Without a doubt, we can say that we all have this one thing in common – we all have a mother who gave us birth. From the very beginning, male and female were created to be united and to become one – to compliment each other physically and spiritually for the purpose of procreation as “God blessed them and said to them, ‘be fruitful and increase in number” (Genesis 1:28).
Mother’s Day comes once a year as we set aside one day to show our appreciation for all they do during the other 364 days of the year. The Word of God highlights the importance of honouring mothers. When Jesus was hanging from the cross, he passed on the responsibility of caring for his mother to his ‘beloved disciple’. “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27). Although John had his own birth mother, he also honoured Mary as his mother.
The importance of Mary in God’s plan for the salvation of humanity would be honoured by Origen and the Greek fathers of the church in the early third century by giving her the title “Theokotos” which translates to the ‘God-bearer’ as she would provide the womb which would hold and carry the incarnate God until his birth into the world which He had created. If you are still not convinced about the Biblical importance of mothers consider the first of the Ten Commandments that comes with a promise. “Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12) as honouring comes with the promise of long life – something my mother instilled in me when I wasn’t respectful.
As I look back, I am thankful for everything my mother did for me, from dragging me to church when I didn’t want to be there, making me walk with her everywhere she needed to go, and making me go to school when I was bored to tears with the teachers. When I was disobedient, I learned about the new ways to use wooden spoons and ping-pong paddles. As a young boy, I was forced to endure the dreaded brush cut, being hugged in public in front of my friends and eating lunch box lunches. Boys my age knew when their mother was angry with them because your lunch was made up of things kids wouldn’t be caught dead eating at school. Imagine finding a can of sardines or lutefisk when your friends are eating peanut butter and jam sandwiches.
Eating lunch wasn’t the issue. Kids in school judged each other based on appearances; what you ate, how you dressed, how you were groomed and what groups you associated with. High School, for me, was a younger version of the 1964 prime-time soap opera Peyton Place which followed a group of people who had many secrets and who lived in complicated emotional relationships. Opening your lunch in front of your friends was like spreading your life on the table for everybody else to see. You were judged by what you ate or did not eat. Having the right kind of lunch, eating the right foods says a lot about you and your family and even your beliefs.
When we look back, we might think that these odd forms of segregation were silly. Consider the day when Peter became hungry and wanted something to eat while he had been praying. God provided a vision of all kinds of foods for Peter to kill and eat at which point our orthodox Jewish boy replied, “Surely not, Lord!” … “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean” (Acts 10:14). Peter knew that certain foods, which were eaten by others, were not permitted under Levitical Law – as there are two categories: clean and unclean foods.
Maybe you have witnessed the categorizing of two different groups of people in your lifetime? Maybe you can remember how some were excluded from the school community because they were different from the rest of the kids. I would love to be able to say that our twenty-first century society has matured beyond measuring the worth of others based on gender, race, colour, or the labels on the name brand clothing they wear, but the truth is, that the labelling process is still alive and well in the lives of children, teenagers, and adults today. Ultimately, this form of labelling boils down to two categories; insiders and outsiders - us and them.
The New Testament doesn’t say much about the animosity between Jews and Samaritans in the first century because it was common knowledge to them. Most of the history of the children of Israel in the Promised Land is shrouded in the religious differences which began around the time of the division of the United Kingdom into the two separate Northern and Southern kingdoms under the sons of King Solomon. Only John provides us some clarification when he writes “Jews don’t associate with Samaritans’ (John 4:9) when Jesus asks a woman for a drink. Again, we see the division between the insiders and outsiders, the Jews, and the Samaritans, whereas it’s interesting that Jews got along better with gentiles than with their Jewish cousins.
Jesus’ first disciples were descendants of Abraham. As the years pass, many others would follow Jesus and partake in his teachings and ministry while only the Twelve (as far as we know) would partake in the Lord’s Supper and his final days in Jerusalem. Initially, there are some disputes regarding the reliability of the testimony of the women who say Jesus is alive. After the ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost unprecedented growth is experienced as “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). We should not be surprised to find divisions and dissension occurring in the post resurrection community which is first composed of Jewish converts, Zealots, and Pharisees. As the message of the resurrection expands beyond Jerusalem the fellowship of believers welcomes anyone who accepts the message of salvation in Christ including Hellenized Jews, Romans, Samaritans, Gentiles, and foreigners as far as Ethiopia.
Consider some of the issues that the apostle Paul had to deal with in the churches he had planted in gentile lands. The Galatians were deserting “the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6) while the Ephesians had never heard about the Holy Spirit. While Paul is in Ephesus, he receives a letter from people in the Corinthian community about the presence of immorality, divisions, and quarrels within the fellowship. Now, with this in mind consider how you might react if somebody new showed up at your church today and started changing those things you are comfortable with, liturgy, music, readings and prayers? I’ve heard about sufficient church conflicts and disunity in my short ministry to know how you would react. We tend to be very protective of our own little part of the world and of our church today.
It was not a very different story when the church began to include the Gentiles into the saving work of Jesus Christ. The issue regarding the eating of clean and unclean foods, of complete obedience to the Law of Israel, and the requirement for circumcision divided the fellowship and we haven’t even begun to speak about Abrahamic priority. In the account of a Gentile Canaanite woman the disciples hear Jesus proclaim “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). From the disciples’ point of view, the gentiles were unclean, sinners, idolaters and since they don’t even know the God of Abraham they should be excluded from grace. But, as the woman begs for mercy for her sick daughter, the story makes the parallel that the Jews are the children feasting at the table while the Gentiles are the dogs gathering the crumbs that fall from the table indicating that there is more than enough grace for everyone – Jew and Gentile.
This sense of entitlement poisoned the early church and it continues to infect the post resurrection church of the new millennium. There are some in the fellowship of the church who decree what a proper lunch should look like by focusing on what they believe is the acceptable food rather than the fellowship surrounding the food. Take for example one pastor with whom I butted heads against once. We both agreed that an ecumenical service involving all of the local churches would be great for promoting Christian unity while giving glory to God. He believed this could only be done on Good Friday with an uplifting Praise and Worship service. He would not budge on the date because he believed he was called by God to lead this service – but he would not understand why the Anglicans, Lutherans and Roman Catholics would never come to his worship service.
This is only one example although there are still many others in the church who believe they know better than God and these are the same people who resists and oppose the belief that the Holy Spirit shows no partiality, and that God actually welcomes and includes those who we see as being different while the church’s mandate according to God’s Word is not only to welcome but to also teach and encourage all believers to live in response to the grace of God the Father following the example of Christ Jesus “speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
The problem which continues to plague the church even today originates with our understanding of what God is like using scripture and the world we live in to formulate our picture of God. When the Israelites left Egypt after the Exodus, they believed their God to be like a great golden calf. Today, we pick and choose from our experiences as we formulate God in our own image, including those things we like and agree with while omitting those things we dislike and don’t agree with. Like those first Jewish Christian, who first began welcoming gentile Christians into their fellowship, we also bring a lot of our baggage into our new relationships.
Some gentiles were accustomed to eating pork while the Jews had rigorous food regulations. Today, we come together carrying our own concepts and ideas regarding worship, music, preaching, ministry, evangelism, even what the church itself should be like. We insert our own worldly labels believing we are called to do God’s work of judging what is acceptable or not acceptable in this time and place. When we come to our senses (like the prodigal son) we might actually discover that we are not the kid with the best lunch but rather the underprivileged child who has no lunch. That’s when, like Peter, visiting the Gentile Cornelius that we might be astonished by the way God’s Grace is poured out where we least expected it to be.
“While Peter was still speaking [the good news of Jesus Christ] these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles” (Acts 10:44-45). Prior to Peter’s vision from God some people in the post resurrection community believed themselves to be insiders who determined who is allowed in and who is not allowed in. Peter learned something different that day as his vision from God prepared him for something greater.
This must not have been an easy message for Peter to deliver. Peter first enters the house of a gentile Roman centurion cautiously because he knows he is being directed by God and he will soon discover that Cornelius was also directed, in response to his prayer, to send for Simon who is called Peter. But Peter is still risking being excluded by his own post resurrection community because of his unorthodox actions. He proceeds cautiously saying, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean” (Acts 10:28).
The post resurrection church feared the Romans as much as everybody else. Jesus taught his disciples to love your neighbour. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44) must have been difficult for the disciples to accept. We can’t doubt how difficult it would be to love somebody who was responsible for the death of somebody we loved. But Jesus’ command is non-negotiable as our calling as a Christian is to love all people. But, and maybe you have experienced it firsthand, there are some people who are really hard and maybe even impossible to love. No matter how much we try we end up walking away wounded and more unable to love them with God's love. When we feel this way its because we haven’t come to a full realization of the love of God because we erect walls and barriers in order to prevent ourselves from being hurt by others. Because we live in a broken world under the influence of sin, we will find ourselves being hurt when we expect others to always be warm and loving to us all the time. The real issue is not in the not loving others, but in the fear of getting hurt by them which is at the heart of relationships and it’s what prevents us from loving the unlovable.
Christians’ love going to a church where people are all smiles and they are giving each other warm handshakes and embraces. Many Christians go to church because they feel accepted and welcomed there. When Christians hurt other Christians, the effects are devastating because we don’t expect that type of behaviour amongst those whom we trust and love. Sometimes we also get too comfortable with our community and we don’t want people different from us to be a part of it. It’s again about who are the insiders and who are the outsiders. These same Christians are nervous about reaching out to others in Christian love because of the fear of being hurt and rejected. When we share the gospel – it is God who is rejected and not us.
In the account of a Jewish Peter visiting a Gentile Cornelius from the book of the Acts of the Apostles, we see the first move by the post resurrection community to get rid of the sense of entitlement which existed in Judaism as Peter declares that the God of Abraham shows no partiality. Prior to setting foot in the home of a gentile Peter recognizes that “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:34-35). The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ says that God shows no partiality and God’s Word further challenges us to regularly look at our own lives and examine those things we believe. Like Peter, it’s important for us to continue to lovingly share the story of salvation, because God is working in us and through us, in spite of our flaws, to bring all people into the fellowship of his church which is the body of Christ.
When we consider our mothers, who have lovingly nurtured our lives in this world we might recall the many songs, poetry and stories that have been written about the subject of love. Nothing could be closer to expressing the truth of the gospel than the song “All you need is Love” made famous by the Beatles and released in 1967. The greatest challenge of the gospel is not for us to love others as others love us - but rather to love others as Jesus loves us which only becomes a possibility when we allow Christ in us to be the agent of His love to others.
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We are a family of followers of Christ, who learn and share the Good News of Salvation, making disciples of Jesus Christ.
We hold weekly Sunday morning services at 10:30 am. We also host a Bible Study each Sunday morning at 09:30 am and on Tuesday afternoon at 1:00 pm. Please join us.
Our music team plays from a repertoire of many hundreds of Christian songs and Hymns, occasionally with new arrangements of traditional and contemporary selections.