Saturday, May 7, 2011

Third Sunday in Easter: Mothers and Other Women of Faith

Scripture readings for this week (off-lectionary): Judges 4:1-10, Psalm 63:1-8, Romans 16:1-16, Luke 24:1-12

This week, I changed my facebook profile picture to one of Mom and my mother-in-law, Shirley.  The picture from Tristyn’s baptism showed grandmamas sitting on a love seat, Mom holding baby Tristyn.  Of the many pictures taken that day, it holds a special place in my heart.  Not just because it’s a picture of our mothers holding our daughter.  But because it’s one of the last pictures I have of Mom.  Six months later, Mom lost her battle with cancer.
I remember the morning we buried Mom.  Shirley pulled me aside and said, “I want you to know that you are not motherless.  You became my daughter when you married Tim.”  
You know, I don’t think we ever really outgrow our need for our mothers.  Here I was - 32 two years old, married, with a child of my own.  But at that moment, I realized just how important mothers are.  I realized how blessed I was to have someone like Shirley to mother me when my mother no longer could.
Sixteen months later, Shirley also lost her battle with cancer.  I miss her as much as I miss Mom.  I posted that picture on FaceBook to honor Mom and Shirley because they are two of the strongest, most courageous women I know. 
This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about mothers, those who mother, and women in general.  I’ve been thinking about all those women who touch our lives, who have helped make us who we are.  Not all are called “mother,” yet they have provided mothering.  They have been role models of courage and strength and surpassing love.

This week my thoughts have also turned to those women I have never met, yet have shaped my life and my faith.  Those biblical women who lived and mothered and loved with passion and courage - our mothers in the faith.
·         Sarah who laughed when God promised her a son, even though she was past 90!  About how she struggled with God’s promise and her long wait for a child – over 30 years from God’s promise to Isaac’s birth1.[i]
·         Hannah who longed for a child so passionately that she promised to dedicate her child to God[ii].  God blessed her with Samuel, who became a great prophet.
·         Naomi was dealt the bitter hand of widowhood and the death of her sons. But she loved her son’s wives, Orpah and Ruth, as if they were her own daughters. So close was the bond between Naomi and Ruth that Ruth chose to leave her home to go back to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law.[iii]
I thought about the 5 women with a unique place in scripture – they are the only women listed an otherwise male only genealogy of Jesus[iv]
·         Twice–widowed, childless Tamar, denied her rights by her father-in-law Judah.  She outwitted him and became the mother of Perez and Zerah.[v]  Judah declared her more righteous than he.
·         Rahab the prostitute, who protected the Israelite spies, helping them escape from Jericho because of her faith in God.  She was saved from the destruction of Jericho[vi] and became the mother of Boaz.
·         Ruth, who followed Naomi to a strange land.  Her hard work to provide and care for Naomi, caught the attention of Naomi’s kinsman, Boaz.  He married her and she became the mother of Obed and great-grandmother to King David.
·         Bathsheba, wife of Uriah, who found herself called to King David’s chambers.  Seduced and pregnant by the King, she suffered the heartbreaking loss of her child.  But God remembered her and she became the mother of King Solomon.[vii]
·         Mary, awed by the angel Gabriel, astounded by the news that God had chosen her to be the mother of the Messiah, replied, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”[viii]  She faced the shame and danger of an unwed teen-age pregnancy in first century Palestine. She raised the Son of God to manhood, “pondering in her heart” praise and prophecy.[ix]  She stood at the foot of the cross, feeling a ‘sword piercing her own soul,”, as she watched her son die. 
These were mothers who trusted God.  Who loved deeply. Who would do what was necessary to shelter and nurture those they called “child.”  One aspect of God’s love for us is revealed in their love for their children.
We heard today how the Psalmist sings in the shadow of God’s wings.[x]  God’s wings – those are the wings of mother hen protecting her chicks, sheltering them, keeping them warm.  It’s a familiar biblical image – God gathering or protecting us under God’s wings.  Jesus longs to gather Jerusalem as a mother hen gathers her chicks.[xi]  Mothering comes from God, is part of the nature of God. 
It’s that loving, generous, nurturing part of God in which we live and move and have our being.  And that mothering part of God cannot be contained.  It spills over, beyond mother and child, beyond women and children, to women and the world.
Today’s readings are about some strong women through whom God’s love overflows to the world around them: 
·         Deborah, who judged all of Israel, who was a prophet of God, who went into battle with Barak and defeated the armies of Canaan, who was called the mother of Israel.[xii] 
·         Rufus’ mother, who acted as mother to Paul. Like Timothy’s mother Eunice and grandmother Lois,[xiii] she has passed her strong faith on to her son.  Her mothering extends from her son to Paul, and probably to her congregation, and her neighbors.  Women who stand in as mothers to the motherless can’t help it – their love overflows from the heart of God to everyone around them.
·         Mary Magdalene, along with a few other women, discovered the empty tomb and was the first to proclaim the good news that Jesus has risen.[xiv]
o      Those other women?  Luke tells us that Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Suzanna and others[xv], travelled with Jesus throughout his ministry and gave of their resources to provide for the group.  Like Mary of Bethany,[xvi] they were disciples who sat at Jesus’ feet and learned from him. 
o    We know that Mary the wife of Clopas,[xvii] Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, Salome,[xviii] the mother of James and John (sons of Zebedee),[xix] also followed Jesus and were there at the cross, and the burial and some of them were in the garden that first Easter morning.  These women were among those in the upper Room at Pentecost.  They became mothers of the church.
We learn about more mothers of the early church from Paul’s letters.  He greets them as his partners in ministry.  We heard today Paul’s greetings to the church in Rome[xx].  In addition to Rufus’ mother, Paul greets nine other women:
·         Phoebe, a deacon – or minister - was a leader in her church, as well as one of its patrons. 
·         Prisca (also called Priscilla) and her husband were missionaries with Paul,[xxi] traveling with him and risking their lives for him.
·         Junia and her husband were imprisoned with Paul.  Paul calls her ‘apostle’ – his equal in ministry.
·         Mary, Tryphrena, Tryphosa, and Persis – Paul’s “co-workers in Christ”.  Paul uses this term for men and women who were spiritually mature, leaders in the faith, active in missionary work, building churches, and teaching other leaders.
·         Julia and Nereus’ sister are leaders in one of the house churches in Rome. 
These were women of faith.  Women who loved beyond the bonds of family, Women’s whose hearts were large enough to embrace all whom God loves.  Women who gave all, sometimes even risking their lives to further the kingdom of God.  Women who did this, not for glory or honor – often they labored behind the scenes and our scriptures give us only a few, brief passages about them – but for the glory of God.
From these mothers of our faith, we learn courage.  We learn generosity.  We learn trust.  We learn that we have worth because we are created in God’s image, because Jesus died for us.  By their example, we learn to live in ways that reveal God’s love to a motherless world.
Their legacy lives on in the lives of women of faith –
·         in our mothers and grandmothers and all those who mother,
·         in women who cook for the hungry, sew for the cold, tend the sick,
·          in women who give their time and resources so people they will never meet have flood buckets, sewing kits, health kits, baby layettes and all sorts of other necessary items,
·         in women who teach, and preach, and sing God’s word,
·         in women who create hospitality in worship spaces and in homes,
·         in women who stand up for the weak and speak for the voiceless, in women who pray for peace,
·         in all those women who touch the lives of everyone around them with the overflowing love of God.

Today, we remember mothers, those who mother, those women who have touched our lives, those women in whom God’s love spills out to the world. 
What better way to honor the women of faith in our lives but to let that love flow through us?

[i] Sarah’s story is told with Abraham’s in Genesis 12-18:15 and continues in Genesis chapters 20-23.
[ii] 1 Samuel 1-2:11.
[iii] Naomi and Ruth’s story is found in the book of Ruth.
[iv] Matthew 1.
[v] Genesis 38.
[vi] Joshua 2, 6:20-25.
[vii] 2 Samuel 11:2-12:25.
[viii] Luke 1:26-38.
[ix] Luke 2:21-52.
[x] Psalms 63 gives us images of God as a nourishing mother, calming a child in the night and protecting in the shadow of God’s wings. 
[xi] Matthew 23:37.
[xii] Judges 4 and 5.
[xiii] 1 Tim 1:5.
[xiv] Luke stated the ‘women who came with him from Galilee’ went to the tomb (“They” in Luke 21:1 refers to Luke 23:55), Matthew had Mary M and “the other Mary”; Mark has Mary M, Mary the mother of James and Salome: and John has Mary M going alone.
[xv] Luke 8:3.
[xvi] Luke 10:38-42.
[xvii] John19:25.
[xviii] Mark 15:40-41.
[xix] Matthew 27:55-56.
[xx] Romans 16:1:17.
[xxi] Acts 18:18-20.

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