moms made full recoveries.
That’s an interesting way to welcome you on this Mother’s Day, isn’t it? We honor our mothers today. Mothers make many sacrifices and we’re very thankful for them. Like the old saying goes, the hand that rocks the cradle usually is attached to someone who isn’t getting enough sleep.
It’s not easy being a Mom, even if your son doesn’t hit you with a foul ball. Maybe you can relate to one Mom who wrote to Reader’s Digest. She says it had been a rotten morning. Her three kids were wired and driving her crazy. Counting to 10 wasn’t cutting it, so to release the pent-up frustration, she walked into her bedroom closet, shut the door and SCREEAAMMED! It worked. Afterward she felt much better. Ready to face the rest of the day, she opened the door and was greeted by three terrified faces. “Mom,” said her five-year-old. “I told you there was a monster in that closet!” I’ll bet those three youngsters stayed away from that closet for a long, long time.
Being a mom isn’t easy, but it’s the most important single job in the world. It’s our moms, with a little help from dads, to whom God entrusts our care until we’re able to make it on our own.
Our lesson for the day comes from the Gospel of John. The setting is Maundy Thursday. It is here that Jesus prays what has come to be known as His “High Priestly Prayer.” It’s a lengthy prayer, in which Jesus first prays for Himself; then for His disciples. In the final portion of His prayer which begins with this verse, He prays for future believers. Listen to how this portion of the prayer begins:
I do not ask for these alone, here He is referring to His disciples. I do not ask for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word. That’s us. Christ is praying for His disciples and He is praying for those who will be reached through the disciples’ witness. Christ prays for all who believe because of the testimony of those first saints, including us.
So we see in this lesson: When Jesus prays, He prays for us. You and I are included in His prayer. That should bring us some comfort. If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I wouldn’t fear a million enemies. Makes no difference how close or far. He is praying for me.
That’s incredible, Christ prays for us. The epistle to the Hebrews, we learn that Christ is still interceding with the Father in our behalf. In chapter 4: Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet He did not sin. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16). To me that’s incredible good news. When we bring our requests to God, Christ is right alongside us, interceding in our behalf.
A true story of Solomon Rosenberg and his family. He and his wife and their two sons as well as Solomon’s mother and father were arrested and placed in a Nazi concentration camp. It was a labor camp, and the rules were simple: As long as you could do your work, you were permitted to live. When you became too weak to do your work, then you were exterminated. Solomon watched his mother and father go off to their deaths, and he knew that next would be his youngest son, David, because David had always been a frail child.
Every evening he came back into the barracks after his hours of labor and searched for the faces of his family. When he found them they would huddle together, embrace one another, and thank God for another day of life. One day he came back and didn’t see those familiar faces. He finally found his oldest son, Joshua, in a corner, huddled, weeping, and praying. He said, Josh, tell me it’s not true. Joshua turned and said, it’s true, Poppa. Today David was not strong enough to do his work. So they came for him. But where is your mother? Oh Poppa, when they came for David, he was afraid and crying. Momma said, there is nothing to be afraid of, David, and she took his hand and went with him.
It’s a sad story of a mother’s love for her little boy. Now, transfer that image to yourself and Christ, with Christ in the role of the mother. Fearfully you approach the throne of God. Why fearfully? Because you know you’re not worthy to petition God for His love and mercy. But alongside you is one who has volunteered to stand with you, giving you comfort and confidence.
Jesus reassures us that we can come to God as any child comes to a loving parent. We can pray, not as outsiders, but as God’s children, tenderly, honestly, and confidently. Christ prays for us and all who believe on His name. That’s the first understanding that steadies our hearts. Here’s the second: In this passage, He makes a specific request in our behalf. He prays for our unity. That’s where we draw our strength: we’re bound together with one another and with Him.
Listen to His words, I do ask for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that THEY MAY BE ONE, just as You Father, are in Me and I am in You. Important words: that they may be one.
In praying for us, not only did Christ hold us in His heart before the Father but He makes some special requests. The first of these is for our unity. A divided church, in many ways is a insult to the uniting work that Jesus did on Calvary by bringing us into relationship with God the Father and ultimately bringing us into relationship with each other. That’s why we’re known as the body of Christ.
The unity that He wants for His church is the same kind of unity He has with the Father. The real church is a body of men and women united to each other because they are united to Christ.
Here’s the third thing we get from this passage. Our unity as the body of Christ is our primary witness to the world to the truth of Christ. “May they also be in us,” Jesus prayed, “so that the world may believe that you have sent me . . .”
There is a song we sometimes sing at our Saturday evening worship and its heard at many of the Lutheran chapel services at our schools. We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, And we pray that all unity may one day be restored. And particularly the chorus: And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
This song comes directly from this prayer by Jesus. If you want to witness for Christ, the first thing you need to do is to love your brothers and sisters in Christ. We’re a family, His family. And Christ is the head of our family. We’re in Him as He is in the Father.
It reminds me of a movie from the 1990s titled, Mr. Holland’s Opus. It’s about Glenn Holland, a musician and composer who takes a job as a high school band director to pay the rent so that, in his “spare time,” he can create his opus, his greatest piece of music.
However, he becomes overwhelmed by his teaching job and the needs of his family (including an infant son who is deaf) and has very little time to work on his masterpiece. He works long hours, he deals with difficult students, but, in spite of his best efforts, the band doesn’t sound very good. Nevertheless, despite his apparent lack of success, he comes to believe this is where he’s supposed to be. And as the years go by the joy of sharing his passion for music with his students becomes his new definition of success.
At the end of the movie an older Mr. Holland who’s fighting unsuccessfully to keep his job. Because the board has decided to reduce the operating budget by cutting the music and drama programs. After thirty years, Mr. Holland is forced into retirement.
Mr. Holland returns to his classroom to gather his stuff a few days after school has let out for summer vacation. As Mr. Holland, his wife, and their now grown-up son, Cole, are cleaning out the last of his belongings from his old classroom, they hear music coming from the auditorium. The auditorium is filled with former students and teaching colleagues and a banner that reads “Goodbye, Mr. Holland.” His students have planned a surprise assembly in his honor. In that assembly they play the opus he never had published, the opus that had been his original passion.
The emcee of the event is the governor, who many years before was a discouraged clarinet player in Mr. Holland’s music class. She says, Mr. Holland had a profound influence in my life (on a lot of lives, I know), and yet I get the feeling that he considers a great part of his life misspent. Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his, and this was going to make him famous and rich (probably both). But Mr. Holland isn’t rich and he isn’t famous, at least not outside our little town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure, but he’d be wrong. Because I think he’s achieved a success far beyond riches and fame.
Looking at her former teacher the governor gestures with a sweeping hand and continues, Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each one of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony, Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. And we are the music of your life.
It’s a beautiful film, but let me assure you, that we are Christ’s opus. He gave His life for the express purpose of bringing into being this group of people. On the night before He was crucified, Christ prayed for us. He prayed that we might be unified as His body. This is where we draw our strength during times of need, and this is our best way of witnessing to the truth that Christ is alive and at work in the world: We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, And we pray that all unity may one day be restored. They’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.