“Mother’s Milk”: The Holy Habit of Biblical Teaching – Week 4
Rev’d. Tanya Stormo Rasmussen
Congregational Church of Hollis, U.C.C.
10 May, 2020
Easter 5A
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10

Who told you stories when you were a child?  Who was it that read to you at bedtime, or told you fairy tales of adventure and mischief, of lessons learned and deeds rewarded?

Who told you about your grandparents and your ancestors, about aunts and uncles when they were younger?

Who told you about God?  And about God’s people?  Who read to you the stories about Jesus, about Mary and Joseph and shepherds and wise men?  Who helped you to understand that the amazing, mysterious world we live in was given to us, entrusted to our care and keeping, and that you were created with a unique purpose, and gifts with which to accomplish it?

I wonder how many of you, on this Mother’s Day, are silently counting your mother – and maybe your grandmother – as among the storytellers who helped to shape you.

Because the stories we hear as children shape us, don’t they?  Whether they’re fairy tales or ancient legends, biblical accounts, or Harry Potter, yarns about the neighbors or anecdotes about relatives, or narratives we hear about ourselves, stories are formational.

The stories we hear as children about who we are, where we’ve come from, and how we’re connected to the rest of God’s creation, have a profound impact on our view of the world and how we engage others.  They set the context for our understanding of reality.  The stories we hear about ourselves shape us as children, and the stories we tell as we grow and age, shape others’ understandings of who we are and what we value as we begin to choose for ourselves what shape our life and character will bear.

If the stories we learn wind up to be false or untrustworthy, our entire understanding of who we are can begin to unravel—and our ability to trust the storyteller may disintegrate as well.  So, it’s important that the narratives that ground us are established in meaningful truth, that they are trust-worthy.

This month, we’re exploring the Holy Habit of Biblical Teaching.  And, while it may seem obvious, it’s still worth pointing out that the Bible—some of it possibly more than 3,000 years old, and the entire New Testament being some 2,000 years old—is considered sacred because, generation after generation of people have found it trustworthy and full of truth.  Even though  people of faith will sometimes disagree about how we’re meant to understand the lessons of Scripture or the right way to approach its interpretation, and which bits should be highlighted or called into question, the fundamental truths and teachings about God’s character, and about human life, and about God’s desires for this world and the relationships we all share, wind up being pretty consistent.

The Old Testament—also known as the Hebrew Bible—consists of the stories and poetry and wisdom teachings that Jesus and other Jewish people in the first century and on either side of it would have grown up hearing and learning.  They’re the stories and readings, the poetry, prophecies, and proverbs that shaped the worldview of the Jewish people—their understanding of the created order, and truth, and how life is meant to be lived if we are to flourish.

Time and again, the language and literature of the Hebrew Scriptures offer up images that get echoed in the New Testament.  There are, particularly in the Psalms (as we read & heard in our Call to Worship & Invocation) and the prophets, repeated encouragements to taste and see God’s goodness.  References to God as our Rock, our cornerstone, the source of our salvation.  And in today’s passage from the First Letter of Peter[1] , the author uses many of those well-known Old Testament images and teachings as he helps to shape the fledgling Christian community in their growing understanding of themselves as disciples of the Messiah—who was steeped in and shaped by those same Biblical teachings.  By building on stories and narratives that had long been established as being trustworthy, Peter and other writers whose letters and gospels were eventually compiled to form our New Testament, helped to shape and strengthen the early Christian community’s self-understanding and identity.

That strength, and the truth contained in what they wrote, is demonstrated today, on May 10th, 2020!  The fact that we are committed to this way of life, committed to gathering—despite being in many different places, despite all the things that would make it easier for us to not do this, to do something else—bears witness to the truth and trust-worthiness of Biblical teaching.

The First Letter of Peter was addressed to “exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia”—Jewish diaspora, but it also included a growing number Gentile converts who found the life and teachings of Jesus and his followers compelling.  Today’s reading starts out with the words, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”[2]  They didn’t have medical tests and reports to document the precise makeup of mother’s milk in Peter’s day.  But it was nonetheless common knowledge that mother’s milk was responsible for delivering the nourishment and nutrients a newborn needed to flourish, to become strong and healthy.

The author goes on, with the help of Biblical allusions and paraphrases, to remind the believers who they are.  To remind us of who we are—these ancient words have meaning and truth for our lives today; God still speaks through them, revealing new truths across the ages.  Peter alludes to God our Rock—the One who is solid, whose character is always dependable.  And, using the imagery of the cornerstone, he makes it clear that Christ is that for the Church.  Each of us is a living stone; we work together to create the Church—not a building, but a spiritual house.  A holy priesthood, he says—shifting to a more fleshy image.  And then he appeals to the human experience (which would have been familiar, to the author’s first audience—the Jewish diaspora, as well as to many Gentiles who didn’t feel they belonged to a community who mattered to God) of feeling forgotten, or maybe of being unseen or not known: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”  The words tell us true things about ourselves, and remind us who and what we are.  Even when we feel alone, isolated, possibly forgotten: we are God’s people.  We are seen, and known, and loved.  We are important—a holy priesthood, a church of living stones, nourished by the life-giving power of God’s Word.

What are the stories you remember being told about who you are?  What are some of the stories your mother told you that have shaped your understanding of yourself, of the world, of God, of relationships?  What stories do you repeat to yourself and others that help to strengthen, and connect, and sustain life?

The stories of Scripture, Biblical Teachings, are like mother’s milk spiritually speaking: they contain the nourishment we need to become strong and to flourish in faith.  That’s why it’s important to nurture the practice of reading the Bible until it develops into a Holy Habit.

Many of the most important Biblical Teachings we continually share in our faith community are told through our music and songs.  We’ve heard a couple already, in our first hymn and in Beth’s anthem.  Julie and the choir have worked hard to produce the next musical anthem, a favorite that conveys our commission and our commitment to extend a wide-open welcome to all God’s children by drawing the circle wide.  As you listen and enjoy the slide show that Cindy Ryherd put together (yet another way that tells our story—through pictures!), I invite you to begin thinking about things you might like to share during our Prayers of the People time—prayers of gratitude for lessons you learned from your mother or grandmother or a mother-figure.  Amen.

[1] Peter was most likely a pseudonym used by someone who admired the Apostle Peter greatly and was trying to pass along teachings he’d learned from the original disciple of Jesus.

[2] 1 Peter 2:2-3


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