Sermon: Listening for Life
I’ve noticed a few stories about moms and mothering this week in The Spectator.
Tuesday there was a story about a new book by actress Alicia Silverstone, titled The Kind Mama: A Simple Guide to Supercharged Fertility, a Radiant Pregnancy, a Sweeter Birth, and a Healthier, More Beautiful Beginning. The story was headlined “Celebrity moms with ‘quack’ views a terrible influence on everyday parents” because in her book Alicia Silverstone offers truckloads of super-attachment parenting advice, including the notions that postpartum depression is caused by eating processed sugars, allowing your baby to sleep in its own crib is neglectful, the diaper industry is "fuelled by corporate-backed pseudo-science, " and some children are "never the same" after they get vaccines.
The author of the article says “Silverstone's book is just the latest in a plague of risible, crunchy parenting books written by celebrities without medical degrees” … like Jenny McCarthy, who continues to argue that vaccines cause autism and has written several books on pregnancy and baby-rearing; and other celebrities whose advice about parenting seems to assume you have the means to hire nannies 24/7 to provide the kind of care they suggest.
They’re celebrities, though, so they must know. Right?
On Thursday there was a little story on page 3 of The Spec’s GO Section: “Kim Kardashian: Power Mom.” Apparently Kim Kardashian, Beyonce, Victoria Beckham, Christina Aguelara, Tina Fey, Amy Poller and Sandra Bullock are named among the 50 Most Powerful Moms of 2014 by Working Mother magazine. It’s an annual list of parents who “inspire us to keep striving for bigger and better” and in coming up with the list the magazine selects mothers across eight categories – entertainment/literature, fashion/tastemakers, finance/business, news/advertising, politics, retail/manufacturing, philanthropy, and tech/science.
I wonder. Does all this attention to celebrity moms inspire? Or does it confuse, maybe even infuriate, at the very least make ordinary mothering even more challenging?
Years ago a Christian band called “Casting Crowns” released a song titled “What If His People Prayed,” in which one of the verses asks:
What if the life that we pursue
Came from a hunger for the truth
What if the family turned to Jesus
Stopped asking Oprah what to do
What do you think? Who do we listen to in an age like ours of information overload and of misinformation diarrhea?
The question of who to listen to, and who to follow is at the heart of our reading this morning from John 10:1-5. In the chapter before – chapter 9, the Pharisees and the followers of Jesus are engaged in a long, public dispute about that very thing. Jesus has healed a man born blind – has helped him to see for the first time in his life, and the Pharisees are angry because people are leaving them and the traditional synagogue, to be with Jesus instead.
The Pharisees and the local rabbi used to be the authority. When people wanted to know the God’s Word or get holy advice for some problem in their life, they would go to the synagogue or the rabbi’s house. But now people are leaving them to listen to, and follow Jesus instead. They gather around Jesus in the village square; meet with him in private houses (even the houses of sinners!) to eat and talk about the events of the day; they meet him at the seaside for instruction; they go on mission trips with him throughout the country.
The Pharisees are upset because it’s all outside the bounds of God’s house and faithful practice as they know it. They have the weight of tradition on their side; they are in charge of the religious properties; they have the training and tools and credentials; they are the religious authorities.
To which Jesus says – in the passage we read today, people will go where their hearts and minds recognize a real word of the loving God, even if that means leaving the safety of the traditional sheepfold.
2The 3gatekeeper opens the gate for the shepherd of the sheep,
and the sheep hear his voice.
He calls his own sheep by name …
He leads them out …
He goes ahead of them,
and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.
There was nothing else Jesus could point to. He had no special dress to mark him as a holy man, and no credentials; no special education or training in any of the accredited schools; no public relations manager or agent; no way of coercing or manipulating support. The only thing he can point to as to why people listen to, and follow his that the sheep – the people of God know the truth of God when they hear it. In their hearts, they know the voice of the true shepherd.
And how do we know? How do they – how do you and I, come to know the voice of the shepherd so well, that we are encouraged to come out from the sheepfold of our culture to follow him?
In my case, it was my mom who was maybe the one – at least the first one, who helped teach me to listen for the voice of God, for the shepherd of true life. It was my mom who most often was the one who sat with us as little kids as we said our bedtime prayers; she taught me and my sisters to talk with God. It was my mom who went with us to church and Sunday school, and then as we got older encouraged us to go to the youth group. She made me read the Bible through once from cover to cover. She listened to us practice our Scripture memory verses on Saturday nights for the recitation the next morning at Sunday school.
And it was also her own example. She went to church and Sunday school herself. She got involved with the women’s group, and helped make and send boxes and boxes of bandages to mission hospitals in Cameroon. She tried to live a Christian life as best she could, and we knew she expected us to.
Not that she always did it perfectly, or was always right. No one ever is – whether mothers or fathers, ministers or churches or even theological traditions. In what she taught and lived, there was a lot of her own needs and fears mixed in with the word and spirit of God, and as we all must do, I’ve had to sort that out for myself – still need to, all these years later.
But at the heart of it all she taught me the practice at least of listening for a Voice (capital V) beyond my own; ironically, beyond hers as well; and often beyond that of our day. She taught me to know and to care that there is a living Word of God that can be listened for and followed, and that when I hear it, my heart will know it.
I don’t think there’s been a time in my life when I’ve doubted that – no matter how well or poorly I live it out. And for that, I am indebted to her.
I wonder …
Who helped you to learn this practice of listening for God, and of being able to know and try to follow the voice of the true shepherd when you hear it?
And who might be looking to you – or needing you, to help open them to this practice and this same kind of openness in their life?