This was my message for the 4th Sunday in Easter, 11 May 2003, at Tompkins Corners UMC. The Scriptures are Acts 4:5 – 12, 1 John 3: 16 – 24, John 10: 11 – 18. It was also Mother’s Day.
Mother’s Day Proclamation – Julia Ward Howe, 1870
Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. 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.”
From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says “Disarm, disarm! The Sword of murder is not the balance of justice.” Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each learning after his own time, the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.
In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.
The number of things that have a Methodist background has always amazed me. And today is no exception. For the fortunes of the Welch’s Grape Juice and Mother’s Day are both deeply rooted in Methodism. The founder of Welch’s was a devout Methodist who wanted to find a viable alternative to wine that could be used in communion and, Mother’s Day, as you read in the bulletin is a tradition that began many years ago in a Methodist Episcopal church in Grafton, West Virginia.
Observed on the second Sunday in May, Mother’s Day honors all mothers. It began in its present form with a special service in May 1907 at the Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia. A Methodist laywoman, Anna Jarvis, organized the service to honor her mother, Anna Reese Jarvis, who had died on May 9, 1905, for her work during the Civil War organizing women, working for better sanitary conditions, and to reconcile Union and Confederate neighbors. (For those who may not remember their United States history, West Virginia seceded from Virginia in protest to Virginia’s secession from the Union. West Virginia became a state in 1863.). By 1908 Anna Jarvis was advocating that all mothers be honored on the second Sunday in May. In 1912 the Methodist Episcopal Church recognized the day and raised it to the national agenda. It has some parallels with the old English Mothering Sunday in mid-Lent, which focused on returning home and paying homage to one’s mother, and with Mother’s Day for Peace, introduced in 1872 by Julia Ward Howe in Boston as a day dedicated to peace (see the note at the beginning of the post).
The relationship between mothers and the cause for peace is by no means ironic or casual. We have to understand that war runs counter to the nature of life and, more times than we perhaps care to admit, it is up to the mothers to keep the family together. I do not mean to limit the role of the father in the family but, in times of war, fathers and sons are away fighting and it is to the mothers and wives that the bad news of death is given. I hope now, in this modern day, when daughters and wives go off to war, and fathers and husbands must grieve that people will work more strongly for peace. Unfortunately, what will happen is that instead of working for a more just and righteous world and giving all people equal opportunities in all venues of life, efforts will be made to return women to their “more traditional” roles.
Even today, there are countless examples of mothers striving to seek peace and justice in this world. It was the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo who brought down the Argentina government and an end to that government’s reign of terror in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. This group of mothers banded together to demand an accounting for the people, including their children, who were arrested and disappeared in that period of repression and cruelty.
The Nobel Prize committee thought so highly of the work of two mothers, Betty Williams and Mailread Corrigan as co-founders of the Northern Ireland Peace Movement, for their attempts to bring peace to Northern Ireland that they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1991, noted that many of her male colleagues who suffered a similar fate to hers (house arrest and imprisonment) for the roles in the democracy movement spoke of the great debt of gratitude they owed their womenfolk. She also noted that “Women in their role as mothers have traditionally assumed the responsibility of teaching children values that will guide them throughout their lives.” (Aung San Suu Kyi in a speech to the NGO Forum on Women in Beijing, China, on August 31, 1995) We note in the history of Methodism the role that Susanna Wesley had in the upbringing of the Wesley family, most notably Charles and John. Now, no matter what the stories concerning the upbringing of the Wesley children, the influence of Susanna as a parent and her own religious background had much to say about what Charles and John came to believe.
I cannot put my mother in the same category as that of Susanna Wesley (that might be too low a level) but I can say that my knowledge of righteousness, fair play, loyalty, and understanding the role of the church in one’s life came from her. It was from her that I did learn what true and unconditional love is.
It may be a surprise to many people but neither of my parents, nor my siblings for that matter, share my political beliefs. In 1969, when I was perhaps more vocal, I came across an organization known as “Mothers against the Viet Nam War”. They were selling necklaces with the slogan “War is not healthy for children and other living things” engraved on it. I bought one for my mother, thinking it would be an appropriate gift for her and a statement of what I believe. (The recent events of this year have spawn a renewed interest in this organization and it now has its own web page,www.warisnothealthy.org.) But when she got it, she wrote me and told me that she wasn’t exactly thrilled by the stand I was taking. This was a comment I would hear a couple months later when my participation in a public protest became known outside the boundaries of Kirksville. But she would cherish the memento because I was her son and because she loved me.
Being a parent, whether it is as a father or a mother often requires a statement of unconditional love. We are reminded of the story of the prodigal son who demanded and was given more from his father that he was entitled too, who squandered away what was given to him, but was welcomed back to the household with open arms and a love that could not be measured. Our Gospel reading for today speaks of the love a shepherd has for his sheep.
The parable of the shepherd seeking the lost sheep points out the difference between someone who looks after the sheep and someone whom cares for the sheep. The person who cares for the sheep will go to great distances to find lost ones and bring them back. And as Jesus pointed out, He is the shepherd and we are the flock he is caring for. He is willing to lay down his life so that we may continue living.
John follows this up with his first letter pointing out that as Jesus laid down his own life for us, we should lay down our lives for others. “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s good and see a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” (1 John 3: 17) John reiterates the point that it is our love for others and nothing else that will make a difference in this world.
Peter’s challenge to those assembled in Jerusalem comes because they, the rulers, elders, and scribes could not see doing something because of a love for that person as a person. Any action taken must have some benefit for the doer and not just because it is the right thing to do.
The new reality of life is built on Jesus, the cornerstone, and that is foundation built with love for others. This is the message that is put forth in the Gospels time and time again. But it was a message not easily heard back then and it is certainly not a message easily heard today.
We see countless examples of the actions of some benefiting only themselves with little concerns for others. We see mothers and fathers whose actions seek the favor of their peers and their children, instead of instilling true love and loyalty in their children’s hearts. We see children whose actions belie what they say they stand for, perhaps as much as the actions of their parents belie any statement of value or belief in their own lives.
It is fortunate for us that we are celebrating Communion today, because it gives us a chance to remember that it was a table set with and by unconditional love. As we take the bread and drink the juice this morning we are reminded that Jesus died for our sins so that we might live again. We are reminded that Jesus was sent by the Holy Father as a sign of his love and concern for each and every one of us.
Tina Turner sang a song that had the line “What’s love got to do with it?” In that song, love was nothing but a secondhand emotion. But love has everything to do with what this day is about, the love of mothers for their children, the love of children for their mothers, and most importantly the love of a Father for his children.