Year B Easter 6 John 15 2012
I must candidly confess that when I was in seminary the 16th chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans didn't do much for me. It struck me as being boring nothing more than a long presentation of people's names, most of whom I could not pronounce; I usually skimmed over that part so I could get to what I considered to be the real Gospel. Over the years I have greatly changed my attitude about this particular chapter and I have discovered that there is much more to it than I had first imagined. For example, it is interesting to note that of the twenty-six people who Paul singles out for his personal greeting, six were women. Now that strikes me as being rather interesting, since Paul has frequently gotten a bum rap for being a male chauvinist. I think it also shows us the tremendous influence that women had in the early church. In the male oriented first century Palestine, it is telling that Paul could not describe the church without mentioning the significant role of women.
Verse 13 of chapter 16 is particularly interesting and it is one that scholars have struggled with over the centuries. Paul writes: "Give my greetings to Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine." Now this statement could be taken two ways. It could mean that Paul had two distinct women in mind--the mother of Rufus and his own personal mother. Or, he could be saying: "I salute Rufus and his mother, who is like a mother to me." If that is what he meant, and most Biblical scholars agree that that is indeed what he meant, then it raises some interesting speculation. When and where did Paul meet Rufus' mother? Did she nurse him through some serious illness? Did she receive him into her home for an extended stay during his missionary journeys. How did this woman and Paul form such a close bond that he refers to her fondly as being like his mother. Mark tells us that Simon of Cyrene, the man who carried Jesus cross, had two sons: Alexander and Rufus. Was this the same Rufus to whom Paul was speaking. If that is true, his mother would be Simon of Syrene's wife. No one knows for sure who this remarkable woman was who served as a mother figure for the great Paul. But it really makes no difference, because what he writes makes an excellent springboard for a Mother's Day sermon.
Some people ridicule Mother's Day as a lot of sentimental drivel. They say that it is nothing more than the creation of the greeting card companies and the florists. And, to be perfectly candid, there are many ministers who shun this day because, they say, it is not a religious holiday. Furthermore, they preach from the lectionary, which has an assigned scriptural reading each week, and therefore mother's day is left out.
Well, of course, we must admit that there is sentiment to this day, but what is wrong with that? Seems to me that a little bit of sentiment is healthy. True enough, there are some women in the Bible, such as Jezebel and the vindictive Herodias, who had John the Baptist beheaded, who tarnish the institution of motherhood. There are women today who abandon, abuse, and corrupt their children and who create a poor model, but I like to think that these are the exceptions. Most mothers do the right thing and deserve recognition. So this morning I would like to join Paul and salute all of the mothers who are with us.
No one casts a longer shadow throughout the course of one's life than a mother. Will all our mothers stand? We honor and celebrate you for the sheltering shade of those shadows.
Back in the mid 1950's Theodor Geisel railed and revolted against the boringly banal primers forced on first time readers. His books, penned under the now famous name of "Dr. Seuss," transformed reading to our little ones from dull and dreary tales of "Dick and Jane" to the lyrical fun of "The Cat in the Hat."
Adding to this new literary library was a protege of the Dr. Seuss style, the books of P.D. Eastman. His "classics" in this new children's literature include "Go, Dog, Go," "One Fish, Two fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish," and especially, my favorite, "Are You My Mother?"
Just in case you did not get the chance to read "Are You My Mother?" aloud six hundred times over the course of your children's childhood, it is the simple story of a baby bird who hatches out of his egg while his mother is off the nest. The little bird falls out and promptly sets off looking to find his missing mom. Having no clue what his mother may look like, the fledgling approaches dogs and cats, trucks and boats, and finally a huge steam shovel (who deftly dumps him safely back into his nest), earnestly asking each one, "Are you my mother?"
We all crave a mother's presence and pine for a mother's love. This Sunday, the second Sunday in May, has been officially designated as "Mother's Day" since May 9, 1914. But in England as far back as the 1600's there has been a tradition of a "Mothering Sunday." Originally born out of the Catholic celebrations of Mary, the Mother of Christ, the English "Mothering Sunday" allowed poor women who worked and lived as servants in wealthy households a day off to return home and be with their own families.
It is fitting that "Mother's Day" is designated as a Sunday celebration. For though we do not refer to this imagery very much anymore, we are gathered together this day in our "Mother Church." St. Cyprian, a third century African bishop, said it is impossible to have God as our Father if we do not have the church as our mother. We don't worship the church, and we do worship Christ. But as access to God is primarily thru Christ, and the body of Christ is the church, so the old ship of Zion is our Mothership...