Finding Our Way Home
I Peter 2:9-12
Today we celebrate the “Festival of the Christian Home”, along with a special observance of Mother’s Day. There was a time when such a celebration would be as American as apple pie, motherhood and the American flag. But, as David Reinhard writes: “No longer. Ever since the alar hysteria, apple pie has become suspect. The Supreme Court has declared that flag-burning is a constitutional right. And motherhood? Well, working mothers face exhaustion, guilt, and a sense of social disapproval, while mothers at home fear for their futures in a culture that no longer offers them either social recognition or economic security in exchange for their work, and single mothers live in poverty or on its edge.”
Probably no one deserves a special day all to herself more than today’s mom. A cartoon pretty well says it all. It showed a psychiatrist talking to her patient. “Let’s see”, she said, “you spend 50% of your energy on your job, 50% on your home, and 50% on your children. I think I see your problem!” I heard about two kids, aged 4 and 6, who presented their mom with a houseplant. They had used their own money and she was thrilled. However, the older child said, with a sad face, “Mom, there was a huge bunch of flowers that we wanted to buy you at the flower shop. It was real pretty, but it cost too much money. It had a ribbon on it that said “Rest in Peace”. We thought it would be perfect, since you are always asking for a little peace so that you can rest!” Well, I hope if nothing else, you will allow Mom a little time to rest in peace today.
So today I want to focus on the value and the importance of the home in our society. I know that not everyone has come from a good home, and that some people have come from abusive homes. I know that the home is under attack in our time. However, I also know that the home has provided the basic foundation for life in our world- and we need to remember that.
This story is true. I read it in the newspaper. A ninety-four-year-old man was wandering aimlessly down a sidewalk, obviously disoriented. A police officer approached him and said: “Sir, you look troubled and sad. Can I help?” The old gentleman said: “I am sad. A month ago I married a beautiful and loving woman who is 25 years of age. She’s a wonderful cook and housekeeper and she never forgets to give me my medicine. She cares for me so well and I love her so much.” The policeman said: “Well, sir, that sounds like a wonderful relationship. Why are you so sad?” The old man looked off into the distance, brushed a tear from his eye and said: “Because I can’t remember how to get home!”
Well, maybe it’s time for us to find our way back home again, to reclaim the values and traditions that hold us together as families and as a nation. Maybe it’s time for us to remember who we are. As Peter put it: “Once you were no people, but now you are God’s people.” The value of this day, then, is that it allows us to focus on the basic Christian foundations of our family life by honoring our mothers, from whom we best learn the lessons of life.
You see, it is at home that we best learn to distinguish right and wrong.
Proverbs 22:6, “Train a child in the right way, and when they are old, they will not stray.” That’s true. Why else do we say, “Like father, like son” or “Like mother, like daughter”?
I know. Building a strong family is not easy. When actor Robert Young was starring in the television series “Father Knows Best”, one day his real-life teenage daughter asked him: “Dad, how come each week on television you solve the most difficult family problems imaginable, yet you don’t seem to be able to do the same thing at home.” He laughed and said: “Well, Honey, at the studio I have good scriptwriters!” Of course, if we had good scriptwriters, we would all look better than we do as families or as parents. But that’s not the case, and so we have to do the best we can with very little training for what is an incredibly complex job. We may do stupid things from time to time, but it is our task to create a climate where children can learn to distinguish between right and wrong. If we as parents fail to do this, then how can we expect our children to do differently.
Out of our history books comes the troubling story of a Baptist minister who told his two sons that they could keep a dog who had wandered up to the family home. The dog was black as coal, except for three very distinctive white hairs in the dog’s tail. One day the family saw an ad in the local newspapers about a lost dog that fit the description of this dog right down to those three white hairs in the tail. With the help of his two sons, the minister removed the three white hairs from the dog’s tail. The real owner, hearing that a black dog had taken up with the family of the Baptist minister, went out to check for himself. When he arrived, the dog showed every sign of recognizing his master, and so the man asked to take his dog home. The minister quickly spoke up, reminding him that the description of the dog included three distinctive white hairs in the tail. Since this dog did not have those white hairs in his tail, the preacher declared that the animal belonged to his sons and he asked the man to leave. Later, this preacher would write: “I kept the dog, but lost my sons.” Their names? Frank and Jesse. Frank and Jesse James!
The Biblical imperative is sound when it calls parents to teach their children the difference between right and wrong. The idea that children randomly turn out good or bad and that they should be free to determine their own moral course without outside influence is absolute foolishness. In fact, Dr. Joyce Brothers notes that discipline in parenting may be coming back into style. A recent study of 2000 fifth and sixth graders, some reared by disciplined parents, others by permissive parents, produced surprising results. The children who had grown up in an atmosphere of strict discipline possessed high self-esteem, and were high achievers, both socially and academically. What those children said, revealed that they were actually happier than the undisciplined children. They loved the adults who made and enforced the rules by which they lived.
My beloved, children need to know where boundaries are. They need to know that parents love them enough to hang tough when it comes to right and wrong. For if they do not learn it from home, where do we expect them to learn it?
And then it is at home that we best learn to depend on trust and confidence.
I like Sam Levenson’s story about the little boy who was headed off for camp for the first time. In the presence of the camp director and two counselors his parents were signing the necessary documents for the boy’s admission. Watching all this was his younger sister, who finally looked up and with tears in her eyes asked her father: “Why are we selling Robert?” Hopefully, Robert knew he wasn’t being sold. If there is one great need children have, it is to know that there is something in their lives which is stable and secure; something in which they can trust and have confidence.
I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this or not, but Christianity is the only religion in the world which calls God Father. And Christianity puts the family as a priority in the faith. If you look at any other faith in our world, you discover that the leader of that faith has come on the world scene as a fully grown individual. But Christianity begins at a manger in Bethlehem with a mother and a father and a child. We have so often seen pictures of the Holy Family that we tend to forget that we are the only one of the world’s faiths to place at its beginning and at its center, a family. So Jesus came to us as a child, and His childhood was fraught with danger and difficulty, and even the threat of death. Yet, when you know the story, you realize that His parents did everything they could to keep Him feeling safe and secure during those childhood years. It is there, I believe, that He learned the trust and confidence which so marked His adult life. Yes, it is in the home that we gain a sense of security and we learn to trust.
Some time ago, there was a television interview with a woman who heroically and singlehandedly had reared a large family. In spite of all the frustrations, disappointments and obstacles, she had persevered. As a result, everyone of her children had made remarkable achievements both in their schooling and in their vocations. During the interview, the reporter said: “I suppose your secret is that you loved all your children equally, making sure that all got the same treatment?” The mother replied: “I loved them all, each one of them, but not equally. I loved the one the most who was down, until he was up. I loved the one the most who was weak, until she was strong. I loved the one the most who was hurt, until he was healed. I loved the one the most who was lost, until she was found.”
A sense of trust, confidence and security in life—that’s what it was that mother gave to her kids. We should do the same.
And of course, it is at home that we best learn to develop love and compassion.
You, no doubt, have seen that series of statements by Dorothy Law Nolte entitled “Children Learn What They Live.” Let me remind you of them:
If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight.
If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy.
If a child lives with shame, he learns to feel guilty.
If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient.
If a child lives with encouragement, he learns confidence.
If a child lives with praise, he learns to appreciate.
If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice.
If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith.
If a child lives with approval, he learns to like himself.
If a child lives with acceptance and friendship, he learns to find
love in the world.
How beautiful and how true! We live the things we learn at home and the best things we learn at home are love and compassion—and the best teacher of love and compassion is Mom!
Solomon Rosenberg and his family were caught in the horror of Nazi imprisonment. It was a death camp but the prisoners were allowed to live as long as they could work. When their capacity for work faltered, they were put to death. Rosenberg’s aged parents were the first to go. They were well into their eighties and soon broke under the arduous conditions. Solomon Rosenberg feared that the next to go would be the younger of his two sons, a boy named David. Little David was not strong, and was slightly disabled, and was able now to work less and less. Each morning as the family went off to their work assignments, Solomon Rosenberg wondered if he would ever see little David again. At the end of each day, as he would enter the crowded barracks, he wondered if this would be the day when David would be missing. Each evening, with anxiety and dread, his eyes would scan the room until they rested on David, on his wife, and on Jacob, his older son. Then one day what he feared most happened. He walked into the barracks and could find none of his family. He was frantic. Then at last, he saw his boy, Jacob, crouched in a corner, his body racked with sobbing. He embraced his son and in agony asked if David had been taken. Jacob answered: “Yes, Papa. They came to take David. They said he could no longer do his work.” Solomon Rosenberg then asked: “But where is your mother? She is strong and still able to work.” Jacob replied: “Papa, when they came to take David, he was afraid and he began to cry. So Mama said to him, ‘David, don’t cry. I will go with you and I will hold you close.'” That mother went with her little boy to the ovens so he would not be afraid. Let that story of a mother’s love burn itself into your heart today. Maybe it will remind you that home is where we best learn to develop love and compassion in our living.
Dr. Fred Craddock tells of flying into Oklahoma City where he was scheduled to preach. He was seated next to a couple returning from their vacation. He said that they were still wearing their vacation, brightly-colored Hawaiian shirts. They told of all the glorious sights they had seen in Hawaii and the fun they had had. As the plane was making its final approach, the woman took out her camera and pressed it against the window and started taking pictures of the skyline of Oklahoma City. Dr. Craddock expressed surprise and said; “After seeing the Hawaiian Islands, why are you taking pictures of Oklahoma City?” The woman replied: “Why? Well, because this is our home!”
Yes, maybe it’s time for us to find our way back home again; to reclaim the values and traditions that hold us together as families and as a nation. “For once we were no people, but now we are God’s people. “Once we were without mercy, but now we have received mercy in Jesus Christ.” And the place where we best learn that is home.