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Mother's Day.

wild flowers inside old work boots, we are called to put ourselves in the shoes of others

Sermon by Pastor Joel

Seventh Sunday of Easter

May 12, 2024

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

1 John 5:9-13

John 17:6-19

It was an early summer afternoon. The colours of new growth had not yet been faded by the long, summer heat. I was about 5 years old, lying down in the front yard of the parsonage on Convey Crescent in Brockville, staring up at the thin wispy clouds against a perfectly blue canvas. After a little while, my mother came out. Without saying a word, she joined me. I broke the silence with a question: Do you think that’s God’s hair? I asked her. And she carefully responded: “You know, I really thought about it that way.”

This is my seventh Mother’s Day without my mother. I cannot bring her flowers or treat her to brunch at the Chateau Laurier. I won’t see her again enjoying the company of my wife and boys. There are no more coffee talks.

I know many of you have also experienced this loss. There are some memories that are so bright and sharp they stay with you even as years should fade them. Often, they aren’t even the most important moments – my mother and I had many far more consequential conversations about faith and God and my thoughts on the clouds in the sky. I expect that most everyone in this room has their own memories of motherly influences in their lives that have guided them in some way, not by imparting knowledge as much as by allowing them, in time, to find their own wisdom. Sometimes that wisdom comes when they are right next to us. And at other times when they are no longer with us in the same way.

When I hear those first lines in the psalm, I think of my mother, who was never one to be caught sitting down, and who tried to teach the three lessons that appear in that first stanza. “Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful.” Aren’t those the lessons we often learn from the people who love us, and those who mother us: to be careful about which opinions guide our life choices. My mother was not always successful in following her own lessons, just as I was not perfect in listening to them. This is also a fundamental truth we learn and come to accept, just as I let go of the illusion that clouds are God’s hair. But, thankfully, perfection is not required with either the imparting of lessons, or the following of them.

In our gospel this morning, we are presented with a prayer delivered by Jesus on our behalf on the evening of his death. And what strikes me most about his prayer, on this particular week and day, is how easily it might have been delivered by a mother, or a father, or anyone who has cared and tended for another and now must leave them.

Jesus prays: “Dear God, I have cared for them. I have loved them. I have taught them. I protected them in your name. I have done my best. And now they must move on, and I must move on. And on their behalf, I ask that you care for them and protect them, from the harshness of the world.”

What is that but the prayer of a parent? In this most precious moment, Jesus speaks, not as a friend, or a brother, to the disciples, but as a mother figure, who has given birth to this faith, and these followers, and now must set them on their own path.

It is a powerful image, because we do not often cast Jesus in the role of mother. He is a man - how would that fit? Our mother images have traditionally been female and marked by sacrifice. The most significant mother figure in the Gospel is Mary, of course, who became pregnant as a teenager, and followed her son on his journey to the cross.

Tradition has both elevated and diminished Mary at the same time – elevating her purity, her dutifulness, her acceptance - at the cost to the fullness of her contributions, as teacher, hero, and justice fighter. Jesus, in this gospel, expands on the image of a mother with this prayer – as one who protects from danger, who instructs in the way of the world, whose creating power is far beyond biology, and who, when being forced to leave, tries one last time to make the path easier for those so well loved. And it leads us to an image of the mother that is not constrained – by gender, by tradition, by expectation.

My mother, especially later in her life, came to be aware of the ways that being a mother had both presented opportunities and limited them – just as it continues to do for many women today. She struggled with that, much as she loved those moments lying on the grass with her sons. Motherhood is not just about being a mom; it is also a role with political, social, and cultural expectations, ones we now increasingly challenge. There is more than one way to protect, to teach, to be life-giving. And there are many kinds of people who can bring us those mothering gifts.

Think of Jesus, the mother, for a moment. Indeed, what is interesting about Jesus, is how much of his power comes from the traits that many still see as feminine – his gentleness, his patience, his willingness to listen, his humility, his warmth. Jesus walked in a time where men ruled, and women came second, and yet where he most succeeded was in his mothering moments – when he defied a notion of men that required force, and aggression and physical strength.

I said, at the beginning, that I can no longer have coffee talks with my mother. But that is not entirely true. I still, with coffee in hand, hear my mother speak to me. Her advice comes to me when I need it most, and sometimes when I would rather not hear it – true now as ever. I try to listen, even so. I do not want her voice to go silent. My looking for her keeps her alive.

So, let us think, today, of our mothers, in all their fullness; fearless, perhaps, but also fallible. And of all the people - women, and men – who have been mothering influences in our lives. If we value those traits, because we identify them by the person who first created us, then they do not belong to one gender, one role, one kind of person. They are meant for all of us to cultivate.

I will remember that day in the clouds with my mother. How she let me live with my little fantasy about the hair of God. And let me find my own way. Just as Jesus prayed for the disciples – whom he had created, and raised, and taught, and protected – that even after he had left them, they would know love. Amen

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