Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

My, how you’ve grown!

Message preached September 7, 2014
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Romans 13:8-14

Order of Worship

Listen to this message (mp3)

             Across the crowded room you hear her approach. As she comes near, she reaches out her hand. With a light shake she squeezes your cheek. “Well, if it isn’t little Joey,” she exclaims. “Hello, Aunt Matilda,” you reply, even though you are no longer “Little Joey” since you stand over six feet tall and weigh much more than her.

             “I remember,” she continues, “I remember when you were this small. My how you’ve grown!” And for just a second you are just “this small,” remembering what it felt like to sit upon your aunt’s lap. But such recollections fade as the adult in you returns and asserts itself. “How are you doing, Aunt Matilda? Has Uncle Jim retired yet? ... Though the conversation has shifted to ‘adult’ talk, she will never forget “Little Joey.”

             As we grow older, there are fewer and fewer people who remember us when we were just “this big.” Such folks are valuable to us, even though they may embarrass us at times with their memories. However, it’s these sometimes discomforting memories that help put our world into perspective.

             Harv had been an elementary school teacher and principal for nearly fifty years. On his 90th birthday we wanted to honor this elder in a church I served many years ago by giving him time to share his wisdom during worship. He slowly got up and made his way forward, eventually coming to lean against the side of the pulpit. “Well, now,” he began, and proceeded to share his memories of many of the “old timers” in that church.

             Of course, those “old timers” had once been “Little Joeys,” standing at his blackboard or before his desk. The younger part of the congregation loved it. These “old timers” were the bedrock of that church, and to hear the sometimes embarrassing tales of their childhood days was a treat. But I think those “old timers” appreciated his memories even more. For just a while they were “Little Joey,” and that particular moment put their world into perspective. That Sunday I just folded up my sermon, for Harv had greatly expanded upon his few minutes of honor, and delivered a sermon better than I could preach.

             We all need such memories of our past. They shed light upon our present walk. They remind us that we were not always as we are now. They help us to see that we will not be the same tomorrow as we are today. Walking in the light of such memories enables us to see ourselves and others in a different way...

             A landmark in the life of a child comes when he is able to understand that ‘once upon a time’ he was just like that baby he sees lying in a crib. Another landmark comes when she is able to believe that her parents were once as little as she is now. Understanding that I was once like that other person, believing that that other person was “once like me” is an major step in the direction of being able to “love your neighbor as yourself...

             I and my neighbor (no matter whether “neighbor” is defined as a member of my family or church, or a stranger nearby or far away); I and my neighbor are intimately tied together. There are certain basic experiences in life that we share. At one point we both were helpless babies. At some point we each went through similar passages of childhood. To some extent, we were each a “Little Joey” or “Little Josie.”

             To love your neighbor as yourself is to recognize that you stand on some common ground with another. Sometimes it takes the continual reminders of an Aunt Matilda or a 90-year-old schoolteacher named Harv to help us recognize our common ground. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself...

             `”Who is my neighbor?” someone asked Jesus after this commandment was spoken. In response, Jesus told a story about a “good” Samaritan. You know this parable. You may have learned it from an Aunt Matilda or a teacher named Harv. In it, a man on a journey falls upon a band of thieves who rob and beat him, and leave him for dead. Three persons travel by him as he lays there broken, but only the third stops to help

             It’s a great story of compassion, one we take to heart as we witness people whose lives have been torn apart by some disaster, natural or man-made. In the process of telling that tale, Jesus turned the question, ”Who is my neighbor?” on its tail. He asked, which one of those three proved to be a neighbor to the victim? To which came the obvious reply, “the one who helped him.” “Go then,” Jesus said, “and do likewise.”  (Luke 10:25-37) 

             In other words, “my neighbor is the person I am neighborly to.” Or, in still other words, “my reaching out to someone different that I am makes that person my neighbor.” Which is pretty much the point the apostle Paul was making in this morning’s scripture from Romans.

             Loving a neighbor can all-too-easily be misinterpreted as loving someone who thinks like me, who talks like me, who acts like me, who is like me. But Paul says, literally, “he who loves someone other than himself has fulfilled the Law.” The logical extent of this commandment to love your neighbor is to love your enemy, the person who is most unlike you. Once that step is taken, however, to be a neighbor to my enemy, an amazing thing occurs. We discover that this person has an Aunt Matilda or a Principal named Harv, also. In spite of all the differences between us, there is somewhere some common ground.

             We don’t have to go off to war, though, to find an enemy on some distant battlefield to whom we can be a neighbor. There are enough battlefields at home. In fact, the people we often think should be most like us in every way, members of our own family, can seem to be more like enemies than friends to us at times. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” even if she or he is your mother or father, your daughter or son, your sister or brother, your wife or husband. For, you see, even in the “Christian” family we struggle to find common ground.

             I don’t have any profound answers to this struggle, but I do believe there are some clues in the Aunt Matildas and the teachers named Harv who surround us. People such as these help us rekindle memories long forgotten. They help us put our world into perspective. Such persons are absolutely necessary for a parent, for instance, when expectations for children are out-of-line with reality. An Aunt Matilda or principal named Harv, or an older parent who has ‘been there’ already, can stir up memories of what it was like to be “Little Joey,” or what it was like to move from “Little Joey” to “Joe” or “Joseph.”

             Of course, these same memories can be misused as a bludgeon to make a child conform to our experience. On the other hand, however, they can become a pair of glasses through which we can see where their experience now and our experience then have some common threads. With these threads we can weave a relationship that can be pliable enough to withstand the pains of growing up.

             Aunt Matildas, teachers named Harv, grandparents, and other elders are absolutely necessary, as well, for sons and daughters who may increasingly cry out, “you just don’t know what it’s like.” Hearing the sometimes embarrassing stories of parents or teachers in days gone by does not detract from their authority. Rather, it helps put the world into perspective. Of course, these shared memories can be misused against a parent as a bargaining chip to get something a young person wants. On the other hand, however, they can become a pair of glasses through which we can see where our experience now and their experience then have some common threads. With these threads we can, if we so choose, weave a relationship pliable enough to withstand the pain of growing up.

             I guess, more than anything, I am making a case for all the Aunt Matilda’s, and teachers named Harv, the elders and more seasoned persons in this room to do your job. After all, when we voiced our support for our Sunday School this morning, we weren’t just tossing everything into the hands of a few teachers. We are all a part of the “Jesus school of learning” we sang about earlier (Hymnal #489).

             No one can “love your neighbor as yourself” without help. Though the words of this morning’s scripture speak in terms of love being the greatest commandment, love - true love (not sloppy agape) - cannot be commanded. We don’t love someone because we are told to love them. We are encouraged to love them because we want to love them. In most cases our desire to love someone else is derived from our experience of being loved by someone who wanted to love us.

             “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The old adage is true that we cannot really love our neighbor if we cannot really love ourselves. But we learn to love ourselves through the eyes of those who first love us. As followers of Jesus, we proclaim God’s great love expressed in Him. This love is the soil out of which all love grows - love for ourselves, love for our neighbor, love for our enemy, even love for our family. It is this love which enables all the Aunt Matilda’s, the teachers named Harv, the elders and others around us, to help put our lives in perspective through their memories, shared in love....

             Across the crowded room you hear his approach. As he comes near, he reaches out his hand, and with a light shake he squeezes your cheek. “Well, if it isn’t little Joey,” he exclaims. “I remember when you were this small. My, how you’ve grown!” And you reply, “Hello, Jesus....”

note: this sermon was laid aside during worship on September 4, 2005 and another was preached from the heart.

©2014, 2005 Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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