John 15:7-17 (MSG)
South Presbyterian Church – May 10, 2015 – Mother’s Day
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift
There was a song popular in the women’s movement about 40 years ago that said, “She changes everything she touches, and everything she touches changes.” It was about God.
And there is an understanding in the scientific community that has spread to the field of social sciences known as Chaos Theory … everything returns to chaos. Chaos is the natural state of the Universe – just ask any parents of teenagers!
So why is it that we humans want to organize EVERYTHING in order to keep ourselves from having to change?
We see this resistance to change in every part of our LIVES: politicians and their unwillingness to compromise; social DISCOMFORT in changing morees; New Orleans spending BILLIONS to build levees so they don’t have to change the layout of their city … even though they KNOW it’s in the natural basin … FLOOD PLAIN … of the mighty Mississippi River.
What IS it with people?
And yet all of us DO change. And our changes are CHAMPIONED in the first few years of our lives … we talk about and celebrate the milestones in our children’s lives … first tooth … eating real food … first steps … first words … potty training … first day of kindergarten.
Something seems to happen later, though, doesn’t it?
Maybe we stop celebrating birthdays … decorating for Christmas becomes too much of a hassle … we develop painful associations with things because events are linked with hurtful experiences of memories.
Sometimes we change for the better; sometimes we change for the worse. Sometimes we make healthy changes, sometimes unhealthy. Our bodies change when we start smoking cigarettes … chemical addiction happens and our lungs take a beating that could ultimately KILL us (now THERE’S a change we haven’t even listed yet — DYING!) but our bodies ALSO change when we give UP smoking or other addictive behaviors. Good or bad … it’s all about change.
Jesus knew all this, didn’t he?
He had been the baby who everybody watched grow and change.
He’d seen other children in his family and his village grow to adulthood. He and his cousin, John the Baptist … they both had grown in their faith since the first time they met when they were both in utero.
And he KNEW … he SAW all the time the ways that people STRUGGLE so with this concept of becoming something different … of becoming something NEW … of changing. So he gave us a roadmap … GUIDELINES for change … guidelines for LIFE … and it’s pretty simple … at least it SOUNDS simple … “Make yourselves at home in my love. … Keep God’s commands … Love each other the way I loved you. … Put your life on the line for your friends.” It sounds so simple … just love everybody, including yourself because I live in you and you live in me.
How can something so simple be so hard?
I think it’s because of human nature.
Just as it’s human nature to want to hold ON to something and keep it from changing … just as it’s human nature to want to make SENSE out of our world … so it’s human nature to think that we have evolved and BECOME the best me I could possibly be … so I’ m not going to change ANYTHING for fear that I’ll lose ground and won’t be that good anymore. What happens if I change AGAIN and I lose GROUND?
So we do whatever we CAN to keep ourselves from having to change too much — until life events take over … and they always DO because remember: everything is moving toward chaos. No matter how hard we try to keep everything running smoothly and going along in an organized fashion, SOMETHING is going to come along and upset the apple cart.
It might be death or loss … it might be illness … maybe someone in our life chooses to LEAVE … maybe we lose our job and there’s a reduction in income. THAT sure changes things in a hurry. Or maybe we get a serious medical diagnosis … THAT changes things in a heartbeat.
The only thing that DOESN’T change is the fact that things are going to change. So the more we can learn to roll with the punches and just go with the change, the happier we will be. AND the more SECURE we will feel.
It’s kind of funny, really … and counter-intuitive: the way to feel most secure is to embrace change. Yet I submit that because of our nature as humans to try to NOT change … that when we try hold on to whatever it is we are valuing … we try to CONTROL what’s happening in our lives … that THAT is what leads us to those things that many people call SIN.
Think about it … think of the most sinful things you can think of … murder? That’s kind of the ULTIMATE in control, isn’t it? Controlling someone else’s very existence. The same would be true of violent assault.
infidelity? Well, isn’t that really about not wanting to change one’s behavior by focusing on one primary relationship over all others? “Nobody’s going to control me … I’ll show THEM … I can do whatever feels good and nobody can stop me because I am in CONTROL OF MY LIFE.
Or what about another sin: stealing, theft, embezzlement… wanting to control your WORLD and what you have. Bernie Maddow is the perfect example of THAT, isn’t he? Control, control, control … but as with all things, the Universe takes over and his life devolved into MAJOR chaos where now other people control every part of his daily existence.
Maybe a definition of sin could be trying to control the things that only GOD can control — like the chaos in the Universe. So rather than teaching us to do THAT, Jesus teaches us MANAGEMENT skills … he tells us … “Look … Make yourselves at home in my love.” Because then it doesn’t MATTER how things change around you. He says “Keep God’s commands” because THEN you won’t act in those ways that lead you to try and control things. You’ll REMEMBER every day that you’re not in charge. And ultimately, “Love each other the way I love you” because he loves us through all the changes … through all the ups and downs and through all of everything that happens to us in live.
But here’s the kicker … and this is where we sometimes get caught up, I think. It’s human nature to think that our ways of doing things, our perceptions, our FEELINGS are accurate. We live in a world where we are taught, “Trust your gut” and where individuality is prized. And if later on we find out that our interpretations of something were wrong, we blame somebody else because we didn’t have all the evidence or we were misled … “he lied to me” … “she manipulated me.” Whatever the excuse, it’s on somebody else. When REALLY … maybe … just MAYBE it’s because something changed. Maybe the other person changed. Maybe WE changed.
We are BORN (or we develop at a very young age) … hardwired, if you will … with certain proclivities toward interpreting the actions of others.
Some of us are hardwired to be fearful … for whatever reason or reasons we feel that people are out to get us and so everything gets fed through that filter. And if somebody else isn’t as fearful as we, then they’re just naive.
SOME of us are hardwired to be helpers … for whatever reason or reasons we feel that everybody needs our help and we find our meaning in helping others (whether they want it or not) because that’s how we control our environment.
Others of us are hardwired to be angry because, if truth be told, we feel pretty invisible otherwise. “I want them to know that I’m here so I’m going to be puffed up and strut around in an assertive way because then they’ll HAVE to see me and if they SEE me and they are AFRAID of me then I can control how the world works around me.”
I mean … these examples are taken to the extreme, but you know what I mean. Our need to control … our DELUSION that we CAN control the chaos … leads us to develop these crazy, unconscious ways of interacting with others and with our environment.
But Jesus, in all of his wisdom, cuts right through them and says … “Forget about all that. Just love. Trust me. That’s hard enough. You won’t have TIME for all this other silliness if you focus on that. And no matter what comes your way … no matter what changes you have to deal with … the love …. MY love will see you through.”
Everything changes. Our relationships change … our relationships with loved ones … our relationship with God … even our relationship with our SELVES changes over time. So part of our faith journey is embracing those changing relationships with God and with Jesus … with ourselves and our faith experiences.
But the other interpretation is also true … being in relationship with God and with Jesus is a CHANGING relationship because nothing stays the same. Once we begin to intentionally build a relationship with God or Jesus, we cannot look at the world the same way that we used to BEFORE that relationship. It is a relationship that brings change TO us. It is a Changing Relationship in our lives.
There’s nothing to be afraid of. J Jesus said to his disciples:
7 Stay joined to me and let my teachings become part of you. Then you can pray for whatever you want, and your prayer will be answered. He said, 9 I have loved you, just as my Father has loved me. So remain faithful to my love for you. The bottom line is this: 16 You did not choose me. I chose you and sent you out to produce fruit, the kind of fruit that will last. Then my Father will give you whatever you ask for in my name. 17 So I command you to love each other.
Our relationships change as our experience and perspectives change. And so in honor of Mother’s Day, I want to leave you with a reading that came across my desk a little while ago and which I shared with the Bible Study group last week. It’s called
In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?” The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”
“Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”
The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”
The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”
The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”
The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one has ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”
“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”
The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?”
The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”
Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”
To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and you really listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above. And if you’re very quiet … you can hear Her heartbeat.”
May our Great Mother birth us into new Changing Relationships. Amen.