Sunday, May 14, 2017

“And She Gave Birth…!”

  A Sermon Based Upon Revelation 11: 19-12:10
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
Mother’s Day,  May 14 2017, Easter Series, 5/9: ‘Jesus Christ Revealed Today’

Mother’s Day always comes at a wonderful time of the year.   The weather is warming.  Spring is in full bloom.   April showers have given way to May flowers.  Summer’s at the door.   It’s the time of year even the most pessimistic might sing along with an English kindergartener:
I woke up this morning, got out of my bed, Looked in the mirror and I got myself dressed
With a stretch and a yawn and a scratch of my head.
‘Life is a wonderful thing’ I said,  ‘Life is a wonderful thing’........

My heart is beating morning ‘til evening, I’ve got the breath of life inside.
My heart is dreaming I’ve got the feeling It’s so lovely when you know you’re alive!
‘Life’s a wonderful thing,’ I said.  “Life’s a wonderful thing.

Life is wonderful, but when you think about it, this lovely moment we call life is actually not a “thing” that we can have “for keeps”.  Life is a gift, but it's a gift with an unknown expiration date.  That's part of what makes life precious. 

THE AGONY OF … BIRTH     (v.2)
This dramatic, glorious event we call life is exemplified by this mysterious woman in John’s Revelation who is ‘clothed with the sun’’ but also crying out with ‘birth pangs’ in the ‘agony of giving birth’.   Those of you who have been in the ‘birthing room’ know something of what John is talking about.  Those who gave birth before modern hospitals, know even better what this means.  

There is a grand blessing and hope in giving birth, but there is also burden and risk.   In that very moment, when a mother gives life, she is at the greatest risk of dying.  Even in the modern world, childbirth is the sixth leading cause of death, even to young, healthy women.
 Life is joyously full of hope and purpose, but it can also be painful; and dangerous too. It’s terrifying, but thrilling!  As we celebrate Mother's Day, we pause to consider the risks and responsibilities our Mothers took upon themselves so that we might have this wonderful gift called life.

In the late 1950s into the early sixties, a young nurse and midwife named Jenny Lee, went to serve a mission located in the poorest part of east London.  She wrote a diary of her experiences which became a book, and most recently made into a BBC miniseries, Call The Midwives.  Nurse Jenny’s encounter with the conditions of the poor and their desperate desire to give life, even against all odds, surprised her.  At first, she felt repulsed by the deplorable conditions of these women and some of their questionable lifestyles.  Eventually, however, she comes to name them heroines.  She reached this conclusion as early as her first case, when she came to the home of a Spanish immigrant woman who already had 24 children.  The woman fell, and due to her concussion, went into premature labor. After helping her deliver the child, Jenny thought the baby to be stillborn, as was the norm in such situations.  As she was about to dispose of the remains, the child miraculously came to life.  The mother, still somewhat delirious from shock, showed great delight.  But when the nurse and the newly arrived doctor demanded that the premature child be taken to the hospital, the mother refused, saying in Spanish, “I am her hospital!”  Despite her weaken state, she fed the child every thirty minutes rather than have her child be given IVs.

In John’s Revelation this mother’s life-giving power is as much spiritual, as it is physical.  She represents motherhood, but she also represents those parents who have passed on their own spirituality from one generation to the next.  The image of a ‘woman clothed with the sun’ having the ‘moon under her feet’ also ‘crowned with seven stars’ is not any woman, and she is not only Jesus’ mother, Mary, but she represents all of Israel, men and women, who gave us the world the spiritual heritage which gave us Jesus.   

This great spiritual heritage, though dominated with the names of men, would have been impossible without its women.   Where would the church be without it’s women?  Women who not only care for children, but also care about giving children the spiritual resources they will need in life.  I recall a mother telling me that she wanted her child to grow up to be free to choose her own faith.  It sounded to me that she was trying to excuse herself from having done nothing to prepare her child for life.  Much better would it have been to have heard that mother say that she had passed on everything she believed to her child so that her child have some wisdom to choose with.  One might recall that Jesus didn't become Jesus without the sincere faith of a Jewish mother.  Aren't we thankful that sometimes, especially early on, our mothers insisted, and didn't always give us a choice?  It was their insistence that gives us a spiritual choice as a resource now.

THE DRAGON…MIGHT DEVOUR HER CHILD  (v. 4)
The insistence of a ‘godly mother’ to spiritually and physically protect her child becomes a necessity in a world where evil powers can figuratively and literally, ‘eat your child alive’.   That kind of threat is exactly what John’s drama portrays.  No sooner does this woman give birth, than an evil dragon is out to kill her child.   John is reminding us of what happened when King Herod tried to slay the baby Jesus, but this picture still reminds us just how vulnerable every child is in a world where ‘the devil’ continues to roam, as Scripture says, ‘seeking whom he may devour’. 

While this text did not intend to give specific instruction about Christian parenting, it does remind us, especially on this mother’s day, how dangerous this world is for children.   Had Jesus mother and father not protected their child, Jesus would have been murdered.  In our own time, parents need to take serious their spiritual responsibilities, because the same kind of evil that lurked the world then, still threatens our own children; physically, spiritually or emotionally. 

We’ve all heard some seniors say “I'm sure glad I'm not raising a child these days.” What they mean is that the threatening influences beyond the home seem increasingly negative.  It's not just the bad influences from peers, television, or movies, but it's also the ever-present possibility that some stranger might, in one click of a mouse, lure your child into a deadly situation.  The constant barrage of dangers through cell phones or other social media cause many parents to lose sleep at night.

Jennifer Sellers, a child-advocacy attorney from Alabama learned this the way no one should.  She and her 14-year-old daughter Sydney were close.  They did most everything together.  They got their hair done together.  They got their nails done together; they did Wal-Mart together.  But Sydney did have secrets she kept from her mom.   Those secrets led to the most tragic event on December 7, 2017.

When Jennifer opened her daughter’s bedroom door, she thought Sydney was playing a practical joke.  But it was no joke.  She found her teen daughter hanging from a belt in her bedroom.    Jennifer and her husband still struggle to understand why, especially since Sydney was active in church and had shown no signs of depression or trouble.

It was only after her death, that her family learned from friends that Sydney had been bullied at school.  And the funeral home found cuts on her body, indicating she had been cutting herself.  But worst of all, was the online conversation they discovered on Sydney’s smartphone.   She had been messaging someone who pretended to be a teenage boy talking about things to do to restrict oxygen to the brain as a part of sadistic, erotic-game. http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2015/October/Grieving-Mother-Warns-of-Online-Predators.

Jesus said, "If anyone causes one of these little ones-- …. to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck ….” (Matt. 18:6 NIV).  Strong language! But what good is it after the fact?   What can parents do, even as good parents, who have great children, when the “dragons” are no longer ‘out there’ in the world, but now are able to enter the privacy of the home, where children should be safe?  Jennifer admitted that she and her husband had become complacent.  Since Sydney made good grades at school, they didn’t check her phone.   But now, she goes around telling parents, if you paid for it, it’s ‘your phone’.  Check it out.  Know who your children are talking to.   Be forewarned!   The Revelation describes in the most graphic way, why is it so important that we don’t let down our guard about protecting our children.  He says: ‘The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that IT might devour her child the moment he was born’ (Rev. 12:4).   Even before the child was born, IT was already there to ‘devour her child’.

THE DRAGON WAS THROWN DOWN (v. 9)
This dramatic episode concludes with hope, not despair.  Beyond this struggle with evil on earth, John saw a ‘war in heaven’ where the dragon and his angels lose ‘their place in heaven’ (v.8).   This defeat reveals the dragon as “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray…” (v.9b).   This revelation causes Heaven to break out in song:  “Now… have come the salvation the power and the kingdom of our God….!   Now…“The accuser has been thrown down (v.10).  With this good news, which is nothing less than the good news of the cross amplified by this cosmic drama,  though the devil still pursues the woman, she is now given ‘two wings of an eagle, so she might fly’ to safety. (v. 14).   The devil still rages and makes attacks, but even the earth helps the woman find ways of escape.

When I was a child, being raised by dedicated, Christians parents, I hardly knew the dangerous powers that were loose in the world.   It was the 60’s.   It was a dangerous, turbulent time in American life.   But as far as I knew, the world was a safe, wonderful place.  My parents’ love for each other, their love for me, and their love for God, revealed in Jesus Christ and through their love and faith, gave me strength, power and promise and made ways to escape, even when evil pursued me.   That’s how it is when you are a child.  You don’t realize what you are up against.  You also don’t realize just how much your parents are helping you, empowering you, and blessing you with all kinds of spiritual resources that enable, not just to survive, but to thrive in life. 

I know that many people today, need more than ideas, they need plans, proofs, examples and details of how the gospel of Jesus works, through a parent and for a child.  I can tell you how it worked for me.   I can tell you how my mother, and father, expected me to be in church.   I can also tell you how they didn’t send, but took me to church because their faith was real and true and they were committed.  I can also tell you how they lived what they believed, and I can tell you that it wasn’t just a life, but it was their mission; and I was a part of their mission to be faithful in living their lives.  Living like this doesn’t mean as much as it once did, and perhaps that’s part of the reason evil has so much power.  But to my parents, my Mother and my Father, they gave me ‘wings’ of escape that still empower me today.

Of course, as we all know, parents are perfect, and neither are children.  But when there is genuine faith being lived, love being shown, and hope being shared,  Satan loses his ‘place’ of power in Heaven, and his limits are made known on earth.  As a teen, I recall getting into a car with some friends, whom I didn’t realize had changed so much.  I hadn’t seen them in several years.  We were friends in early elementary school, and I was reunited with them in early high school.  We were hanging out together and they started drinking.  One of them was even going to drive home in that state.  I knew it was dangerous.  I wanted to drive, but I was only 15, without even a driver’s permit.  I prayed all the way to my friend’s home, where I was going to spend the night.   After I got home the next day, I was determined never to be caught in that kind of situation ever again.  What my parents had taught me, along with the grace of God, had given me a way of escape.   I spread my ‘wings’ and flew away, never to get into that kind of situation again.

On this mother’s day I want us all to be thankful for mothers who gave birth to us, putting themselves at great risk and taking on great responsibility.  I also want us to be thankful for the promise of a gospel that has been taught to us by our mothers and fathers that still empower us to stand against the wickedness and wiles of the devil.  I want us to be thankful that we have found a way to ‘escape’ some things that could have killed us, especially when we were young, and especially when we didn’t listen to our mothers.   Finally, I want us to see in this very dramatic vision that Satan’s power has been defeated at the cross, and that God wants us to be the kind of church that takes it’s calling seriously to help those who continue to be in battle with the evil one--- to help them ‘keep God’s commands’ and ‘hold fast to their testimony about Jesus.’  Will you pray with me and commit to do this?   Amen.


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