May 13, 2018

A MOTHER’S LOVE: THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD

BIBLE READINGS
John 17:6-19

Romans 16:1-16

REFLECTION

Today is Mother’s Day: a day to remember our mothers and all the wisdoms that they have taught us.

Indeed, mothers teach us about faith. They will say to their children things like, “You better pray to God that the vase you just broke can be fixed.”

Mothers teach us about anatomy. They will say to their children things like, “If you don’t stop rolling your eyes before me, your eyes are going to freeze.”

Mothers teach us to be flexible. They will say to their children things like, “Will you look at the dirt behind your head!”

Mothers teach us how to be clean and tidy. They will say to their children things like, “If you and your brother are going to kill each other, do it outside. I’ve just finished cleaning.”

Mothers teach us about genetics. They will say to their children things like, “You’re just like your father.”

And mothers teach us about logical thinking. They will say things like, “Because I say so, that’s why.”[1]

Yes, mothers can be sarcastic. That’s true for both my own mother and my wife. But underneath their sarcasm, there is love, deep and profound love for the other person. Perhaps, the sarcasm is only the veil that hides the sacrificial and often painful love that mothers have for their loved ones.

Indeed, a mother’s love is a reflection of God’s love for us and for the world. Jesus called God, Abba, which is Aramaic for Father. He also taught his disciples to call God, Father in heaven.

But this does not mean that God is a male. Jesus called God, Abba/Father, to show the intimate relationship that he had with God. But it does not tell us about God’s gender identity.[2]

God is neither male nor female. God is beyond our human understanding of gender identity. But, at the same time, the Bible testifies that God has both male and female characters.

So God is not only like our Father in heaven; God is also like our Mother in heaven. God deeply cares about us and loves us just like a mother loves her children.

We can see God’s motherly love in Jesus’ himself, especially in his long prayer for his disciples. The prayer was made during the last night that he had with his disciples.

Jesus may have called God as his Father in the prayer, but he prayed like a mother praying for her children. More specifically, he prayed like a mother that was going to leave her adopted children. The disciples belonged to God, but they were given to Jesus to be nurtured and cared for and taught.[3] But the time had come when he had to leave them behind, so he prayed to God to protect them...

When I hear this prayer, I think of the refugee mothers who had to give their children away to strangers to escape violence. I can’t imagine what they must have felt as they gave their children away to the protection of others. Just must have felt the same feeling that these mothers felt. He must have felt the same kind of grief and fear that these mothers felt as they left their children.

Indeed, Jesus is God’s Word, or Logos in Greek. In John’s Gospel, Logos has the same characteristics of God’s Wisdom in the Old Testament. In Proverbs, God’s Wisdom is translated in Greek as Sophia, a female character. Indeed, God’s Wisdom is likened to a woman. God’s Wisdom displays female qualities like creating and nurturing. Likewise, Jesus displays the motherly love that God’s Wisdom possesses.

Yes, the world is created and shaped by God’s Wisdom. Until today and into the future, God’s Wisdom will always guide the direction of the world.

Today, God’s Wisdom is manifested especially in mothers who exhibit Godly love. Many people, who had great influences in the world’s affairs, attributed their ‘successes’ to their mothers.

Augustine of Hippo was the most influential theologian in the Church since the Apostle Paul. He attributed his Christian faith to Monica, her mother, a committed Christian who prayed for him relentlessly. John Wesley was the founder of Methodism, which is one of the original movements of the Uniting Church. Her mother, Suzanna, was so instrumental in his life that her life inevitably influenced the movement he founded. Abraham Lincoln is widely regarded as the best American President ever lived. When he was asked who was it that made him the man he was, with no hesitation, he said it was his mother.[4]

Even the Apostle Paul himself acknowledged the vital roles that women played in the life of the early church. Now, if you’re a Bible reader, the most terrifying thing is to read a passage full of foreign ancient names. That is exactly what we had this morning.

But the names in this opening section of Paul’s letter to the Romans are important. He was greeting the people in the Roman church whom he knew. And of all the 26 people he greeted, six of them were women.

Now, this was significant. Paul lived in a male dominated society where women were often either sidelined or not mentioned at all. But Paul knew that many women played important roles in the survival and growth of the early Church.

In other parts of the New Testament, women were often described, but not named. Think about the Samaritan woman whom Jesus met at the well or the woman who wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair or the woman who got caught in adultery or the widow who gave all that she had as an offering in the temple. None of these women were named.

But Paul greeted the women in the Roman church by their names. Together with their male counterparts, these women were the foundations upon which the Church was built. He knew that the Church rose and fell with them.

The world also will fail without mothers. Today, when we think of Mother’s Day, we often think of cards or gifts or flowers or dinner for our mothers. But let us never forget that Mother’s Day was originally celebrated to achieve higher goal.

In the United States, the origin of Mother’s Day holiday goes back to Julia Ward Howe. In 1870, she initiated Mother’s Peace Day and organized festivals to celebrate the day. In 1907, a campaign began to make the day officially recognized. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson declared the day as a national holiday to publicly express “our love and reverence for all mothers.”

But let us not forget the original purpose of the day, which was to eradicate wars. Let us hear again Julia’s own words to mark the significance of the day:

 “Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! ... Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of  one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”[5]

So let us celebrate all women, especially the mothers and would be mothers around us. They are the foundation not only of the Church, but also of the entire world since the very beginning. The Church, even the world, rises and falls with them.

Women, especially mothers, have been and will always be the protectors, nurturers, and leaders not only of the Church, but also of the world. They are all these and more because God is in them. God’s Wisdom that creates, nurtures, and shapes the world manifests itself in the love of our mothers. We are to listen to them because God often speaks to us through their wisdom and guidance and love.

Amen.
Toby Keva

[1] Adapted from www.sermon.com

[2] Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman, Commentary on John 17:6-19, on www.workingpreacher.org (May 13 2018)[3] Barbara Lundbland, Commentary on John 17:20-26, on www.workingpreacher.org (May 8 2016)

[4] From www.sermonillustrations.com

[5] From The Original Mother’s Day Proclamation, an article on www.plough.com