Seventh Sunday of Easter
Year B
RCL

Prayer

Lord, may our words and meditations give glory to you who ascended to the Father to bring all to fulfillment. Amen

Please be seated

Sermon

Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!  Now some of you feel excluded from that greeting, but I am here today to tell you that you need not feel that way.  It is my personal belief that we are all called to be mothers in one way or another.

Let me explain.  First, I suppose we need to ask what it means to be a mother.  Now, I used to think that, motherhood meant giving birth to children.  I thought that for a long time until, a few years after I had given birth to a two lovely daughters, my husband and I adopted a three-year-old little girl.  I was through this, our youngest daughter, that I learned about the real work of “mothering”.  That’s when I learned that being a mother had more to do with decisions, behavior, hopes, and emotions after a child is born than it did with giving birth.   That’s when I learned about the work required to take a child into your heart, nurture her, teach her, share with her, sacrifice for her, and bond with her.  And I wasn’t doing this alone.  My husband, and even our teenage daughters, were just as involved as I was in helping that child belong, giving her security and making her feel safe.

In fact, I was once watching a movie with our youngest daughter.  The movie had a rather graphic portrayal of a woman giving birth.  Our third daughter turned to me and said, “Well, at least you didn’t have to go through all that to get me.”  I turned to her and replied, “Are you kidding?   I was in labor longer with you than with your two sisters combined.”  And I meant it.

In becoming a mother to her, I had learned a valuable lesson.  I had learned that giving birth means more – much more than the physical part.  I had learned that giving birth is a rather universal concept that can be applied to many activities.  On Friday I visited a friend in a nursing home.  I found her sitting in the sun reading a rather heavy book.  When I sat next to her she handed it to me.  I glanced at the cover – and behold – it was her name I saw as the author.  As she spoke about her book, no one could tell me that she had not given birth to it – to the ideas it contained and the story it told.

That’s one of the reasons that I don’t think anyone is excluded from the reality of birthing.    In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans 8:22, we read,   “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”  All creation is groaning in childbirth – that includes all of us.

Yes, some of us are blessed to give physical birth to actual children.  However, some of us give birth to children in other ways or we give birth to other things, an idea, a new way of organizing things, a new plan of action for a company.  Some people give birth to a piece of music or art or a book, as my friend did..  Some build houses, furniture, or design gardens.  We cook, clean, manage, design, and build.  Some of us are called on to nurture another person’s idea or plan, some teach.  Others accept, hope, and pray.  But we are all involved in bringing new life to the world, be it children, ideas, peace, justice or the word of God.  We all give birth to something new, something that would not exist without our imagination and skill.  In all this “birthing”, we share in the creative energy of God.

I suppose these thoughts about Mother’s Day are responsible for what happened when I read today’s Gospel.  What I read was long, anguished prayer of a man who had given birth to a new idea, a new way of being human – a way of inclusion, of peace, justice – a way of love.  He had taught this idea to his disciples.  He knew he was going to die.   And, like a man who had given birth to something new, something important, he cries out, he pleads that it has not all been in vain.  He pleads for his apostles, their safety and unity.  And he pleads for their commitment to him.  He pleads for their commitment to his mission and his vision for the world.

All that his heart wanted and desired for them, he summed it up in simple words:

Keep them, Father, protect them in my name.

His prayer reminded me of the way I felt when we put our eldest daughter on a plane for Germany where she would live with a family for a month as part of a German exchange program.  Letting her go just about broke my heart.  All my fears surfaced – Who would protect her?  Would she be safe?  Had we taught her everything she needed to know?   My heart just about burst with the same prayer, “Dear God, keep her!”

In fact, when I read today’s Gospel, I was powerfully struck by Jesus’ words.  They sounded all the world like the words a parent would say about his or her children or the words of a person who had created something and wants it to continue, to grow and flourish.

Just listen again to some of those words.

  • “They were yours, and you gave them to me” – Don’t we recognize that everything we have are gifts from God be that children or ideas and projects.
  • “Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them”. –  Just as we acknowledge that the words we teach our children and those we use to create other things are all from God.
  • “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me”, – Isn’t this how we ask that our children – our projects, the things we create will be safe and protected.
  • “Help them not to be corrupted by the temptations of the world” – certainly we pray this – not only for our children, but for all the things we create.

That is the prayer we heard this morning.  This is the prayer of all mothers, of all parents, of everyone who cares for others in any way.   This is the prayer of anyone who has started something new, designed something different.  This is the prayer of parents, teachers, managers, co-workers, artists, pastors, Bishops, and Christians everywhere.  But, more than anything this prayer applies to Jesus’ teachings on how we are to be together and how we are to be in the world.  In a sense, it is the prayer for spreading the Gospel.  It is a call for us to birth Jesus and Jesus’ vision in the world.

We know that after the resurrection, the first words Jesus spoke to his apostles were, “Peace be with you.”  And those words were often followed by the next ones, “As the Father has sent me, I also send you.”

When we read or hear that prayer that Jesus prayed in John’s Gospel, we know he is praying, not just for those apostles of old, but he is praying for and about us.  He is the one who gave birth to a new way of being human – a way of love, justice, and peace.  When he knew he was going to die, he prayed that his followers would continue the job of spreading this way of life.  He prayed that they would not be discouraged or be influenced by the temptations of the world.  He prayed that they would stay in unity with him and with each other.

Those of us who have given birth can testify, the birth itself is, in many ways, the easiest part of being a mother.  The real work takes the rest of your life.  Giving birth to Jesus’ vision for humanity is still going on.  It is our work.  And it will take all of us to bring it about.  It is up to us to give it birth, to “mother” it into life.  And it will take the rest of our lives.  So, I say again, “Happy Mother’s Day!”

Let our prayer today be like the prayer of Jesus.    Lord, we pray for the courage to stay faithful to Your mission.  We pray not to be seduced by the temptations of the world.  We pray for unity, with God and with each other.  But, most of all, we pray for the strength and energy to continue giving birth to God’s vision for the world as taught by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen

 

Invitation to the Ordination.

Now speaking of giving birth to something new —

On June 9, at 11 am, I will be ordained a vocational deacon by Bishop Lane at St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland.   That day will mark the culmination of a very long journey and the beginning of new and exciting ways for me to follow the Lord.

I would love to see you at the ordination, for I will always be grateful to St. Paul’s, to its wonderful clergy and to all of you who have taken me into your hearts and helped to create something new in me.  In many ways, you have helped give birth to a deacon.   Thank you all.  Amen