There is an old story that has many different incarnations about a son and a mother one Sunday morning. When the alarm went off the mother went in to wake the son and said: It’ s time to get up for church. But the son rolled over and said: Leave me alone Mom, I don’ t want to go to church today. So the mother said: Well, you have to. The son replied, No I don’ t, I am tired and I want to go back to sleep. But the mother did not budge and she said once again – Get up son, you have to get up. Frustrated the son barked: No I don’ t, why should I? And the mother said: I’ ll give you two reasons. Number 1: it’ s Sunday morning . . . and number 2: you’ re the minister.
There is no doubt about it our faith can be difficult. With all the joy and meaning and purpose it offers, doing what Jesus commands is very hard. Heck, if you’ ve ever had an exhausting week or a house full of rowdy children it can be hard just to get to church on Sunday morning. We’ ve all felt it. We’ ve all thought it, – let’ s just stay in bed today we can praise God next week. How much harder must it be to actually pick up our crosses and follow Jesus? How much harder to actually walk the path he has called us to walk? God’ s love may be free but the faith is hard. Being a disciple is hard.
You go to work for 10, 11, even 12 hours almost every day. You never take all of your vacation or enjoy an entire weekend. The demands of your career have you constantly scrambling to keep up, to stay competitive, to get the job done. For someone like you what does it mean to pick up your cross and follow Jesus?
You are raising children. You love them deeply but they are exhausting. They are everywhere and into everything, they demand your constant attention. Sometimes you feel as if your life is a never ending cycle of changing diapers, wiping noses and making bottles. For someone like you what does it mean to pick up your cross and follow Jesus?
Your arthritis has progressed to the point that it takes you a while to get up and get going. You don’ t have the energy you once had. Your hands and hips are always sore. You don’ t see so well, hear so well, or move so easily anymore. Far too much of your time is spent in the doctor’ s office. What does it mean for you to pick up your cross and follow Jesus?
The other day I was messing around on the Internet when I came across the speech Mother Teresa gave when she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. I almost kept going and didn’ t read it because people like Mother Teresa make me feel guilty. She gave so much, did so many extraordinary things for others that I feel justifiably inadequate when I compare my life with hers. But what she had to say moved me deeply. As I read her words I could imagine that little, diminutive figure standing in front of that large podium speaking to so many of the world’ s powerful and prestigious all gathered to honor her. She said: Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do.If we could only remember that God loves me, and I have an opportunity to love others as he loves me, not in big things, but in small things with great love.
Small acts done with great love. This is what the woman who spent her life caring for the dying in the slums of Calcutta asks of you and me. She didn’ t say we had to come and join her or that we had to sell everything and take a vow of poverty. No she said that picking up our cross, following Jesus begins at home, right in the everydayness of our lives in the doing of small things with great love.
Did you see the Times Dispatch yesterday? Page six of the Metro Section, an article that took up at least half of the page, our very own Geraldine Johnson and the St. James’ s Children’ s Center. I was so proud and so very glad that Geraldine was getting just a little of the recognition she deserves. Geraldine has been running our Children’ s Center since the mid 1980′ s. In fact Geraldine is the Children’ s Center. The Center was her vision and the school has thrived because of her special gifts her gifts with children. Sick children, healthy children, poor children, regular children and the children no one else seems to be able to handle Geraldine has loved them all, one at a time, year after year. She personally makes little money and so many of the students are on scholarship that the Center barely stays out of debt. But Geraldine is the perfect example of someone who has picked up her cross and carried it for Christ by performing small acts kindness with great love one child at a time.
To do the small things with great love that is our calling. Every now and then I will come out of the parish house in the evening on my way home and I will see a stack of blankets or clothes neatly folded and sitting in the doorway. They are a present, a gift for Charlotte who sleeps on our doorstep. They are an anonymous gift from a member of our parish to help a woman who has no home. It is a small gift but it is done with great love. From time to time I receive letters with checks in them for me to use to help educate a deserving child, or pay some person’ s utility bill. The givers want no recognition they just want to be able to help, and they do. Their contributions make all the difference.
I have a dream about what this church could do, about what this church could be if enough of us were willing to do these kinds of small things with great love. Because when put together even small kindnesses can have great consequences just ask any of the hundreds of children whose lives have been changed for the better because of Geraldine Johnson and her staff. Think of the homes we could build, the children we could educate, the elderly we could care for.
Our faith is hard; there is no doubt about it. You can’ t be a Christian and take a pass on carrying the cross. But our Lord wants us to know that a life centered in self is a life of waste. A life centered in self is a disappointment; it is a life that saddens our Creator. And the paradox of our faith is that when we are less self centered, when we pick up the cross, when we choose daily to do small things with great love, it is exactly our true selves we discover. The paradox of our faith is that when we follow Christ what we find is not less of life, but life abundant.