given on Mothers Day Sunday, May 14, 2017: Part 3 in mini-series on Stages of Faith
Psalm 31:1-5, 14-16
1O Lord, I have come to you for protection;
don’t let me be disgraced.
Save me, for you do what is right.
2 Turn your ear to listen to me;
rescue me quickly.
Be my rock of protection,
a fortress where I will be safe.
3 You are my rock and my fortress.
For the honor of your name, lead me out of this danger.
4 Pull me from the trap my enemies set for me,
for I find protection in you alone.
5 I entrust my spirit into your hand.
Rescue me, Lord, for you are a faithful God. . . .
14 But I am trusting you, O Lord,
saying, “You are my God!”
15 My future is in your hands.
Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly.
16 Let your favor shine on your servant.
In your unfailing love, rescue me.
I Peter 2:1-10
So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. 2 Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, 3 now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.
4 You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor.
5 And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. 6 As the Scriptures say,
“I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem
chosen for great honor,
and anyone who trusts in him
will never be disgraced.”
7 Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has now become the cornerstone.”
“He is the stone that makes people stumble,
the rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.
9 But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.
10 “Once you had no identity as a people;
now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
now you have received God’s mercy.”
14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”
She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”
16 “Mary!” Jesus said.
She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).
17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.
Reflection: Stage 3: Grow and multiply . . .
Do you know someone who knows Jesus personally?
Or maybe the question is have you met Jesus personally?
While studying the stages of faith development, the third stage is identified as that point in one’s life that they encounter Jesus on a very personal level. That encounter confirms what one suspects to be true but cannot completely say it is true. A personal encounter erases uncertainty. Yet, is a personal encounter required?
Are we like Mary Magdalene walking around feeling lost and alone without her friend Jesus? Are we like the apostles who were frightened and uncertain what to do without Jesus to guide them? These earliest disciples of Jesus did have a personal encounter with him, and even they were unsure. At least they were unsure until the encounter after the crucifixion when Jesus was with them in person again.
A personal encounter with Jesus may not seem possible; yet, in the history of the human experience, the evidence of encounters with Jesus continues to be shared. Still, how does one know that they have indeed encountered Jesus?
Example after example of encounters fill bookshelves. The NBC final segment every evening is about people making differences in the lives of others. Stories of survivors from the Holocaust tell of the faithful who survived due to the intercession of others serving as God’s servants. Even in our classrooms, Jesus is present in the kindness of kids reaching out to other kids who are hurting in one way or another.
Here it is Mothers Day 2017, and many of us might say we have met Jesus in the presence of our own mothers. Sadly, this is not true for all as we have listened to the horror story of childhood abuse. Yet, many of us can say that we have had an encounter with Jesus through the form of a mother in our own lives.
An encounter with Jesus is possible in so many different ways. Today is may seem easy to see Jesus in the face of our mothers, but there are other experiences in which Jesus is present with us:
- Consider horrific car accidents when no one should have survived, yet the passengers and the driver walk away. Even their stories sometimes include the presence of a rescuer that is never located again.
- The doctor working with the patient loses a pulse and is forced to turn away from the patient when amazingly the patient’s breath and pulse return. No explanation other than a miracle, and later the patient reports seeing the bright light.
- A school bus careens off the road, but the driver keeps the bus upright and the kids are safe.
- A tornado destroys a home, but the husband and wife are alive in the open where once a hallway surrounded them.
- A refugee washes up on the coast near death, but is rescued by tourists who rush to its side disregarding anything other than this is a child of God.
The list grows and grows, and God’s story is carried on. God’s unconditional love is delivered in unique and surprising ways. Each time someone reaches out to others in any way that they can in all the ways that they can at anytime that they can, there is an encounter with Jesus.
As mothers are honored today, the risk is to say that in our mothers we can see the face of Jesus. Many of us can share a testimony that our mothers were instrumental in our own faith development, but that is not a guarantee. For some of us, the best mothers we knew were really friends, neighbors, teachers, or even strangers who did something that changed our lives for the better.
In my generation, our mothers often were the reason we got up on Sunday morning and headed to church. We did not ask a lot of questions and never even considered that we could do something different. My encounters with Jesus may have started with my mother and my father, but I can include a variety of Sunday school teachers, a choir director, a youth minister, and an array of friends who also guided my faith development.
And then there are the times, when all alone, we confront a hurdle in our lives and Jesus is there with us. No parent. No friend. No teacher. All alone, we face a life challenge when, from outside of our own being, comes an answer or an act that makes all the difference in the world. The voice I hear is recognizable, even though no body is present. At those times, I encounter Jesus and my faith grows even stronger.
The third stage of faith development confirms all that one checks out. The personal encounter is a demonstration of God in our lives and we take ownership of that encounter and then do all we can to make sure that we follow in Jesus’ footsteps. John Wesley kept living the practices of his faith still questioning whether or not he fully believed he was saved by Jesus Christ. His encounter was through the words shared from the Bible and by those in the small group he was attending. He knew because his “heart was strangely warmed.”
Wesley’s personal encounter “ignited” his ministry. He grew in ministry. He multiplied his efforts and proclaimed the Word. His efforts to do all that he could for all he could all the time he could in as many ways as he could made it possible for others to encounter Jesus themselves. He, as well as other theologians, ministers and servants, all become the face of Jesus in our world.
The Word invites each of us to grow in our faith. The scripture from I Peter 2 teaches us that as we learn more about Jesus and practice his commandments, we ‘hunger’ for more in our relationship with the triune God. Peter refers to it as ‘spiritual milk:’
2 Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, 3 now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.
The Word continues to nourish us and we can even meet Jesus in the Word, personally, too. The Word calls us to serve in God’s name as shared in Mark 16:20:
20 And the disciples went everywhere and preached, and the Lord worked through them, confirming what they said by many miraculous signs.
Our encounter with Jesus leads us to follow in all types of ways. In the study note for Mark 16:20, the ways to meet Jesus are listed in the very way he served:
. . . . . . But Jesus . . . chose to serve others. He held children in his arms, healed the sick, washed the disciples’ feet and died for the sins of the world. Jesus’ followers today receive the same power to serve. As believers, we are called to be servants of God. As Christ served, so we are to serve. (The Life Application Bible 1991)
By growing in your own faith, you will be multiplying the opportunities for others to experience Jesus personally, too. What began as an impossible to believe story in your life, you have checked out, and you continue to check out as you discover the Jesus encounters in your own life. Your faith is growing and will continue to grow as you follow God’s call in your life.
Dear Heavenly Father,
We listen to the Word seeking to understand
How Jesus died for our sins.
We want to believe in the stories
And study to check them out for ourselves.
As we learn, we begin to practice
The new laws Jesus taught and practiced.
Slowly our disbelief begins to change
And we are open to meeting you personally.
Open our hearts, our minds and our ears
So we can hear you calling us to serve. –Amen.