Loving, mothering God, it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Your works are wonderful, and I know it well. Amen
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.
Most of us can remember some motherly advice, whether we received it or gave it. We can remember this kind of motherly advice whether it’s from a parent or grandparent, a coach, a teacher, a friend, or even a stranger. We know motherly advice by its very nature. Motherly advice helps us to be our best selves and to live, as our kids are fond of saying, our best life. Motherly advice — whether it comes from a woman or man or even a parent at all — is loving. It’s not usually about winning, or coming out on top. And it’s not about doing things the easy way. Motherly advice demands our very best, and it doesn’t always look fun.
Here’s some I know — what’s yours?
- Plan ahead.
- Think things through.
- Safety first.
- Eat your vegetables.
- Honesty is the best policy.
- Always be kind.
- (This was one of Jere’s mother’s favorites) If you hoot with the owls at night, you can’t soar with the eagles in the morning — along with the early bird gets the worm, and all the other important bird-themed sayings.
- Practice makes perfect.
- And its companion: if at first you don’t succeed, try try again.
My mother always told me that if I could read, I could do anything. I learned to read and loved it, but there are limits to the outcome end of this advice. When I was 8 or 9, I read a children’s book of biographies of Jesuit priests, and I knew then that was what I wanted to do with my life. Jesuits didn’t pray by themselves in monasteries. They rolled up their sleeves and worked directly in the world, bringing God to the people, and the people to God — the nurturing, mothering work of building housing, changing laws, educating children, and lifting communities and peoples out of poverty. I told my mother that I wanted to be a Jesuit priest, and she told me with some maternal amusement that no amount of reading that could help me with that idea! So I became a lawyer — and then, after 30 years of practicing law, an Episcopal priest — instead.
Being Your Best Self
The point is, motherly advice 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… .
Love One Another As I Have Loved You
Our gospel reading today gets to the heart of this kind of tough, loving, unglamorous, selfless, simple advice: This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
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 one another.
Keeping God’s commandment, 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 as Jesus has loved us 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 as Jesus loves us 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