Happy Mother’s Day to all of you — to all of us. Mother’s Day — the 6th Sunday of Easter this year — is a time to celebrate God’s nurturing, all-loving power, especially as we watch Mother Earth’s great work of spring. Through God’s good grace, life bursts forth in spring — budding, sprouting, greening, blooming, and growing, from Mother Earth’s fertile womb — breeding lilacs out of the dead land, as T.S. Eliot writes. Nurturing and caring for life is loving, mothering activity — done by mothers — regardless of their actual gender or biological role. Happy Mother’s Day to all who love and serve that way. We know that not everyone had a happy childhood or a good relationship with their biological mother. And many grieve their mothers’ now and still. And we can pray for, and look out for, and BE the mothering love that we all need for each other.
People who mother, regardless of gender or biological relation, have compassion. They see and serve another person’s needs and pain just as surely as a mother kisses a hurt and makes it all better. People who mother are servant leaders. We saw the example of servant leadership played out in living color last week — although very, very early in the morning — in the coronation of King Charles II. I hope some of your were able to see the beautiful, and meaningful, pageantry in the news clips even if you didn’t get up at 5:00 in the morning to watch it like some people I know might have done.
The ceremony began with a young page’s greeting to King Charles: As children of the kingdom of God, he said, we welcome you in the name of the King of kings. King Charles responded, In his name and after his example I come not to be served but to serve. In this response, King Charles echoed his own own exemplary mother, Queen Elizabeth II’s, legendary and unswerving devotion to duty. Servant leadership is gracious, kind, compassionate, humble, and empathetic, like God’s own care for all of us. As we read from Acts this morning,
In God we live and move and have our being,
For we too are God’s offspring.’
Since we are God’s offspring,
we ought not to think that the deity is like gold,
or silver, or stone,
an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.
We are God’s offspring, made in God’s image.
So what does God look like? Clearly not like gold, or silver, or stone, or any image formed by the art and imagination of mortals, as our Acts reading makes clear. If we stand next to one another, it’s pretty clear we don’t look alike. Even if we look at two people of the same race and gender, from roughly the same culture, of similar age and even professional experience, we don’t look one bit alike, and yet we know we are each made in God’s image. So if God’s image is not our physical appearance — our height, weight, age, race, or gender, what is God’s image? I believe it is in how we live and move and have our being, as the reading from Acts affirms. God’s image is gracious, compassionate service in humility, empathy, and kindness. Living and moving in God’s image isn’t about doing things the easy way. It’s about being your best self and living your best life — telling the truth, and always being kind.
Scripture tells us that loving, nurturing, mothering activity is God’s own work. Scripture recognizes God’s love as deeply maternal, comparing God’s faithfulness to a mother’s love:
God says in Isaiah 49:15:
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
In Isaiah 66:13, God says:
As a mother comforts her child,
so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:7, the Apostle Paul says:
though we might have made demands as apostles
of Christ, we were
gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring
for her own children.
And in Luke 13:34, Jesus laments:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings… .
Our gospel reading today gets to the heart of this kind of tough, loving, unglamorous, selfless, simple service: If you love me, you will keep my commandments. In Mudhouse Sabbath, Duke Divinity School professor and author Lauren Winner reflects on Jewish practice from her perspective as a Christian who converted to Christianity from Orthodox Judaism. She writes that practice is to Judaism what belief is to Christianity. And from Winner’s perspective, to love God is to keep the commandments — that is, to repeat the practices of the faith.
And this is what John’s gospel tells us today — on Mother’s Day. Jesus commands his disciples — and us, listening in — to love God with all their heart, mind, and strengthen, and to love one another as God loves each one of us. Keeping God’s commandments, the core of our Christian belief, means practicing — every single day — the selfless kind of nurturing, loving, caring, mothering activity done by God’s own self. Keeping Jesus’ commandment to love one another means always trying your best to do the NEXT kind thing, good thing, honest thing, fair thing, and right thing. Even when it’s difficult, even when you don’t want to, and even when others wish you wouldn’t. Keeping Jesus’ commandment to love one another means doing the kind of selfless, difficult, sometimes thankless motherly work that Jesus himself did, even standing up for what he knew was right when everyone wished he wouldn’t — and dying on the cross for his beliefs. He laid down his life for his friends.
We follow Jesus’ example of loving one another knowing God loves us — even when we fall short of our own expectations. We are rocked in God’s bosom, embraced and adored. As scripture tells us, God loves us as faithfully as a woman loves her nursing baby. God loves us as tenderly as a nurse cares for her own children. God loves us as completely and protectively as a hen gathers her brood of chicks under her wings. In faith, we practice Jesus’ commandment to love one another as he has loved us — as selflessly as a mother loves her child. Amen