sermon

Left Behind

Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.

May 13, 2018

Mother’s Day

Text: John 17:18, Old Testament: Proverbs 23:22-25, New Testament: John 17:6-19

            It was early in August when I went to college. It wasn’t the first time I had left my mother and father. I had taken several mission trips for a week at a time. I attended church summer camps for a week and was our high school delegate to state-wide educational event in government.

But this was different. College was on another level. I wouldn’t get back home until Thanksgiving. I would be on my own.

I wasn’t attending a school in Ohio. I was going to Fulton, Missouri where Westminster College was located. It was where Winston Churchill gave his Iron Curtain speech after World War II.

My mom asked a friend to go with us. Mrs. Klein was our neighbor, an elder of our church, and a dear soul who had endured my mischief on youth retreats. She was one of several gifted Sunday school teachers who knew what my mother knew about me. I needed to lot of grace.

We arrived at Westminster 11 hours after we left northern Ohio.

I was nervous and excited. I had no attachment to Missouri. It was just a place where a college gave me a scholarship that made it financially possible for me to receive an education my parents never had. But it was something new!

We unloaded my bags in the first of nine rooms in which I lived over five years at three different colleges. Mom got ready to leave. She simply asked me to write and let her and Dad know how it was going. I waved goodbye. She smiled and waved back. Off they went back to Ohio.

It didn’t feel like I was beginning my own life. I felt like I was left in the middle of nowhere with people I didn’t know, in a foreign land, and home as far away. All I knew was college was the next step to somewhere.

I never asked my mother what it meant for her to leave me behind that day. It never occurred to me that she was the one being left behind.

I was starting my journey away from Mom and Dad that would eventually bring me to Pittsburgh. I went home at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, and worked from home during the summers. But everything had changed.

My parents were never helicopter parents, hovering around me when I was young. They stayed at a distance in our home while I explored the world beyond.

Their distance taught me to be self-motivated, self-reliant, self-sufficient. Dad didn’t coach my flag football team. Mom wasn’t a band chaperone. Neither of them went to my chess tournaments. Mom wasn’t a homeroom mother or a PTA member. She went to one football game I played. Dad saw me play once.

I was raised to be independent. But there was much I knew I didn’t know.

People tried to take advantage of my inexperience and tempt me with poor choices. Others inflicted disgusting language and gross behavior on me. They mocked the modesty I learned from my parents. Bosses expected me to sacrifice for their career advancement, regardless of what it meant for me or my parents.

There were professors who disdained Christianity and taught Marxist revolution in their intellectual superiority. I was subject to remote politicians who demeaned Jesus outright, claiming the government had a first claim on my life, not my Lord. When my draft number was 32 and our military was entering Laos during the Vietnam War, I was caught amid conflicting allegiances.

Mom and Dad left me to sort out a lot of things on my own.

It never occurred to me that I had walked away from my parents, or no longer sought their counsel. Now I know that I left my mother behind to wonder how I was doing, who I was with.   Was I studying or was I straying?

Was I living by the integrity of her faith, her hopes for me, her love, her hard work that laid my foundation for this journey we call life? Or was I leaving behind what she had taught for the destruction of our nation’s institutions that progressives were teaching from their academic towers?

Was I following my Baby Boomer peers for Woodstock’s free love, dishonoring the Church in which most of my generation had been baptized? Or was I staying true to Jesus and His definition of love?

The autumn of 1971, my mother left me behind in Fulton, Missouri to figure life out. And I left my mother behind to pursue The Plan I did not yet know that God wanted for me. I was intended to follow Him in the world’s salvation.

Jesus’ prayer from John 17 evokes such personal thoughts and memories. It was His final prayer.

Jesus was leaving behind His disciples. He knew He was following The Plan that would leave them behind, struggling in the darkness of His Cross. He knew The Plan involved leaving His followers behind to fend for themselves while the evil one would tempt them to abandon The Plan He had given them.

The Plan is what John wrote about in chapter 3, verse 16. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him would not perish, but have eternal life. God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world would be saved through Him.”

The Plan included that His Son would leave His disciples behind to figure out how His teachings, His life, His purpose would save them from the temptations, and darkness of the world. Jesus would ascend into heaven.

This is not that much different from what mothers do for and with their children. God blesses them with children. They mentor, guide, encourage, and protect their children from the temptations and darkness of the world.

Mothers are beside their children for the first years of their children’s life, until their children are left behind to use what they’ve learned to figure out life. Godly mothers plant within their sons and daughters, lessons of faith, hope, and love, that are meant to be resources they use later in life.

Godly mothers don’t teach their children faith, hope, and love to help them be independent. Their children will always be dependent. No one is totally independent from the need for faith, hope, and love.

Faith hope and love are meant to be directed to God. Godly mothers aren’t to educate their children to have faith in themselves, hope in themselves, and love in themselves. Life is too big for us to be its center or for us to control.

Godly mothers, like Jesus, direct their children towards having faith in God. God will be there for you when your mother can’t be – when life is out of control.

Mothers teach us God is the one in whom you should have hope. God has power and abilities mothers can never have when their gifts aren’t enough to live.

Mothers guide us to know that God is the one we should love the most since He is the one who ultimately gives us life and has The Plan for our life. God’s Plan, The Plan, saves us from the forces of darkness and temptation that threaten our relationship with God and with our fellow human beings.

Our mothers can’t do that. They’re powerless to save us from the forces of darkness and temptation that threaten us. They can only pray like Jesus prayed that our Heavenly Father will deliver us from evil in His earthly absence.

Our mothers won’t be there when we are hurt beyond what they can heal with their love and compassion.

They can’t follow us everywhere we go and be beside us everywhere we go. They can’t intercept the evil one before He threatens us.

They can’t stop injustice from ruining our lives.

They can’t control multinational corporations or governments whose ambitions for expanding their wealth and accumulating power consider us either consumers to exploit or faceless collateral damage to be sacrificed for their economic or national goals.

Mothers can only pray like Jesus prayed that our Heavenly Father will deliver us from evil in their absence.

Mothers give us all they can. The best of them gave us their hearts, their hands, their wisdom, their worries, their faith, their tears, their hope, their warnings, their ethics, their questions and their trust in God. These were their gifts to us when we left our mothers behind for our futures.

They left us these gifts when they left us behind for their future.

The future godly mothers face, is the future Jesus faced with His disciples. He was only with His disciples a short time, measured in human terms. Most of the disciples’ lives were lived without His physical presence, just like most of our lives are lived without our mothers’ physical presence.

They can’t be with us every day, and the day will come when they won’t be available for us to see anymore.

Godly mothers, like Jesus, leave us behind with all they had to give us as our comfort and motivation to live. They will enter into that inheritance, undefiled, incorruptible, eternal in Heaven that Jesus has made for them. They will join Jesus away from our sight, watching from above how we fare with what they left us.

They will continue to watch us live our lives, praying to their Lord for our protection, our comfort, our joy in their absence. They will continue to sing their songs of love we first heard as infants – now with a heavenly choir.

They will continual to suffer when we suffer, and rejoice when we rejoice, from their heavenly vantage point.

Most of all they, will look upon us to see if we show the faith, hope, and love they had shown us in their faith in Jesus Christ, and so rise above the temptations and darkness the evil one casts around us.

They will live us behind. They have left us behind. But they have given us all we need to live with gratitude for every day, until we are reunited with them.

They gave us Jesus, their greatest gift.

This is their gift of love for us.

I have seen the integrity of this sacrificial love in my mother-in-law. I have been blessed to watch this sacrificial love be given by my wife, Julie.

As for my dear mother, she left me behind for the kingdom of heaven the day after Christmas, seven years ago. She had carried me into life, had done her best for me, and was reborn by our Lord’s blessing during the season of His birth.

She had given me her legacy, her love, her commitment, and I thank her.

Each of us has a mother we thank and honor this special day.

Their lives have given Christ the glory and the honor!   Amen.

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