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Dear Friends:

I count myself blessed to have served this church for more than thirty years. When I consider my time here, I am reminded of Psalm 16. I am particularly fond of verse 3 which declares, “As for the saints in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight,” and of verse 6 which declares, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.”

It was reported to me that a visitor to our Farmer’s Market said, “I think I have stumbled into a Hallmark Movie.”  Had I heard her, I would have responded, “Yes, we are a Hallmark congregation, for we know that when God sent us his son, God cared enough to send the very best.”  How does the author of the 4th gospel put it: “The law was given through Moses,” but we have all received “wave after wave of grace in Jesus Christ.” Most of us agree that grace is all we want, and all we want to give.

Despite my pleasure in your company, the time has come for me to close a long chapter and retire from this pastorate. I will do that on Sunday, October 28th, 2018. This congregation will face new challenges, but with every challenge, there is an opportunity, and I believe that your best days are ahead. 

Why am I leaving? There are a number of reasons: 1) I am leaving because I am 69, and I am confident that this is the right time for me.  2) I am leaving because I want to spend time with my wife, Elayne, and we want to spend more time with our children and grandchildren.  3) I am leaving because I want to be responsive to the needs of my mother, Henrietta, who suffers from dementia and is making the long good-by and awaits promotion to the higher service. Her illness is one of the most challenging things Elayne and I have ever faced. Finally, I am leaving because all these things—and many others besides, point to my leaving as the will of God. Though I will miss being your pastor, I look forward to new freedom in a new chapter of life. Whatever I do, I hope to do the work of a witness.

After my departure, you will have an interim to help guide you into the future. However, I still have almost three months left to set the stage for the better days that are coming. In three decades here, we have learned a few things from our successes and failures. We have a lot to talk about. If you care about your church, please make every effort to be in attendance. I would count it as a personal favor. It will certainly impress those pastors who are already starting to contemplate what it might be like to serve here with you.

Blessings,

Worth Green

Senior Pastor

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Men’s Fellowship Breakfast

Simply faith, food & fellowship

Men’s Fellowship Breakfast, Friday, September 7 at 7 a.m.; fellowship, a great breakfast, and information about the Moravian Archives from Archivist Eric Elliott.

Breakfast served at 7 a.m. sharp! First timers, your breakfast is “on the house.”

Net proceeds are directed to the Simmons-Dula Fund for Laurel Ridge Camp and Conference Center.

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Becoming New

2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17

June 17, 2018

 

Today is Father’s Day and I am wearing my dad’s tie. My dad died from cancer just after I accepted the call here to New Philadelphia. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in early September 2016 and not even two months later, he died. I remember the day before his funeral. Kelly and I were out looking for some appropriate clothes for Zach to wear- even though he is a pastor’s kid (a double PK actually) he doesn’t often wear a jacket and tie. While we were shopping, I decided to look for a new tie for myself. But not just any old tie.

My dad was a lifelong Wake Forest fan. He graduated from Wake in 1965 and rarely missed a football or basketball game. That love of Wake Forest sports was definitely passed on to me, and I decided to look for a tie in old gold and black for his funeral. I looked in a number of stores but just couldn’t find the right tie. So decided to just wear one of my regular old ties.

The day of his funeral, Kelly and Zach and I were getting dressed at my parents house. And I just happened to look through my dad’s ties, where I found this one. It was EXACTLY the tie I had been looking for to wear. So I asked my mom if it was okay for me to wear it for the funeral. Of course she said yes. And that I should just keep it if I wanted it. It has become my favorite tie. I wear it on the most special and important of occasions; like Father’s Day.

As I was looking over the scriptures for today- I had really planned to focus on the OT or the Gospel lesson. I preached on 2 Corinthians two weeks ago and Worth used it last week, so it seemed like this week was a good chance to move on to something else. But as I read the verses from 2 Corinthians, and remembered that it was Father’s Day, I knew that I would HAVE to preach one more time on Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth. It just fit too well to do anything else.

There are three phrases in those verses that have stuck in my mind all week: for we walk by faith, not by sight…For the love of Christ urges us on… and if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! I think that each one is special enough to spend a little bit of time on this morning.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians that we walk by faith and not by sight, he was doing so as a way of affirming their belief in Jesus, even though they had not ever seen Jesus during his earthly life. For that matter, neither did Paul. And that was a bit of an issue for Paul. In those first decades after Jesus was crucified and died, then was resurrected and ascended into heaven, there was some controversy about the legitimacy of those believers who never knew Jesus in his earthly life, especially about those who called themselves “apostles” yet never knew Jesus. Those who knew Jesus while he walked on the earth wondered if someone who didn’t actually know Jesus in the same way that they did could preach the “true gospel” of Jesus.

Yet Paul did preach the true Gospel of Jesus and he wanted to assure those who heard it from him that it was okay, that he was a legitimate apostle. Paul also wanted to tell them that even though they had never seen Jesus, even though they didn’t know him they way that those who were with him did, they too were still true followers of Jesus. Their faith was just as genuine as the sight of others.

It may not seem like that big of a deal to us today. We are all like those followers of Jesus who didn’t ever know him. We are thousands of years and thousands of miles removed. We know that we don’t have to have seen Jesus to know Jesus. We all walk by faith and not by sight. While we don’t need to hear Paul’s words in the same way the believers in Corinth did and we don’t need them to reinforce our legitimacy as Christians, we still need to hear them. Because even though we have no doubt about our legitimacy as believers, we still need to remember that we walk by faith and not by sight.

For us, walking by faith and not by sight is not so much about our faith in who Jesus was and who Jesus is, it is more about what Jesus is going to do. It is about how Jesus is at work in our lives. The faith that we walk by is a faith in God who creates, redeems, and sustains his children. It is a faith that trusts in our God enough to know that every little thing is going to be alright.

This journey that we are on that we call our lives often seems like we are stumbling around in the dark. We don’t know what we are doing and we can’t see where we are going. Even though we can’t know or see the future, we know that God will continue creating, Jesus will always be redeeming, and the Spirit will constantly sustain us, as we walk by faith and not by sight and follow our Lord and Savior.

For the love of Christ urges us on… it’s not always easy to be a follower of Jesus. It’s hard to walk by faith and not by sight. The Apostle Paul knew this and we know it too. Paul faced many challenges and difficulties even after he encountered the risen Christ- maybe even especially after he became a Christian. As I mentioned before, his legitimacy and authority as an apostle was questioned and constantly challenged. And he suffered from what he called “a thorn in his flesh” that kept him humble and made his life difficult. He was not that different from us.

We have challenges and difficulties in our lives as followers of Jesus. We struggle with being in the world but not of the world. We are challenged by the call to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. And we even struggle to love ourselves; especially to love ourselves in the same way that God loves us.

We are often incapable of looking at ourselves and seeing us the way that God sees us. We see our faults and failings; and God sees them too. But unlike they do to us, they don’t matter that much to God. For God loves us unconditionally, despite our faults and failings. God looks at us and sees all of those things that we see in ourselves that make us unlovable; unlovable by ourselves or anyone else, yet alone by the Creator of the heavens and earth and all that it is. God looks at us and sees our faults and failings and God loves us anyway.

God loves us so much that he died for us. When God became human, when Jesus died on the cross, it was all done for us and for our salvation, so that we might not die but may have everlasting life. This is the love of Christ that Paul writes about. It is the love to urges us on… it urges us on to love each other and to love the world in the same way that we are loved. It is the love that urges us on to love each other, despite being keenly aware of each others faults and failings. The love of Christ urges us on to love each other anyway.

It urges us on to live, and to love, not for ourselves, but for others. Which brings us to the last phrase from 2 Corinthians that has held my attention this week “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” This is the one that convinced me to preach one more week on this same letter. Because this is the one that reminded me so much of my dad.

For my brother and sister and I, we knew that we were loved unconditionally, supported and encouraged in all our endeavours. We were urged on by his love. My dad had a way about him that made it comfortable to be around him, even when there were no words to be said. When you were in his presence, you just knew that you were loved and accepted and valued and safe.

In addition to being a great father to me and my brother and sister, my dad was a “father” to many other boys, and later to many other men and women. He spent his life helping others to see themselves as the “new creation” in Christ that they are meant to be. Much of my dad’s career was spent as the director of the Winston-Salem Boys’ Club. It was those same gifts that he shared with us that enabled him to be a second father to countless boys who desperately needed a positive male influence in their lives. As he did with his own children, he loved them into seeing themselves as new creations in Christ.

After leaving the Boys’ Club, he went to work at Prodigals Community, which was a recovery community for people struggling to overcome addiction. At Prodigals, he helped many men and women to know that they were beloved children of God, that they were loved and forgiven- unconditionally and completely. It was at Prodigals where dad became the true representation of the Father as he greeted God’s beloved children and welcomed them home to the love that they desperately needed, greatly desired, and so deeply longed for.

My dad helped countless people to be able to see themselves as God sees them; he helped them to claim their identity as a child of God. No longer are they defined by their faults and failings, but they are “new creations” in Christ, everything old has passed away- all of the sins and shortcomings, all of the selfishness and striving to fit into the world, all of that is gone and we are made new.

I used the word “we” intentionally. For it is not just fatherless boys and substance addicted men and women who need to know that they are loved. It is not just them who need to see the old pass away and all things made new. This is something that we all need. We all need to claim our identity as new creations, as God’s beloved children.

I don’t want you to leave here thinking that my father was some kind of saint. He was a great man but he also had his own faults and failings. However, he didn’t allow those faults and failings to prevent him from seeing himself and others as God’s beloved children. On this Father’s Day, I know how very blessed that I am to have had a father who helped me to see and know this. But I also know that many aren’t as fortunate as I am. Many people struggle with Father’s Day. Either because their father’s are no longer with them (like me) or because their fathers have never been with them or, even worse, they had fathers who were the exact opposite of what a father is supposed to be.

Yet I also know that God gives us a father. Maybe not in the men who caused us to be born or who were married to our mothers, but God gives us at least one man in our life who fills that role of father, who helps us to walk by faith and not by sight, who urges us on with the love of Christ, who helps us to see ourselves as new creations in Christ.

So on this Father’s Day, just like I wear this tie to honor and remember my father and to give thanks to God for giving him to me, I want us all to take a moment to honor and remember our fathers, and give thanks to God for sharing them with us. Whether it is our actual father or another who was or is like a father to us; they are indeed a gift of God.

And even as we give thanks, let us also be challenged to be like them; to do for others as they have done for us. For we all need those people in our lives who see us as God sees us and who help us to become who God has created us to be. And we are all called to be those people to each other and to the world. It doesn’t take being a father or a mother, but it does take the being able to love like a father or a mother, it takes being able to love each other as we are loved by God- who creates us, redeems us and sustains us. It takes someone who knows that they are a new creation in Christ and wants to help others know that they too are new creations in Christ. So let us urge each other on with the love of Christ as we walk by faith in that love.

 

Amen

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Jars of Light

2 Corinthians 4:5-12

June 3, 2018

 

My wife and I went to Raleigh this week. Since she is serving as pastor of a Lutheran Church now, not only did she have to go to the Moravian Synod, she also had to go to the Lutheran Synod. It was held on Friday and Saturday in Raleigh. They have Synod every year instead of every 4 years like we do. So they have it not at a conference center, but at a hotel. Even though I had no desire to attend another Synod, we were paying for the room, so I decided to tag along and just hang out. Thankfully I didn’t have to actually attend any meetings.

Driving down to Raleigh on Thursday, I felt a little tug at my heart when, as we rode on I-40 through Greensboro, I saw the exit for 421 South towards Siler City. I remember taking that exit many times as a kid going to visit my grandmother. My dad grew up in Siler City and his mother (my grandmother) lived in Siler City all her life. When I was young, we would often go down and spend the weekend with her.

There wasn’t a lot to do in Siler City. Those Saturdays were spent visiting my great aunts and uncles and riding by Aunt Bee’s house. After she retired from show business, Aunt Bee- from the Andy Griffith Show- moved to Siler City. So we would always have to cruise by her house when we were in town even though we never actually saw her. Those visits to Siler City were far from exciting, yet I remember always enjoying them.

The best part came on Saturday evenings in the summertime, when my brother and sister and I would each get an empty glass jar, poke holes in the lid, and take it outside into my grandmother’s yard and try to catch lightning bugs. Her yard seemed to be covered with thousands upon thousands of those fascinating insects.

We used to fill those jars with as many as we could catch and then we would shake the jar, just a little bit, to try to get them to all light up at the same time. It was a beautiful sight to see those little bugs making their own light shine, to see that light make that whole jar, even the whole night, shine so bright.  Of course it had to be a glass jar. It wouldn’t have had nearly the same effect with any other kind of jar. Maybe we could have seen a little bit of the light shining out of the top of the but that is not nearly as good as seeing all the light, shining together.

I was thinking about this as I was contemplating what Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the light of God shining in in our hearts and about how we have this treasure in clay jars, so it can be clear that it comes from God and not from us. I’m not really sure how keeping this treasure in a clay jar is helpful. It would be kind of like keeping those light’ning bugs in a clay jar. It would tend to be contrary to the whole point of it all. What’s the point of having treasure like that if you can’t even see it. Didn’t Jesus tell us not to hide our lights under a bushel basket? This seems like the same thing.

It’s an interesting idea, keeping treasure, any kind of treasure, in clay jars. It doesn’t make much sense at all. Not now and it probably didn’t even then. When Paul was writing, a clay jar would have been far down the list of places where anyone would keep treasure. They are too fragile, too porous, too cheap- they are easily thrown away.

They are even mentioned in the cleanliness laws in Leviticus. Where most things that come into contact with something or someone who is unclean can be washed and made clean again, a clay jar can’t. Once that happens it has to be broken and destroyed. That is how easily contaminated they are. And also how disposable they are. When I have a treasure, I want to keep it in something solid, strong, and permanent- basically the opposite of a clay jar.

The RSV and KJV translations use “earthen vessels” instead of “clay jars”. I think that this is helpful. It helps me to not get so hung up on the whole literal image of a clay jar and see the deeper metaphor that Paul was using. Certainly a clay jar is an earthen vessels, it’s made from the dust and dirt of the earth,  but there are many more things that also qualify as earthen vessels, including our own human bodies.

I think that this is what Paul was getting it. WE are the earthen vessels, the clay jars, that the treasure is kept in. That makes a lot more sense. For we are certainly like clay jars, at least our bodies are. They are fragile, they are breakable, they are even disposable.  And they are temporary.

As Paul wrote in his first letter to the church in Corinth:

What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.  Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

When Paul writes of keeping treasure in jars of clay, he is reminding us that God dwells in us. The God who created everything that is- the heavens, the earth, and life itself, dwells in our fragile, breakable, disposable bodies. This is the treasure that is in us, this is the light that shines out of the darkness. It is the light and the love of God.

God made that light and love visible to humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. When God became human, when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, the light began to shine in and through the darkness. The darkness that could not, and can not, and will not,  overcome it. And we see the glory of God in that light, in him, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

We see that glory and that glory shines in our hearts as Jesus dwells within us. It is not us that shines, but it is the glory of God shining in us and through us. It is telling that Paul refers to this as an “extraordinary power.” I don’t think that he is referring  solely to the power of the light shining in the darkness, though that certainly is an extraordinary power. I think that even beyond that the extraordinary power that dwells in us is the power of love.

Love is why the Word became flesh, love is why God became human. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” God did it all because of love. God became flesh and dwelt among us because He loves us. God gave up all that he has and all that he is because He loves us. God then gave up the life He had taken on, He allowed himself to be shamed and humiliated, He allowed himself to be lifted up on the cross to die, because He loves us. “For God so loved the world…”  That love represents an extraordinary power.

I think that we get so caught up in the the first part, in the whole business of not perishing but having everlasting life, in our worry about our lives lived in these earthen vessels, that we lose sight of the second part. We lose sight of the love. It is kind of overwhelming to contemplate the idea, the fact, that the same God who created the heavens and earth and all the dwells in them, the same God who was and is and is to come, the same God who is all seeing and all knowing is also all loving. How can God look at the world, with all its faults and sins and hatred, and love it so much that he sent his only Son to save it?

For that matter, how can God look at us, with all our faults and sins and selfishness, and love us so much that He became one of us, and allowed himself to die so that we might have eternal life? How can God love ME so much that he died for me? Yet that is exactly what God did. The truth that God came to us and Jesus died for us tells us that the extraordinary power  of God that dwells in us is LOVE.

These clay jars, these earthen vessels where we keep this extraordinary power, well they are meant to be broken. I don’t mean that our bodies are necessarily meant to be broken, to be injured, to be hurt, even though they are fragile and those things happen to them all the time. What I mean is that they are meant to let the light shine, to let the love out, to let loose the extraordinary power that dwells within them. Because even though our bodies are only temporary, the light of the love of Jesus that dwells within them is eternal. And it needs to be seen.

So even though we are afflicted in every way, we are not crushed; we are perplexed, but we are not driven to despair; we are persecuted, but we are not forsaken; we are struck down, but not destroyed. This life that we live is hard, but it is not our only life. There is something more. We are something more than these earthen vessels, these clay jars. We have the light of God in us. We have the love of God in us.

We can let that light, that extraordinary power of the love of God that dwells in us, we can let it out. We can let it out of these earthen, temporary vessels, and we can share it with the world. Because we know that no matter what, one day our perishable bodies will put on imperishability and our mortal bodies will put on immortality and death will be swallowed up in victory. Death is at work in us, but the life of Jesus, the love that dwells in us and the light that shines through us is greater than death and has overcome death.

Brothers and sisters,  We are not jars of clay but we are jars of light. Let your light shine and let the love of God that dwells in you, break free so that it can bring light and love into this dark world. Until he comes.

Amen.

 

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New Philadelphia, Moravian Church, all band musicians are invited! The band will meet each Wednesday from 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. in the church fellowship hall (on the God’s acre side of the church) June 6 through August 29. We will play chorales from the green and blue books that are selected by the players. A different local band leader will direct each night. This is a great opportunity to meet new players, learn a new instrument or part, and keep those lips in shape over the summer. 

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On the Sunday before Christmas, I preached a sermon in which I talked about my childhood experience of Christmas as a Moravian here in Winston-Salem. I know that preaching is “the communication of truth through personality,” but I feared that sermon was a step too-far.

Interestingly, you responded to it with enthusiasm. Not so much because I talked about my experience, but because I talked about experiences that were common to many of us.

Just this week, as I was planning my sermon for Mother’s Day, a man I respect said to me, “Worth, don’t talk too much about Synod this week, talk about your mother.”

Those were his exact words. He did not say, “Talk about our mothers.” He said, “Talk about your mother.” I expect he said that, thinking that all of us have mothers, and every story of a mother and her child is both very specific, and well nigh universal. When I mention how my mother loved me, and fed me, and cared for me, and taught me, and disciplined me, and picked me up when I fell down, you nod your heads and say, “Amen!”, because your mother loved you, and fed you, and cared for you, and taught you, and disciplined you, and picked you up when you fell down.

Therefore, I am going to talk about my mother, in hopes it will enable you to think about your own.

My first memory of my mother is that of an invalid. My mother gave birth to me when she was living with my father in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where dad was a student at Moravian Theological Seminary. In case you are wondering, I was born in Bethlehem, lived there for three weeks where I picked-up my accent, and moved back to North Carolina. My dad stayed in Bethlehem, but my mother came home, because the physical shock of my birth was too much for her. Back in Winston-Salem, my mother was in bed for almost a year, and my grandmother took care of her, and also took care of me.

I am proud of my grandmother, Stout, “Granny.” She had a hard life—but a good one. She came to North Carolina from South Carolina after her father’s death. That is a story in itself. My Great-Grandfather Henderson was a chicken farmer and a conductor on the rail road. The train ran by his farm, and would stop there to pick him up. One day, after he left, a road-gang arrived. That night, a member of that gang came over to my great-grandmother’s house and tried to break down the door. My Grandmother Stout, just a little girl at the time, told me that she was clutching her mother’s legs in fear, when Great-Grandmother Henderson pointed a large “horse pistol,” at the door and told the man if he did not leave she would shoot. He did not leave, and continued to beat on the door—with renewed effort, so, terrified for her life and the life of her child, she shot through the door. My Grandmother Stout told me that the next morning they found the man dead in the pea-vines that grew along the front porch. I am not celebrating this violence, for it escalated, as violence often does. It was not long after that my Great-Grandfather Henderson was killed, perhaps in reprisal, and his body thrown from the train.

The two women, mother and daughter, then moved to North Carolina where my Grandmother Stout managed to stay in school through the fourth grade before she took work to help support herself and her mother. At the age of 17, she married my grandfather, E.L. “Pop” Stout, already 30 years old, who had a produce business. Pop hauled fruit and vegetables from Florida to Winston-Salem, and he also had business interest in California. He was often away. That left Granny Stout to raise their 6 children on her own. My mother was the oldest. She was born when My grandmother was still 17, and she was 17 when her youngest sister was born. My Granny Stout did a pretty good job with her children. My mother was valedictorian of her high school class, as was her next oldest sister, my Aunt Lee. My Uncle Boyd had a distinguished career in the U.S. Air Force, serving in two wars; and my Uncle Archie was the first man to win two $5,000 innovation awards at the now defunct Western Electric Plant on Old Lexington Road. My Aunt Ella Mae was smart, sweet and strong. It was she who gave me the baby doll for Christmas, in hopes of making me kinder and gentler, perhaps. And my Aunt Anoree looked like a movie star was one of the best athletes of either sex I have ever known. If you think I am proud of my family, you are right. But I am prouder still of the woman with the 4th grade education that raised them.

Anyway, my Granny Stout took care of my mother, and she took care of me. My earliest memories are not of my mother, but of my grandmother. I can still remember waking up in her bed, and scrunching over next to her to stay warm under a stack of quilts. The house on Cotton Street where we lived did not have central heat, and it was cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Don’t for a minute think we were the unwashed poor. We did not have a bathtub or hot water, but I got a bath every Saturday night whether I need it or not. I took it in a galvanized tub in the kitchen with water heated on a wood stove. Between those big baths my mother gave me “bird baths” in the sink, and bird baths are always better than spit baths (let the reader understand). Likewise, we had an indoor toilet, which was installed on the closed-in back porch; and later, long after mother and I move out, my granny got a hot water heater and a shower installed, too.

I remember my mother best when Dad graduated from Seminary and we moved to Enterprise Moravian Church. Enterprise was in the country then. I remember my mother letting me wonder in the woods and play in the mud behind the house, though she did caution me to look out for snakes. She had concerns because the house was built on a snake hill. I will never forget the day I went into the basement to see my Cocker Spaniel going one on one against a mama copperhead while her babies crawled all around them. he snake would strike, and my dog would dodge the strike. It happened over and over until finally, the snake struck, and my dog, apply named Butcher Boy, caught her behind the head and chewed until her head fell off. I went upstairs and got my mother and she came downstairs and killed all the baby copperheads by cutting their heads off with a garden hoe.

In the Bible a snake is the symbol of evil. One passage in Amos talks about how a man can outrun lion, and then run into a bear, or lean a hand upon a wall and be bitten by a serpent. Snakes can sneak up on you, and so can evil. My mother always tried to protect me from evil. However, every mother eventually realizes that she cannot protect her children forever. It is the nature of children to wander outside a mother’s sight and control. Early on, my mother turned to prayer to protect me. We started every day with prayer at the breakfast table. And we finished with prayer every night. Until I was 8 or 9 my mother would kneel by my bed and listen as I prayed:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
If I should die before I wake;
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

Like many of you who also learned that prayer, after she left, I would lay awake thinking that I was not yet ready for God to take my soul. I had too much life left to live. I also thought about how I did not want to God to take my my mother’s soul either, and that was far more likely for she was well past thirty, and older than dirt.

Even then I could not imagine anything worse than for a mother to loose a child (especially me), except perhaps for a child (especially me) to loose a mother.

Mary the Mother of Jesus knew what it was to loose a child. Her brave suffering has been a comfort to mothers of every generation. In my study, I have a small soap-stone statue of Michelangelo’s sculpture of Mary holding the broken body of Jesus. This small copy of the Pieta was given to me by a mother who lost her son—not to death, but to a disagreement. She sent him away because she considered him immoral. She was so afraid of God and God’s punishment, that she no longer felt comfortable loving her own child. She gave me the statue because I told her it was all right to love him, even if she could not understand his behavior.

The other side of this equation is when a child looses a mother. Nothing tugs on the heart like watching a young child who has lost a mother, except, perhaps, watching the child’s father try to do double duty as father and mother. We always hope and pray that God has a special consolation for such folk and, thankfully, he often does. The consolation sometimes comes in the form of a loving step-mother, who steps into a vacancy left by the loss of a mother to help a father raise a child or children she chooses when she chooses him.

Finally, I would recall for you how traumatic it is for anyone to loose a beloved mother, regardless of age. In one of his many books, Father Richard Rohr says that when we loose a beloved mother to death, it is like God has died, for our mother is our first God image and our divine security. I can add to that. When our mother’s are no longer themselves, such as those who have dementia and Alzheimers, and we cannot communicate with them as we once did, we sometimes feel as if God no longer knows us or hears our prayers as he once did. My mother is in memory care. Often, not always—but often, she acts normally toward some people, like my wife. Most of the time she is anything but normal with me. Most of the time she thinks I am my father, and everyday when I leaver she accuses me of leaving her forever, and plotting a divorce. She has often used that language. So, too, when I am with her, she makes me uncomfortable because she tells me things about her relationship with my father that I do not want to know. TMI! Too Much Information! How do I deal with this? First, I tell myself, I must now love my mother as she once loved me, not expecting much in return, as she loved me when I was a tiny helpless infant. Even though she sometimes does not know me, I always know her, and understand my continuing debt of love to her. Second, I tell myself that despite my mothers inability to recognize me and understand me, God knows me and hears my prayers as he always has. I like to think that God says to me what he once said to Israel,“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; and I have called you by name, you are mine.”

I remember a lot about my mother! I remember the time, at my cousin Robert’s birthday party when she showed unusual creativity. We were in the dining room in Granny’s house on Cotton Street. It was early November, and already dark out, and as we gathered around the table to cut the cake, I saw a face in the window. It was the face of a notorious neighborhood peeping Tom. I looked at my mother with wide-eyes. She put a finger to her lips to caution me against speaking or calling attention to myself, and slipped out of the room. She returned with a blank cartridge starter’s pistol my dad had left her for protection. Perhaps he knew from experience that it was never good to put a real gun into the hands of a woman in my mother ’s family. Anyway, mom came back into the room, and slipped around the wall like Dirty Harry. Then she jumped into the Peeping Tom’s face and pulled the trigger of that blank cartridge pistol. It went off with a BANG, and he fell over backward. He was soon on his feet and running away. My mother took off after him. Just as she cleared the front door she yelled, “I missed him, but I will get him next time.”

I have many more memories. I remember my mother working at the Downtown Garage, allowing me to belong to an early generation of latch key kids. I have memories of my mother writing a song for our 1966 Parkland High School Football team. She set it to the tune of ghost-ridders in the sky. And I remember how she let me have a 1947 Chevy Fleetline for a graduation present, even though it cost $60 dollars, and she and dad had already spent almost as much as on a Bulova Self-Winding watch. And I remember how, when I went off to college, mom let me take the car that we were supposed to share. And I remember how, on the day I got married, she met me on the steps of the church with her little box camera, and took a picture of me before I went into the church to tie the knot. Elayne has always loved my mother like her own, and mother has always loved her right back. Elayne has always said that my mother loves her more than she love me, because she has taken better care of her. The only evidence I can find contrary to Elayne’s opinion is that picture from the steps of the church, which still stands on mom’s dresser.

And I remember how when I was at sea with Battalion Landing Team 3/6, my mother wrote me to tell me that when I got back to North Carolina she and dad would not be there. And I remember visiting with them in Indiana where she gave me a bible to carry with me to my temporary duty station in California. And I remember how it was an encounter with the Risen Christ inspired by that very Bible that caused me to decide to become a disciple of Jesus Christ for myself. Mom and Dad had presented me in baptism when I was just a child, and they had sent me to confirmation, but my mother lived for the day that I would own the faith for myself. Of course, mom was thrilled when I declared for the ministry. She said she always expected that I would go in the ministry, and she told me that, when I was just a little boy, she had come into my room one night, and heard a choir of angels. I have no doubt she thought it was a miracle. I did not have the heart to tell her, but it was more than likely Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, because when the atmospheric conditions were right, my old record player would sometimes pick-up WTOB even after the records had quit playing.

The hardest thing any of us ever have to do is go beyond the convictions of parents who loved us before we were born, and gave us life, and watched over us, and taught us all that they could. Yet, that is precisely what every generation must do. If humankind had never advanced beyond our first parents, we would still be dressed in skins, and living short lives in small, hunter gather communities. Karl Barth said that when we see beyond our parents, and make decisions for ourselves, whether religious, or political, or practical, we are like midgets standing on the shoulders of giants. We do not see father down the road than they see because we are more able, but because they have lifted us up so that we can see further than they.

In handing out the paper I have crafted this morning—which is available here, I have the hope you will read it carefully, not once, but several times over. I am not proposing anything new. You will not read in it anything I have not said many times from this pulpit and in private conversations. That said, I know that I am asking you to see things that former generations, even the generation of our parents, may not have not seen. Some decisions are not theirs but ours. Of course, God continues to cares for them and us, parent and child, and so on through out the generations. The devout orthodox Christian Kahlil Gibran wrote a poem that describes this perfectly entitled, “On Children.” It goes like this:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Finis

Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min

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