Jesus & Mother’s Day 2022

I learned this past week that Philadelphian Anna Jarvis, the woman in the early 20th century who created the idea of Mother’s Day by honoring her own mother, spent the last years of her life trying to eradicate the holiday she helped give birth to because it had become so commercialized.

Life is complicated, isn’t it.  The national news this past week has been full of complications that come to a head on MOTHER’S DAY SUNDAY. Not everyone who wants to be a mother can be one, and not everyone who becomes a mother wants to be or should be. What does it mean for ALL people “to be mothers to one another” in this time and place?

I have here today some milkweed seeds. These come from the precious plants that many people in Chelsea refuse to pull up in even manicured lawns. Why? Because milkweed is the only plant that Monarch butterflies use to make more butterflies. They lay their eggs on milkweed plants. And, as you know, in the Church, butterflies have long been symbols of the transformative power of God. The Bible calls it Resurrection. Today we’ll be talking about the resurrection seeds we can plant and nurture in our own lives to bring God’s Shalom* ever closer. Welcome to worship on this 4th Sunday of Easter.

Luke 8: 43-48

John 7:53—8:11

            Jesus said to that hemorrhaging woman, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.” What does it mean when we hear Jesus say these words “your faith has healed you or saved you or made you well?” We hear them sprinkled throughout his conversations with people in the gospels. I think it likely meant something a little different for each person who heard those words.

          Close your eyes for a moment: imagine you are lying in bed, waking up again this morning. But suddenly you realize a miracle has happened to you…something is profoundly different. What, in your life, if it changed, would be proof of that miracle? 

          You felt free of the guilt or sadness? You felt free of the anger or hate? Of the bitterness? Of the boredom? You could accept the unacceptable and not feel it was a moral compromise perhaps? Do things look a little less black and white? What, in your life, if it changed overnight, would be proof that a miracle had happened? Whatever the source of the pain is behind that miracle is what I call A Resurrection Seed. I believe that when we plant the dried-out, wounded parts of our lives (that are often killing us) into the heart of God, we are then better enabled to make choices that allow God to nurture and grow that seed into a source of life for resurrection butterflies…And resurrection butterflies, for us as people of faith, are often known by the Hebrew term Shalom. This is likely one of the words Jesus would have used to describe God’s compassionate justice that moved through him and healed so many, like we see in the scripture today with Jesus’ response to the woman caught in adultery. Butterflies are symbols of the Compassionate Justice we watch God birth, when we plant the painful dilemmas of our lives into the heart of God.

          Shalom, or Peace born from Compassionate Justice, is about being in healthy, right relationship with each other—it’s not about my rights being equal to your rights. A woman’s “RIGHTS” being equal to an embryo’s “RIGHTS.” As children of God, we don’t focus on RIGHTS, we focus on what people NEED to find wholeness as human beings.  Things like Connection, Honesty, Creativity, Autonomy, Health, and Belonging.  We must listen to every situation in its full uniqueness to determine how justice can truly be served in the eyes of a God who values every single life involved. That’s delicate and complicated work. And to create this kind of Shalom that Jesus models requires responsible and humane legislation.

          Many of you remember from Bible studies that women in Jesus’ culture who were bleeding menstrually were not allowed to worship in community, as they were considered unclean—not in their so-called “natural” state. Generally, this may have given the women a time of respite from usual work responsibilities, but not so in the case we read about in scripture today. She had been bleeding for 12 years, not 6 or 7 days. And as God’s agent of Shalom, Jesus responded to the need of the unique woman who was in front of him. What did this hemorrhaging woman need—even more than freedom from the medical quacks who had robbed her…or freedom from the painful cramps and inconvenience of trying to hide her bloody dresses every day? She needed freedom from people who villainized her, from people who told her she was less than fully human for being in the state she was, from people who told her it was her own fault that she was in that situation. Like all of us, this woman needed Compassionate Justice. The wings of Compassionate Justice.

      If Jesus were here today, I feel certain that many of our demonstrators and counter-demonstrators at federal buildings across the country would likely corner him to ask what he thought about Roe v. Wade—-like the scribes and Pharisees did when they dragged out that woman to stone to death. In imagining what might then ensue between the demonstrators and Jesus, I’m reminded that the situations in both our scriptures today were fraught with the reality that these women would continue to be cut-off from the life they knew in the community OR BE KILLED—simply because of their biology. And Jesus responded in a way that put the women back in right, healthy relationship with their bodies and with their souls. How? By honoring their full humanity.

          Jesus did not objectify nor judge either of these women; he did what was needed to allow them to gain access in their lives to the health of right relationship—with themselves, with others, and with God.

          At a public event last fall after Texas changed its abortion laws I heard about a woman from that state whose embryo had no heartbeat on Monday’s visit to Planned Parenthood, but when she arrived the next day for the procedure there was a heartbeat detected, and so she was relegated to the many females throughout history forced to give birth—or try to end this unwanted pregnancy in a medically unsafe manner. I heard about the woman in her 30s, who, on the same day that she learned she had breast cancer, also learned that she was pregnant—and how a horrible decision would be made even more tragic without the social policies present to honor her humanity in the process.

           And lest we fall into either-or thinking—-without the shades of gray necessary to see Compassionate Justice as a possibility like Jesus did—-Sister Joan Chittister, a long-time nun in the Benedictine tradition, who has served in the state of Pennsylvania for many years, made this important point in an interview some years ago now:

             “I do not believe that because you are opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, a child educated, a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

             I was reading a book of prayers this week and one of them caught my eye. It talked about deeds of death being actions like not taking responsibility for our relationships with one another and ourselves—-not entrusting the painful dilemmas of our lives—like milkweed seeds—to the fertile soil in the heart of God. The prayer said:

“We believe in the One who gives us life as Creator, and affirm that we are called to be witnesses to this creator God in the world. Therefore, there is no choice for us but to immerse ourselves in the stream of history, accepting our particular place in time and doing the best we can with what we have. We believe that failure to accept responsibility, refusal to take a stand on vital issues, timid rejection of the ties of true belonging are denials of life and of God’s will for our lives—they are in fact deeds of death… God calls us to do our best to understand the times in which we live, to add our weight to the scales on the side of justice. As we are called by the Creator, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit, so we respond in faith.**”

           Indeed. How might Jesus respond in faith to the painful situation in which many women of all ages and backgrounds find themselves in today’s still very toxic patriarchal culture? According to the National Center Against Domestic Violence, on a typical day there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.

           If Jesus were to speak to one of the countless rallies across the country, to broaden the conversation between pro-life and pro-choice, what kind of parable do you think he would tell? Remember the parable about the Good Samaritan that he shared at another time when folks were caught deeply in their either-or thinking? I can imagine him walking into the street to stand between the Pro-Lifers and the Pro-Choicers, but instead of There was once a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan, he might say, “Once there were three women who said they loved God and loved creation…and then he would conclude with these words: “Which of these women was truly a lover of Shalom?”

             See if you can come up with your own parable that broadens the conversation for those around you. Roe v. Wade is far too important to our very humanity, made in the image and likeness of a Mothering God, to do less than bring our most creative, seed-planting selves to the hope of resurrection life together. Amen.

*”Google” this gorgeous word Shalom (used hundreds of times in the Bible) to uncover its depth and breadth of meaning in Hebrew. It is usually translated in English as simply “peace.”

Joan Chittister’s 2004 interview with Bill Moyers on vimeo:

Prayer from Women & Worship: A Guide to Non-Sexist Hymns, Prayers, and Liturgies by Sharon and Thomas Neufer Emswiler (**adapted by Rev. Dr. Barbara Lewis-Lakin)

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