“The Heart of God”
Listen to the sermon here.
Quaker author Phillip Gulley writes about his panic of having a first child and how he and his wife treated him differently from others who followed. He said, “When our first child dropped her pacifier, we boiled it for ten minutes. When the second child dropped his pacifier, we told the dog to fetch.” Guess what happens by the 4th.
When our children were born I found it overwhelming. The experience of parenting brought out emotions, both good and bad, I didn’t know I had. I can remember holding my head in my hands in exhausted frustration. Yet somehow my wife seemed to handle it well. I know she would say she had her moments but something allowed her to handle the early stress of parenting with such grace.
By the time our twins were born I found myself much mellower. Less stressed and more grounded. Partly from watching Bridget. Partly from maturing. Partly from practice. All of it wrapped up in what I think parenting does at some level, which is teach us about grace. For often there is no relationship of grace any greater than that of a parent for a child. Fortunately, that’s how God views us. Let us pray. Loving God, on this mother’s day we give thanks for our mothers and those who raised us and for the opportunity to not only grow closer to your heart as children of God, but to reflect your grace to others. Amen.
God cares about hearts. We recall that God caused Pharaoh’s heart to harden in Egypt. We know that David is described as a “man after God’s own heart.” John writes that Jesus is the heart of God. Connected to the deepest part of God. Most translations of the Bible render the Hebrew phrase here as “the bosom of God.” To be in the bosom or heart meant the deepest intimacy of life. It meant the relationship of a mother and child. Because Jesus is as near to God’s heart as possible, he is able to reveal God to us.
There is something unique about a mother’s sacrificial love. Max Lucado tells the story of when his niece bore her first child, she invited her brother and mother to stand in the delivery room.[i] After witnessing three hours of pushing, when the baby finally was born, the nephew turned to his mom and said, “I’m so sorry for every time I talked back to you.”
Many watched the video during the Baltimore riots of the mother’s tough love in grabbing and pushing her son to keep him away from the protests for his own safety.
Love has to be experienced. It is not enough for us to think we should love something. We either love something or we don’t. In such a way our heart is our true self.
Jesus helps us know how loved we are by our heavenly parent. It makes it even more meaningful at Easter that God so loved the world that God gave God’s only son.
Part of our mother’s day spiritual, worshipful opportunity is to reclaim our birth as children of God. John writes, “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the power to become children of God.” Jesus said, “Unless you become like little children you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” As Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans, God has adopted us as God’s children.
God loves us not in spite of our differences but because of our similarities, because each and every one of us is made in God’s image. We are all God’s children. Let us claim that, and let God feed, guide, lead, nurture and teach us as a parent would a child.
For children, the world is a place of opportunity. We adults spend so much time thinking about our mistakes, and we lose our ability to focus on the future. As a pastor I have heard a lot of folks share, “If only I could undo what I did.” “If only I had been more faithful.” “If only I had chosen my words differently.” “If only I had spent more time with my children.”
The reality is that we can’t make our way back to being that child with no regrets. Yet we have something else. We have God’s grace to be God’s child. This time, we are born “not by blood or the will of flesh… but by God.”
Being born comes as a grace. Pastor John Ortberg writes in his book Soul Keeping that “spiritual rebirthing requires a capable parent, not an able infant.”[ii] He compares our spiritual rebirth to our natural birth. He writes that “The day on which your existence is celebrated is your birthday. But you deserve no credit for your role in that event at all. You were never less competent and more helpless on any day of your life than the day you were born. You were weaker, slower, dumber, slimier, less coordinated or of a higher nuisance factor that day than any other day of your existence. A birthday is grace.”
Grace means we are able to grow into the identity of the Savior who is within us, forgiving us, changing us, bringing us home to God.
This week my mom asked me if I remember our old home on Bellflower Street in Kettering, Ohio, where we lived the first four years of my life. I really can’t much. It takes quite a while before we even realize we were born. Then we take on the identity, the name, of our parents.
The same things are true of our spiritual birth. John says that we become children of God when we believe in God’s name. The name of Christ, the heart come to reveal God. A name is used to represent a person. Today that name conforms to our identity in families. Our name represents us. In Jesus’ day, it was the person who was expected to take on the identity of and represent the name. So when they connected with God, a person’s name in the Bible often changed. When Simon’s name changed to Peter, the rock, Jesus expected him to take on that identity as he built his church “upon him.” Thus, for us to believe in the name of Jesus, the one who saves, means we conform to his identity. When we reclaim our status as children of God, we are conformed into the identity of the one who saves. So we are called to help others. Perhaps especially children.
In the richest nation in the world, nearly one in four American children live in poverty.[iii]
Childhood obesity remains too high. Despite higher health care spending than any other nation, the United States has a higher infant mortality rate than any of the other 27 wealthy countries, according to the CDC. [iv] A baby born in the U.S. is nearly three times as likely to die during her first year of life as one born in Finland or Japan.
Social mobility has stagnated for too many families and the cost of education prices many low income children out of opportunities.
In Sue Kid’s novel, the Secret Life of Bees, the main character is a girl named Lily searching for clues as to whether her deceased mother loved her. At the end Lily realizes that the presence of love in the world is available beyond one person. The novel uses the metaphor of the interaction of bees. They have a queen mother who relates to all the bees. Like a colony of bees, it takes a village to raise a child. Love in the world need not be restricted to one person.
What can we, as children of God, who take on the identity of Christ when we are baptized into Christ, and grow in that identify as we claim our status as children of God, do to help the children of the world? Can we start by finding and helping one?
Pastor Michael Lindvall writes in his book, Good News from North Haven,[v] about the time he found one of his members sitting alone, weeping, in the sanctuary after a baptism, which in this little church traditionally involved the grandparents and aunts and uncles all standing as the newest member of their family was baptized.
The woman told Lindvall that her daughter had a new son and was thinking about his baptism. The woman said, “She’s eighteen, was confirmed in this church just four years ago . . .she started to see this boy.” She hesitated and then the rest of the story came tumbling out. She got pregnant, the father joined the Air Force and she decided to keep the baby and she wants to have him baptized in her church, but she’s nervous to come talk to you.”
The session discussed and approved it but the real problem, everybody knew, was when the minister got to the part when the family stands up there and there wasn’t going to be any, her situation as a young, single mother would be there for everyone to see.
So the day arrived, the last Sunday in Advent and the church was full. An elder presented the boy for baptism. . . .Down the aisle the mother came, nervously, shaking slightly with an infant in her arms.” Lindvall writes that “the scene hurt every bit as much as we knew it would.” ‘Who stands with this child?’ the minister asked, and the mother stood up all by herself. Lindvall writes “I was just about to ask the mother the parents question when I became aware of movement in the pews. One member had stood up in her blue suit, then another beside her. Then a couple other elders stood up, then the sixth grade Sunday school teacher stood up, then a new young couple in the church, and soon, the whole congregation was standing up with the little boy.”
As we baptize beautiful Elle this morning we know that she is blessed not only with loving parents and siblings and family who are with her today, but that in answering the question Kori will ask you about guiding and nurturing Elle, you will promise to stand with her on her journey of life and faith, as we do with all children.
I sat with one of you recently who talked about a family member going through a significant challenge. A tragic mistreatment. The person wanted to know how best to show the struggling family member what the presence of God was like. Together we concluded that the best way to help was to show them your heart and stand with them as a parent to a child. Rather than giving advice, simply reflect the love of a God who cares. To show them that the eternal has a heart.
Fred Craddock, one of the great ministers of our time, died this spring. He once wrote about a child who fell down and skinned his knee and came running to his mother.[vi] The mother picked up the child, held the child in her lap, and said, “Let me kiss it and make it well.” Did her kiss make it well? No. It was that ten minutes in her lap. Where the child just sat in the lap of love and saw the mother crying and asked, “Mother, why are you crying? I’m the one who hurt my knee.” “Because you hurt,” the mother said, “I hurt.” That does more for the child than all the bandages and medicine in the world, just sitting in her lap.” “What is the cross?” Craddock asks. It is to sit for a few minutes in the lap of God, who hurts when we hurt.”
Christ is the heart of God. When we take on his identity, when we stand up, we reflect that heart. Our creation, our birth, was an act of grace, an expression of God’s love. So our rebirth as children of God is an act of grace as well.
We are all children of God. Let us believe it, claim it and live it. So the heart of God beats on. Amen.
[i] Max Lucado. 3: 16, The Numbers of Hope.
[ii] John Ortberg. SoulKeeping.
[v] Michael Lindvall. Good News From North Haven. Pp. 168-175.
[vi] Fred Craddock. Cherry Log Sermons.