As we read our texts today, you might have noticed that these don’t sound like happy Mother’s Day texts, especially that first one in Acts with Stephen. Our texts today had various ways that I could go, various sermons I could choose to preach. I was debating this during the week.
One thing that kept coming back to me is a theme I have been discussing during this time in Easter, one of a journey in a post-resurrection world. Now, our Gospel text is prior to the death and resurrection of Christ but it teaches us about the thereafter.
We started this season with the resurrection and then we had “Doubting Thomas“, starting us on a journey of seeking to better understand who God is, who Christ is, and the miracle of the resurrection in our lives. I talked about him continuing into India as a missionary, where he would eventually be martyred for it.
The week after that was the Road to Emmaus, disciples walking uncertain that it was Christ they were walking with until he opened their eyes and their hearts to his presence.
Last week, we had the Good Shepherd where the sheep know the voice of their shepherd. I talked about this being eyes opened, ears opened, and hearts opened to God.
You might be wondering ‘what does that have to do with our Acts text today’.
We have another disciple of Christ, this one would (probably) not have known Christ firsthand. His name was Stephen and we recognize him as a deacon in the (early) church. We still have deacons today, in fact they are trained in Seminary similar to me only it is a slightly different process. I am ordained into the Ministry of Word (preaching, proclaiming) and Sacrament (Baptism and Holy Communion). A deacon is consecrated into the Ministry of Word (preaching, proclaiming) and Service, they are more service orientated to the community.
That is what Stephen was and through his service to his community in this way, he has a vision. He has a vision of Christ at the right hand of God up in the clouds, our image of heaven. If you notice, those who heard him proclaim this vision, it (the text) says “they covered their ears”.
There is a lot of similarities in this texts of Stephen with Christ’s first ‘sermon’ in the Gospel of Luke (and its the same author). In Luke’s [Gospel], Jesus goes to his hometown to read scripture, he proclaims that he is the one that the scripture is talking about, and the neighbors he grew up with their ears were closed. They said ‘how can that be? you are Joseph the carpenters’ son’ and they drove him out-of-town threatening his life.
We also see another parallel with Stephen asking that those who stoned him to death would also be forgiven, such as Christ did on the cross according to Luke’s Gospel.
We might ask ourselves ‘why did this happen to Stephen?’. If Stephen’s eyes, and ears, and heart were open to God and God’s revelations, why did he suffer such violence? Why was he persecuted?
See, we have this image that as Christians (when we become Christian) and when we listen to God that everything becomes rainbows and unicorns, flowers and sunshine, everything becomes perfect. We hold onto the passage at the end of the Gospel, where Jesus says ask for it in my name and it will be done. Some see that as an opportunity to make God and Christ their cabana boys, rather than their Savior, their teacher, the one in which they are called to follow.
Today is Mother’s Day. Mothering is a calling and a vocation.
We, Lutherans, are founded on vocation. Next to the gospel of ‘Justification by Grace Alone’, vocation is the next biggest thing in our Lutheran tradition.
What are we called to do?
How are we called to be?
Who has God called us and who is God forming us into being?
We have vocations that we all share as Christians in our baptisms: to try our best to have open ears and eyes and hearts, to seek justice, to love, and to serve. That is a calling that we all share in common.
Some are called to mother, to nurture, children; not just those of their own, but nieces/nephews, cousins, ones they have adopted, and sometimes they happen to have four legs and fur. We still mother them. Sometimes it is by teaching or coaching. Sometimes it is by being an example. That is a vocation that we hold in addition to our other vocations.
Stephen listened to that (Christian) vocation. We would expect that his life was all sunshine and roses afterwards, and yet it was not.
There is a common phrase that I really don’t like and that is “God won’t give us more than we can handle”. In fact, I have a sign in my office that says “God doesn’t give us what we can handle, God helps us handle what we are given.” Sometimes telling the truth, sometimes loving and serving, sometimes seeking justice, and sometimes proclaiming who God is in this time and in this place (our callings as Christians) is not easy. Sometimes it is not always our safest or most secure option, but it is a great calling just like mothering is.
Anyone who mothers knows that although there are high points and joys that come with that calling and vocation, will also tell you it is full of challenges, its full of heartbreak, it is not all sunshine and roses.
My hope and what I pray for each one of us, for our community, and our world is that as we are on the journeys of our lives, the journeys that Christ has shown and set forth before us, that we keep our eyes open, our ears open, and our hearts open to what those callings are, embracing both the joys of it as well as the challenges. Lean upon God to help sustain, support, love, and comfort us even in the darkest and most difficult days. Amen.
Scriptures were Acts 7: 55-60 and John 14: 1-14.
Originally preached on May 14, 2017 at Gloria Dei (Kelso, WA).