I Peter 3:13-22, Psalm 66 , John 14:15-21

May 12, 1996, by Tad Mitsui

A minister shakes many hands. As I shake hands with you after the service, I have noticed that mothers” grips become stronger – especially first time mothers – as their babies grow bigger and heavier. And their muscles on the arms grow as well. Likewise, all of us grow stronger as we adjust to the added strain of new conditions or different environments. But doing something new which calls upon the development of different muscles can be a painful process. In today”s epistle, Peter spoke about suffering you go through for doing what was right. And he said that we should not be afraid nor be intimidated, because it is a blessing, a good sign – a sure sign that you are spiritually growing.

We keep growing throughout our lives. And there are three aspects of growth we should be aware of. We grow biologically, socially, and spiritually.

All living things grow continually. This is biological growth. All living cells constantly divide and renew themselves. Living things grow until they die. When they stop growing, it is a sign that the process of dying has begun. Every process of growth is a process of change – a process of renewing living cells. And all changes are accompanied with some degree of pain. Some growing pains are slight and some of them are severe. You must remember those sleepless nights you suffered with your babies, when they were teething. The thrust of a growing tooth breaking through layers of membrane, like an grown fetus eager to become an independent baby pushing its way through the birth passage out of the mother”s womb, is a painful process. You must also remember the pain you suffered each time a wisdom tooth emerged. They are all part of growing. They are never so severe that you can not bear the pain. God does not design for us to be in pain we can not bear. So it is the same with strain on a mother”s arms as her baby grows each day. Mom”s body must grow stronger to stay fit to care for the baby.

Just like a physical pain is bound to accompany many kinds of biological growth, we all must go through some degree of emotional stress as we grow socially. When you grew out of Elementary School and move to High School, when you met a boy and got married, or went through any other passages of your life, you likely went through some pains of emotional adjustment. When you move to an unfamiliar community, the stress level doubles until you become adjusted to the new environment. Moving to another country, where they don”t speak the same language, and there is no McDonald”s restaurant, can be one of the most stressful experiences. This is why crossing the frontiers is often used as a metaphor for a test of courage and endurance. But Peter”s message is that we all can successfully endure the test and grow into another phase of our life”s journey.

Not only do we grow biologically and socially, we also must grow spiritually. Peter speaks about the inevitability of pain you have to go through for being good. When you are good, and are rewarded for being good, you are naturally encouraged to continue to be good persons. But life is not always like that. Peter warned us about people who would demand explanations for some of our good deeds, because they don”t understand us or don”t agree with us. People, in other times, may even abuse you and slander you for being good, according to Peter. Do you remember as a teenager the peer pressure to conform to what your friends expected? If you defy the conventions of your peers, even when you are doing the right thing, you get punished for stepping out of bounds. Do you remember that? It is a painful experience. As a mature member of the society, sometimes you feel that you must take an unpopular position, standing alone among your friends. It can be very uncomfortable experience. Unlike emotional adjustment required to fit in socially, spiritual growth is something you often have to do alone with the only support from God. But you grow spiritually when you endure the pain of social ostracism in order to keep your integrity. You must grow into another stage of spiritual equilibrium, even if that means you find yourself temporarily alone, crossing the frontiers into uncharted land.

Being alone in an unknown land sounds very difficult. But fortunately God has given us all gifts of talent – the ability to love as parents do. We all have the capacity to love our children. Some of us may not have our own children but our love of children is instinctive. It is a good start. In fact it is a wonderful start on our spiritual journey, because capacity to love our children enables us to see the inevitable stress in loving as an incentive. Parents by instinct love their children, even if loving them is sometimes difficult and painful. We can use the model of parental love as a starting point for our journey of spiritual growth. One of the gifts of such love is its unconditional nature. We love our children, no matter what others say about them and no matter how unlovable our children are in the eyes of others. All children are beautiful and lovable in the eyes of the parents. We don”t mind being alone in our love of our children. Social ostracism does not interfere with such love. We go on loving our children no matter what society says. We can learn to be good no matter how much abuse we face by imitating the parental love.

Sometimes we hear in news stories of crimes how parents never stop defending their criminal children. You may wonder how they can do it. You may accuse them for failing to properly bring up their children. But you must admit that there is something very touching about their unconditional love. Sometimes, like in the case of David Milgaar”s mother who believed in the innocence of her son, justice in the end found its way and proved his innocence. However we must improve the way we love, so that we love more wisely. Blind love may be a start, but not good enough. Love must grow. When we mature in our love, we will be able to forgive the ones who cause pain in us. The last prayers of Jesus and Stephen before they died are the best examples of the love which reached the level of divine love. Both of them prayed to God that the perpetrators who were causing their painful deaths be forgiven. Were they fools? Maybe. But is this not the reason why Paul said of the crucified Christ, that he was a fool in the eyes of those who sought the wisdom of this world. But to those who are called to be the followers of Christ, Jesus symbolises an ultimate power and wisdom of God. Our world badly needs people with the talent of mature love who don”t mind making fool of themselves by being good, by forgiving and loving. Jesus was like that. Likewise was Stephen. And many mothers are like that.

Let us thank God on this Mother”s day for the gift of capacity to love, which God has endowed us with abundantly. We have an incentive to begin our journey of spiritual growth with joy, because it is a joy to love our children. But we must expand parental love into the wider world. We may encounter some stress on the way. But we can endure it knowing that there is blessing and joy at the end of each stage of our growth. This is how we grow stronger, just like a mothers” hands do in order to lift and hold a growing child. It is all part of our continual growing up.

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