Let’s Get Personal: Mom, Dad, and Jesus

Scripture: John 14: 1 – 6
By Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
August 9, 2015

This morning we begin a new sermon series entitled, “Let’s Get Personal”. During the next month, I will be sharing personal stories from my life so that can get a sense of who I am and why I am the way I am. In being transparent about my life, my hope is that in the months ahead, you will schedule an appointment with me so that I can learn more about who you are. Today, I will be speaking about my mom and dad and how their influence in my life shaped my faith journey.   Next week, I will be sharing about my call to ministry and how I made some funny and not-so-funny mistakes along the way, but through it all learned about the gift of grace. Then, I will be sharing stories about my spouse, Karen Rose and what I have learned about love. Finally, I will share stories about our daughter, Daniella and how she came to be a part of our lives. This is our worship map for weeks ahead.

Today, it is about Mom, Dad and Jesus! After all, my life began with them. On Sunday mornings, as my mom and I were leaving for church, she would ask my father whether he wanted to go with us. My dad would say, “Hell no, I don’t want to go to church.” The next Sunday, my mother would ask him again, “Harold,” she would say, “do you want to go to church with us?” And my father would say, “Hell no, I don’t want to go to church. I didn’t want to go last Sunday and I don’t want to go this Sunday.” This went on week after week, month after month. One Sunday, my mother didn’t ask my father if he wanted to go to church. As we were walking out the door, he stopped us. He said, “Don’t you have something you want to ask me?” My mother was surprised. “Why Harold…would you like to go to church with us?” You know what he said? “Hell no, I don’t want to go to church. I didn’t want to go last Sunday and I don’t want to go this Sunday.”

There were only two occasions in which my father ever stepped foot in this church. One was on the day I was ordained. The other was on the occasion of my mother’s memorial service – which ironically took place here exactly 20 years ago today – August 9th, 1995. Jim Vuocolo was the pastor at the time and his eulogy was based on the book, Everything I Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten. My mother was a Kindergarten teacher. In fact, Stacy Kaiser now teaches in the same room that my mother taught in for so many years – room 24 at Franklin Elementary School. It’s a small world.

My father, obviously, did not care for church. He had been raised Southern Baptist and had been forced to go to church every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening. He was told that he couldn’t drink, smoke or play cards. What did he love to do in his adult life? Drink, smoke and play cards. No, I did not receive my faith from my father. I did receive many other gifts from him. He had been a professor at the University of Redlands for 30 years. He taught Business Law, Business Administration, and Accounting. Math was always my strength in school and I believe that I received my math skills from my father. He was also a man of honesty and integrity. He stood by his word. He loved animals and showed me how to treat animals with kindness and compassion. And he was very generous with his money, giving to many non-profit organizations. Yes, I received many gifts from my father – but faith was not one of them.

Faith was handed down to me from my mother. My mother explored many different kinds of faiths in addition to Christianity. She went to India to learn about Hinduism. She went to China to learn about Buddhism. She took me to Egypt to learn about primitive Egyptian religions. We walked the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. We rode camels around the pyramids as a tour guide told about us about the afterlife of the Pharaohs. We went to Israel so that I would have a better understanding of Judaism. In the United States, my mother took me to conferences on “New Age Religion”. She read books about goddess worship and then engaged me in hours of discussion about what she had read. She and a group from this church along with the founding pastor studied astrology in our living room. My mother hoped to get her doctorate in metaphysics. When we took nature walks, she spoke to me about Native American spirituality. Our home was decorated with African tribal art. When I was about to kill a bug in our home as a teenager, my mother stopped me and then shared with me about the sacredness of all creation and then went on to tell me about Jainism – an ancient religion from India that advocates a life of harmlessness. Mom encouraged me to enter into the Ba’hai peacemaking essay contest when I was a senior in high school. I placed third and my mother beamed when she read my essay in the Redlands Daily Facts. I celebrate a mother who taught me about open-mindedness, inclusivity and unity. Yes, she was a member of this church – but this is a church that welcomes all kinds of possibilities in the universe.

So, when I came home from seminary and was wildly excited about Jesus and my Christian faith, Mom was worried. The people she knew who were wildly excited about Jesus were narrow-minded, exclusive fundamentalists who believed that Jesus was on the only way. She was afraid that I had become exactly what she had worked so hard against. In order to calm my mother’s anxieties, I invited her to spend a week with me at Yale Divinity School. She did and she attended some of my classes and met some of my professors. She discovered that my embrace of Jesus led me to embrace others on their faith journeys too. My relationship with Jesus led me to inclusivity, not exclusivity; to hospitality, not hostility; to bridges, not walls. Mom breathed a huge sigh of relief.

My mother’s initial fear is understandable. Christians have a reputation for being judgmental, oppressive and punitive. Christians have committed heinous crimes against those who are considered to be outsiders. Take the Crusades or the Holocaust or the KKK or hate crimes. Crimes committed in the name of Christianity. No wonder, my father said “Hell no,” he didn’t want to go to church – who wants to be a part of a group who is judgmental, oppressive and punitive – all in the name of Jesus?

Ironically, Christianity gained its popularity through “the conversion of Emperor Constantine” in 312 AD. Emperor Constantine had a vision of a cross in the sky and the cross had an inscription of three words: “Conquer by this”. The upright beam of the cross I Constantine’s vision was a spear. Ironic that the very instrument of Roman torture used on Jesus is now used to instill fear and terror, not merely in the name of Rome but in the name of Jesus himself. From Constantine to the Conquistadors to the Colonizers, an imperial religion of superiority, conquest and domination has been created – a religion with an identity far different from the one proclaimed by Jesus in Galilee.

Brian McClaren invites us to imagine a different kind of conversion, one that never happened but could have. “Instead of a spear-cross with the words, ‘Conquer by this,’ imagine that Constantine had seen a vision of a basin and a towel with the words, ‘Serve by this,’ or a vision of a simple table with bread and cup with the words, ‘Reconcile around this,’ or a vision of Christ’s outstretched arms with ‘Embrace like this’ or a vision of the birds of the air and flowers of the field with ‘Trust like this,’ or a vision of a mother hen gathering her chicks with ‘Love like this,’ or a vision of a dove descending from heaven with the words, ‘Be at peace like this’” (Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road, pg. 83).

But it was not so. Constantine saw a cross with a sword which said, “Conquer by this”. Could it be that Roman-Imperial Christianity actually betrays the life and teachings of Jesus?

Absolutely – which is why I became wildly excited about the historical Jesus when I went to seminary. Unlike the followers of Jesus who are often seen as intolerant of other faiths, anti-women, anti-gay and hostile toward the “outsider”, Jesus was all about love – radical, excessive, extravagant, unconditional love. While Roman Imperial Christianity shouts, “An eye for an eye,” Jesus says, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but love one another.” While Roman Imperial Christianity demands, “Love your friends, but hate your enemies,” Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what reward is it? Even pagans do that. No, love your enemies.” While Roman Imperial Christianity admonishes, “Hit him low,” Jesus declares, “Aim high. Lead a life worthy of your calling.”

Yes, this is why I am passionate about Jesus. Jesus touched lepers; he forgave adulterers; he dined with tax collectors and prostitutes; he embraced those who were considered to be “outsiders”. Jesus lived and taught the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Which by the way can be found in 21 other religions in one form or another.) Jesus gives us two commandments that can be summed up in one word, “Love!” Love God. Love your neighbor. It’s all about love. We love others not in spite of our Christianity, but because of it. If love has the final word, then hate and domination cannot.

Finally, in our scripture passage this morning, Jesus says, “In my Father’s house, there are many rooms.” There is room for the Hindu. There is room for the Buddhist. There is room for the Jew. There is room for the Muslim. There is room for my mother who embraced all faiths. And there is even room for my father who embraced no faith. There is room for you. There is room for me. “In my Father’s house, there are many rooms,” says Jesus. There is room enough for us all! Amen.