Tom read this morning the lyrics of the first song in the hymnbook of God’s people, “Blessed is the person whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and on God’s law he meditates day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither.” I’ve been out in the yard working some more this week. We have a patch of monkey grass that we decided to leave, but there were some tree saplings growing in it, so I wound the sapling around my hand down to the base and Chris dug just a few inches back so I could wiggle the sapling loose. Up would come a root about as long as the sapling was tall. When a tree seed germinates, as the plant starts to grow and break through the seed coat, the first thing it does is grow a root. The strongest, most deeply rooted plants have a taproot – one main, straight, tapering root. Blessed, says the psalm, is the person whose taproot is God.
British novelist, William Thackeray, said that our mothers are “the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.” Our parents are our first theology teachers. When we are infants, we begin to learn what God is like, and the first thing we learn – the first stage of faith development is “characterized by an early learning of the safety [or lack of safety] of [our] environment” If we are consistently nurtured, if we are fed when we are hungry and changed when we are dirty and held when we need comfort, we will develop a sense of trust and safety about the universe and the divine. Conversely, negative experiences will cause [an infant] to develop distrust with the universe and the divine (Fowler).” The first two years of life are critical to ever being a believer. If a child does not experience the nurture of a trustworthy and loving adult during the first two years of life, it is very difficult for them to ever learn to trust and have faith. Like a seed when it germinates and begins to grow a root, when a child is born, it is through the loving care of parents and other adults that the child begins to grow rooted.
In 1905, the year her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, died, Anna Jarvis, a Methodist from West Virginia began a campaign to have Mother’s Day recognized as a holiday in the U.S. Her mother had been a peace activist who cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the Civil War, and she formed what she called Mother’s Day Work Clubs to address public health issues. Anna Jarvis wanted to honor her mother by continuing the work she started and to set aside a day to honor all mothers because she believed a mother is [in her words] “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world”.
Who are the people who have done more for you than anyone in the world? Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are times to pause and give thanks for those people who loved and nurtured you. Who are those people in your life who nurtured your faith? Who planted you like a tree with a deep taproot beside the streams of water of the Word of God? Who has helped your taproot of faith grow and deepen?
When I was in elementary school, I remember sitting in church with a little old lady, who wore the softest mink coat. I’m not sure now how old she really was, and I doubt she really wore that coat every Sunday. What I know is that she was patient with me, she taught me to sit through service, filling in all the o’s in the bulletin, then the p’s, b’s, q’s, making the t’s into diamonds…. She also taught me that I was right where I was supposed to be. She made me feel safe and comfortable. She helped me be still not just physically, but spiritually, beside the streams of water of worship. She couldn’t have realized the impact that she made on my faith and my life.
As we pause to remember and give thanks for those people who have loved and nurtured us, who have been the name of God on our lips and our hearts, it is right to reflect on what it means for us to be the image of God for others.
As Jesus prepared to leave his disciples, he prayed for them, and he prayed for us. He prayed that all believers would be one – would be unified – so that the world could believe God sent Jesus and loves them as God loves Jesus. He prayed that we would recognize that we all share one taproot and grow together into a towering, stately tree, planted beside the streams of delight in God’s ways.
Dr. Andreas Kostenberger shares this reflection, “Jesus’ parting prayer is for believers’ love and unity, so that unbelievers may come to know him through them. The church has miserably failed to live up to this longing of Jesus’ heart. It has constantly been plagued by painful divisions, competitiveness, and an unforgiving spirit. How can we expect unbelievers to be attracted to Jesus if this is the state of the company of his followers?” Wow. It is like inviting an acquaintance to a family argument – how can we expect them to want to be there?
When the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church was held in St. Louis in the 1860’s, the church had been divided into two factions for a hundred years. There was the Old School, who were more conservative and affirmed the use of the Westminster Confession and Catechism and the New School, who were influenced by the Great Awakening and the revival movement and preachers like Jonathan Edwards. They each had their own General Assembly, but hadn’t split completely, to form two denominations, so they met in the same city, in separate places. Each group, in true Presbyterian fashion, elected a commission to go and visit the other group. And they also – and this is what really struck me – they resolved not to talk negatively about one another.
Now, when I first learned that I thought, “Well, I reserve my right to point out the problems with some of these other denominations.” But, as I read Jesus’ farewell prayer for you and for me, “I pray, Father, that believers may all be one as you are in me and I in you, believers also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me,” I am convicted.
It is so easy to create “us” and “them” divisions; to be sure I’m right, so you must be wrong; to accept the role of the wounded one who won’t forgive; to spout Scripture like a weapon; to exhume past hurts and disputes and examine them to see why they died and whether they can be revived.
The woman who inspired her daughter to advocate for the recognition of Mother’s Day, Ann Reeves Jarvis, cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the Civil War – she tended Yankees and Confederates. May we follow her example and care for those on both sides of our deepest divides, and remember that Jesus prays that we will be one – that we will be as unified as the Father and Son are, so we will grow tall with fruitful branches and a deep, sustaining taproot. Amen.