If we were turtles, I don’t think we’d have a Mother’s Day. A sea turtle lays eggs, buries them and then goes back to the sea. When they hatch, the baby turtles are on their own. They have to dig their way out of the sand, go the right direction to get to the sea and not get eaten by birds or sea creatures. We honor our mothers because, generally, they not only bring us into this world, they bring us up. We are more helpless than turtles, both at birth and for years to come. Mom is your protector, provider and teacher. She not only wants you to survive but to live well and to act right. But each has her own style of doing so.
My mother was a nurse, so this
confluence of Nurses Week and Mother's Day is fortuitous. One thing you learn
when your mom is a nurse is that boo-boos don't get kissed; they get triaged.
If mom couldn't see bleeding, severe bruising, broken bones, a blue-ish tinge
to your extremities or lips, or imminent blacking out, she couldn't see why you
were making a fuss. As Head Nurse of the Recovery Room, she saw people with
real problems--people who had to have major organs and limbs removed, hearts
unclogged, eyes put back in, brains sliced into, and worse. With such a high
bar to clear, it was hard to impress her with your garden variety childhood
On the other hand, nothing could make
her panic. She wasn't a "scream and cry or faint at the sight of
blood" kind of mom. She evaluated the trauma, cleansed and bandaged the
wound. You got good care and a sense that not every hurt was an emergency. She
knew when to apply first aid and when to go to the hospital. The only time I
remember going to the ER as a kid was when I was in car accident and needed an
eyebrow stitched up.
Aside from having some unerupted adult
teeth removed for orthodontic reasons, getting those stitches was the most
surgery I've had until recently. A lot of this I can attribute to my mom. I was
raised to think about the probable outcome of any contemplated behavior. After
hearing Mom’s tales of lung cancer patients over the dinner table, the
cigarette a kid would offer me might as well have been a cyanide capsule for
all the allure it held for me. (BTW, if you have a squeamish stomach, don't join
nurses for lunch. To us the grossest thing you can imagine is just shop talk.)
I didn't start a lot of bad habits because the consequences were graphically
emblazoned on my mind.
I suppose I must have internalized the
basics of triage in this way. Some things are matters of life and death, some
are serious but not fatal and some are truly trivial. The trick is figuring out
which is which.
Another thing I learned was if you had a
question, look it up. My mom read so voraciously that she went to one local
library, checked out the limit of books a patron could take home in a week, and
then went to another one and did the same. If medical problems had discoverable
answers, so did most everything else. And these were found in books, which in
turn were written by (one hopes) experts.
One of my favorite books was The
Book of Survival by Anthony Greenbank. With chapters like "Too
Hot," "Too Cold," "Too Wet," "Too Dry,"
"Too High," "Too Low," "Too Lonely," "Too
Crowded," and the like, it pretty much covered every kind of disaster one
could imagine. As with the chapter headings, he made the advice he gave for
what to do in case of a fire, or a plane crash, or a dog attack short and
memorable. In the forward he said he didn't expect the reader to have the book
with him when he needed it. He just hoped they had studied it enough to
remember the main points when a situation arose. Most of all, you needed to be
in the right frame of mind; that is, to make a really determined go at beating
the odds and surviving. It gave me hope that there was a solution to nearly
every situation and simultaneously gave me worst case scenarios against which
to measures my little bumps in the road and maintain a sense of perspective.
In our passages from Acts 16, Paul and
Silas have already undergone a bad time. Angry that Paul's exorcism of their
slave has left them without a way to exploit her for money, the owners drag the
2 missionaries before the authorities when they are stripped and beaten with
rods. Then they are thrown into the local jail.
I always tell my patients that your body
doesn't know the difference between being stabbed and having surgery, except
that after the latter you were sewed up. A wound is a wound and it hurts. The
first 3 days after surgery are the worst, with the first day post-op the most
severe when it comes to pain. The body parts involved are going to swell and
ache. Paul and Silas aren't even at that point. What they endured left them in need of medical attention. How
they can be functional after being beaten with rods is beyond me. God's Spirit
is truly with them if they can sing after that.
An earthquake hits, the wooden beams
barring the doors fall off, the doors all fly open, the stocks come off the
prisoners’ feet. The jailer wakes, sees the state of the prison and realizes
that his life is over. Losing all of his prisoners would have meant having to take
their punishments and probably execution. When he sees all the cell doors open,
he figures he's lost the whole prison population. The jailer may have been a
retired soldier, but whatever he was, he decides to take the honorable way out.
He pulls his sword and is about to do away with himself when Paul calls out,
"Don't harm yourself!" The jailer calls his guards to bring lights
and he sees that everyone is still in place. He brings Paul and Silas outside
and asks, "What must I do to be saved?" He's a smart man. The
earthquake is miraculous, not just in what it does--open all the doors and cause
the stocks to fall apart--but in what it doesn't do, like make the roof cave
in. This is a surgical strike of an earthquake. He figures Paul and Silas are
favorites of God and thanks to the persistent yelling of the slave girl, he
knows that they are preaching a way of salvation. He has just faced death. He
has a life or death question and he is going to the experts for the answer.
Paul and Silas say, “Believe in the Lord
Jesus and you will be saved.” That is the most basic statement of what is
required to become a child of God. Often we complicate it and add more
requirements and elaborate it but this is the barebones essentials. This is not
to say that Paul and Silas left it at that. We are told that they spoke the
word of the Lord to the jailer and his family. That means they explained who
Jesus is, what he has done for us and what our response should be.
The jailer’s response certainly bespeaks sincerity.
He switches from jailer to nurse. He washes the men’s wounds. They in turn wash
away the sins of him and his family, baptizing them. Then he takes Paul and
Silas into his home and feeds them. He is both grateful and joyful in his new
Bishop Frade once remarked that shepherds don’t make
more sheep; the flock does. His point was that we often expect the clergy to do
all the heavy lifting when it comes to making new Christians. But they can only
do so much. Church members dispersed throughout the community have many more
opportunities to tell various people the good news about Jesus. Sadly, they
don’t. At the recent Synod Assembly, we were told that a study found that the
average Christian had never lead anyone to Christ. The average Lutheran does
invite a person to his church—once every 22 years!
I’m not suggesting we just bring up Christ out of
nowhere all the time. Paul and Jesus went to synagogues and other places where
they thought people wanted to talk and learn about God. Another thing they did
was let people know who they were and what they represented, so when someone
needed to talk to them, as did Nicodemus, they could seek them out. Do the
folks at work or in your neighborhood know you are a Christian and a helpful,
non-obnoxious one at that? If so, they may come to you with questions about God.
Otherwise we can look for a good opportunity. We
can’t all wait for earthquakes but we can be prepared for any time a person is
interested in Jesus. This takes some triage, some ability to gauge the
seriousness of the situation and the appropriateness of presenting the gospel.
If someone is on the verge of death, they need first aid or CPR, not someone to
read them the Four Spiritual Laws. If someone shows up at work or school with
evidence of physical abuse, they need support and encouragement to get help and
report the abuse, not theology. But along with providing them with immediate
help, you can let them know that you are praying for them. And you can do
practical, helpful things for them.
And what will you say when asked about God or Christ?
You’ve heard the gospel many times expressed in many different ways in this
church. But can you summarize it? There are many good books on the subject.
Some of my favorites are Paul Little’s How
to Give Away Your Faith and Know What
You Believe, and C. S. Lewis’ Mere
Christianity. There are no doubt many more recent ones. The basic thing is
to understand who Jesus is, what he said and what he did. A lot of that comes
from simply being familiar with the gospels.
In fact it is important to be more familiar with the
Bible that most nonbelievers. Unlike Jesus and the apostles, our task is not so
much telling people who have never heard of Jesus about him as dealing with
folks who think they know all about Christianity and have rejected it. They
have lots of questions, from naïve to informed, that you need to have at least
a basic understanding of.
In my jail ministry, I get a lot of frequently asked
questions concerning matters that may or may not be central to the gospel but
which people wonder about, such as why does God seem so angry in the Old
Testament and so loving in the New? Again there are lots of books that deal
with these questions. Lee Strobel, Alister McGrath and Peter Kreeft have
written many books on such objections to Christianity. There are websites like
christianthinktank.com, tektonics.org, and poachedegg.net that tackle many of
the questions people ask about Christianity. There is a free smartphone app
called Logos Bible that offers many good books such as Hard Sayings of the Bible, written by scholars for lay people. All
it requires is an ability to read and grasp the basics. You will rarely
encounter a skeptic who has truly thought these matters out for themselves. The
more sophisticated the question, the more likely they have cribbed it from some
clever writer and consider it unanswerable. It isn’t.
But you know what? Most people will listen to your story. Tell them
what Jesus has done for you. Tell them how your life is different, better,
richer, more meaningful. Tell them how God got you through a tough time. Most
people will not contradict your experience. Remember, you are just to plant the
seed. God gives the growth.
But if someone does come to Christ through you,
don’t be like the sea turtle. Be like a human mother. Nurture the newborn
Christian. Get them to become part of a church. Because it’s hard to be a
Christian alone, not just because of the temptations, though there is or should
be an element of a support group about a church. It should be a bit like
Sinners Anonymous, a group of folks who realize they are powerless to redeem
themselves and who have given their lives over to God. But the main reason you
need to be part of a church is because Christianity is about love. Learning to
love all kinds of people can’t be accomplished by yourself; you need other
people to practice with and on. The fact that they are trying to do the same
thing should help. Nurture is one of the main things the church should provide.
That’s why some have called it Mother Church
I’m sure that Paul and Silas introduced that jailer
to Lydia, and the other believers in Philippi. He would need the love and
support of other Christians, especially if he was to continue to work as a
jailer. I hope it made a real difference in how he treated his prisoners.
The jailer may even have been one of those to whom
the letter to the Philippians was sent. How did he feel hearing Paul’s thoughts
as he sat in another prison, contemplating his probable execution? Did he wish
he could be Paul’s jailer again, to make sure the apostle was treated properly?
Did he pray for another surgical earthquake and that this time Paul would run?
Did he realize he never would, because that would mean leaving a jailer to die
in his stead? Paul did not fear death. For him, to live is Christ and to die is
to gain more of his presence.
Following Jesus or not is a life or death decision.
Because it requires a heart transplant. Christ needs to take out of you the
heart of stone, the one that is the source of your evil thoughts, words and
actions, and give you his own. The new life he offers us is his life. Sometimes
our whole life has to be shook up, we have to wake up from our petty hurts and
complaints, before we realize just how essential that choice is.
And those of us already living his life need to bone
up on what it means and how to communicate it to others when they are ready to
hear it. I saw a Facebook post that said, “Every time a baby is born, so is a
mother.” We who spread the gospel, the good news of God’s grace and forgiveness
and transformative redemption, need to be ready to take in these newborn
Christians, give them a spiritual home, feed them so they can grow to be
spiritually mature followers of Jesus. Which means, like a lot of parents
discover, we have to grow up ourselves.
At this point in my life, I think I can safely say I
turned out O.K. And a lot of that is due to my mother who loved me,
took care of me, taught to distinguish between what is essential, what is
important and what is neither, and gave me the tools to look for answers when I
didn’t have them. So I thank God for the gift of my mom. And I thank her for
doing such a good job. Like lending me a copy of the Screwtape Letters when I was a kid, something that led to my second
life, my life in Christ. Which led me to this place where I am privileged to
share that life in a family called by God, who occasionally admits in scripture
to loving us like a mother, wanting us not merely to survive but to live well
and to act right.