Sermon for May 11th, 2014

              Sermon for Mother’s Day, Good Shepherd Sunday, Easter Four

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas, May 11, 2014

Sermon Text:  1 Peter 2:19-25

Sermon Theme:  “Suffering at the Hands of Your Own:

                                                   A Mother’s Day Perspective”

 (Sources:  Emphasis Online Illustrations; Emphasis Online Commentary; original ideas and personal examples; Anderson’s Preaching Workbook, Cycle A; Believer’s Commentary by William MacDonald)

 Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

           It’s only natural on Mother’s Day for us to think about our mothers and grandmothers – I include grandmothers, because, for many of us, our grandmother was like a second mother.  Contrary to the popular notion, not all mothers are sweet, gentle, and soft-spoken, and that’s all right.

          My grandmother was sweet, gentle, and soft-spoken, but my mother was loud, strong-willed, and rough-hewn.  I loved them both.

          And the fondest memories I have of both of them is hunting eggs.  My grandmother had a huge chicken yard with many chickens, and she sold eggs by the crates, something quite necessary when the cotton crop failed.  When I was about five years old, she took me with her to hunt eggs, — I loved hunting chicken eggs with her, because it was like having Easter egg hunts all year long!  Today, when I think of her, that’s what I remember best.

          Since I loved hunting eggs on my grandparents’ farm, my mother assigned that duty to me at home, where we maintained a much smaller flock of white leghorns.  My mother showed me how to hunt eggs and leave porcelain doorknobs in some of the nests so that the chicken snakes would swallow them and die before they could eat our eggs.  Today, when I think of her, that is what I remember most vividly, — especially seeing the skeletons of snakes near the chicken yard with a white doorknob amid the vertebrae.  We had to retrieve the doorknobs and use them again.

          Because, at age five, hunting eggs was so much fun to me, when I was 14, I chose to raise chickens for my FFA project.  Raising chickens turned out to be hard work and riddled with problems.  There were hens that didn’t lay, mites that infested the chicken house, rats as well as snakes that infiltrated the chicken house, a rooster that attacked you, but, worst of all, I learned about the pecking order of domestic fowl.

          A group of hens will peck on one hen until all her feathers are gone in the back and she has a naked and bloody tail end.  When you remove her, they will do it to another hen, and another and another.  My hens were being attacked by the others who viciously pecked them every time they wandered near; in other words, they were attacked by their own kind.

          There are many, many variations of suffering.  But one of the worst is suffering at the hands of your own.  What could be worse than enduring suffering inflicted on you by your own. 

          Jesus and the early Christians were Jews, and they suffered greatly at the hands of other Jews (their own tribe) as well as at the hands of the Romans (their own fellow human beings).

          When our sermon text taken from Peter’s letter was written, the early Church was undergoing a period of persecution, so Peter, now an old man, is attempting to make some sense of all that suffering and to encourage the Christians to stand firm, no matter what.  Peter knew that things were going to get worse in the years ahead, and they did, under Nero and other malicious emperors.

          This fledgling church Peter writes to is suffering some severe persecution that is sorely testing the faith of the members (most of whom have not been Christians for very long).  Peter reminds them that their innocent suffering will be pleasing to God.  He reminds them of the example of their Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered persecution and scorn, but took it patiently.  He bore our sins on the cross so that we might die to sin and rise to newness of life.  Thus He was like the Passover Lamb sacrificed for us.

          While Paul, in his letters, was more like my grandmother, sweet, gentle, and soft-spoken, Peter is more like my mother, loud, strong-willed, and rough-hewn.  He tells it like it is.  Jesus suffered.  You will suffer, if you are faithful.  You must follow Jesus in and through suffering.  New trials and greater suffering are coming.

          You see, when we suffer unjustly, we win God’s approval.  He is pleased when He finds us so conscious of our relation to Him that we endure undeserved pain without vindicating self or fighting back. 

          There is no virtue in patient suffering for our own misdeeds.  Certainly, there is no glory for God in it.  Such suffering will never mark us out as Christians, nor make others want to become Christians.  But suffering patiently simply because we are followers of Jesus is so unnatural, so other-worldly, that it shocks unbelievers into recognition of their own sin.  It is a living sermon.

          These were tough times, and Peter’s talk was tough.  You almost long for him to talk, as Paul did, about rejoicing in suffering and having a heart filled with joy no matter what, of rejoicing always!

          Yet, in all this presentation of harsh reality, Peter never loses confidence in God’s sovereignty or care.  God is judge over evil, the ever-faithful Creator, and the chief shepherd who will soon bring untarnished crowns of glory for those who remain true.

          Our precious Lord’s bruises provide salve for our wounded souls.  In verse 25, Peter switches metaphors, and the Paschal Lamb becomes the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls.  So Peter’s letter is full of hope, it’s just not sugar-coated hope.

          You may wonder, especially on Mother’s Day, what all this talk about severe persecution in Peter’s day has to do with us.  Well, let me tell you, — persecution of Christians is as alive and well today as it was when Peter wrote the words of our text.  It has been estimated that more Christians were martyred for their faith in the twentieth century than in all previous centuries combined.  It is estimated by the World Evangelical Alliance that over 200 million Christians in 60 nations are denied basic human rights to some degree because of their faith.

          Even in the small east African nation of Eritrea, it is estimated that between 2,000 and 3,000 Christians are imprisoned.

           Well, I guess you could still ask, “What does that have to do with us?”  But we are part of the Body of Christ, and so part of us is suffering, part of us is being persecuted today.  And who knows when this persecution will reach the shores of America, — in some ways it already has.

          When I first saw that Mother’s Day fell on Good Shepherd Sunday, I thought how impossible it would be to bring these two celebrations together.  But then the Good Shepherd once compared Himself to a Mother Hen, and who among us doesn’t look back and see that the Good Shepherd is a prototype of our Mother.  Mom led us through the rough terrain of life and around the bottomless seas and the quagmires.  And she led us to the Bible and to Jesus.

          And it doesn’t matter whether she did that gently or forcefully, — “I don’t care if you were up till 1 a.m. Saturday night, young man, you are going to church!”

          She’s the one who sacrificed herself for us, who stayed up all night monitoring our health when we had the measles and the mumps.  She’s the one who held us close when we were heartbroken.  She’s the one who wore the same coat for a decade so that we could have new shoes.  She’s the one who served herself  less . . .  so that we could have more.

          Whether you are a believer or an unbeliever, life is hard, it is filled with difficulties and heartaches.  Like sheep, who really aren’t the wisest animals in the world, we need a Shepherd; it is our nature to stray, to wander off.

          People raise sheep in places in Texas, like Ozona.  Boyce House tells this story;  The new school marm asked a little boy in Ozona, “If there were 12 sheep in a field and one jumped over the fence, how many would be left?”

          “None,” replied the boy.

          The teacher said, “You don’t know arithmetic.”

          “No, ma’m, but I know sheep!” 

By grace, through faith, the straying sheep can return to the Guardian of our Souls, the Mother Hen, the Good Shepherd.  We were His by Creation, says William MacDonald, but became lost through sin.  When we return to his loving care, we are safe and secure forever.  What an awesome feeling it is for a young child to fall into the loving arms of his mother; it’s the same feeling we now have when the Good Shepherd puts us on his shoulders and bring us back!  There is no greater feeling on earth!  Amen.

 The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.