What We Pass Down – 5,13,07

When I meet new people or am talking with someone from outside this congregation it sometimes comes up in conversation that I am a pastor.  One of the next questions usually asked is, “So, how many people are in the congregation you serve?”  Rather than saying a single number like 90 or 100, I have gotten into the habit of answering, “About 60 adults and about 30 kids.”  The response is consistently one of surprise and almost awe.  “Wow, that’s great.”  Sometimes people will talk about themselves being one of the youngest in their church even though they are middle aged.  Sometimes people will simply say that this amount of kids is a great gift.  Yesterday evening a number of us, mostly parents of youth, met together to talk about ways that we can nurture our young people as they grow up in this congregation.  Along with the ways this is already happening, the hope is that we can establish some regular practices of celebrating different passages in our youths’ lives and blessing them in their growth in faith and maturity.  One example of this is the giving out of Bibles to nine year olds that Christian Education has regularly done and will do next week during our worship together.  We also discussed having a coming of age celebration for youth when they turn twelve years old.  This would involve setting aside a time when we acknowledge the gifts and interests of each youth and also offer them our encouragement and blessing for their adolescent years ahead.  Since there are a number of youth who have already turned twelve we will have some catching up to do.  Questions of baptism and catechism were also discussed.  It was agreed that it is important to teach youth the historical beliefs and practices of the church, while at the same time giving them space to question and think on their own about such things.  We want to encourage youth to consider baptism as a way of publicly marking their acceptance of a life of discipleship, but, in keeping with our Anabaptist heritage, we want to see that this is a decision on the part of the youth and not just something that happens because that’s what is supposed to happen when you are high school age. Overall, I would say, there was a sense of excitement and anticipation for how we all can contribute to the character and faith formation of our children.  With the amount of young people this congregation has been blessed with, and with the great need in the world for compassionate people able to think critically about what kind of world we are making for ourselves, this will be one of the most significant missions for CMF in the years to come.  The timing of this meeting wasn’t intentionally planned for the weekend of Mother’s Day, but I suppose it is a fitting time for such a conversation.  The question that was underlying our discussion was essentially a question of mothering: “how do we pass on the best of ourselves to the next generation?”  This is a question that includes moms, but recognizes that you don’t have to be a mom to be a mother.  All of us have the mothering role of passing down the best of our humanity to the next generation.   The original vision for having a Mother’s Day was very much along these lines.  In 1870 American Julia Ward Howe had become sickened by the devastation of the Civil War in this country and was troubled with other international conflicts.  Seeing that the men who were leading the world were not doing so hot a job of creating peace and equality for future generations, Howe believed that it was up to women to lead the way.  In that year, 1870, she wrote a Declaration for a Mother’s Day of Peace which called for an international assembly of women to gather to discuss how they may work toward peace together.  There are copies of this declaration in your bulletins, on the flip side of the Lullabies description.  I’ll read the first few paragraphs:Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
“We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: “Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.
The tone here is a call to action for all concerned in hopes that our mothering instincts can speak stronger than our tendency for violence.  I would like to think that this congregation is a weekly local “great and earnest day of counsel” for this small group of people who have decided to follow in Jesus’ way of peace.  We meet to celebrate the Christ who is alive among us and we work to pass down our faith in a God of peace to the next generation.  This is an act of mothering on all our parts.  How do we pass on the best of ourselves to the next generation?The reading from Acts tells the story of a woman, Lydia who may or may not have been a mother in a biological sense, but who became a spiritual mother with many descendants.There are some aspects of this story that set it apart from what has yet occurred in the book of Acts.  Right as this story is beginning, there is a shift in point of view of the narrator.  Until here Luke has been narrating these stories with the third person, “they;” they did this, and they did that.  Then in verse 10 of chapter 16 he shifts to saying “we.”  “When he, Paul, had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.”  Although we can’t know for sure why this is, in what follows it is very possible that the narrator is not just reporting what happened to other people, but is personally involved in what is happening.  There is a more intimate feel with the reader, like we are reading someone’s personal journal or diary.   Also, at this point this is the farthest west anyone has traveled in the book of Acts.  The gospel keeps spreading in all directions with rippling effects out from Jerusalem and Paul and Silas and perhaps our narrator appear to be the leaders for the northwest regions of this rippling.  What began as a desire to revisit some of the cities they had previously stopped in turns into an extended tour beyond the reaches of Asia Minor.  This is actually the first recordings of the gospel being preached in Europe.The apostles had typically been giving their message in the synagogues on the Sabbath, but there are apparently no synagogues in the city of Philippi where they are.  It appears they had recently been listening to an Allison Kraus CD or the soundtrack to ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’ as they get the notion to go down to the river to pray.  V. 13 says, “On the Sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer.”  It’s nice to hear that the apostles were able to pray just as easily out in nature as they could in a religious building.  As the passage goes on, it looks like some women had already beat them to the spot.  “Oh sisters let’s go down, come on down”  The passage reads, “and we sat down and spoke with the women who had gathered there.  A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth.  The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.”The early Christian movement was an urban movement, based originally in Jerusalem and moving out to cities like Damascus and Antioch and here in Philippi, which Luke calls “a leading city of the district”.  It had also been a movement made up largely of the lower class of society, reflecting the motley crew of fishermen and lepers and beggers who followed Jesus around.  It makes sense that a message about the all-embracing love of God would attract those left out of the embrace of society.   But here the apostles meet a woman of the business class.  To mention she is a dealer in purple cloth is to signal that she is dealing with high dollar sales.  Her home city of Thyatira had long time been a center for the production of the expensive purple die and she has found a market in Philippi for her business.  So like most of us in this congregation, she has relocated to a new city because of work.  And this wealthy woman of influence becomes the first convert on European soil.  I suppose we could call her the mother of European Christianity.  Usually households were under the leadership of the male, the paterfamilias, but v.15 refers to her household.  Again, details are impossible to know for sure, but at the time of this story she is almost certainly not married.  Her household could involve children, but could also simply involve servants who take care of her household affairs.  She has a large enough house with some extra rooms to house the apostles.  Her home becomes the base of operations for the mission to the city of Philippi.  At the end of chapter 16, after the apostles had gotten themselves thrown into prison in the city it says that they returned to Lydia’s home and encouraged the brothers and sisters there before they departed.It is quite possible that Lydia had no children of her own, but she becomes a mother in contributing to the birth of the Christian movement in a new continent.  I like the fact that the scripture for Mother’s Day just so happens to be about a woman who we don’t know whether she was a mother or not.  Because that isn’t really all that important.  What is important is that she became a mother in deciding to pass on the best of what she had to offer so that a new generation could be nurtured into faith.  The task of passing down the best of ourselves to those who will outlive us remains one of the defining aspects of our humanity.  What will we pass down?  What kind of world do we want to help form?  What kind of faith do we want to share with our young people who will most certainly be living in a world with great challenges.  Part of what I like so much about this Lullabies from the Axis of Evil CD is that it speaks to these questions in a very practical way.  Singing lullabies to our own children and other’s children is a simple but profound way of passing on peace.  It’s one way of being a mother.  So is treating any child with respect and listening to what they have to say.  So is opening your home, like Lydia, as a place of hospitality and welcome, to people you know well and perhaps people you don’t know so well.  So is being supportive of different organizations or “great counsels” that Julia Ward Howe spoke of.  Groups that work for justice.  All of these are acts of being a good mother to our world.There are many ways of being a mother right here within our congregation.  Our society in general is quite age segregated.  But here we are blessed with people of many ages learning and worshipping together.  And there are opportunities for each of us to mother each other by sharing of ourselves and passing along what is most valuable to us.  Opportunities to be a mentor, opportunities to be a teacher, to share whatever gifts we may have, opportunities to be a loving presence.  This fellowship is blessed and can be a blessing as we form people of strong faith to serve others.  All this comes from the One God, the great Mother of us all.