Things Your Mother Told You

Heritage Presbyterian Church

May 10, 2020
5th Sunday of Easter
Scripture readings – 1st Peter 3: 13-22 and Acts 17: 22-34

Since it’s Mother’s Day, I think we should all think back to our childhoods and remember our mothers.  As we do, let’s focus on all those crazy things that mothers tell their children.  Remember some of these?

  • “Get down off there!  You’ll break your neck!”
  • “Put that stick down!  You’ll put someone’s eye out!”
  • “Did you remember to take your coat?  You’ll catch your death of cold without it!”  (My mother always called the disease “pee-noo-monya” that I would catch without it.)
  • “I will pull this car over right now…”
  • And as long as we’re talking about cars, there’s always the popular threat: “Don’t make me come back there.”

I’ll bet your mom said some of these classics to you and any siblings you might have.  You might even catch yourself saying one or two today.  Maybe you have some new ones that you’ve invented as a modern-day parent…

The point is that mothers tend to follow a pattern of sayings when it comes to their children.  I imagine that throughout history, in every culture, in every language, there are things that mothers say to their children that are copied and passed down from generation to generation.  Those bits of wisdom can be helpful – if only the children would listen…

Which brings us to the message for today.  I have very carefully read both passages that I am citing today, and it seems to me that there are a few things your mother told you in those passages.  That makes our mothers biblical in their approach to correction.

The first one is “Don’t get too big for your britches, Buster!”

In the reading from the Book of Acts, Paul is in the Greek city of Athens, and he is encountering statues of various gods of every type and religion.  As a man who was raised Jewish and as a Jew who was taught to avoid the worship of graven images, Paul’s skin must have been crawling as he walked through Athens.  The statue he really noticed was made “To An Unknown God,” and that was the one he referred to because these pagan Greeks, these Gentiles, did not know of Yahweh.  He finally couldn’t stand it anymore, and for only the second time in his three missionary journeys, Paul addressed a Gentile audience. Those Athenian Greeks just loved a good debate, and they especially enjoyed hearing about other religions and practices.  But Paul almost seemed in this passage as if his mother never told him, “Don’t get too big for your britches, Buster.”  

Because in the middle of Athens, surrounded by Greek pagans and only a few Jews and Christians, Paul seemed determined to change the whole community to his way of thinking.  Little surprise that some rejected his message, a few others sneered at his fervent words, but a few seemed intrigued and wanted to hear more.  But Paul wasn’t actually acting too big for his britches; Paul was also not seeking to add yet another god to the Athenians’ list.  He sought to completely remove their worship of their graven images and teach them about the redemption and salvation of the Lord Christ.  In doing so, Paul made an excellent point that may have stuck with more than a few; he said that the God he worshiped was not confined to a temple or a building like their various statues.  Instead, the God he worshiped – THE God, the Great I AM – was everywhere and in everyone.   This is an excellent point even for our own church to remember today, especially since we don’t have our own building, and we can’t even gather to worship if we wanted to.

Yet, various translations and various Biblical experts debate to this day whether Paul repelled his audience from his opening sentence, OR whether Paul was speaking as courteously as he possibly could in an effort to get them to listen closely. 

I can’t imagine that those words just bounced off any Athenians who were listening.  Makes you wonder if Paul wasn’t too big for his britches at all; maybe he was just the right size!

Next, as long as we’re considering the impact of Paul’s words on those Athenians, let’s remember another one of mother’s sayings: “Let’s remember who we are and where we are.”

If Paul was going to sway that pagan Greek audience, he would never reach them by berating them or making fun of their beliefs.  He could not be the sometimes brutally honest, sometimes embarrassingly blunt speaker that he was in the Jewish world.  Paul found himself beaten unconscious many times during his various travels; little wonder that he spent so much time with the Gentiles.  It was the Jews who beat him, jailed him, and threw him – literally – out of town.  

So, for Paul to pick a fight in the middle of Athens with people who were nothing like him would seem to fly in the face of that motherly saying to “remember who you are and where you are.”  If he had done that, Paul would have waited for a more opportune time or a smaller group.  Paul would have met some people, had some preliminary discussions, engaged in theory, perhaps shared a meal.  Let’s remember that it was the same Paul who once said, “I am become all things to all men” in order to preach the Gospel to receptive ears.  Yet, Paul seemed determined to forget where he was, which was in a foreign country, surrounded by people who regularly worshiped offensive graven images, and who enjoyed debating just about everything with each other – and especially with visitors.  Paul could NEVER forget who he was – he was an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He would not be silent.  He would not be meek.  He would not even be that polite.  Instead, Paul would be who he always was – the servant of the Lord who was charged with preaching the Good News to all people everywhere.  He was not going to tailor his message much.

Maybe if you’re going to take on a job like that and do it properly, “remembering who you are and where you are” is only a secondary consideration.

Next, we consider what another heavyweight Apostle had to say, namely Peter.  And as we do, the mother’s advice that comes to me is the always popular, “Be a good example.”

This one especially irritated me when I was a kid because it meant other people were watching me, and I had to show them how to behave correctly and properly.  I wanted to do what I wanted!  I didn’t want to be an example for anyone!  Yet, every single Christian must realize that setting a good example as a Christian is the best way to bring others to Christ.  We can’t act any way we wish and still expect anyone to believe that Jesus Christ is our personal Lord and Savior.  That just won’t work.  And Peter had something to say about that.

When Peter wrote his first letter, he was writing to Christians in Rome who were regularly persecuted just for being Christians.  We don’t really have any idea what this is like today unless we actively live and work in an area that is hostile to Christians.  A modern parallel might be to try to be an openly devout Christian in North Korea.  They don’t want to hear it.  They think you are just causing trouble.  And the odds that you will be arrested and perhaps disappear are pretty good.  That’s a good modern comparison.  We don’t really know what Peter’s audience went through, but it doesn’t take much imagination to picture what life must have been like.  

To be a Christian in those days meant to turn the other cheek if you were struck in the face.  To be a Christian meant to turn away from anger.  To be a Christian meant more than just holding your temper; it meant actually loving your enemies – even the hated Romans!

Again, we don’t really know what that’s like.  But setting a good example of faith, love, discipline, and especially peace would mean that a Christian would probably be pretty obvious in that Roman society.  Identifying Christians would have been pretty easy.  Yet, the early Christians were known for their faith.  Peter reminded them of this.

But Peter took it a step further; he also told them if they suffered on behalf of their belief, they were blessed.  He told them not to be afraid.  He told them to answer everyone who asks why you have hope – even if it’s going to get you in trouble…not always the easiest or the safest path to follow.

Finally he told them others who were seen as “zealous” in that day did not tend to act gentle or to be seen as a good example to anyone.  Zealots were to be avoided because they were seen by most as crazy, deranged, and even dangerous.  Peter’s words to the early Christian community in Rome were to be a brave example of Jesus’ love and faith.  That goes way beyond our mothers’ reminders to “be a good example” – but it’s still good advice.

Finally, we have one that I heard often, especially if I was in front of others.  My mother constantly told me to “be polite and speak up.”  Like many children, I tended to mumble when I was unsure, or when I was embarrassed, and especially if I was in trouble.  I guess I figured that if they couldn’t hear me, I couldn’t get into too much trouble.  The problem was that my mother threw in the other part of that instruction: “Be polite.”  She equated mumbling with being disrespectful.   I was usually polite and friendly as a kid, and I try to continue that behavior as I get older.   Yet, when I am uncertain, I still tend to mumble.

Now, let’s consider something for a minute: Can you imagine either Peter or Paul ever EVER mumbling when they spoke of Jesus or their own faith?  Can you imagine Peter or Paul mumbling when they spoke of his death and resurrection?  Can you imagine Peter or Paul ever mumbling when they tried to get unbelievers to believe as they did?

And can you imagine a scenario for either of them in which mumbling would bring anyone to Christ? I can’t!

I think both Peter and Paul – and a million other zealous believers throughout the centuries – were BOLD in their words and BOLD in their actions.  Mumbling would not work.  I doubt rudeness or mocking anyone for their disbelief would work either.  

Paul may have been loud and blunt – but he was not rude.

Peter may have been clumsy and unpolished – but he was not rude either.

Both men were bold.  Both men also followed that mother’s wise advice to “be polite and speak up”wherever they went.  It’s still good advice today.

Mothers always say things like:

  • “Don’t get too big for your britches, Buster.”  
  • “Let’s remember who we are and where we are.”
  • “Be a good example.”
  • “Be polite and speak up.”

I’ll bet your own mothers had some of their own sayings too.  If you remember one, send it to me…I’d love to know what your own mother said.

We all know that good mothers also speak of love and gentleness and steadfast faith to their children.  

For this Mother’s Day, maybe that’s a great place to start.