Readings from Scripture (CEV adapted…) John 15:9-17
9 I have loved you, just as my God has loved me. So remain faithful to my love for you. 10 If you obey me, I will keep loving you, just as my God keeps loving me, because I have obeyed.
11 I have told you this to make you as completely happy as I am. 12 Now I tell you to love each other, as I have loved you. 13 The greatest way to show love for friends is to die for them. 14 And you are my friends, if you obey me. 15 Servants don’t know what their master is doing, and so I don’t speak to you as my servants. I speak to you as my friends, and I have told you everything that my God has told me.
16 You did not choose me. I chose you and sent you out to produce fruit, the kind of fruit that will last. Then my God will give you whatever you ask for in my name. 17 So I command you to love each other.
At a recent funeral for a 98 year old mother, they wanted to choose scripture reflective of the importance she put on family, and I joked that the Bible doesn’t have much good to say. In the Ten Commandments it says “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” But I’ve always taken that as a threat, as in, if you don’t honour them, you may not live long… Jesus doesn’t mince words in Luke’s Gospel: Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Jesus’ words are harsh – that word hate is particularly strong especially today – especially when held in the light of today’s scripture from John 15. Anne Lamott speaks about Mother’s Day with this same bluntness:
Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path. Ha! Every woman’s path is difficult… The illusion is that mothers are automatically more fulfilled and complete. But the craziest, grimmest people this Sunday will be many mothers themselves…I hate the way the holiday makes [people,] all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or lost children, feel the deepest kind of grief and failure. The non-mothers must sit in their churches, temples, mosques, recovery rooms and pretend to feel good about the day while they are excluded from a holiday that benefits no one but Hallmark …Mothering perpetuates the dangerous idea that all parents are somehow superior to non-parents.
I shared last week of our giving up of online school. We’re still trying but giving up is a viable option some days. And for those kids and parents that are thriving in this time (I am so happy for you – I pray blessing upon blessing for you – I’m so glad that a pandemic opened up the resources and opportunities for you to thrive!) For the rest – I hope my story time last week, and this sermon helps people realize that speaking personally, we’re far from superior. Jen and I have lost our temper more in the last three weeks than likely all of Sam’s life. We’ve failed and asked forgiveness more than not. This pandemic has been the great equalizer – the great revealer. Each of us: politicians, religious folk, parents and not, seniors and younger folk, those working in health care or on the front lines – none are superior – we’ve all failed in one way or another over this last year. And that’s ok – for the majority born after World War II, this is the most difficult thing we’ve ever had to do. And that failure is ok, so long as we use this time of learning to get better at caring for one another. That was the hope of both the Gospels of Luke (shared above) and John, the reading from today.
Unlike the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, Luke and John were written to non-Jewish audiences. Luke’s focus was the Gentiles, those outside of the traditions and customs of God’s chosen people, bringing those once excluded into the fold. Just as in last week’s sermon, people of faith over countless generations have spent their time keeping “others” out of the circle of God’s love, while God had other intentions. Let’s draw that circle wide, God says.
Having Jesus say that one must hate mother and father, I believe, was an encouragement to leave the comfort of what they knew, to follow a new path. Whether these words are aimed at the Gentiles and their local/tribal beliefs, or directed at Judaism and the legalistic and political ways that those organizing the faith had taken advantage of those practicing it, it’s difficult to know. Maybe it’s both. Jesus calls us from the comfort of what we know, into the unknown future together, risking life itself to be his disciple. As Anne Lamott goes on:
…my main gripe with Mother’s Day is that it feels incomplete and imprecise. The main thing that ever helped mothers was other people mothering them, including aunties and brothers; a chain of mothering that keeps the whole shebang afloat. I am the woman I grew to be partly in spite of my mother, who unconsciously raised me to self-destruct; and partly because of the extraordinary love of her best friends, my own best friends’ mothers, and from surrogates, many of whom were not women at all but gay men. I have loved them my entire life, including my mom, even after their passing.
The chain of mothering that keeps the whole shebang afloat, is the only way we’ve made it nearly a year and a half into this pandemic. Stuck in homes, knitters and crocheters ensured their prayers weren’t on lockdown. Easter gifts were collected and distributed by the amazing chain of pastoral care deliverers. Meals were created and delivered. Christmas ornaments still bore the names of those we were praying for. Sunday School activities were printed and deliver or emailed, posted on Youtube, and there for those who need them.
I am the minister I am today partly because of the extraordinary love of the friends, mothers, surrogates (men and women) that have come together that have inspired me, both in my lifetime, but moreso over this last year. I’ve failed lots, but thanks to your love, I’ve been given the strength to keep going, because of your love.
And if it takes Mother’s Day to help me realize the great chain of mothering, if we need to modify our definition of mothering to be a ‘both and’ situation rather than ‘either or’, then I hope it’ll give you pause to recognize your own ‘great chain.’ The more we recognize and celebrate love, the more we live into John’s vision of the new community in Jesus, through these uniting words:
12 Now I tell you to love each other, as I have loved you.
13 The greatest way to show love for friends is to die for them.
Jesus doesn’t want us to needlessly lose the gift of our lives. John’s description of sacrificial love is not describing the unmasked people who are (still) protesting on behalf of their perceived persecution, risking their lives and the lives of others they’ll come in contact with. Our current shutdown is letting our desires to gather, worship, and meet together to die (temporarily). We’re doing this to keep our friends alive. We’re doing this for a new vision of community that establishes a better chain of mothering than the individualistic lives that we were leading up to this moment.
We’re to risk our love being rejected and neglected, just for the sake of those that need it most. And that’s at the heart of Mother’s Day, for whether it’s Anne Lamott wanting to recognize the motherly love that came in forms that one might otherwise ignore if we’re keeping that definition of mother locked down to biological or blood. For there is a greater call before us, a greater community surrounding us, a greater hope before us, when we love each other, as Jesus has loved us.
As Lamott concludes.…I don’t want something special. I want something beautifully plain. Like everything else, it can fill me only if it is ordinary and available to all.
For the love we share should be as beautifully plain, ordinary and available to all as the same air that we share.
And with a little bit of motherly pride on behalf of Carol Wilson, I’m grateful for her son Christopher who will now sing for us, We breathe the same air…
 https://www.salon.com/2010/05/08/hate_mothers_day_anne_lamott/ (referred to a couple of times in this sermon – and if you have time, read it all – it’s great!)