Sunday, May 12, 2019
Scripture: Deuteronomy 5:16-21 & Ephesians 6:1-4
Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon
Today we celebrate Mother’s Day, so I thought I’d start with thinking about the positive ways our mothers have shaped us. Not that our mothers were perfect, but they did help form us into who we are today. Because of Mother’s Day, there are lots of online articles going around about the best advice people received from their mothers. Let me share just a few of them with you:
- Always treat people the same, whether they are the housekeeper or a CEO.
- Never make decisions when you’re angry.
- You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.
- Be generous with others.
- Open yourself to new ideas.
- Give more than you get.
It’s hard to argue with that advice, isn’t it? But there’s a depth to these aphorisms that goes way beyond the surface. There’s always a “why” behind each one. For example, be generous with others. Why? Because a generosity of spirit and action creates an environment of generosity, inspiring others and even entire communities to be generous. Generosity is a healthy practice, not merely simple advice.
Now, my own mother was not one who would sit around doling out lots of advice. I spent a lot of time thinking this week about whether she had a saying that I learned from her and that has shaped me, and, honestly, I couldn’t come up with one. With her, it wasn’t what she said. It was what she did. My mother was the fifth of eight children. Her father worked hard as a tool and die maker, but that barely made ends meet. Her mother ran the household, and she really was a harsh person. All in the household contributed to running it. My mom made breakfast for the family by the time she was five or six, which has led to her being a very good cook, but can you just picture this six year old on a stool flipping eggs on the stove on a regular basis? She grew up in the 1950s, and her parents had really narrow ideas about what boys and girls could do. Her brothers got bikes. The girls did not. My mom is pretty mechanically minded. On her own, she used to try to disassemble her brothers’ bikes and put them back together, which of course got her in trouble. Girls weren’t supposed to do that. As I hear her stories, I really think that the way she was raised really kept her from being herself, at least for the time she lived in her parents’ home.
So, without telling us this, I think my mom always wanted her sons to just be ourselves. She certainly gave us parameters in which to operate – the right way to live life – but largely, we were left to explore, to play, and to figure things out. My mom never said as much, but I think one of her rules for life for me was “Be who God created you to be.” What a gift to have the freedom to live into that! And there’s a why to that rule. Why should a person be who God created him to be? Because there is freedom to be found in being fully who one is in relationship to others.
Today’s readings are on what we might call some of God’s rules for life. The reading from Deuteronomy is part of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are divided into what some call the two tables. The first four deal with how humans should relate to God. The remaining six are about how we should relate to each other. That’s what we read this morning. On the surface, they’re pretty simple, right? Honor your parents. Don’t murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Don’t desire what someone else has. Many of us can observe these rules for living without having to work very hard at not doing them. But, of course, most of us don’t really like being told what to do. The way these rules get put before us often is in this finger-wagging sort of way. You better honor your parents or else! Don’t you even think about telling me a lie! But there’s a why behind each of these that I think is far more motivational than the fear of the consequences of breaking one of these rules. Actually, the one about parents gives its why right in it. “Honor your father and your mother…so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you” (Deut. 5:16). That’s exactly how Ephesians presents this, calling it the first command with a promise. Why live by these rules? Because they lead to fuller life and flourishing as a community. Imagine a world where the covenanted relationship of marriage was never threatened by unfaithfulness. Imagine a community where we didn’t lock our doors or have to put cameras everywhere to make sure no one laid hands on what wasn’t theirs. Imagine if we could trust that we would always tell the truth to each other. How different would things be?
John Calvin wrote about how the law had three functions. First, it reveals who God is. Second, it convicts us of our own sinfulness. And third, it shows us the way to full life. So, in this third use of the law, we don’t just hear the prohibition “Don’t murder.” I think it’s safe to say that’s a commandment that most of us don’t struggle to fulfill, but this third use flips this commandment on its head. Not only am I not to murder, but I am also to do everything in my power to promote the full life and living of those I encounter. It’s not the simple task of not killing; it’s the far harder task of advocating for others, of seeking justice for others, of caring so much about others that I am willing to sacrifice what is mine so that others flourish. This falls right into sync with Jesus’ own teaching, particularly in the Sermon on the Mount, where he takes elements of the Ten Commandments and redefines them. Jesus teaches, “You have heard that it was said… ‘You shall not murder’…but I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment” (Matt 5:21-22). Jesus sees that it’s the underlying stuff – the anger, the contempt – that breaks down the community. So don’t just rid yourself of it; do the things that cause you to love your neighbor as yourself.
So, really our texts are about the positive side of these commands. Honor each other. Preserve life for all people. Respect each other. Value each other to the point where you’re cheering on others’ success rather than being jealous of it. It’s this same point Paul is urging to the early churches in Rome: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom 12:9-10). When we live this way, we flourish as a community. These rules for life together are about so much more than self-denial. They are about doing the things that lead to full life for us and for the whole community. This all comes full circle. What you put into the world, you get back, right? As much as our mothers may have given us good rules for living, what we encounter in Scripture gives us a picture of what life looks like in the beloved community. Imagine if we as a church were known first and foremost in our community as a cluster of people who were dedicated to each other’s flourishing and who had so much love that it spread throughout the community? How do prosper with each other, not just coexist? I was so glad to hear our new associate pastor, Kristine, speak to this last week, when she challenged us to imagine what it would be like to have our community know that First Pres was a sanctuary – a safe place and a safe people for anyone looking for some hope and healing. Now, I think we are that to some degree, but I think the more committed we are to this idea, the more it will be the marker of this church.
On today’s bulletin cover, I included two quotes from Rachel Held Evans. Her life’s work was often about how we create those safe spaces for others. She’s been in the news and on a lot of hearts and minds lately because she died a little over a week ago. In early April, Evans got an infection that caused her hospitalization. During treatment, her brain started having constant seizures, so the doctors put her in a medically induced coma. After a couple of more weeks of trying to figure out what was wrong with her, doctors tried bringing her out of the coma. While this was going on, they discovered extensive swelling on her brain, and her vitals took an extreme dive. The swelling caused so much damage, that Evans died, leaving behind a husband, two very young children, and a large community around the world in grief over losing her.
You see, for the past 15 or so years, she had become a voice of Christianity for millennials who had grown dissatisfied with the church. While she was brutally honest about the church’s failings, she also remained staunchly committed to the church. She leaves that same space for imagining what it would be like to flourish in our life together. “Imagine,” she writes, “if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable. Imagine if every church became a place where we told one another the truth. We might just create sanctuary.”
So, why all this talk about life together and about the rules that help define how we flourish together? Well, first of all, because Christianity is all about relationships. We are a part of this church – members and friends – not so that our name is on a list or because this is some sort of exclusive club (it is not!), but because we have committed ourselves to the flourishing of each other and the community. Having a sense of what defines us and compels us drives what we do.
But I also wanted to take time on this theme because we are going to take the next few weeks to dwell on our newly named Core Values. Our Session has been working on these for awhile, and these fundamental beliefs of our organization not only help define who we are but give shape to what we’re doing. Just like we know our vision statement because we say it weekly in worship, I hope that each of us will commit these core values to memory, so today I’m just going to outline them, but in the coming weeks, we’ll dive into them with depth. I think they’re a picture of what it means for us to be a part of a beloved community.
So, here are the Core Values of First Presbyterian Church:
- We are Christ-centered – which is foundational because apart from Christ
we are nothing.
- We are better together – meaning that in this divided world where it’s so
easy to hunker down into camps of like-minded individuals, we believe that sharing life with each other is our calling and that looking out for each other
in good times and bad is essential to our identity. This crosses generational lines too.
- We are at the heart of the community – this is not just about our location, but it’s also about our founding, it’s about ministries we have helped start in the area, and it’s even now about how we as a church and individuals are taking seriously our role to care for our community. If we removed First Presbyterian Church from Grand Haven, we believe that the community would feel that impact greatly.
- Finally, we are created to create – which is why music and the arts are such a focus for our church and why we believe we are not consumers or an audience but that we actually have a God-given responsibility to create things that put God’s beauty, truth, and grace back out into the world.
These Core Values are not rules. They are a way of describing the church that provides direction and openness to how God is going to use us as a force for the in-breaking kingdom in our community. I get tremendous joy from thinking about how we get to live this life together, and that what we do is not just for us but it is for the whole world, so they too might know this joy. Our aim in defining the church through these Core Values is to give us the direction to lead to a more vibrant life together and to lead to the flourishing of our community. God has blessed us to be a blessing, so in understanding our life together, may we come to a new season of extending the joy we get as a church to others who are missing out on it.