5 Easter A—5/1417
Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5,15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14
Pr. Scott Kramer
Father. Father father. Father Father Father. Father Father Father Father Father. Today, as you know, is Mother’s Day. Evidently, Jesus didn’t get the memo; in today’s gospel reading he mentions not his mother but his Father no fewer than eleven times!
And yet…on this Mother’s Day, we remember that God is not a man. Did you notice? The first words from our second reading are about “mother’s milk!” Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
That is the question, isn’t it? Have we tasted that the Lord is good?
I looked up the idiom “mother’s milk” online and found this definition: something regarded as absolutely necessary or appropriate. What is the “pure, spiritual milk” that our scriptures speak of? What is it that is absolutely essential to the life of faith? What is it that is absolutely essential to life itself?
For a newborn infant, mother’s milk is its primary form of nourishment, which begs the question: What is our primary form of spiritual nourishment? Today’s reading from John could lead us to conclude that religious faith is about “beliefs,” or, believing the right things. Jesus said to the disciples: “Believe me that I am in the Father…believe me because of the works themselves…believe in God, believe also in me.”
But lest we fall into the trap of thinking that Christian faith is primarily about doctrines and denominations, rituals and creeds, Jesus teaches that our true beliefs make themselves known through the attitudes and actions of our lives: Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these. What do you think of that? Jesus himself has said that those who follow him will do even greater works than he!
When a child is born, of course, it is mother’s milk that sustains it. What is it that sustains us? What is it that is “absolutely necessary?” What is the primary form of nourishment that feeds us? The scriptures are clear: It is love. It is God’s love that sustains us.
What is God’s love? Maybe there’s something we can learn from a mother’s relationship with her child. Imagine a mother who brings a child into the world and feeds it, but only for the purpose of serving itself. What kind of a mother would that be? What kind of a child would that be?
But no, mothers feed children not as ends in themselves. Hopefully, ideally, the mother’s love for the child is passed on to the child who in turn practices the love toward others that they’ve experienced toward themselves. We Christians believe that “we are what we eat”: If indeed we have tasted that the Lord is good—if we have been fed with God’s love—then we become God’s love for the world. We are what we eat! If we are fed with God’s love, we become God’s love.
It is tempting, especially in our very private society, to think of religious faith as private—just me and God. But this is as ridiculous as the idea of a mother and child relationship being “private!” That bond between mother and child at its best is certainly an intimate relationship but that same intimate relationship cannot help but spill out into the world.
So if God’s love is mother’s milk, what does the mother’s milk of God’s love look like in real life? Listen again to our second reading: Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. What can we say about God’s love? One thing we can say is that God’s love toward us takes the form of mercy. This is mother’s milk! If we are what we eat, we in turn practice God’s mercy toward others.
What does the mother’s milk of God’s love look like? Our first reading from Acts 7 describes the death of the first Christian martyr, Stephen. This is the story of religious people who do not practice mercy. In fact, they care far too much about their traditions, customs and beliefs, and they are willing to kill for those beliefs and traditions. This story is repeated endless times in our own day. Instead of looking for signs of God’s love in the lives of others—whoever they may be, and celebrating those signs of God’s love!–like those religious folks who stoned Stephen to death we are tempted instead to attack ideas and people who seem “foreign” to us.
By way of contrast, in the life of Stephen we find one who has been fed by the mother’s milk of God’s love. Lord, do not hold this sin against them! cried Stephen, just before he died. These are essentially the words of Jesus as he was being executed: Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing. What does the mother’s milk of God’s love look like? It’s the practice of forgiveness!
The mother’s milk of God’s love is not meant for us alone. We are fed with that love in order to feed others. We are blessed to be a blessing!
God’s people need to learn this lesson over and over; I know I do! In John’s gospel, for example, Jesus invites his disciples to follow him. But one of his disciples, Thomas, says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” And Jesus answers him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Over the centuries, Christians have twisted and distorted these words out of self-interest to denounce non-Christian traditions.
“No one comes to the Father except through me,” Jesus teaches. I believe this teaching with all my heart, but are you and I so smart, so wise, that we recognize the face of Jesus in all the unexpected ways he appears among us?–Remember, this is the season of Easter in which no one recognizes the risen Christ! Who are we to say that the Easter Jesus can’t be resurrected in the life of a Jewish, or Muslim, or Buddhist, or even atheist brother or sister? If a person’s life is the measure of their faith, then some of the best disciples of Jesus are not Christian at all!
To what extent are we like those who stoned Stephen? To what extent have we made our beliefs more important than the mother’s milk of God’s love? What if Christians spent even 1/10th of the energy we spend on doctrine and traditions and beliefs, instead looking for evidence of the mother’s milk of God’s love in the lives of all God’s children, regardless of their beliefs? How might the world be a different and better place?
At the very end of our reading from John’s gospel, Jesus makes an astounding claim: I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. Do you believe it?
Do we really ask “in Christ’s name?” To ask in Christ’s name means to ask to become like Christ—to become love, to practice mercy, to embody forgiveness. Listen carefully to the words of 1 Peter: You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people—and here’s the kicker—in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. People of all races and all nations who drink the mother’s milk of God’s love and practice that love are God’s own people.
God’s love is not intended for us alone. We who are like newborn infants are nursed at the breast of Mother God and have tasted that the Lord is good. Beloved children of God, it is God’s own people who in turn feed the world with the mother’s milk of love, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion!