STRETCH:   Moms and Dominos 

The door flew open.  Every single head around the table turned to watch her walk in.  It wasn’t what anyone expected.  It wasn’t what anyone thought was going to happen.   As Jesus had been walking through this town, as he’d been teaching people about the kingdom of God, as he’d been healing and restoring, he was sought after. This day was like any other day; people wanted Him to come over to their home, so Simon the Leper invited Jesus to come over.  Along with Jesus there were a number of prominent people like teachers of the Law, Pharisees, folks that hung on his every word—people who were suppose to be around the table, important people.  But this woman, when she barged through the door carrying that little vial of perfume, was breaking every single social custom.  She shouldn’t have been there.  She was a woman of questionable character.  She was a woman period, and in that day and that time, men carried a certain sense of prominence and they got a place around the table. Women, at this point, didn’t—they SERVED the table, but they didn’t get to sit at the table.  When she walked through the door….if it were a movie it would have cut to slow motion right then and right there.  The music would have slowed down, the scene would have just floated in the air as everybody waited to see what would happen next.  This woman, this sort of shady character, walked over to Jesus and took the most valuable thing that she owned, the most expensive thing in her house, and broke the jar open.  She took the perfume in it and poured it down on Jesus’s head.  Those teachers of the Law, the Pharisees, Jesus’s disciples……the air was just sucked out of the room.  Everybody waited to see what was going to happen next.  Are we going to see a stoning? Because women like that aren’t suppose to touch people like Him.  Is He just going to dismiss her publicly, but caring about her soul like Jesus would?  What’s going to happen next?

What happened next shocked everybody.  The disciples wanted to see the money that was used to go to good use to help people.  It was a way that they could have funded the ministry.  This woman, as she pours perfume down over Jesus’s head, hears something that probably even she didn’t expect to hear.  Jesus says:  She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial.  {Jesus is marching to the cross and is about to give his life.  He ties this woman’s lavish love, this reckless love, into preparing Him to going to the cross.  She’s playing a part in the story of God.  He then says something that is crazy.  Something that should cause us to step back a little bit, should cause us to pause.}  And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed {Wherever the good news of Jesus ruling and reigning as King, restoring his broken creation, making it whole again, speaking life into death, speaking new into old, speaking hope into despair….}  in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her. (Mark 14:8-9)   I mean, what a turn!  What a turn of events.  Jesus is saying that the actions we live by, the things that we do, matter.  Jesus ties this “little” act of devotion, this act of love, this act of sacrifice….he goes, “When people tell MY story, they’re also going to tell her story.”  When people talk about MY sacrifice, they’re also going to talk about her sacrifice.  When people talk about my love, they’ll remember not only my cross, but they’ll also talk about her perfume.  They’ll talk about the way that she stepped into THIS moment and didn’t let it pass by.  She did what she could and she took what she had and she lavished it down on Jesus.  Jesus is making the point that every single life has significance.  Every single life matters.  What we do with OUR life and what we do with OUR story matters, because your life can inspire life in the lives of others….just like this woman’s life did.  It had this trickle effect to it where Jesus goes, “We’re going to be talking about this.  This matters.  This has significance for generations.”  People are going to talk about the way this woman used the life that she had to make the most of the things that matter.

You got a domino when you walked in.  Will you hold it up for me?  We have three kids at home and occasionally they’ll play with dominos like this and that means there’s a lot of crying in our house.  If you’ve seen kids play with these dominos, you know that the older will start setting them up and the younger will “intervene.”  Here’s what I love to watch happen….if you take these dominos and line them up, one right after another, and you knock the first one down….they’re going to fall.  It’s the same thing that happens in a life well lived.  It doesn’t just influence THAT life, it influences all the lives around it.  It looks a little bit like that.  {Topples dominos} YOUR. LIFE. WILL. MATTER.

Here’s the question we often wrestle with — HOW?  How do we make our lives matter?  How do we make our lives carry a weightiness or a significance to them?  Think about the people in your life who’ve influenced you most.  {Got that list in your head?}  Here’s my guess.  My guess is that they weren’t the people in positions of power or prominence.  My guess is that they weren’t maybe the smartest person you’ve met.  You aren’t thinking, “That guy was BRILLIANT and therefore, his life (or her life) mattered in my life.”  That’s often the way that we think about it, but it’s not true in the life of this woman, and it’s not true in the lives that we live either and the way that we’re impacted and we’re changed by the people around us.  The people that change us the most are the people that love us the best.  And they’re also the people that aren’t necessarily trying to have an impact.  They’re not living to say, “Alright, I’m going to try my best to have an influence on the people around me and I’m going to try my best to do whatever I can to change people.”  They’re people who are trying to live faithfully and that God is using mightily.  Yes?  It’s true in my life and my guess is it’s true in yours also that we influence positively by living faithfully.  In the same way that this woman did…she stepped into this moment.

You know what’s interesting?  The opposite is true also.  We lose our influence when we lose our faithfulness. We can look at presidents, we can look at parents, we can look at pastors who’ve had great influence and their influence has waned or it’s fallen off completely.  But most people don’t lose their influence because their strategies fail.  Most presidents don’t lose their influence because something went wrong in the plan that they had.  Some do.  Most pastors that lose their influence don’t lose their influence because their ten-year plan didn’t come to fruition.  Most people lose their influence, not because their plans fail, but because their character does.  It’s what takes the weightiness out of a life.  The same is true….we influence positively by living faithfully, if you want your life to matter.  The Scriptures would say, “Give it to God and let Him determine what that looks like and how that happens.”  Because when we try to make our lives influential, typically what we resort to is worldly systems of power and authority rather than the way of the Kingdom and rather than the way of Jesus.

In the story we’ve been looking at over the last few weeks in 1 Samuel 14….    As we have been journeying with Jonathan and the Israelite army, you’ll remember that the Israelite army is cowering in fear.  They’re on one side of a valley and their enemy, the Philistines, are on the other side of the valley.  The Philistines have TWO swords to their name.  The Philistines have tens of thousands of soldiers.  They have numerous resources, numerous swords.  They are ready to go.  They are sending raids of soldiers over to attack the Israelites at every chance that they get.  Jonathan is sitting there, in this moment, wondering, “Am I going to live or am I going to exist?”  We talked about Jonathan stepping into this moment deciding he’s not just going to sit on the sideline or on his side of the battlefield and wait and hope, but he steps into this moment trusting that God is able to do whatever God wants to do.  We said that faith is confidence that God CAN, not certainty that God WILL. Jonathan goes, “I don’t know what God’s going to do.  Maybe he’ll act on our behalf.  Maybe he won’t.  But maybe he will.”  He and his armor bearer climb down this cliff and their ONE sword.  They climb up the other side.  They see the Philistine army.  They show themselves to them.  The Philistines say, “Come up here,” which was Jonathan’s cue that God is going to fight in this war.  Jonathan climbs up to the other side.  He starts to fight this battle….just he and his armor bearer.  Two guys.  One sword.  {I don’t know if they knew jiujitsu or karate or what.}  But God moves.  The earth trembles.  God shows up and they start to have this victory.

This really fascinating thing happens though.  There were people on the Israelite side that had joined the Philistine side because they wanted to be on the “right” team.  It’s the same reason some of you started rooting for the Cubs in the World Series last year.  They wanted to be a part of the winning team.  They switched back and they’re fighting with Israel.  There’s people who were hiding in caves and start to come out of the caves and their fear starts to get pushed back by Jonathan’s faith.  The fascinating part about the story is that Jonathan doesn’t have this grandiose plan of ‘my life could matter.’  My life could make a difference.  He just simply knows what God’s calling him to do and he steps into a moment, trusting that God will use his life.  When God uses Jonathan’s life, we see the reality that all of the lives that are attached to him start to be impacted by him.   When he walks across the valley, up the other side, and engages in war, he’s just living faithfully.  But what God does through him is he influences everybody else positively.

Last year on Mother’s Day, we hit this point in our sermon series that we were doing on the life of Jacob where Jacob married both Rachel and Leah.  Last year I did a Mother’s Day message on polygamy.  This year I’m doing a Mother’s Day message on war!  I aim to please!

Actually, it’s a message on influence.  It’s a message on using your life on the things that matter most.  It’s a message on how to do that, because I’ve never met a mom and I’ve never met a person who didn’t want their lives to be defined by positive influence on the people around them.  We have something built into our DNA that says, “My life was meant and designed and made to matter.”  For moms in this room, when you held a little baby in your arms for the first time, you sensed this weightiness of my life isn’t just mine anymore.  I don’t just get to live for me anymore and I want my life to matter.  Or, if you’ve had the chance to mentor somebody, or you’ve had the chance to walk with somebody, or you’ve been a teacher, or you’ve been in a care profession, you’ve sensed this — I was designed for more than just me and my life was made to matter.  My story was made to matter.  We get into all sorts of trouble, don’t we, when we try to make that happen on our own?   So what I want to do today in this Mother’s Day message is unpack this passage for the next few minutes just to show what are these mile markers along the way of living faithfully so that we can impact and influence positively.  How do we do that?

Here’s what we see in the life of Jonathan, because he lives this out. (1 Sam. 14:1)  One day Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side.”   Here’s what Jonathan has to his name — 1) He has a good friend.  2) He has A sword.  That’s it.  His list of resources is fairly short, there’s no footnote.  He doesn’t have anything else.  If you look what’s stack against him — there’s a whole other army.  They’re vastly resourced.  They’re ready to go.  They’re well-trained and they want to fight!   Here’s what Jonathan does not do.  Jonathan does not say to God, “Alright, God, if you want us to go over and fight the battle, here’s what you’ve got to do.  You’ve got to give us, roughly, 10,000 more foot soldiers.  We’ve got to find a way to get some more swords so we can go into battle, so we can have enough to do what we feel like you’re asking us to do.”   Most of the people who have influenced you significantly felt under-resourced.  They felt like they didn’t have what it took. They felt like all the deck was stacked against them and if God didn’t come through they might fail.  Here’s what Jonathan does and here’s what people who influence do.  Here’s how moms start to have significant influence or grandmas start to have significant influence in the lives of the people around them.  They start where they are with what they have. Do NOT….please, please, please, please, please….do not wait until you think you have what you need to go where God’s called you to go.  In our world of vast social media, it can be so easy to look at what everybody else has, can’t it?  To look at what everybody else does.  And to start comparing ourselves… a mom or as a grandma, they are doing it perfect, they’re killing it, they’re nailing it, they’re brilliant, they’ve got it all together.  And look at me!  And we start to compare ourselves to other people.  When we compare ourselves to other people, we start to shut down the places in our soul that God actually wants to use and actually wants to work through.

I don’t know what your mental narrative is, but I can tell you, I have such an easy time in my own life identifying ways I wish I was better, and ways where I fall short, and things that I wish I had than I am at identifying What do I have? and What can I use?  What if, as a community of faith, we started to get better at identifying, even if it isn’t what we would choose, the gifts that we have, the gifts God’s given us, the things He’s placed in our soul, uniquely designed us with, and started to step into those moments?  Instead of wishing we had something else.  I read a story a few weeks ago about this taco truck.  It was driving down the 5 in Seattle and it got to this place where the freeway was just locked down.  They were doing repairs.  It was lunch hour.  This taco truck was trying to get to this one certain spot in the downtown area where they knew they were going to sell massive tacos.  Because the freeway was locked down, they were able to get to where they were intending to go.  Here’s what they did:  On the 5, in Seattle, they turned on the generator and they opened their doors and they started to sell tacos to the glory of God!!  People started to get out of their cars—on the freeway.   Imagine if they just sat in the traffic and didn’t open their doors.  I think a lot of us are like this taco truck.  We’re just sitting in traffic, we’re just waiting, we’re in this liminal space, this in-between space, waiting until we get to our destination, waiting until we have what we think we need.  I think God’s word to us this morning is will you do what you can, with what you have, where you are right now?

Jesus tells this parable (Matthew 25:14-30) about an owner of a property.  He’s going away and he gives talents to people as he’s leaving.  To one person, he gives five talents (which was a lot of money back then).  To another person he gives two, and to another person he gives one talent.  The person who has five talents uses the money and makes five more, he has ten when the owner comes back and the owner says he’s done really, really well.  The person who has two invests it and gets two more when the owner gets back and the owner says, “Great job!”  The person who has one….buries it.  He says, “Master, I get it.  You’re a hard manager and you expect something from your investment and I was too afraid to lose it, so I just buried it and I’ll give it back to you.”  Jesus has some really harsh words for this guy.  Jesus’s expectation is that you would understand he’s given you something to invest in the lives of the people around you.  He expects that you would use it for his glory and his good.  Some of you feel like you’re stuck, but his word for you today is I have placed something deeply within you, not so that you would bury it, but so that it would come through you.  His expectation is that your life would carry a weightiness to it and that it would overflow into the lives of the people around you. Listen to the way Mother Teresa says it:  “Not all of us can do great things. {Just so you know, she’s talking about herself!} But we can do small things with great love.”  We can do the daily stuff.  We can be faithful in the moments.  Maybe it’s a conversation with one of your kids when you’re just dead tired.  Maybe it’s a smile you give to somebody when you’re walking through the grocery store.  Maybe it’s an invitation to a neighbor to come over for dinner.   We can do small things with great love.  We can start where we are with what we have and trust that God will use it for the glory of his name.

Here’s the way Jonathan continues (1 Samuel 14:12):  And the men of the garrison hailed Jonathan and his armor-bearer and said, “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing.” And Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Come up after me, for the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel.”   It’s the picture of Jonathan walking up and his armor-bearer following after him, and really, everybody in Israel following after him.   When Kelly and I used to guide backpacking trips, in the early summer there used to be a lot of snow over the mountain passes.  In order to get through the snow, you had to do this (maneuver) called post-holing.  You raise your legs up really high in order to break a trail through the snow.  You’re breaking the trail and everybody behind you is benefitting from the trail you break and blaze.  There’s no snow where Jonathan’s going, but there’s a massive enemy and there is a very clandestine trail and Jonathan’s going, “I’m going to break away.  I’m going to make a way for the people who are following after me to walk in line behind me.”  It’s what anybody who has significant influence does.  They say, “God, if this is where you’ve placed me, and this is what I have, I’m going to go. You take care of what happens behind me, but I’m just going to be faithful to what you’ve called me to do in this moment right now.”  Here’s what he’s doing:  He’s focusing personally and trusting God for impact publicly.

He’s out front and leading the way.  But here’s what he didn’t do.  Jonathan didn’t do, “Hey, armor-bearer, let’s put our minds together and let’s figure out how we could inspire the rest of the Israelite army to follow after us.”  How can we get Saul on our side?  How can we get everybody who’s hiding in the caves to come out?  How can we get the people who have switched sides and are now playing for the other team….how can we recruit them back?  Jonathan just simply says, “God, if this is what you’ve put in front of me, and God, if this is what you’ve called ME to do, I’m going to take care of ME and I’m going to allow you to work through me.”  We focus on us and trust God for what he does through us, which means {Will you look up at me a moment?} that we’ve got to take leading ourselves really seriously.  We have to be in a place where we’re living a life that’s worth following.  This is the essence of motherhood, this is the essence of parenthood, this is the essence of leadership, this is the essence of influence.  Our lives start to bleed over onto the lives of the people that are around us. If we don’t take seriously the health of our own soul, we’re going to have nothing to give to the people around us.

Let’s just hit PAUSE and I want to drill down there.  We live in a culture—especially for moms—where it is so exhausting!  Exhausting to compare.  Exhausting to feel like you have to do everything and hold everything together.  My guess is, if you’re a mom in this room, you’ve felt, at times, guilty about taking time to make sure that you are healthy and that your soul is full.  Listen, your life is going to overflow to the lives of the people around you.  It’s the way God wired us, it’s the way he designed us.  The question is:  What’s coming out of you and into them?  Can I encourage you that it is not selfish to prioritize your own personal health?  It’s like the talk they give you on the airplane, where the people say, “If we crash, there’s going to be an oxygen mask that comes down.”  If you’re a parent, I want you to put it (the mask) on yourself before you put it on anyone else. WHY?  Because you’re not good to anyone if you’re not breathing!!  Here’s your Mother’s Day message in a nutshell:  You’re not good to anyone if you’re not breathing!!  If you’re not alive, if your soul’s not alive, that’s going to flow over into the lives of the people around you.

Jonathan gets that.  He’s out front.  He leaves the crowd.  He steps into this moment.  He understands that in order to walk into his destiny, he may need to walk away from security.  Because of who he is, because of the way he’s cultivated a soul life, he steps into this moment understanding “God, you’re going to work through me. Your life is going to speak through me.  Your words are going to come through me.  Your plan is going to be executed through my obedience.”  Jonathan isn’t worried about that on the front end, he’s just going, “I want to be healthy in front of you.  I want to be obedient TO you, God, and then would you use my life to impact the lives of everyone around me?”  But it starts with him being in a place where he can actually hear the voice of God.  Here’s the thing — If you’re healthy personally, spiritually, your life has the ability to speak into the lives of the people around you in significant ways.  If you’re not, that flows into the lives of the people around you in significant ways also.  Parents, you know this is true, right?   Maybe today it’s just hitting reset and going, “Alright, how do I cultivate rhythms where I can get healthy spiritually, holistically?”

1 Samuel 14:13 — Then Jonathan climbed up on his hands and feet…    You get the picture that Jonathan is climbing up this pretty steep hill.  And he’s in this position of vulnerability.  He’s in this position, literally, on his hands, on his knees.  All of Israel is behind him.  First he’s blazing this trail, and he says, “Come up after me. Follow me.”  Now he’s in this position of being on his hands and on his knees.  It’s the same position this woman was in when she walked in to see Jesus at that meal.  She gets on her knees.  She breaks her jar of perfume and she pours it on his head.  It’s the same position Jesus is in on the night that he’s betrayed (John 13).  He has a meal with his disciples and then he gets on his knees and goes around to each disciple and washes their feet.  In this position, not of power and not of prominence, but of servanthood, of vulnerability.  Here’s what Jonathan knows, and here’s what the woman knows, and here’s what Jesus knows:  if you want to influence and impact the people around you, it’s not by lording your power over them that it’s going to happen.  It’s by serving them and loving them and giving yourself for them.  On his hands and on his feet.

If we want our lives to matter, we live faithfully.  Using what we have, where we are.  Focusing on being healthy people before God and trusting what he’ll do before others.  That we would serve sacrificially (significantly) as a way to effect dramatically.   Here’s the thing — Influence requires servanthood.  That’s not optional.  It was interesting that when Jesus was talking to his disciples, one of the moms (James and John’s) came up to Jesus.  She said, “Hey, Jesus, I want my boys to have impact.  I want my boys to have significance. James and John, I want one to sit at your right hand and one to sit at the other.  What’s it going to take to make that happen?”  (Matthew 20:20-28)  Can you imagine if you’re James or John?  What would you do when you find out your mom cornered Jesus to try to get you a better seat at the table?!?  If your mom has ever embarrassed you, you know that James and John’s mom far outshone yours!  I can remember my brother was playing baseball and he was up to bat.  Our family was sitting in the stands.  There was this inside pitch that zoomed right by him.  My mom yells from the stands, “Hey, Adam, at least you’re wearing your cup!!”  This is the spiritual equivalent.  James and John’s mom steps into this moment and goes, “Come on.  Can we try to get my boys more influence, more prominence?”  Jesus does not say, “Woman, it’s really evil for you to want your boys to live a life that matters.”  He actually says, “Let me teach you the pathway to making that a reality.”  Because it doesn’t happen in the same way that it does for the systems of the world.  The Kingdom of God doesn’t operate like that.   But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant…”    {Whoever would be great.  Whoever would have influence.  Whoever God would use to change the course of history, to change lives, to transform neighborhoods and work places and families….   You want to know the type of person God uses?  Because he’s not down on ambition, he’s not down on influence, he’s not down on your life having an impact on the people around you.  He actually teaches you how to do it.  SERVE.}  …and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

For every mom in here, you do this really well.  My guess is the reason that when we think about the people who have impacted our lives the most, we think about moms.  We think about dads.  We think about parents. Because they serve so well.   We get the chance today to say thank you.  Reid, my youngest, says to Kelly last night at the dinner table, “Why is it Mother’s Day and not Christmas?”  Kids just know how to say thank you, don’t they?   That’s why you have such great significance.  That’s why you have such amazing influence, such weightiness attached to your lives, because you serve so well.

Being on your hands and knees and crawling up like Jonathan did, not only meant that he was serving the people around him, but he was vulnerable before them.  He didn’t know how the people were going to attack and what they were going to do.  But that’s a part of living this life, isn’t it?  Being vulnerable.  Giving love, when we don’t know if it’s going to be reciprocated.  Loving the people around us when we’re not sure if they’ll love us back.  Serving the people around us, when we’re not sure…are they just going to hang me out to dry? But that’s the kind of life that has ripple effects that turns into this domino effect that impacts and changes every life around it.  So for those of you who mentor people at this church, thank you, you’re living this out. For those of you who, on Saturdays, serve food at our food bank to help a population in our neighborhood that’s hurting, thank you.  To those of you who hold babies in our nursery, lead small groups with our students, invest in our lives of our young adults, thank you.   For those of you who hold doors, shake hands, have conversations, invite people over to your house, open your homes for life groups to happen, thank you, you’re serving.  Through your service God is having a massive impact.

We had originally had a guest speaker scheduled for today, which I was excited about because Mother’s Day is just a difficult day for me now.  Walking through the journey of losing my mom a few years ago.  My head doesn’t pop off the pillow on this Sunday like it does most every other Sunday.  If you’re in that place of tension today, I’m right there with you.  But it’s also this great reminder of the way that my mom’s domino fell.  I can remember sitting around the table after she passed away.  As a family we were planning her memorial.  I said, “Dad, people usually write a eulogy, where they talk about how great the person was and the accomplishments that they made.  Should we do that for mom?”  He paused for a moment and he said something that I thought at first was really sad, and then it started to sink in on me on a different level and I started to go no, that’s right and that’s why her life was way bigger than her 57 years.  He said, “Ryan, mom didn’t have a lot of accomplishments.  Most of them are sitting in this room around this table.”  I thought, “Yeah.”  A lot of people talk about valuing the little things in life.  But she lived it.  She started with what she had where she was and just invested in the people around her.  I’m grateful that for 30-something years I was one of those people.  She was a healthy person.  She didn’t really care what people thought of her.  It was great….and embarrassing at times.  Man, I don’t many people who have served better.

If you’re a mom in this room, we just want to recognize you and say thank you for the way that you serve, for the way that you live, and for the way that you use whatever God has given you to make much of his name.  If you’re not and wish you were, if you’re not anymore and wish you were again, if you never have been a mom and that’s a lament for you, I just want to echo what Larry said that we stand in solidarity with you. We want to point back to God and say, “God, thank you for this design of care, of love, and of influence.”  YOUR. LIFE. MATTERS.  Would you live faithfully in a way that God would shine radically through you?

{Ryan introduces closing video.}

May you, may we, be the kind of people who use whatever God’s given us, exactly where God has us, that He would make much through us.  May we be the kind of people who walk closely with Him and who live lives worth following.  And may we be the kind of people who serve really, really well the people around us and extend the love of God to them.  South Fellowship Church, may we live faithfully and trust that God would allow the dominos of our life to fall into the lives of other people, that He might make a great impact through us.  For the glory of His name, for the joy of His people, and for the good of His world.  Let’s pray.

Thank you, Jesus, we love you.  Thank you for the gift of family.  For the gift of mothers and for the way that they extend a unique, a significant, a beautiful piece of your love and your character to their families and to the lives of their kids and onto us.  We’re so, so grateful.  We worship you this morning and we thank you.  It’s in your powerful name that we pray.  And all God’s people said….Amen!