For many years when our three children were young, there was a corner of our attic dedicated to a sizable collection of what might best be referred to as “previously worn clothing;” specifically, all the baby and toddler clothes we’d accumulated, things that were outgrown by one child but still had enough wear for the next one to come along.
And trust me, it was all there (I know, because most often I was the one hauling it up and down from the third floor attic!), boxed and bagged and meticulously categorized by size, season and circumstance: from the “onesies” and “twosies” we put on them as infants, to the “Oshkosh b’gosh” blue jeans that had worn like iron through many a busy backyard day. Moreover, there were all the cute little outfits that’d been purchased for special occasions and family gatherings, not to mention all the handmade gifts of love, like the sweater Jake used to wear with the head and tail of a dinosaur knit into the arms – all treasures that were packed way in the fervent hope that they’d get handed down to the next kid to come along!
And, for the most part, they did, too – except of course, when we discovered that Jake’s hand-me-downs weren’t really going to be suitable for Sarah, and the little frilly dresses that made up the bulk of Sarah’s wardrobe in those days certainly weren’t going to work for Zach! So not everything we saved got used again; but, over the years, between lots of cousins, along with friends and neighbors with young children, most everything got passed around to the point where aside from a box or two of special clothes that have sort have become heirlooms, there’s really nothing left!
And that was meant to be, I suppose, because we also discovered that somewhere along the way, each of our kids found their own unique fashion sense – and while Mom and Dad still had a little (precious little!) influence on what they chose to wear, and for the most part they were fairly reasonable about things, we nonetheless learned to keep an open mind, trust their choices, and to pick our battles!
But you know what? I’ve been thinking about it, and a few years down the road now, I realize we can take pride that with love and care we’ve handed down everything we could – and if you’re thinking I’m talking now about more than just Oshkosh overalls here, you’re right! You see, the fact is, raising children is really all about the “hand-me-downs,” and not just the boxes of old clothes – but the stuff of life and living and faith that we pass down to them by word and example.
It’s how they learn to tie their own shoes, about saying “please” and “thank you,” and covering one’s mouth when one sneezes. It’s the basic human challenges of sharing, playing fair, and growing to become caring adults who are sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. It’s giving them the tools of a faithful life; the skills that will lead them in the way of becoming the kind of people God intends for them be. It’s an ongoing process of handing down to them the very same kind of clothing that hopefully, we’ve worn in our own lives: what Paul refers to in our scripture this morning as the clothing of “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience,” the ability to “bear with one another and… forgive each other,” and to put on the virtue of “love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
Which, when you think about it, lies at the very heart of this particular day!
Mother’s Day, or for that matter, what we refer to in the church as the “Festival of the Christian Home,” certainly has a great deal to do with the hand-me-downs of love and care that’s passed down in and through the life of a family; and it seems to me that this is a good time for us as Christians to be mindful of just what kind of clothing we wear so that what we hand down to our children is what they should have to live and grow in God’s sight: understanding that this applies not only to our sons and daughters, but also to the children of our church and of our community, or, for that matter, the children of the world.
Now, I know this is a day filled up with flowers, cards and gifts – and well it should be! But I would suggest to you that it’s also a good time for serious reflection on our own discipleship regarding our children and our families.
Actually, there’s some historical precedence for this: did you know that Mother’s Day was originally conceived as a day of prayer? That’s right – in the years just following the American Civil War, there was a woman in Virginia named Anna Reeves Jarvis who was feeling awash in the grief experienced by mothers on both sides of the war who had lost sons in battle. Jarvis was so moved by this, she organized a special day in which prayers of peace could be prayed for all these mothers and their sons, a day when those on either side of the conflict could perhaps find some small comfort and healing amidst their grief.
The idea took off, and by the early 1900’s, a small movement became a national holiday to “proclaim love and reverence to mothers everywhere.” But, as this “mother’s day” became bigger and bigger, eventually becoming the holiday we know today, the radical nature of it being a day of prayer got lost in the process. Even so, it brings home the point that in this celebration of love, care and family there still exists a challenge to you and me as people of faith – to offer up to those we love a true and living example of what it means to have faith in God and to walk as disciples of Jesus Christ.
That’s important, because in truth, not all the “hand-me-downs” we pass on to our children are good ones, but in fact, are often rife with the inconsistent messages of our own moral, ethical and spiritual waffling! Truly, how can we hope for our children to live a life grounded in loving God and others, when too often we ourselves are unable or unwilling to live unto that example?
I know that sounds harsh, and I don’t want to sound judgmental here, but we’ve all heard the studies: that abusive and violent behavior, negative attitudes and racist, prejudicial behavior often come as a result of having received that kind of treatment in childhood; the result of having been given the message that not only is such behavior is OK, but even indicative of one’s adulthood.
I will never forget, how early on in my ministry, our little church had joined with another congregation to do a Vacation Bible School for the kids of our churches; and one morning, in the outdoor games, some conflict or another arose between a couple of these kids. And I heard this angelic six-year-old girl – blonde hair, bright blue eyes, cute as a button – turn to the other child and shout, “You dirty Jew!” Now, I ‘m sure that this little girl didn’t have an inkling about what she had said, and neither did any of the other kids (we adults were far more upset about it than they were) – it was just a nasty curse she’d heard someplace, and so she repeated it! But you know she heard it somewhere, and the tragedy is that more than likely, she’d heard it at home!
This is our legacy, friends – as parents, as adults, as Christians – that every word we say, each thing we do, every compromise we make against the integrity of our lives, there’s somebody right there to receive what we’ve handed down. The point is that whether we’re parents or family members, neighbors and friends, or in fact fellow members of this church family and stewards of the gospel that Christ has hand down to us, we all have this awesome responsibility to clothe those who come after us with the garments of faith; to bestow true and lasting tenets for living so that those who receive them might grow with God, and even go with God where God would lead.
The question is: are we setting the right example? In the ways that we worship, witness and work, are we giving our children a sense of their infinite value as children of God? Can it be said that our faithfulness instills in our kids a loyalty and commitment to the word of God and the teachings of Christ? Is it made real for them in the strength of our moral and ethical stances, as well in the evidence of our sense of mercy and compassion? Will our lives serve to inspire them to be more than merely hearers of the word, but doers? Will God in Christ be for them a real and vital presence in times of joy and in struggle, in part because of what they saw in us?
These are the hand-me-downs that matter, friends; And these are things that you and I can give. It’s true sometimes that what we have to give them often comes to them a bit well-worn, perhaps somewhat tattered and torn for all the difficulties, the failures and the hard lessons learned along the way – but then, perhaps it’s the wear and tear that makes the gift all the more special. Because in the end, you see, what we have to give is strong and lasting because it’s been woven together by God with the strong thread of love, love that binds everything together in perfect unity.
It seems to me that today is a perfect day to renew ourselves in this mission to love one another after the manner of Christ, and as Paul proclaims in our scripture today: to “let the peace of Christ rule in [our] hearts …[to] let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly, [as we] teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and with gratitude in [our] hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God.”
And wherever we happen to be – be it at the breakfast table, at the supermarket, on the little league field, or just out amidst all the daily bits of “stuff that’s gotta get done” – whatever we do, whether in word or deed, “do[ing] everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” For what comes of this will be the hand-me-downs that will sustain our children, our families and ourselves forever.
Happy Mother’s Day… and thanks be to God!
AMEN and AMEN!
c. 2012 Rev. Michael W. Lowry