Birth of the Self-made Man, statue by Bobbie Carlyle
Sunday will be Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day is more of a family observance than a religious event. Neither Mother’s Day or Father’s Day are listed in the church year calendar. But maybe they ought to be, because thinking about mothers and fathers can remind us of a truth we often forget. Thoughts about our parents remind us of our indebtedness to others for so many things– our lives and our looks, for example, and, in a big way, our beliefs and our values. Just the fact that we have mothers and fathers reminds us of one great truth; and that is that not a one of us is self-made. Many folks pride themselves on being a ‘self-made’ man or woman. But there is no such thing. We were all made not by ourselves, but we were literally made by two other people.
And, as you know, our parents needed help in making us. The life we live is a miracle of God. Therefore, we are indebted not only to our parents, but in an infinitely more profound way, we are indebted to God. And just as every Mother’s Day and Father’s day remind us of our indebtedness to our parents, every Sunday, every time we go to church, we are reminded of our indebtedness to God. That is one of the reasons we worship; to remember what God has given us, to remember our debt to God, and to declare our ongoing faith in God. At the same time, we remember our indebtedness to the whole company of Christians, that ‘communion of saints’ who over the centuries have passed on the faith, down through the generations to us. We believe in Jesus only because someone told us about Jesus. It might have been a parent, might have been a friend, or it might even have been a TV preacher. You believe in Jesus because sometime in your life, someone told you the story of Jesus.
We are indebted to God, and then to other people, for most of what we have and most of what we are. We have a great deal of freedom to make all kinds of choices, but all those choices are made within a pretty limited context which we had no chance of choosing. We were born in a certain century that we did not choose, in a place we did not choose, to two people that we did not choose and had not even met yet; and then we were raised in a certain way before we had anything to say about that.
Even as we get older, we don’t so much choose, as we find out what we are good at, that is to say, what talents we were given. I never consciously chose to be a good student, I just found out very early that learning from books came easy for me. And my brother did not choose to be an average student instead of an honor student. He just found out very early in life that he was better at fixing things, and then stayed home to fix trucks and buses in our parents’ business instead of going on to college. From very early on, we knew we had been given different abilities and interests– not chosen, but given.
For all of our endless discussions and debates in this country about our rights and our choices, we kid ourselves if we think we have very much choice at all. The freedoms we have are very important, but much of who are and what we are was set in cement before we even were aware we were here. It is for us to accept that fact, and then use the relatively few choices we do have to make the best of what we’ve been given.
To be sure, the Bible is filled with commands, telling us to make the right choices; true and loving and obedient choices. But all those commands are given in the context of a far greater truth found in John 15:16 where Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” There you have it. You believe in Jesus not because you managed to muster up enough faith to believe in him. Rather, says Jesus, you believe in him and you are God’s child, not because you chose him, but because he chose you. (continued…)
John 15:16a — (Jesus said), “ You did not choose me, but I chose you…”
Psalm 139:13-14a — For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Job 1:21 — Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.
Lord, I am blind and helpless, stupid and ignorant. Cause me to hear, cause me to know, teach me to do, and lead me.
–Henry Martyn, Missionary to India and Persia (1781-1812)