Rev. James Singleton
May 13, 2012
She looked at me in deep anguish and sorrow. Only one week prior to my visit she lost her only child in a freak automobile accident when a tire blew out on her daughter’s new truck sending the truck tumbling and killing the beautiful twenty-year-old love of her life as she was thrown from the vehicle. She sat on the couch in part shock, part confusion trying to assimilate what had suddenly and so horribly happened to her life.
Finally, she looked up at me and asked, “Why did God take her? Didn’t he know that I would gladly have laid down my life for her? I would have died for her.” And I knew as I looked into her eyes that she was speaking the truth from her heart. This mother would not have hesitated if she had had a choice. She would have gladly taken her daughter’s place in death if that meant her daughter could live.
Granted there are few opportunities for one person to dramatically rescue another by literally giving up her life. In the ordinary course of human events, seldom are we faced with such extraordinary circumstances that a mother can throw herself before an oncoming car to save her child or leap into the path of a speeding train to throw an infant crawling on the tracks to safety.
Jesus’ command “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” is a difficult one to understand, at first. How exactly is it that we are to go about looking for opportunities to lay our lives down to save someone else?
And I actually think it is a good thing that such opportunities are rare. And even if you do happen to find such an opportunity, you can only do it once so, by definition, anyone still living hasn’t met the requirement! Or is it possible that Jesus means for us to lay down our lives in another sense?
As I listened to the distraught mother, I knew that she had laid down her life for her daughter in countless ways before that fateful day. On this Mother’s Day, let’s begin reflecting upon what such a command to lay down our life might mean by starting with how a good mother fulfills that command.
A Mother lays down her life every time she gives birth knowing that in order to bring life into the world, she must put her own life on the line. Every one of us is here because there was a woman willing to lay down her life in order than we might have life.
A Mother lays down her life every time her child is sick and she stays by that child’s side night and day, tending the mess, calming the fears, stroking the hair, giving word of comfort and offering up prayers for help even though she is exhausted and ready to drop.
A Mother lays down her life whenever she sacrifices her plans, her hopes, her dreams for the sake of assuring that there is enough money and opportunities to see that her child’s plans, hopes and dreams are realized.
A Mother lays down her life every time she refuses to give up on a rebellious child who breaks her heart into a thousand pieces and disappoints her a thousand times. Regardless of the need, regardless of the hour or place, when that child needs support, prayer, encouragement, forgiveness, and acceptance—she gives what is needed.
A Mother lays down her life whenever she has to go to work to earn the money, come home and cook the meals, clean the house, tend to the sick, help with the homework, make the tough decisions, arbitrate the disputes, teach the values, and hold the family together—and do it all on her own. Single mothers often make the greatest sacrifices of anyone in society.
A Mother lays down her life whenever she is unafraid to say “No” and be the bad guy to a child who doesn’t understand that what is being asked for is neither right or good and who yells and screams and thinks her mother hates her because of that “No.”
A Mother lays down her life every time she must willingly and with a smile untie the apron strings and allow her baby who has grown-up to fly from the nest without holding him or her back even though it kills her to have to let go.
Yes, if we have been fortunate, we know someone who has shown us what it means to lay down our life for another. If we have or had such a mother, then we have experienced the sacrificial love that Jesus is calling upon us to give and we can be grateful for such a witness and learn from her so that we might fulfill Jesus’ command.
But not all have had such a mother. Recently, the advice columnist Dear Abby asked her readers: “If you had it to do over again, would you have children?” She received 10,000 letters in response, and 7 out of 10 parents said, “No.” Some of the reasons given were:
· Children were too much responsibility
· They took up too much time out of personal freedom
· They disappointed their parents by the way they turned out
· They paid too little attention to those who raised them.
In other words, 70% of parents who responded said they didn’t think their children were worth laying down their lives for.
They only wanted children:
· If the children didn’t demand any sacrifices from them;
· If their presence didn’t result in any personal inconvenience;
· If they didn’t have to forsake any personal freedom, wants, or desires in order to raise them;
· If they received recognition for what they had to put up with;
· If their children fulfilled their personal dreams.
Perhaps that’s why so many families are falling apart today. There is a lost sense of sacrificial love and of what it means to lay down one’s life. Love is more than throwing money at a child in the hopes of buying affection. Eventually a child comes to know that money is a cheap and easy way out of real responsibilities. Love is laying down our lives. It involves time, energy, emotional investment, patient endurance, intentional caring, and always sacrifice.
Do you think Jesus would have gone to the cross if he held the same expectations as those 7 out of 10 parents? Those disciples who were constantly impinging upon his freedom, who were a daily burden to him, who disappointed him time and again were the very same disciples for whom he gladly went to the cross and died.
So, what can we learn from our Lord and how he lived his life that will help us in fulfilling this hard command he has given to us?
We could begin with our egos that get so inflated. It’s hard to care about another person when I believe that life is all about me. When I act and think like the world revolves around my desires, my needs, my gifts, then how can I ever care about what you want, need, or are? If I must always be right and you must always be wrong, how can I ever really listen to you?
To lay down our life can mean to lay down our insistence upon always having our way; to lay down our thinking that we always need to be the center of attention; to lay down our pride in order to make room for humility.
After all, we are followers of the one who was God, but humbled himself to be born in a stable and die on a cross. Humility is how we lay down our egos.
Or perhaps some of us need to lay down our quick tempers and impatience with others whenever they make a mistake or disappoint us. It’s funny how we demand perfection in others but always manage to find an excuse for our own flaws. If I make a mistake, I’m only human. If you make a mistake, you should have known better. And yet, we claim to be followers of the one who died for us even while we were still sinners!
Maybe some of us need to lay down our prejudices that judge others harshly because they are not like us. To view someone as inferior based upon race, color, sex, nationality or any other division is to have nothing in common with the Jesus who befriended Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans, men, women, lepers, outcasts, sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, and thieves.
Prejudice and bigotry have no place in the Christian character. It is time to lay them down that we might obey Jesus’ commandment and be his friend.
For some it may be time to lay down our need for retaliation that only results in the destruction of relationships. Today, we don’t get mad, we get even. After all, turn about is fair play. Yes, people hurt us, betray our trust, cheat us, and say things that are untrue behind our backs. Just as they hurt, betrayed, cheated, and gossiped about Jesus. But he laid down his desire to get even so that he could pick up his desire to love and forgive. Sometimes the most sacrificial thing we can offer another is to say, “I forgive you.”
Well, the list could go on and on, but you get the point. We don’t have to jump in front of a speeding car or fall on a grenade to lay down our lives for another. But we do have opportunities every day to lay down our lives for one another. Hopefully we have seen first hand, in our own mother, someone who has modeled such discipleship. For those of us who have, we thank you, mom.
Chances are our mother taught us a prayer that begins, “Now I lay me down to sleep.” Today Jesus teaches us that sleep is not the only reason we are called to lay ourselves down. We are called to lay ourselves down in order to love.
So our question today is this: What do you need to lay down in order to love another as Jesus has loved you?