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May 9, 2004 (Fifth Sunday of Easter)—“Living as Our Mother Jesus”
Pastor David Barber
When I was a pastor on the mainland, if you didn't have something significant to say about mothers on this day, you might be guilty of committing the unpardonable sin. At the very least it would be fodder for conversation at the Mother's Day Brunch. The preacher's ears would be burning, and the words that would be spoken would be less than flattering.
In conversation with clergy types like myself, we use to say that there were three "High Holy Days" within the church--namely Christmas Easter, and Mother's Day. The Festival of Pentecost didn't even come close to being included in this holy trinity.
I don't think that's true in this congregation. But since I'm free from such an expectation, I'm going to begin by raising up and giving thanks for the vocation and the ministry of being a mother.
I remember with thanksgiving and gratitude my own mother. Her simple faith and piety are partly responsible for the journey that led me into professional ministry. I'm also tremendously grateful for KarenŠthe mother of our children...and all the many ways along the way she has acted unselfishly and lovingly in their lives.
When I look out at this congregation, I see mothers and especially those mothers and fathers who are still involved in the nurturing of children. Not only do I give thanks to God for the sacrifices you make on a daily basis, but I also appreciate the effort and the commitment you put forth to model the faith and to help your children grow in the promises of their baptism.
Martin Luther refers to parents as apostles, bishops, and priests to their children because they have the opportunity to introduce them to the gospel. He didn't say that Christian parents are the best parents or that we know special secrets about raising children, but we have the particular joy of raising our children in the faith.
Besides thanksgiving, however, I'm also mindful that this is a painful day for many women for lots of different reasons. There are those who are trying to conceive and haven't been successful. There are those who are struggling with self worth and the feeling that if you don't have children or don't want to have children, you're not fulfilling your role as a woman.
Some women are still coping with wounds of physical and emotional abuse from their childhood. Perhaps a mother played a significant role in this abuse, and the process of forgiveness and reconciliation is still being played out.
I also think of mother's throughout the world whose children are in Harm's Way because of poverty, or hunger, or addiction, or anything else that sucks the life out of our loved ones.
I remember not only mothers from this country, but Iraqi mothers, Israeli and Palestinian mothers, and mothers in numerous countries who are anxious and afraid over the fate and the future of their children because of war and violence.
I sometimes ask the question, "What would our world look like if there were more mothers as leaders of our countries?" Unfortunately, there are some women who feel that they need to be just as ruthless as men in order to be an effective leader.
However, I wonder if there would be less violence and perhaps more justice and equity if we had the mothers of the world leading us and guiding us. Just a thought...!
As we think about God this morning, mothering is one of the images we might use to describe God. In fact, of all the feminine images used to describe God in Scripture, the most pervasive one is God as a mother.
Meister Eckhart was a member of the Dominican Order who lived from 12601329. His writings were condemned after his death by a papal decree, but they did influence Martin Luther and some other reformers as well. Meister Eckhart once wrote: "From all eternity God lies on a maternity bed giving birth. The essence of God is birthing."
This image of mother is also present in our Gospel for today. In this time when death stares him in the face, Jesus acts much like a loving mother or a loving parent. He doesn't lie on a maternity bed but a deathbed as the crucifixion and the end of his life draws near.
In this setting, he calls his disciples "little children," and he speaks to them about loveŠthe love they must have for each other after he is gone.
According to John, Jesus prepares his disciples for his imminent departure from them and from the world. The wheels are set in motion, and there's no turning back as Judas departs into the night so that he might betray Jesus.
On this fateful night as this irrevocable drama is being played out, this terminal and compassionate mother-like parent has one final wish or instruction for the children. "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another."
At the beginning of the 13th chapter of John, Jesus has gathered his disciples for a last meal together. At one point he girds himself with a towel and washes the feet of his disciples. Of course, we remember this scene and reenact it every Maundy Thursday before Easter.
Unfortunately, also in the 13th chapter, besides the betrayal of Judas, the chapter ends with Peter's vow that he will lay down his life for his teacher. To which Jesus responds, "Will you lay down your life for me, Peter? I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times."
In this framework of betrayal and denial, Jesus says to us, "I give you a new commandment." What is new here is not the commandŠto love one another. We also find these words in the Old Testament. Indeed, Jesus quoted from the Book of Leviticus when he tells us "to love your neighbor as yourself."
What is new are the words, "Just as I have loved you." We are to care for each other and for the world with the same self-giving love as displayed in the life and death of Jesus.
Jesus not only models this love for us. He also strengthens and empowers us through his death and resurrection so that we, too, might be lovers. Love evokes love, and the ultimate act of love in Christ causes his love to erupt within us.
In the movie Life is Beautiful there is a wonderful example of how this love springs forth in a father in a creative and imaginative way. It tells the story of Guido, his wife Dora, and their son who are rounded up and taken to an internment camp during World War II.
In order to keep his son from being afraid and to give a ray of hope to his beloved wife, he makes the entire ordeal into a game for his little boy. Each day is a challenge of how he can turn the day's misery into a game, a party, or even an enthusiastic competition.
Even in the face of the filth, the pain, and the suffering, this man's never-flagging love for his family and their lives keeps him hooked into the charade. Even when he is marched off in sight of his little boy, he reframes this deadly scene by pretending that he's leading a grand parade, and his captors are the ones marching behind him.
Of course, when he rounds the corner he's killed, and his son doesn't know the price that his father just paid. Eventually his wife and son are rescued by the Allies, and they survive.
When Jesus gives his final instructions to his "little children," he doesn't say--a new invitation, or a new encouragement I give to you.
He doesn't say, do this when the mood or the feelings are proper and correct, or do this when it's spontaneous, but rather it's a commandment, and he also uses the "s" word--should. "You should love one another."
Now if love is only a feeling, then you and I know that feelings can't be commanded. "Don't tell me how I should feel," we sometimes say. I can't tell you to feel angry, or sad, or joyful. I can't make you to feel any of these emotions.
I can command you to eat your broccoli, for instance, but I can't command you to be happy while eating your broccoli. I can command you to sit up and listen to this sermon, but I can't command the affect it will have on your life. In this situation love is commanded because love is an action. It's something we do.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was put to death by the Nazi regime over 50 years ago on April 9, which was actually on Good Friday this year, once said, "When Christ calls a person, he bids him to come and die."
"Not in a single pool of blood, "says Gerhard Frost, "but bit by bit and day by day in the steady self-draining of life strength and energy."
Mothers are certainly not the only people who do this on a daily basis for there are many who serve a mothering role toward those in their care. These are folks who live out the life and the words of Jesus within their families and within their relationships.
These are people who do the work that needs to be done or the work no one else wants to do. These are mothers and fathers and other caring individuals we often take for granted especially when the work is done faithfully and well.
St. Teresa from the 15th century offers us some fitting words for today:
Christ has no body on earth but yours;
Yours are the only eyes through which his compassion can shine forth upon a troubled world. Christ has no body on earth but yours."
"Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another." Christ has no one to live these words except you.
Copyright © 2004 David Barber
Comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org