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Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Happy Mother’s Day! My wife Janna has told me once again this year that I am not supposed to say anything that will make people cry. So… Amen. May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
It is difficult to know why people cry on Mother’s Day- sometimes, it’s sadness; sometimes it’s joy, sometimes it’s regret, and sometimes it’s simply the recognition of the work of a grateful heart. The mere mention of the word mother stirs up in us a whole range of responses, both laughter and tears. Mothers and fathers have always played an important role in the thoughts and memories of their sons and daughters. But somehow, there is something more sentimental and emotional about mothers. Arlene Benedict, the author of For Mother with Love, penned “To a child’s ear mother is magic in any language.” George Eliot wrote, “Life began with waking up and loving my mother’s face.” William Makepeace Thackeray wrote, “Mother is the name of God in the lips and hearts of children.”
Mother’s Day may not be a church holiday, but for this morning’s meditation, I would like to weave together the two readings we have heard from scripture. Ever so diplomatically, the stories teach us that even though the leadership of the early Christian Church 2000 years ago was dominated by men, Jesus’ mother Mary was never far away. Yes, Mary, the very woman who had given birth to Jesus and nurtured him, continued to guide and inspire the church he established.
The evangelist St. Luke introduces the Acts of the Apostles with a description of those who returned to Jerusalem after Jesus’ ascension to heaven. We read that the disciples returned to the Upper Room “constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.” Mary must have seemed like a mother to all of the disciples. Both St. Luke the Evangelist and St. John, the beloved disciple whom Jesus loved, had a close relationship with Jesus’ mother. On Good Friday, while dying on the cross, Jesus entrusted the care of his mother Mary to John. As for the Apostle Luke, according to the oldest legends of the church, Luke was not only a doctor and historian, but he was an artist as well and painted the first image of Mary. He must have listened carefully to her because he is the only one of the gospel writers to include Mary’s words in the story of Jesus’ birth.
Of course, mothers and fathers have always played the primary role of faith nurturers in the lives of their children. Unfortunately, men often seem a bit heavy handed. Perhaps that’s why scripture admonishes them to be careful and gentle. “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Men and women face the challenges of faith differently. Men prefer to work on goals which can be achieved while women prefer to work on relationships.
I often tell brides on their wedding day that if they want to avoid conflict with their husbands, to heed these words, “Come to men with a problem only if you want help solving it. That’s what we do. Sympathy is what your girlfriends are for.” In the Book of Acts, we read that in the days following Jesus’ ascension, the disciples were facing a great challenge. Jesus had entrusted them with the mission of the church, and yet he had told them that they were to wait in Jerusalem to be “clothed from on high.” They knew they had to do something, so, in spite of their unanswered questions and doubts, they chose to focus on the one aspect they were certain they could accomplish- to choose a twelfth disciple. After all, if the new covenant was to come from Jesus’ disciples, a twelfth was needed to replace Judas. But since Jesus himself had chosen the original twelve, how could they know whom to choose?
According to St. Luke there were actually one hundred and twenty people gathered in that Upper Room when Peter proposed his solution, “Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” Peter’s recommendation was simple. The new candidates needed to know everything about Jesus through his whole ministry. And if they had any questions they could talk to Jesus’ mother. The candidates were few. Only Matthias and Joseph Barsabbas had been with them from the beginning. The question now was simply which one had the heart to become a witness to his resurrection.
We are not absolutely certain how this drawing of lots was carried out. One method which was common at the time of Jesus was to write names on pebbles or pieces of broken pottery, another method was drawing straws. Whatever the method, the disciples were confident that through prayer God would make his will known. And so Matthias was chosen to replace Judas, and the group was whole again. The disciples had done their work. That is the kind of satisfaction that men of faith enjoy. .. a completed task.
By contrast, women of faith pray and work in another way- much like Jesus. They pray for loving, healthy, caring and harmonious relationships. From the moment a mother first holds a child in her arms, she sighs, the Mother’s Prayer. “I hold you in my arms And together we softly sway As I rock you to sleep And this is what I pray: I pray for your safety Your health and happiness, too. I ask God to wrap you in his love In Everything You do.” Like fathers, mothers pray for solution, but they also pray for patience, strength and encouragement- especially in the difficult moments of life. That is exactly what Jesus was praying for his disciples on the night of his betrayal.
Jesus understood the will of his heavenly Father, but he also knew the comfort and encouragement of his earthly mother Mary. Humorist Barbara Johnson writes that becoming a mother is like getting a life sentence in prison with no hope of parole. The work of a mother keeps you active night and day. In the middle of the night, when you’re awakened from sleep, you find your only solace is to laugh. Yes, you equate laughter with changing a baby’s diaper, “It doesn’t change things permanently, but it makes things OK for a while.” As a mother, you inevitably question your cleaning abilities. As one sign in the doorway of a home greeted the guests, “The secret to a clean house? Don’t let your children in.” As a child grows, you learn to appreciate 2nd grade humor. You may not laugh, but you smile loudly. As a mothers you may even learn to enjoy your children as they enter into the teen-age years. As my wife likes to say, “Do you know the difference between a teenager and a mosquito?” Mosquitos are only annoying in the summertime.
Unlike fathers, mothers don’t have to wait around for their children to grow up and achieve their goals to enjoy them. Nor do their children have to be talented, successful over-achievers in order for her to cherish them. A child is but a small member of a family who can make love stronger, the days shorter, the nights longer, and the bank account smaller –even now.
Motherhood is filled with sacrifices and pain. Oh certainly, fathers state that they sacrifice for their family. But most often for fathers it is what they have chosen not to do. A mother’s sacrifice is what she chooses to do. She forgoes professional advancement, social contacts, and personal growth and satisfaction for the sake of the ones she loves. She actively opens herself to frustration, pain and hurt. Sometimes she doesn’t have a lot of choices. She simply stumbles along from one crisis to the next.
One quality, however, never changes. It was true for Mary as she stood near Jesus on that long, Good Friday afternoon. A mother never abandons the title that God alone has given to her of mother. Mary didn’t stand stoically and passively by at the foot of the cross. She felt the nail marks of Jesus’ wounds in her hands. She felt the weight of the wooden cross upon her shoulders. She fell down on the ground moaning and wailing and begging to God to ease her sorrow, by ending her son’s pain. That is what St. John experienced that Good Friday on Calvary watching Mary. It is what St. Luke experienced as he painted Mary’s portrait. The rest of the disciples had betrayed Jesus and each one denied knowing him, but faithful Mary never abandoned her title as mother. The wooden cross may have pierced her heart, but in spite of the pain, Mary was there. She was Jesus’ mother from beginning to the end.
You’ll find mothers like that in the halls of children’s hospitals, and in the counselors’ offices, even in the pews of this church, mothers who will never relinquish their title, even if the child they know and love is rebellious and cruel- even if they run away. A mother’s heart just will not forget them. The crosses a mother bears are different for every family, substance abuse, depression, divorce, disease, or death. There may be harsh words spoken, and unacceptable actions done. There may be tough love, and impossibly long nights. But through it all, mothers called by God never abandon their children or their title. Never. That is what Luke and John, experienced in Mary, and it is why she continued to play a role in the church even after Jesus’ ascension.
Of course, Mary was fortunate. She had a chance to see God’s entire plan played out. Yes, she suffered through the crucifixion, celebrated the resurrection, and even was part of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. What a gift from God, to live long enough to see the fruits of parenting make sense. Some parents live long enough to see God’s plan for their children. Some see God working in the lives of their grandchildren. Some however, painfully, but most assuredly and lovingly, only see God’s plan from the halls of heaven.
Jesus’ words in the prayer over his disciples the night he was betrayed were certainly inspired by a loving mother, “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world. Holy Father, protect them in your name, so that they may be one, as we are one. ” For that is God’s promise to each one of us in Jesus- “You are mine, and I am with you,” And like a loving mother, he will never relinquish nor abandon his title over you as Savior and Friend. Yes, you are God’s child now and always. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.