Fourth Sunday of Easter – May 12, 2019. Sermon by Rev. Dr. Rolf Svanoe
Last Sunday I shared with you a favorite children’s story of mine, a story by Maurice Sendak called “Where the Wild Things Are.” Since today is Mother’s Day, I thought I would share another favorite story that I read to my children when they were young. It’s called “Mama, Do You Love Me?” and is written by Barbara Joosse. The story takes place in the Arctic where a child learns that a mother’s love is unconditional.
“Mama, do you love me?
Yes I do, Dear One.
I love you more than the raven loves his treasure, more than the dog loves his tail, more than the whale loves his spout.
I’ll love you until the umiak flies into the darkness, till the stars turn to fish in the sky, and the puffin howls at the moon.
Mama, what if I carried our eggs – our ptarmigan eggs! – and tried to be careful, and I tried to walk slowly, but I fell and the eggs broke?
Then I would be sorry. But still, I would love you.
What if I put salmon in your parka, ermine in your mittens, and lemmings in your mukluks?
Then I would be angry.
What if I threw water at our lamp?
Then, Dear One, I would be very angry. But still, I would love you.
What if I ran away?
Then I would be worried.
What if I stayed away and sang with the wolves and slept in a cave?
Then, Dear One, I would be very sad. But still, I would love you.
What if I turned into a musk-ox?
Then I would be surprised.
What if I turned into a walrus?
Then I would be surprised and a little scared.
What if I turned into a polar bear, and I was the meanest bear you ever saw and I had sharp, shiny teeth, and I chased you into your tent and you cried?
Then I would be very surprised and very scared. But still, inside the bear, you would be you, and I would love you. I will love you, forever and for always, because you are my Dear One.”
(Excerpted from “MAMA, DO YOU LOVE ME?” written by Barbara M. Joosse and illustrated by Barbara Lavallee 1991. Published by Chronicle Books.)
I love that story. The illustrations are fantastic. The story speaks of a mother’s unconditional love for a child. On this mother’s day, we think of our own mothers and the love that they have given us. And while that love may have been imperfect, and some of us may have had strained relationships with our mothers, we still honor them for what they have been able to give us- the gift of life.
This is also Good Shepherd Sunday. And every year on this day, I like to take a closer look at the painting above the baptismal font. It is a picture of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, holding a lamb in his arms. Let me tel you the story of this painting. It was done by Norwegian American artist, Herbjorn Gausta. He lived from 1854 to 1924. In 1867, when he was 13 years old, Gausta and his family left Norway and settled on a farm just north of Harmony. He lived there with his parents and his four sisters. Everyone recognized Gausta’s gifts and sacrificed so that he could attend Luther College. It was there that Pastor Koren noticed Gausta’s ability as an artist and raised monies so that he could go back to Norway to study. Gausta returned to America seven years later. He made his living as an artist. What he is most remembered for are his altar paintings. He did over 400 for churches throughout the Midwest. It is believed that the first altar painting Gausta ever made was for our church, Greenfield Lutheran. It is a picture of the resurrected Jesus outside the tomb. The Roman soldiers standing guard at the grave are cowering in fear. It is a very powerful image, though not a very comforting one. You can see a copy of this altar painting in our historical room. So in 1912, when this sanctuary was built here, the congregation decided to have Gausta make a new altar painting. They chose the theme of Christ, the Good Shepherd. It is a much more comforting image.
When you look at this painting, what are the things that you notice, that grab your attention? One thing I notice is what is not there. There aren’t any other sheep around. I think this is the story of the Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep and goes in search of the one who is lost. Out of love and concern for the safety of that lost sheep, he rescues it from danger and restores it to the flock. In our Gospel reading today, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” That is certainly what I see in this painting. Jesus has the lamb in his hands, and he will never let it go. It reminds me of what the Apostle Paul said in Romans, “nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”
I think of a Mother’s love like that. It may be imperfect, but a mother’s love gives us a glimpse of the perfect love that God has for us in Jesus. Our mothers gave us life. Jesus gives us eternal life.