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May 2, 2022

Picture shows a portion of the Temple Mount with the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim holy place. The last Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. Solomon’s Colonnade, where Jesus and the disciples often taught, was located on the East side of the Temple Mount. John records that Jesus was teaching in Solomon’s Colonnade on the Temple grounds in Sunday’s gospel text (John 10:22).
(DCR March 2022)
The stones leading down to an exit from the Temple Mount that Jesus would have taken; these are the actual stones that Jesus walked on 2000 years ago
(DCR March 2022)

My only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20: 24)

I admire marathoners.  I started running the day that I quit smoking on August 21, 1981.  My husband was my trainer who patiently shepherded me through the first weeks of training.  At first I couldn’t run more than a half a block without stopping to catch my breath, but Bob would circle back to me to encourage me.  Six weeks later I ran a local 10k with Bob that ended in the Los Angeles Coliseum.  Bob’s mother and stepfather were there holding up a sign that read “The Running Reagans,” as we made our triumphant entry into the Coliseum.  Bob could have finished the race in half the time that it took me, but he stayed with me and ran at my much slower pace.

 I know several people who have run marathons—the grueling 26.2 mile race that tests the endurance and strength of runners. Our pastor ran the Boston marathon last October.  Our son, Bobby, ran the 18 mile run from downtown to the beach a few days after he turned 18, and ran the Los Angeles Marathon twice while he was in college and law school.  A friend trained for the 2019 Los Angeles marathon months in advance.  She sent me two photos taken of her during the marathon—one with her arms raised victoriously as she crossed the finish line and the other of her face fixed in a grimace—which she imagined was how she looked during 80% of the race.

As I read the Scripture texts for next Sunday,[1] which is Mother’s Day, I thought about my friend, and how similar being a mother is to running a marathon.  Luke writes that Paul told the elders from Ephesus: “My only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (Acts 20: 24).  Raising children often feels like a race; mothers run from task to task to finish everything that needs to be done.   Importantly, we want to complete the task the Lord has given us to teach our children about God’s love and abundant grace.  The Mother Marathon requires mothers to maintain their stamina over many years to complete the race.  It is grinding but important work, and after years of investing our faith, time, energies, money, intellect, and other resources in the job, we cross the finish line 25 or so years later. 

But even when our major mothering duties end, a mother still keeps watch over her flock, like the elders of a church watch over their congregation, or a shepherd watches over his sheep.  Paul goes on to tell the elders to “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (Acts 20: 28). He is encouraging them to shepherd—to lead their congregation safely to the truth.  But his words are applicable to mothers and fathers as well.  God has given us the privilege and responsibility to nurture and care for the children he has blessed us with. We are to shepherd them along the way as they develop and grow, as God shepherds us in life and in death. 

In his book, A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm, Philip Keller explains that the rod and the staff are two separate tools, which is borne out by the text: “Your rod and your staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). The rod is made from a hard wood, with a club carved at one end.  Shepherd boys spend hours “practicing with this club, learning how to throw it with amazing speed and accuracy.  It becomes his main weapon of defence for both himself and his sheep.” [2]  The rod is like God’s Word—we can count on it to defend us against Satan’s attacks.  As shepherds of our own flocks, mothers and fathers protect and defend their flocks by relying on God’s Word, and by teaching it to our children.  For many years Bob spent devotional time with the children every night before bedtime.  His signature devotional verse was “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119: 11). 

Keller likens the shepherd’s staff to the Holy Spirit, the comforter.  The staff is a long stick with a hook on one end; it has three uses: to lift a newborn lamb to return it to its mother if they are separated; to catch individual sheep to examine them; and to gently guide the sheep.  The Holy Spirit comes alongside us to guide, comfort, and help us.   As Bob helped me as a beginning runner, the Holy Spirit stays by our side. When we fall behind, he always circles back to us and is next to us to offer encouragement through his Word and through those he puts in our path. 

As the shepherd’s rod and staff guide, protect, and comfort the sheep, God’s Word and the Holy Spirit guide, protect, and comfort us throughout our lives, even as we walk through life’s darkest valleys, and the final valley of death:  “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23: 1-4).  This is the most important lesson to remember as we navigate through life, and the most important lesson that mothers and fathers can teach their children—that God is with them as their guide, protector, and comforter throughout their lives.

John recounts an event when Jesus was teaching in Solomon’s Colonnade, on the East side of the Temple Mount,[3in the winter during the Feast of Dedication, which is the present day Feast of Lights, or Hanukkah.  The people said, “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. . . you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. . . I and the Father are one” (John 10: 24-30). This is the most definitive statement that Jesus ever made of his divinity.  He was not merely a good teacher.  He is God. 

He is the God who shepherds us through life’s trials. He is the Spirit who comes alongside us when we feel we aren’t doing a good job to encourages us during the marathon.  He is the one who protects us and loves us and helps us.  He is the one who is there to help all mothers and fathers finish the race to raise people of God.  There are times when mothers and fathers become discouraged.  But don’t forget who is on your side: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). 

 It is your job as a parent, grandparent, or aunt or uncle to plant the seed and water it to keep it alive in the children while they are in your care.  It is the job of the Holy Spirit to bring forth the fruit of your labor.  When you despair that you failed or aren’t doing a good enough job, listen with the ear of your heart[4], and you will hear the shepherd calling you to the warmth of the fold.  Come to him who protects and comforts you–the Good Shepherd.

Prayer: “Almighty God, heavenly Father, you have blessed us with the joy and care of children [grandchildren/nieces/nephews]. Give us calm strength and patient wisdom as we bring them up, that we may teach them to love whatever is just and true and good, following the example of our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.” 

Book of Common Prayer

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Fourth Sunday of Easter are Acts 20:17-35; Psalm 23

Rev 7:9-17; John 10:22-30.

[2] Keller, A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm (1970), Zondervan, p. 83.

[3] Herod enlarged and rebuilt the temple mount into a massive temple complex shortly before the time of Jesus. It was about 30 acres in area to accommodate large numbers of pilgrims. 

[4] From the Prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict: “Listen, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.” 

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