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Rogate – Mothers’ Day – Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 13, 2007

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Fifth Sunday after Easter, Sixth Sunday of Easter

Rogate – Mothers’ Day – May 13th 2007

Old Zion Lutheran Church in Philadelphia

Acts 16:9-15 Psalm 67  Rev. 21: 10,22-22:5 John 14:23-29


“With Open Hearts”

     Paul and Silas are missionaries and being sent out with the Word of God, they try to enter Asia, but the Holy Spirit forbids them. What a marvelous thing! The Holy Spirit was guiding and directing them in all they did. We need to pray for the Holy Spirit, because Rogate, the name of this Sunday, bids us pray. Let us pray for the Holy Spirit so that we become guided and directed in the mission that Old Zion needs to carry out in this place.

     That night Paul has a vision of a Macedonian – Macedonia is up there to the north of Greece, and the man is pleading with Paul to come up and help them. In our own history, as an aside, Lutherans from far and wide prayed that Muhlenberg would help them with a pastor because they were at the mercy of vagabond pastors, but there were no pastors available.

     Silas and St. Paul were convinced that the Holy Spirit was calling and directing them, and before you could say, Jack Robinson, they are half way there, and then before they know it, they are in Philippi, the main city of Macedonia’s first province. They go down to the riverside, most likely, a house of prayer, and there is Lydia, with an open heart and she receives the good news, and they have the first crucial convert.

     I believe Paul and Silas are as if picked up and carried by the Holy Spirit, and moving hearts and gathering them up for Christ, is what they were doing. It is like Philip being told by an angel to meet the Ethiopian and then afterward being snatched away by the spirit of the Lord to preach the good news elsewhere (Acts 8:26,39). When you are in close touch with God in prayer, the spirit takes and puts you right where the work of the Lord has to take place.

     I remember traveling and being in India and getting sick of the heathenism all around me. I could suddenly see the beauty in Christianity. Talk about works-righteousness! What is it about chewing light bulbs that makes you holy? Or sticking long needles through your cheeks? Why is there still public defecation? It made me feel like a dog. And speaking about dogs, we have them for pets, but in India they are a sight for sore eyes. They are mangy, full of disease, and they round them up and kill them like pests, but they never kill them all. They want to see creatures more miserable than they are, perhaps. I’m talking about India in 1975 here and things might have changed. But for that time, I could become much more graphic, but I will spare you.

     I felt a real need to be with Christians. I could only think of Mother Theresa in Calcutta, which was more than 800 miles away. I went to a train. It was right there. I fell asleep and I woke up in the Howrah Train Station in Calcutta. A bus was right there to take me to the Mother House of the Missionaries of Mercy[1] as Mother Theresa’s sisters are called. I had lost track in India, but it was Christmas morning. I stepped into the hall of her establishment as she was coming down the steps.

     “I would like to be with you today.” I said.

     “Come and start with me at the Home for the Dying and Destitute.” she answered. And I spent the whole of Christmas with her going from one mission to another.

     The Holy Spirit just moved every obstacle out of the way, where a hundred of them could have reared up. It was like the Holy Spirit just picked me up and put me right there to carry out the whole Christmas program of Mother Theresa with her.

     She is just a really practical woman. She did not merely cook a meal for her family. Mother Theresa fed thousands of hungry people a Christmas meal. They had vats of curry and rice. It was my job to hand out banana leaves, which were used as plates. Indians with limbs as thin as pretzels ate huge amounts. We had to close the gates on a great crowd still waiting in line. We drove in a Land Rover, which had to drive one step at a time through and ocean of people. We went to schools, asylums, and hospitals with sweets and apples and sandwiches pressed in each child’s hand. She needed my help and the help of the other sisters and another priest in the Land Rover.[2] In the hospital she showed us the babies and children that had been thrown away. Their skin looked like leather and they stared out at us with old eyes. Mother Theresa was doing beautiful things for God!

     What made Mother Theresa open her heart to gather up the dying and destitute of Calcutta? What made Lydia receptive to the Gospel of Jesus Christ? It says, “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what Paul said.” Now we cannot take that for granted. You know the criticism the Corinthians dished out against Paul: “His letter are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech is of no account!” (2 Cor. 10:10) You remember the youth sitting on the window sill while St. Paul went on and on. The boy fell asleep and tumbled out of the window and Paul had to be rescued by the Holy Spirit, who revived the boy.[3]

     The Lord opened up Lydia’s heart to listen eagerly to what Paul said. She was drinking it in. the Gospel answered the yearning of her heart. Like the spiritual tell us:

Lord I want to be a Christian in my heart –

in my heart, in my heart.

Lord I want to be a Christian in my heart.

     There are as many obstacles in our hearts as could have blocked me from getting through half of India to make it to Mother Theresa, but the Holy Spirit opened the way.

     Sometimes you and I have a pretty closed heart. The ears just don’t connect to it, when it comes to the role God wants to play in our lives. Our eyes become all distracted looking at outward things, but we are not open to the vision of the new Jerusalem and it does not move us. We don’t see the trees of life planted and growing in the marvelous light of Christ, nor the river of God flowing through the city, like it flows through the Psalms – making glad the city of our God (46:4), and growing by the streams of living water (1:3), with leaves that are healing the nations, all our homes, all our neighborhoods, and all the houses and apartments in which we live and are as homeless as the wretched people in our shelters and our streets.

     When our eyes are opened by the Holy Spirit, then the light of Christ gets into the dark, dank, moldy, and musty corners of our hearts, and we see the vision of life that Christ calls us to live again. Then the lips of our mouths can’t help praising God and spreading the good news, because Christ, the Word of God, healed our mute and speechless heart, and found our voice. The Lord opens our hearts the way he opened Lydia’s.

     When our ears are opened, when the speech of God flows out of our hearts, then our hearts make us blossom in the Gospel again. We unfold like a “planting” of the Lord, to use Muhlenberg’s words. Our leaves like huge green banana leaves unfold in the shining and radiant face of God and life, faith, hope and love begin to flow like rivers of living water.

     You won’t have to be in church to feel the presence of God. You will have Christ in your heart, because the Holy Sprit opened your heart, so that God’s Word could live there and make your heart Christ’s home. And then you will have the Word for others like Paul and Silas had, like Lydia had. She was a merchant of purple cloth. I do not know if she had natural children, but after receiving Christ and baptizing her whole house with her, she could have had more children than Mother Theresa. The barren woman becomes the happy mother of a house-full of children, because of the spirit of God (See Psalm 113:9).

     Ida-Mae Fitch was like my second mother. She wanted to be a Baptist missionary, but her daughter went to church with a Black friend, and they were in no uncertain terms dis-invited from their church down there in Ohio.

     She married and had five children: and Nora and I named our first son after her youngest, Ashley. She was determined to still reach out in mission, even if the church rejected her. She allowed her family and her home to become a group home for kids that were released after serving sentences in juvenile detention centers. We were never allowed to ask what they did. There would be four to five or more youngsters sitting around her table with her own children. She would invite a policeman to come and eat with them. Frank, a local leader and I, myself were counselors that she took in so that when the released boys were too much to bear, we would stay with them as the Fitch family took a break in a motel for the week-end.

I watched as a kid all hardened from unspeakable experiences in prisons sat there and little Ashley, who had red hair just like his father, climbed on his lap and asked him to read his children’s story book to him. As the kid opened the book, you could see him coming back. Ida-Mae used her whole family to rescue those poor fellows. Where my father had three locks on every door, she kept her doors unlocked on principle, so that the boys had a place of refuge. What a blessing she was to a whole number of troubled youth, many of whom straightened out. What a witness! What a mother! What a missionary of mercy! What a blessing she was for my life.

     Let’s pray for the Holy Spirit to open our hearts so that the whole household of Old Zion enters the mission that Christ will reveal to us. Ours is a church with the colonial heritage, but read about the colonial days! We have it far better than they did, let me tell you. Let’s pray that Christ opens our hearts, because “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart been able to conceive and comprehend the wonderful things God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9), who are called to his purpose, the wonderful mission of Christ. Amen.

[1] I see now how they are called the Missionaries of Charity.

[2] In my diary for December 26th 1975, I noted the priest was Brian Gallager from Australia and a friendly sister was Suma, named after Thomas Aquina’s Summa, which was Bluma in Bengali.

[3] His name was Eutychus and the story can be found in Acts 20:9.


Written by peterkrey

May 16, 2007 at 7:56 pm

Posted in Selected Sermons

One Response

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  1. nice blog


    May 16, 2007 at 9:11 pm

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