I’m going to begin by reading you a story that shared with me many years ago. It is entitled “Angel Story,” and it goes like this:
The child asked God, “They tell me you are sending me to Earth tomorrow, but how am I going to live there being so small and helpless?” God replied, “Your angel will be waiting for you and will take care of you.”
The child stated, “But here in heaven I don’t have to do anything but sing and smile to be happy.” God responded, “Your angel will sing for you and will smile for you. And you will feel your angel’s love and be very happy.”
The child inquired, “How am I going to be able to understand when people talk to me if I don’t know the language?” God answered, “Your angel will tell you the most beautiful and sweet words you will ever hear and, with much patience and care, your angel will teach you how to speak.”
The child cried, “But what am I going to do when I want to talk to you?” God said, “Your angel will place your hands together and will teach you how to pray.”
“Who will protect me?” asked the child. “Your angel will defend you even if it means risking its life,” reassured God.
“But I will always be sad because I will not see you anymore,” bemoaned the child. “Your angel will always talk to you about me and will teach you the way to come back to me, even though I will always be next to you,” God responded.
At that moment there was much peace in heaven, but voices from Earth could be heard and the child hurriedly requested, “God, if I am to leave now, please tell me my angel’s name.”
And God answered, “You will simply call her ‘Mom’.”
Today is Mother’s Day. This is an appropriate story to share for Mother’s Day, for it not only reminds us of the role that mothers play in our lives, it reminds us of the role that God plays in our lives.
The story begins with the child in heaven having a conversation with God. Before the child is born into this world, she is with God. Her relationship with God is her first and primary relationship. Without her relationship with God, she will not have a relationship with a mother. First and foremost, she is God’s child.
First and foremost, she is God’s child, but God shares his child with a woman, allowing that woman to be the mother of his child. While the child is on Earth, the woman will stand in for God. The woman will be God’s representative, doing the things the story states: taking care of the small and helpless child, singing and smiling for the child, talking to the child and teaching her to talk, teaching the child how to pray, protecting and defending the child, and teaching the child about God. The woman will be God’s representative – God’s angel – through her role as the child’s mother. And she will do her best to communicate the love and grace of God to the beloved child that God has shared with her.
The mother with whom God shares his child will do her best but, as a human being, her best will be less than God’s best. It is the nature of being human to be less than God. We are finite; God is infinite. We are corruptible; God is incorruptible. We sin and commit evil; God is sinless and is incapable of committing evil. We do our best, but we always fall short in some way. Our failure is nothing to be ashamed of or guilty about – it is just the way it is. We cannot be perfect as God is perfect, and so we will fail in some way at some time.
And, if we don’t fail, the world fails. You may be the perfect mother, but you and your child live in an imperfect world, a world in which there is sin and evil, illness and war, death and destruction. Think of the parents and children in the Middle East at this time in history. Every morning those in that area of the world wake up not knowing whether they will be alive to go to bed that night. If we don’t fail, the world around us fails. We are broken people who live in a broken world and, despite doing our best and giving our all, we fall short of showing forth God’s love and grace in their fullest. That’s just the way it is.
Which is why it is so essential – so important – to remember that we are not only our mothers’ children but, first and foremost, God’s children. It is in God that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Above and beyond, before and behind anything or anyone else, we are God’s children.
It is so essential to remember this because we will be tempted to forget it. As we are born and live in this world and are disappointed and hurt by it we will be tempted to forget that we are God’s children and that it is in God that we live and move and have our being. And when we forget this essential truth, we are vulnerable to a host of sins, such as cynicism, despair, and idolatry. When we are cynical we are scornful, bitter, and mocking. We take nothing good seriously because we don’t dare to believe in good. When we are despairing we are overcome by a sense of futility and defeat. We have no hope because we don’t believe that that for which we hope will come to pass. When we are idolatrous we worship idols – things other than God, like money, or sex, or fame, or power, or food, or alcohol, or drugs, or people – because we have forgotten our true home and lost our way. When we forget that we are, first and foremost, children of God, we are vulnerable to becoming separated from God through a host of sins, moving further and further away from our true parent and our true home, and becoming orphans on Earth.
As we move further and further away from our true parent and our true home, as we become orphans on Earth, we suffer more and more pain. If our air supply is cut off we are in increasing pain. If our food supply is cut off we are in increasing pain. If our water supply is cut off we are in increasing pain. The pain increases until we finally die. We cannot be cut off from those things that keep us alive physically without suffering pain and, eventually, death.
It is the same with that which keeps us alive spiritually: our connectedness with God. If our God supply is cut off we are in increasing spiritual pain until we finally die a spiritual death. It is in God that we live and move and have our being so, if we cut ourselves off from God, we no longer live and move and exist in the way we were made to live and move and exist. We become orphans on Earth, spiritual Zombies, supposedly alive but actually dead.
Henri Nouwen discovered the truth of all this through his own painful experience. He had forgotten that, first and foremost, he was God’s child and he had slid into idolatry. His idolatry took the form of a friendship. The love and appreciation that his friend gave him became to him like the love and appreciation that God gives him. In a sense, his friend became like God to him. When his friend withdrew his friendship, Henri suffered horribly. It felt to him like his life source had been taken from him. He had mistakenly worshipped something other than God, depending on that thing for his well-being and, when it was taken away, he fell into a deep depression. He lost his will to live.
Thankfully, Henri had not completely forgotten God. He was able to turn again to God, to the true source of his life and, as his connection to God was restored, he began to heal. He began to remember that he was God’s child above and beyond, behind and before anything or anyone else. Whatever else life on this Earth handed to him, he could put it in its proper perspective because he remembered that he was God’s child.
Henri expressed this insight in an entry in his journal entitled “Accept Your Identity as a Child of God.” This is what he wrote to himself and, ultimately, to all of us:
"Your true identity is as a child of God. This is the identity you have to accept. Once you have claimed it and settled in it, you can live in a world that gives you much joy as well as pain. You can receive the praise as well as the blame that comes to you as an opportunity for strengthening your basic identity, because the identity that makes you free is anchored beyond all human praise and blame. You belong to God, and it is as a child of God that you are sent into the world. . . .
Only God can fully dwell in that deepest place in you and give you a sense of safety. But the danger remains that you will let other people run away with your sacred center, thus throwing you into anguish. . . .
Gradually, though, you will begin feeling more connected and become more fully who you truly are – a child of God. There lies your real freedom."
It is truly a blessing to have a mother like the one described in the story shared at the beginning of this sermon, a mother who is an angel of God. Some of us are blessed to have such a mother. Others of us are not so blessed. Our mothers may be so broken themselves that they are unable to be God’s angel. Or they may not be alive to be God’s angel for us. Some of us are blessed to have a mother who is able to be God’s angel for us but the circumstances in which we live are harmful. Maybe we live in a war-torn area. Maybe we live in an area wracked by famine and drought. Maybe we live in an area threatened by gang violence.
The ways in which children can be harmed both inside and outside their homes are many and various. Once we are born on this earth we are vulnerable to the finite, corruptible nature of human beings and the world. But none of that matters, ultimately, because we do not belong, ultimately, to finite and corruptible humans, or to the finite, corruptible world. We belong to God and are his children. We come from him and we will return to him. The challenge for us while on this Earth is to remember our true parent and our true home and to live out of that memory. People and the world-at-large can praise us or blame us, complement us or criticize us, help us or hurt us. Will they affect us on some level? Of course. But on another level, a truer level, they have no power over us, because we do not come from them nor will we return to them. We come from God and we will return to God. We are God’s children, and he is the Lord of heaven and of earth. He will not abandon his children – he cannot abandon his children – because it is in him that we live and move and have our being. Whatever those around us or the world-at-large gives us, we must remember that truth and remain anchored in our identity as children of God. Therein lies our real freedom. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev. Amy Johnson at the Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, May 8, 2016, the Seventh Sunday of Easter.
 The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom. New York: Doubleday, 1996, 70-71.