Thursday, May 10, 2012

John 13:31 - 35 -- Mother's Day

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,
            Somebody once said to me that because many people have extra money to spend and there’s a lot of stuff available to buy, our society makes more out of Mother’s Day now than in the past, and this may be true, because nowadays Mother’s Day is a secular occasion.  It actually began in the church before the Reformation, when on a Sunday in the middle of Lent, youngsters gave small presents to their mothers. Children who were away from home, especially daughters working as servants, returned to their families for a short time.  The church on this day calls our attention to deeper values and more worthwhile qualities than the habits of materialism.  It isn’t hard to think about Mother’s Day from a biblical point of view.
            First of all, the Scriptures hold women in high regard.  Two of this morning’s readings provide examples.  The passage from Acts refers to devout women in the early church.   During his earthly ministry, Jesus’ most loyal followers were women.   Many of Paul’s assistants were female, whom he praises in his letters.  You may have noticed, too, that in the passage from Revelation, John refers to the church as the bride of Christ.  From God’s point of view, the church is feminine.  You’ve probably heard the phrase “Mother Church”.  A Christian from the early days said that we cannot have God as our Father unless we have the church as our mother.  And then there was the time when Jesus said that he longed to gather the people of Jerusalem under his wings as if he were a mother hen, but they refused.  The church nourishes and sustains, supports and teaches – just like a mother.  The church leads wayward children to safety and salvation – just the way a mother or grandmother takes youngsters by the hand to keep them from trouble.  On Mother’s Day, then, we Christians remember that all of us are children in the eyes of God and need the warmth and protection of a loving mother – the church.    
            Now, if we stop and think about it, we’ll notice that mothers are prominently featured at many turning points in the biblical story.  Eve had three sons, from two of whom all people are descended.  Sarah had a child late in life through whom all nations would be blessed with the chance to lead full, abundant lives by faith in God.  And Christians everywhere remember Mary, the mother of our Lord.  The Heavenly Father chose mothers to help him carry out his plans as they nurtured their families.  We can say that the Bible is a family book, first the family of believers in Old Testament times – descendants of Abraham and Sarah and Jacob and his wives – and then the New Testament bride of Christ, the church, God’s family today.
            Families need mothers, and so God nourishes and protects the mothers he raises up.  This, too, is part of our Christian Mother’s Day celebration – the God upholds millions of Christian mothers, including the mothers and grandmothers at St. Peter’s.  You receive a share of the recognition that is due you on this day.
            The Bible doesn’t neglect the hard parts of being a mother.  The Heavenly Father knows that mothers experience trials as well as joys.  You’ll recall that Eve had to endure the murder of one son by another.  Sarah waited a long time for her only child and then suffered the stress of the possibility that Isaac might be sacrificed to God.  How joyful she was when Abraham came back down from Mount Moriah with her son alive and well.   Naomi, in the book of Ruth, lost her husband and both sons to famine, a weight that burdened her soul to its depths.  Then, too, the sufferings of Mary were sharp and painful.  But all these mothers endured in faith and the blessed Lord refined them and turned their sufferings into joy.  Believing mothers live day by day in faith.  They carry on; they don’t give up.  You carry on even after your children are grown up.  Your spirits are strong.  I’ve told you that my own mother’s family came from Finland. When I was in school, she taught me the Finnish word “sisu”, which means determination, strength of soul, the refusal to be broken.  Jesus has given St.  Peter’s mothers and grandmothers a Christian kind of sisu, which enables you never to give up and to hold on to Christ in faith, no matter what happens, for he will bless you and nourish your faith so that you will be ready to welcome him on the day of his return.
            You have the same source of hopes and strength as the faithful mothers of the Bible, for you are connected to the Lord.  He promised Eve that the Savior of the human race would be her offspring.  Sarah looked ahead to the enormous family of faithful people of which she would be the founding mother.  The child of Ruth and Boaz, whom Naomi cared for, was a direct ancestor of the Messiah.  These women believed in God and served his kingdom.  Heaven grants Christian mothers and grandmothers today the same access to the Lord.  So never give up.  Jesus carries you.  He pardons us.  He lifts us up.  He restores our strength and vitality. 
            It’s true that life in Bible times was simpler in many ways than our lives today.  Folks were close to nature.  They followed the rhythm of the seasons and carried out simple tasks.  They worked most of each day and didn’t worry, for example, about unemployment or where to find the money for fancy amenities.  It was second nature for them to turn to God at every point in their lives.  They didn’t have the conveniences and opportunities we do, the rewards and excitements, the uncertainties and corruptions of prosperous times.  But the complexities and temptations of secular life aren’t excuses for us to turn away from God but inducements to cling to him all the more.  The good Lord knows what we go through.  He pardons our offenses and holds out his hand for us to grasp.
            Jesus supports Christian mothers.  He lifts you up to nourish your children, to shine as lights in the community, to be the salt of the earth.  As you carry out your tasks with patience, love, balance of mind, and faith in God’s goodness, you do more important work than you may imagine.  You represent the Lord in a secular environment that needs to hear from him.  So on Mother’s Day, the church encourages her mothers and grandmothers to keep on.  You’re a part of God’s plan. He has a reason for putting you where you are; he will strengthen you.
            Now, I want to switch gears and bring in this morning’s Gospel text.  Jesus commands his disciples to love one another.  Everyone associates love with mothers.  Without the love of mothers, the world would be cold, impersonal, and machine-like.  It would be a lot worse than it is.  We thank our mothers for the love they give us.
            We remember that in this passage Jesus isn’t talking about a general human love but the love he wants Christians to have for each other.  Jesus brought a new kind of love into the world – a love that is focused on God and neighbors rather than selfish interests, a love with a purpose that keeps other people’s needs in mind, in particular spiritual needs, the love that reminds others of salvation in Christ.  Jesus commands his people to love one another with the same kind of love that he has for us.  The love of other Christians encourages us as we walk along the path to eternal salvation.  The Lord rejoices when he sees his people taking his kind of love as their own.
            In the early days of the church, a pagan Roman said Christians love each other without being acquainted with each other.  “Their master has implanted the belief in them that people who are born of God carry a mystery within them, which unites them most intimately into one body – a mystery that no one knows but they themselves.  It isn’t a kind of fraternal union with prideful and hostile exclusion of those who are on the outside, because Christian love widens hearts so that Jesus’ people love even outsiders with a love that bears all things and hopes all things.”
            Jesus blesses all Christians, including mothers, with the love that carries us to salvation.  Christian mothers draw on the love Christ and his community have for them for strength and support.  Jesus delights in your friendship for each other.  How much it must mean to you in times of both joy and stress to know that you have strong Christian friends to call on.
            The bonds of love among God’s people has another purpose as well.  It witnesses to unbelievers that the gospel is true.  Concern for folks who don’t yet believe stretches the hearts of most Christians.  A child may marry out of the faith or move away from the church for other reasons.  Drifting away from public worship after confirmation is very common.  We pray for such folks and ask that the Savior open their minds to receive his love.  We speak to them about the church with gospel-inspired hints, and as our dear ones see the effect on us of the love we receive in the Christian community, they may think again.  “If the church means so much to my mother or grandmother,” some will say, “maybe there’s something in it for me.”  Hearts will keep from hardening because you believe in the Lord who claims you and stick with the church that nourishes.
            Like the Lord, we sometimes have a special love for those who stray.  Though they may never say so, it must mean a lot to people who’ve had some experience of God and his church to know that someone they love prays for them and cares about their salvation.
            Our Christian Mother’s day, then, encourages the women and all of us to keep salivation in mind as we continue to walk in the mystery of Christian love.  Christian mothers do something that only Christians can do: you offer the hope of a blessed future in Christ to your children, grandchildren, and others who come your way.  So keep on.  Be encouraged, In Jesus’ Name.  AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus.  AMEN.     

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