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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.
It is said that mothers offer advice on only two occasions: when you need it, and when you don’t want it. Such was the case for the loving mother who offered her frustrated daughter the following advice. Cook a man a fish and you feed him for a day. But teach a man to fish and you get rid of him for the whole weekend. No, I am not convinced that a mother’s advice is always appropriate or timely, but I am convinced that there are two tasks that mothers do well: they are wonderful at giving warnings and they are wonderful at giving comfort.
Perhaps, you have heard a few of the warnings. “Don’t make me come over there,” or “Because I said so.” Perhaps it was the more gentle phrases, such as, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” or “Stop that this instant!” Even as a father, I have heard myself saying the loving words, “Don’t make me turn this car around!” and “Don’t forget to say please and thank you.” And then there are those words of comfort. “I love you for who you are right now, not just for who you will become,” and, “I smile when I see you sleeping; even when you sleep through Little League tryouts. I wouldn’t trade you for anyone in this world, It’s OK. You tried your best. You’ll win the next game.” es, I imagine that most of us were encouraged, or more precisely commanded, to “Listen to your mother!”
But there’s one more task that I believe mothers do exceptionally well. Unfortunately, it is not always recognized, and it is not always natural. Mothers often play the role of nurturing their children in the faith. It is not always with words. Far more often, it is by their own selfless example. It is something I discovered to be true in the noble women in my life. Jesus may have attributed this to his Father, but I have a good idea that a mother’s hand was present as well. There always is. As the saying goes, “The hand that rocks the cradle usually is attached to someone who isn’t getting enough sleep.” Mothers, you see, have the heart of a shepherd playing a role in guiding and leading their families to faith. And that is what I would like to share with you. In our world today, the mother’s duty and joy never seems to end.
Jesus could have used a few more nurturing mothers as his disciples in this morning’s reading. The scene in St. John’s gospel opens as Jesus was walking through Solomon’s Porch during the festival of dedication, or Hanukkah. This place was known as the “Porch of Judgment.” From that location, the King would make his judgments. And it was here, that the crowds came to Jesus asking him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus had performed countless miracles, and spoken to crowds of thousands, but there were still those who wondered if he was the Messiah, or if they should wait for another. And Jesus answered them, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me, but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.” Apparently, the heart of even the Good Shepherd doesn’t completely match the heart of a mother. Average toddlers ask their parents 300 questions a day, 4-year old girls average 390 a day. Yes, Jesus needed help turning all their questions into faith.
So how do mothers prepare their children to trust that Jesus is the good shepherd? Let me suggest three ways. First, they share that God’s peace is more than the absence of conflict. Second, they share with their children the conviction that God’s peace can be found in the whirlwinds. And Third, they share their personal experience that God’s peace is more than a calm exterior.
Let us begin with the teaching that peace is more than the absence of conflict. Children need to discover early on that life in God’s world is not perfect- and that there is pain and sorrow. As parents, we would like to protect our children them from every misfortune that could come their way. And the mistake is made of smothering children instead of mothering children. One of the most important lessons that you can teach your family is that God’s peace is not simply the absence of trouble. It is a deep experience of serenity in the midst of trouble.
My mother used to say that “God never gives you more than you can handle. I just wish God didn’t have so much faith in me.” It’s a saying that reminds me of the doubt she often felt in handling things all on her own. Through her regular participation in circle meetings, Sunday worship and volunteering, she was teaching us that she really could not walk the journey of faith alone. She needed the support of other faithful believers. We make a critical mistake as parents of waiting till our children have left home to begin our own quest for spiritual care. Young and old need to see your pursuit of God’s peace now- otherwise they will never know where to begin.
Second, our children need to know that God’s presence is more than stillness and tranquility. God’s peace can be found in the raging whirlwinds and thundering waterfalls. Mothers often face their children’s trials better their fathers. 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. Like a shepherd, she often 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.
Of course, the possibility of pain can happen at any time. Mothers know that. Ann Taylor writes, “Who ran to help me when I fell, Or kissed the place to make it well? ….My mother.” Children often turn instinctively to their mothers. When my sons were young they would look straight through me, and say, “Mama, mamushka, mom.” Unfortunately, my grandson Ivan has followed in their footsteps. Grandma is perfect, and grandpa is nobody. There must be some grain of truth in the old Jewish saying, “A mother understands what a child does not say.”
Finally, God’s peace is more than a calm exterior. God’s peace is a deeply felt conviction. Calm exteriors are hard to manage, especially with age, though I think I’m doing it pretty well- except for my changing eyesight. I am beginning to have an appreciation for my mother and escalators. My mother’s bifocals drove her and us crazy. She would stand for minutes waiting at the bottom of the escalator till her eyes had focused while I was waiting at the top. It’s only in recent years that I have noticed my father standing on the other side of the mirror. Or that I have I’ve noticed difficulty reading the menu in restaurants. I am convinced that they are dimmer watt bulbs, and smaller print. Now, I simply point to blurry line on the menu and hope for the best. Unfortunately, I was caught. I gestured at a line on the menu, and said, “I’ll have this.” The waiter replied, “Ah yes, We Do Not Accept Credit Cards.” It didn’t help that I added, “And I would like that medium rare.” The waiter was convinced that I was both blind and deaf. All for the sake of keeping up my stoic and calm exterior.
But the peace of God is more than a calm exterior when the world is in turmoil around you. God’s peace is a confidence that even in your surrendering you will enjoy his victory. That was the lesson that Jesus was trying to teach the crowds in Jerusalem that day. If only he had a mother’s touch, he would know better than to use logic with the crowds. He would be much better off saying, “Just do it for heaven’s sake. Don’t think about. Just follow.”
When I was in high school one of my favorite subjects was psychology. I was fascinated by why we behave as we do. One of the most interesting things I learned was that while I tended to think that convictions shaped behavior, that the truth turned out to be the exact opposite. More often than not, our behavior shapes our convictions. Our religious habits, if you will, become our beliefs. So those who are open to a spiritual, religious life and practice it, will develop and grow into a spiritual life. And those who do not practice these habits will not grow into a relationship with God. They will not belong to the flock, or even hear the shepherd’s voice. That’s why a mother’s nurturing hand in faith is so important.
After putting her children to bed, a mother changed into old slacks and a worn out blouse and proceeded to wash her hair. As she heard the children getting more and more rambunctious, her tolerance grew thin. At last she put a towel around her head and stormed into their room, putting them back to bed with severe warnings. While leaving the room, she overheard her three-year-old say with a shaky voice, ‘Who was that?” Don’t let God’s peace be a stranger to your home. Share God’s peace now, so that you may be assured that when struggles do come to your children, that they will trust that God can still bring about a bright tomorrow. There are many lessons that mothers can teach their children, but there is no lesson more powerful than the lesson of faith.
My friends, you and I have been given God’s everlasting peace and the promise of eternal life as a gift. It is an everlasting Mother’s Day gift- not to mothers, but from mothers. For it is this gift that offers us the assurance, that we will meet those beloved shepherds of love and mercy and patience again before the throne of God in his eternal kingdom. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.