Updated: Jan 29, 2021
[Happy Eastern Orthodox Easter!!!]
My mother was one of twelve children.
She was one of seven daughters and five sons, to an Alabama sharecropper and his wife.
My mother remembered picking cotton in the fields on cold fall mornings, till her fingers were raw and chilled to the bone. As a small child, she said, she was not allowed to stop working until her “little shoe was full of cotton seeds.”
My mother moved to the “big city” as soon as she turned seventeen. By then, World War II was underway and young American men were away fighting. That meant women could find work away from the farms.
I was raised in and around that big city. I was born into a time when the war was over and our men had returned to also find work away from the farms.
My grandparents had twelve children because each child was an extra farmhand. The more children the parents had, the easier the workloads became. Still, life was hard and everyone had to lend a hand.
As a boy growing up, most of the families in my neighborhood had between one and three children.
I recall how television reflected this new American family size. While The Walton's showed a large, rural family, which was the exception to the new rule. The family of the 1950’s were reflected in My Three Sons (three sons, father and uncle), Bonanza (three sons, father only), Father Knows Best (son, two daughters, father and mother), Leave It To Beaver (two sons, father and mother), The Addams Family (one son, one daughter, father, mother, aunt and uncle), The Munsters (son, cousin, father, mother and grandfather), and (of course) The Andy Griffith Show (one son, father and aunt). All had families with one, two or three children … although in some shows one son would leave the show and an adoptee or ranch hand would be added to the cast, to maintain the original numbers.
America had changed to smaller families, because work was easier for fathers to find in the big cities. In addition, city work paid more, so mothers could stay home and raise the kids.
Sometimes the mother had died, so an uncle would move in to help the father manage his children, or a grandparent would help out. When the father was land wealthy, and the kids had grown to young men, the whole family used their position of wealth to help their neighbors.
While that is a Hollywood view of American family life, experiencing poverty and rationing was why my mother became a hoarder. I know others of her generation likewise found it hard to throw something potentially useful away.
They hoarded because they lived through all or part of the Great Depression and World War II. They knew the pains and hardships of poverty. They knew the values of things they had to do without.
They knew how hard life can be when you are a child of poor parents, in difficult times.
The transformation of American, from many children to few, was a statement about not enjoying growing up “lost in a crowd,” where special attention was always hard to find. It was a statement about having children in numbers that suit your financial means … so children never had to know the meaning of hard work.
My generation was the first of a pampered group of Americans. We are called the “Baby Boomers.” We came from poor parents that had just enough to afford us higher education, to place us in cities that offered part-time jobs, so we could subsidize our “allowance” and learn the value of wages.
My generation grew to spawn “Generation X” and “Generation Y,” who became the “Me Generations.” We also taught our children the meaning of divorce, drug use acceptance, progressive secularism, and declining religious values. Chasing dollars has a way of making people forget what is most important … family values.
Now, our children have given rise to “Millennials.” They seem to have little knowledge of any work ethic, moral values, or meaningful educational skills.
And we wonder why the average age of Christian churches is getting older and older, with children dwindling from attendance. The reason is no longer smaller family sizes.
All of this history comes to us thanks to our parents or grandparents leaving the farm for the big cities. We left our roots behind, so we have forgotten how hard work is a vital part of our existence.
The saying is: “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” Well, life is the rod that beats human beings to death. It always has been, and it always will be that way. When you spare the lesson of life from the child, everything falls apart.
This is the message today in the readings. It is a message that is most clear, but one that we are blinded from seeing.
Actually, there are two possible Gospel readings for today, and both bear the same message. In John 14 we read how Jesus told Judas (not Iscariot), “Those who love me will keep my word.” And, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.”
Jesus then made the profound statement: “I do not give to you as the world gives.”
The world’s way of giving.
Without saying as much, but based on the “love” parameters established prior, that means, “If you love me, then you will give to others as I give to you, which is not as the world gives.”
When you think about that lesson from John 14:23-29, you can then read the lesson from John 5:1-9, where Jesus saw a man “who had been ill for thirty-eight years” at the pool by the Sheep Gate, in Jerusalem.
Jesus asked that man, “Do you want to be made well?”
The man heard that simple question like one made by a world that often uses words of encouragement, as if Jesus was asking the man, “What can I do to give you a hand?”
The ill man replied to Jesus, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way [dragging myself with my hands, slowly], someone else steps down ahead of me.”
It was believed that the first person in the whirlpool would be cured of an ailment. So, the man never was the first one in the pool.
The man answered Jesus’s question with, “Yes, give me a helping hand,” instead of “Yes, sir. I do want to be made well.”
Jesus gave to the man in a way that was not like the world gives. Jesus simply gave him his words that said, “Stand up, take you mat and walk.”
Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to the man through thought, so “at once the man was made well.”
That example means that Jesus told Judas (not Iscariot) to help people with the word of the Holy Spirit. Give them salvation through faith. If you try to play god and force everyone away from the edge of the pool, so your selected poor person can slink in first … probably not to be made well … then you prove you do not love Jesus.
In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we read how Paul had a vision in the night. He saw “a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
Can you see how that vision of Paul’s has to be exactly how Jesus saw the man “who had been ill for thirty-eight years”? Jesus was not that old; but he knew the lame man had been lying there a long time. Jesus had a vision of this man amid a crowd of sick people, but it was this man’s faith that pleaded with Jesus, saying, “Come over here and help me.”
Seeing and hearing such a vision is how one proves he or she is loving God and keeping his word. After thirty-eight years of failures, the lame man had not given up his belief in God’s miracles.
When you understand that, imagine how the riders at this bus stop would approach some place in the world that is filled with crowds of ill, poor people, who sit and wait to be the first to be saved, only to be there a lifetime waiting.
Would you wait for a vision to come in the night, telling you specifically where God and Christ needed you to go to that place?
Would you then immediately drop everything and go there to do God’s work, if you saw a vision?
Paul did not have a clue who he would find in Macedonia, but he and Silas made their way there and just hung out for a few days. Then, on the Sabbath, they went looking for a place they “supposed was a place of prayer.”
Then they began preaching about the meaning of Scripture, and how it had prophesied the coming of the Messiah, who was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. They knew that because Jesus had died, been resurrected, and passed on the Holy Spirit of Salvation to his followers.
A woman named Lydia, who was a worshiper of God, heard the word of Jesus…. the love of Jesus … and not only she, but her whole household … the women at that place Paul and Silas preached … were baptized.
You have to understand that “baptized“ means they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Because Lydia was a woman of faith, and because she had a household of women who worshipped God like she die, they were given a spiritual gift unlike any the world has to offer.
Raise your hand if you have given your love of Jesus Christ to a group of people in need, so that they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
<look for raised hands>
We do a lot of selfish things in the name of Christianity. We, in that case, are like all the invalids – blind, lame, and paralyzed – waiting by the pool of healing for ourselves.
Like a herd of walruses basking in the sunshine.
We inch closer and closer to heaven … in our minds … just like the lame would inch as close as possible to the whirlpool outside the Sheep Gate, ready to leap at the first sign of personal benefit.
We wait silently … because if we dare stop to talk to a fellow Christian about what the Holy Bible means. If we speak about our faith, someone might find out we aren’t as Christian as we say we are, causing someone to make us move further away from that healing pool.
That is where it becomes so important to see how that whirlpool and the Sheep Gate are all part of the first Jerusalem, which we heard about last Sunday. The need for healing waters will pass away when the new city of Jerusalem comes down from heaven.
When John wrote, “nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life,” that is like Jesus telling Judas (not Iscariot), “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.”
If someone here today does not truly have God in his or her heart, and does not “keep the word” of Jesus always on their mind, through the Holy spirit’s presence, then one truly does not love Jesus. Only those who love Jesus have their names “written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
Only those will be allowed in this new holy city of Jerusalem, because the first earth – where people left the farms to go to dirty, uncaring, “sell your souls for a dollar” cities and teach their children how to help themselves and not others – that earth will pass away, and with it will pass away the souls who did not have the name “Jesus” on their foreheads.
Think about that for just one moment.
I have been preaching so often about this that I wonder if it is sinking in.
When John wrote, “the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in [the new holy city of Jerusalem], and [God’s] servants will worship him; they will see his face, and [the Lamb’s] name will be on their foreheads,” this means that the only souls allowed into this new city will be those of the first earth who were reborn as Jesus.
That name has to be on one’s forehead by the Mind of Christ leading one, just as Jesus was willingly led. That is why Jesus told Judas (not Iscariot), “The word that you hear [which is mine, which you will prove your love by keeping] is not [from my brain as] mine, but is from the Father who sent me.”
Christ wore the name “Jesus” on the forehead of the human form that God inhabited, via the Holy Spirit. All apostles since have worn the same name – “Jesus” – because the same God has sent them the same Holy Spirit, for them to keep the same word.
This Easter season, as the resurrected Jesus sits with us today – external to our bodies and souls – not having his name yet written on us disciples’ foreheads – we are learning valuable lessons about who we will serve when the day of Pentecost comes.
We need to be planning ahead now! Will we be one of those who sacrificed some worldly gifts for an eternity of bliss in the new heaven and the new earth, where “nothing accursed will be found there anymore”? Or will we marked as not clean and outcast?
Can you see yourself in that vision Paul had? Can you see your soul as pleading with an apostle of Christ and saying, “Come over to me and help me!”?
Can you see yourself as one who believes in miracles – the river of the water of life – but although you braining is willing, your flesh is week? Do you sit crippled and lame near healing water, hoping someone will come give you eternal life?
“Stand up, take you mat and walk.”
Walk to wherever God sends you a vision to go; but know when you get there, then you have to preach the word of the Lord … out of love.
“The earth has brought forth her increase; may God, our own God, give us his blessing.”
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