A Glimpse of God Mothers’ Day 5th Easter
Acts 7:55-60 John 14:1-14
Years ago, before he was a popular author and speaker, Tony Campolo was an associate pastor in a church. On Mothers’ Day, he was supposed to read from Second Timothy, chapter one, which includes these words: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” The preacher that day was going to make a point about Godly mothers and grandmothers, and how their faith can impact the younger generation.
But, Tony (as a young, single man) had been out late the night before. He made his way up to read the Scripture and turned to FIRST Timothy by mistake. He read, “This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother…” Not exactly a great text for Mothers’ Day!
But our passages you heard today really do support the idea that our faith can be transmitted to others. In Acts, we see Stephen being stoned to death in the presence of Saul (the man who would one day be known as Paul). He prays, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Imagine how that act of grace impacted Saul and laid the foundation for his dramatic conversion two chapters later! And, in our Gospel reading, we hear Jesus telling his disciples, “If you know me, you will know my father also.” Both texts give us a glimpse of God, and illustrate how faith is transmitted person-to-person.
Just imagine for a moment the people who first gave you an inkling of the reality of God. Somehow, through their life, their words, you began to develop an understanding of who God is and how God operates. You began to sense God’s presence in your own life. Here’s one way to illustrate that idea:
In Disney’s The Sword and the Stone, the future King Arthur is being educated by the wizard, Merlin, and he is given the opportunity to see things from a variety of perspectives. In one scene, Arthur is transformed into a fish, swimming to and fro, high and low. Makes me wonder what insights I might get while being a fish!
For instance: what would fish think about human beings? I’ve always been taught to be quiet when fishing, and to not let my shadow fall on the pool where I hope to pull out a trout—because fish can sense our presence. Just imagine: two fish meet at a sand bar, and one asks, “Hey, did you sense something big just go over us? I mean, there’s something up there!” And the other fish says, “Nah. It’s just your imagination. Look, I’ve been up there, jumpin’ up to catch a fly, and I never saw anything weird.” Hmmm.
Now, please, don’t be insulted, but I see a parallel with human perceptions of God. We can sense the Presence; we have a limited intelligence with which to draw conclusions; but then, sometimes, God chooses to reveal God’s own self to us!
Can People See God?
As a general rule, in the Old Testament it was understood that people just DON’T see God. There were, however, a few notable exceptions:
- Jacob wrestled with God, and named that place “Peniel” (which means “face”): “It is because I saw God face-to-face, and yet my life was spared.”
- Moses was up on Mt. Sinai, and experienced the Presence of God. As a result, his own face was RADIANT when he came down and he had to wear a veil!
- And there’s this interesting blessing in the Book of Numbers: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
In the New Testament, we find a desire to see “The Father.” Jesus is telling his disciples about the Father’s house; says that no one comes to the Father except through him; and says, “If you know me, you will know my father also.” Then Phillip pipes up: “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Who was this Philip, anyway? Well, he was first identified as a disciple of John the Baptizer, and was directed (by John)to Jesus. He went and found Nathaniel and said, “We have found the Messiah—come and see!” Philip was one who said to Jesus when they were surrounded by hungry multitudes, “Where shall we buy bread to feed these people?!” Despite his doubts and despite his demand to “see”, Philip was used in a mighty way after the resurrection.
In a way, Philip is standing in for us, asking to “see the Father.” You and I have a desire to be bowled over with evidence, to have some powerful experience that removes all our doubt, to be empowered to believe, to obey, to experience God’s presence. So Jesus says to him (and to us), “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?…the Father, who dwells in me, does his works.”
Stephen’s Final Chapter
Now, in our reading from the Book of Acts, we heard about a follower of Jesus named Stephen. And who was he? He was the first person to be named as a Deacon in the early church. He was full of God’s grace and power. He was falsely accused of blasphemy and put on trial. The members of the Sanhedrin “saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” (Now remember, an “angel” is, by definition, a messenger of God—one who is full of God’s light.) And Stephen had a message for these powerful religious leaders. He did his best to persuade them to follow Jesus, and they were furious! It got even worse when Stephen looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God. “Look! I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” They were beyond furious, and dragged him out to be stoned. As he was dying, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And he died.
He died trying to follow Christ, being faithful to God, demonstrating the grace of forgiveness for those who were stoning him! Saul witnessed the stoning, giving his approval to the slaying of this follower of Jesus. As I suggested earlier, this must have had some kind of impact on this zealous, ambitious young Pharisee. And I’m sure it helped all those who were there to get a glimpse of God’s presence, God’s GRACE.
So, here we are on Mothers’ Day, thinking about Timothy’s grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice—and about how their faith was passed on to him. I am sure that he had plenty of opportunities to witness their faith in action as they dealt with the ups and downs of life, letting love and grace be the hallmarks of their faith.
1 John 4 puts it this way: Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. No one has ever seen God; but, if we love each other, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.