Jesus said, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
This coming Sunday is Mother’s Day. For those who are mothers, I hope you feel loved and appreciated. For those whose mothers are with you, I hope you are able to see them or contact them in some way to share your love and gratitude. For those whose mothers have passed on, I hope you have many fond memories to remind you of her love that lives in and through you.
The greatest experiences I have had of God’s grace came as I dedicated my life to God’s service, especially while I was in seminary. Of course, God’s grace abounds whether or not we are aware of it. For instance, my family tells how I suffered nerve damage while being born, and I was initially paralyzed along one side of my body. My mother’s ob/gyn was a woman who told my mother about an experimental technique of moving the paralyzed limbs several times a day in hopes that the nerves would kick in and I would develop control of my body. According to my mother, the doctor said, “You might as well try it. She’s already paralyzed, so what will it hurt?” My mother did try with her usual focused attention, and for whatever reason I recovered, so I personally knew nothing of this crisis in the first days of my life. Since I heard this—seminary had a way of giving me permission to ask about my history—I began to see my right thumb, which is longer than my left, as evidence of God’s grace, manifested through my mother.
There is nothing more basic to life itself than the relationship of mother and child. Yesterday I heard a sermon based on the lectionary passage John 15:1-8 (“I am the vine, you are the branches”), and I thought about the sap that runs through plants, bringing nutrients as the plant grows, as similar to the life force that runs from mother to child, first in the womb, then through mother’s milk, and through all the ways a mother gives nurture, growth, learning, faith, and so much more.
Of course, while the Bible often uses metaphors from the physical world, God’s love is much greater than God’s creation. So while all forms of family relations, the skeletal system of the body, and a monarch’s rule are examples of the basics of life on earth, Jesus calls us to transcend their mortal limits. The body is now all of us, bound by common love of Jesus Christ. The rule of an earthly king is temporal and faulty compared to the eternal realm of our Lord. And we can be family together— we are mandated to be family together—by our common kinship as God’s children.
For those of us who were not blessed to have children or to have siblings or a sense of belonging, this is good news. We do not need to have biological connections to be family. We do not need to have gone through pregnancy and labor to be as mothers to others. In fact, while the Bible attests to Jesus’ love for his mother throughout his life, even arranging for her care while on the cross, he extends this love to anyone who hears the word of God—and does it. So we all have the opportunity to show that kind of life-giving, nurturing care that was traditionally considered the work of mothers.
We are entering a time when gender roles and even identities are questioned in interesting ways. Recently I was speaking with one of our pastors, who has three children, and though he is male, he carries out the more “maternal” responsibilities as the primary caregiver. And while the expansion of gender roles is discussed more frequently in these modern days, the role of mother can be claimed by anyone, as far back as Jesus’ teaching.
Back in the 14th century, German theologian and mystic Meister Eckhart wrote “We are all meant to be mothers of God.” Now this sounds pretty darn challenging and downright heretical (and granted, some of Eckhart’s writings were deemed heretical), but be careful of misleading editing. Here is a little more of what he wrote:
We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I also do not give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time. When the Son of God is begotten in us.
Jesus pointed to his disciples as his mother and brothers and sisters. We have been given the call, the mandate, to bear the gospel, the mission, of Jesus Christ to our world. And many if not all of us can point to individuals who have been like mothers to us, as they have cared for us, nurtured the spark of life in us, and helped connect us to God and to our world. May we all find ways to be like mothers— mothers to people who need that extra care, mothers who nurture the potential in friends and church members, mothers to God’s dream of tomorrow.
Blessings to all of us, as we hear and do God’s word to be mothers for all who need the love and care that mothers bring. For those whose motherly role is more present and pressing, may you be supported by your family of faith as well as all your larger family connections. Your role as mother to the next generation will change the world.
Thanks be to God!