May 12, 2019 — Rev. Paula Norbert
In today’s reading, we hear Jesus speaking to his friends with words that might be important for us to hear today too. He says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” In light of so much going on in our nation and the world, we might pause here today and pray for one another and for this beautiful faith community. Let us pray…Risen Christ, you prepare a place for us, in the home of the One who created us and loves us all, like a Father and a Mother love their children with tenderness. Draw us more deeply into yourself, as we listen to scripture and the stories of one another so that when our hearts are troubled, we will know you more completely as the way, the truth, and the life. Amen.
The Gospel today echoes back to when Jesus was with his disciples at the Last Supper. Jesus tries to console his friends before his departure from them and he assures them, “In my Father’s House, there are many dwelling places.” He wants to reassure them that one day, they will be together again…and that there will be room for all. Today is Mother’s Day, a beautiful day to celebrate our own mothers, living or perhaps now passed away, and to remember the women in our lives who have taught us about faith and love, compassion and hospitality. Throughout scripture, there are beautiful references to God in language that describes a mother protecting her young. We hear in the Psalms lovely images of our God compared to a mother bird hiding her young under her wings; Jesus in both Luke and Matthew speaks of God as a hen gathering her chicks under her wings. Isaiah speaks in beautiful ways of the maternal qualities of God, saying “As a mother comforts her child, so will God comfort you”
Years ago, I had a wonderful colleague Greg, who grew up in a large family of all boys in Wisconsin. He used to entertain us with all of these hilarious stories of growing up in a large family and I certainly could relate given that I was the third of seven kids myself. One of the wonderful things he shared about his parents, and especially his mother, was the incredible welcome and hospitality they offered to all of the friends of their sons. I guess they were pretty relaxed and always found room at the table for extra guests on any night and also found plenty of room, perhaps on couches or on the floor in sleeping bags to welcome overnight guests. I’m sure it was a lot of extra work for his mother, but in a relaxed and gracious way, she set a tone of welcome to their home.
I know many of you have stories of welcome to the friends of your own children or schoolmates, stories of short and long term stays at your house where you welcomed someone who needed a meal or a place to stay. It’s a lovely way to live and a wonderful model to set for our children and grandchildren, but I know not everyone was raised in that way. Certainly this must be what Jesus is saying when he assures his friends, his closest disciples, that there will be room for them in his Father’s House in the next life.
One of the important roles of our mothers is to help us to grow in faith and love, to learn how to cope with suffering and sorrow, and to be affirmed for the gifts we uniquely have which we are invited to share with the world. For those who are lucky enough to have healthy, loving mothers, we may remember the many ways they helped raise us up as people of faith with confidence to face whatever life may bring our way. In their own way, I’m sure that they told us that we should not let our hearts be troubled, that our belief in the grace of God could override that very human response of worry and fear. They also modeled to us so many qualities of unconditional love and patience and perseverance and hard work…
A couple of years ago, I read a wonderful book called The Book of Joy which describes a week of conversations between two great spiritual men of our time, The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. In the book, they speak in very real and honest ways about joy, the obstacles to joy including suffering and pain, and share ways we might respond to fear and loneliness and illness and so much else by cultivating deep joy through a life lived in faith. At one point, the Dalai Lama shares a great story about a long overnight flight he was on with a family with young children. He spoke about observing how they helped entertain the kids during the long flight and how helpful the father was until in the middle of the night, he fell asleep, and the poor mother struggled to care for her two tired and cranky children as she sat exhausted. It’s great, because the Dalai Lama goes on to say, “I thought about it and I don’t think I would have had that kind of patience.” The author of the book then comments that he has had similar conversations with spiritual seekers and parents and he concludes,” It probably takes many years of monastic practice to equal one sleepless night with a sick child.” No truer words…
And so I’d love to invite us to think today about our mothers or grandmothers, perhaps an aunt or a dear friend, who taught each of us about God and faith and compassion. For those of us who are mothers and grandmothers, we might also think about the learning that has come to us over the years in this important role in our lives. Even in the life of Jesus and all the stories he shared, his actions always spoke the loudest and probably taught his friends more about the presence of the sacred among them than even the Sermon on the Mount. So too the women who mirrored back to us the very best qualities of a loving, tender, caring God, who like the Shepherd seeking his lost sheep, never gave up on us.
Jesus assured his friends and us that he was going ahead to prepare a place for all of us, yet we often forget or get sidetracked and lose our way along the journey. Like the Shepherd, like all loving mothers do, God will always seek us out, watch over us tenderly, and help guide us wherever we may wander. Jesus helped us understand God’s deep love for us and in this season of Easter, new life, new beginnings, new hope is here, bringing us joy and peace in the presence of God.