Gospel Text: John 10:22-30 (RSV)
Jesus Is Rejected by the Jews
22 It was the feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem; 23 it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered round him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; 28 and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me,[a] is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
Text: Acts 9:36-43 Revised Standard Version (RSV)
Peter in Lydda and Joppa
36 Now there was at Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which means Dorcas [both Tabitha and Dorcas mean “gazelle]. She was full of good works and acts of charity. 37 In those days she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him entreating him, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter rose and went with them. And when he had come, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping, and showing tunics and other garments which Dorcas made while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all outside and knelt down and prayed; then turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, rise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41 And he gave her his hand and lifted her up. Then calling the saints and widows he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner.
In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.
“She was full of good works and acts of charity.” I can’t think of a better description of a mother than that.
We don’t know if Tabitha was a mother or not, but she certainly epitomized the ideal.
In writing this Mother’s Day sermon, as with every Mother’s Day sermon, I was confronted with several considerations. I didn’t want to just indulge in platitudes like the ones we read on the Hallmark cards, because regardless of whether they ring true or not, we’ve probably heard them all before, and they might not really get to the heart of the matter.
I say that deliberately – heart of the matter. For being a mother really has to do with heart, with love, with sacrifice. So there’s nothing more appropriate than that we have a time set aside to honor, not just our mothers, or even all the mothers of the world, but all women who have ever played a part in nurturing us, our children, and healing our world.
One of the most memorable tributes to a mother was one I heard a Catholic priest say at one of the first weddings I ever officiated at – many decades ago now – in Durand, Wisconsin. I have long since forgotten his name, but I will never forget what he said about his mother.
She had worked hard all her life, raising her family and doing all the things mothers do; but when death was near, she confided to him that she was afraid to meet her Maker. Why? Because she didn’t think she’d done anything “worthwhile” with her life. Her son’s response was simple: “Mother, just show Him your hands!”
“Mother, just show Him your hands.”
I would imagine that all of you mothers can relate to that. Your hands are the hands that changed diapers, cooked meals, wiped runny noses, cleaned EPA toxic waste sites otherwise known as your children’s rooms, made Hallowe’en and other costumes, 4H, Girl Scout and Boy Scout projects, baked birthday treats to take to school … well, this is just a very incomplete list. All of this applies also to those of you who are not biological mothers yourselves, but have shown the same kind of nurturing and caring to stepchildren and others around you.
Motherhood is serious business, and it’s not for the faint of heart!
I also think it’s a lucky thing that the Gospel lesson on this Mother’s Day is the one where Jesus prays for unity. He prays that all of his followers might be one in heart, mind, and spirit, just as he and the Father are one. It’s a lucky thing because what is one of the hallmarks of motherhood? Isn’t it the establishment and the maintenance of unity in the family? In so many families, it’s the mother who smoothes out ruffled feathers and heals bruised egos; it’s good old Mom who makes sure that everybody in the family is cared for, and who expects harmony and unity to be the order of the day under her roof.
Sometimes that unity is enforced by statements like “Because I’m the Mommy, that’s why!” We’ve all heard the term “tough love.” That’s the kind of love mothers show when they have to. She disciplines the child, endures the reproaches of “that’s not fair!” and the awful words “I hate you!” even though her heart is breaking, because she loves that wayward child so much that the pain is worth it if the kid eventually comes around.
Mothers teach us not only how to view the world but how to live in it. They are on the front lines in the quest to bring about the unity Jesus prays for in today’s lesson – by teaching us how to “play nice with others,” they teach us about justice, right and wrong, respect for others – and all of these things must be present for there to be unity.
Mothers truly do the work of God.
I can’t resist quoting – again – what Rudyard Kipling, the 19th-Century British writer, wrote this about mothers: “God could not be everywhere, and therefore he made mothers.”
And I know I’ve repeated this several times already, but I can’t resist reading you this little essay by the late, great Erma Bombeck (one of my mother’s favorite writers) wrote many years ago.
Bombeck says that on the day God created mothers He had already worked long overtime. And an angel said to Him, “Lord, you sure are spending a lot of time on this one.”
The Lord turned & said, “Have you read the specs on this model? She is supposed to be completely washable, but not plastic. She is to have 180 moving parts, all of them replaceable. She is to have a kiss that will heal everything from a broken leg to a broken heart. She is to have a lap that will disappear whenever she stands up. She is to be able to function on black coffee & leftovers. And she is supposed to have six pairs of hands.”
“Six pairs of hands,” said the angel, “that’s impossible.” “It’s not the six pairs of hands that bother me” said the Lord, “It’s the three pairs of eyes. She is supposed to have one pair that sees through closed doors so that whenever she says, `What are you kids doing in there?’ she already knows what they’re doing in there.”
“She has another pair in the back of her head to see all the things she is not supposed to see but must see. And then she has one pair right in front that can look at a child that just goofed & communicate love & understanding without saying a word.”
“That’s too much.” said the angel, “You can’t put that much in one model. Why don’t you rest for a while & resume your creating tomorrow?”
“No, I can’t,” said the Lord. “I’m close to creating someone very much like myself. I’ve already come up with a model who can heal herself when she is sick – who can feed a family of six with one pound of hamburger – & who can persuade a nine year old to take a shower.”
Then the angel looked at the model of motherhood a little more closely & said, “She’s too soft.” “Oh, but she is tough,” said the Lord. “You’d be surprised at how much this mother can do.”
“Can she think?” asked the angel. “Not only can she think,” said the Lord, “but she can reason & compromise & persuade.”
Then the angel reached over & touched her cheek. “This one has a leak,” he said. “I told you that you couldn’t put that much in one model.” “That’s not a leak,” said the Lord. “That’s a tear.”
“What’s a tear for?” asked the angel. “Well it’s for joy, for sadness, for sorrow, for disappointment, for pride.” “You’re a genius,” said the angel. And the Lord said, “Oh, but I didn’t put it there.”
Thank you, mothers of St. John’s! Thank you mothers everywhere!
In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.