May 8, 2021 John 15:9-17
There is a passage in the Gospel of John where we hear these important words that Jesus shared as he says to his dearest friends and to us, “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that God will give you whatever you ask in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.“ These are part of the final words that Jesus shared with his disciples before he died and they are known as the last discourse. They reflect his sincerest hopes, his deepest message that he wanted to make sure they would always remember. It reminds me of when we send our children off to school, whether it be kindergarten or college and we try to squeeze in that final piece of advice. Or there are the times when a loved one has been able to share some final and deeply felt words with their loved ones as they near the end of their lives. For Jesus and for others who are in the process of saying goodbye, there is a sense of urgency and Jesus wanted to communicate the heart of his message. We have been appointed to go and bear fruit, Fruit that will last. For mothers, there is that deep hope to send our children out into the world to share their gifts, to live a good life, and yes, to be loving and compassionate people. As people of faith, we may think of lasting fruit as a way to speak about living in the joy of Christ and serving each other with the love of God. Let us pray, O Holy God, who loves us as a mother cherishes each of her precious children, let us rest in your arms, let us live in your love, let us share your presence with those who need you each day. Amen.
On this Mother’s Day, I invite us to take a moment and try to recall if there was a core message that you remember that your mother may have imparted to you in your life. What did you learn from your own mother, or from a dear aunt or grandmother who may have served in some way as a mother to you? And for those of us who are mothers or grandmothers, special aunts or dear friends, it is a good time to reflect on what the core message is that we want to make sure our own children hear so that they may lead rich and satisfying lives, lives that have meaning and purpose and yes, lives that make a contribution to the betterment of our world. And of course, I am certain that our mothers wanted us to know joy in our lives. Happiness, certainly, but a deep sense of peace and joy that is lasting. Feelings of happiness may not last; they may be affected by things in our lives over which we have no control, but great joy may sustain us on the hardest of days and keep us focused on that which is most important.
The German theologian, Karl Barth once said that “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.” In every feeling of joy there is a “thank you God.”
We can be happy that the sun is out but we are joyful and joyously grateful that God made the day. We can be happy that we have a new job, but
We are joyously grateful that God provides us with everything we need.
We can be happy when we can provide care to others and even allow others to care for us, but We are joyously grateful to be able share gifts God gave us for the purpose of loving others. Joy is far more than some fleeting emotion. Joy involves a choice to find the path, the perspective, the work that gives our hearts pause in bliss to give our thanks to God. When you commit to finding, following, nurturing and nourishing this kind of joy, it is impossible not to feel deep gratitude to the One who walks with us on the journey. (Rev. Abby Lynn Haskell) We speak of the peace of Christ, but we might imagine the joy of Christ as well. The two seem intertwined because when we feel at peace, it is an amazing thing. Our natural spiritual response is to share this joy in loving others. This joy-based loving becomes a powerful agent for making change. This joy-based loving becomes a powerful agent for realizing heaven on earth.
In honor of Mother’s Day, I invite you to think about the women in your life who have taught you about joy. Some of you have met my mother, if only briefly, when she was able to come to one of the Christmas Teas a few years ago. When I think about her life and the multitude of lessons she has taught all of us, I am amazed. As she gets older and we get older, as I became a mother, I certainly grew to appreciate all of the sacrifices that she made for us over the years, all of the worrying that she did, all of the ways she worked hard to be present to us and to provide us with a lot of joy growing up as well as share her deep faith and impart to us the importance of justice and peace and loving others.
She did so much in her life from tutoring young people in some of the poor communities in Portland to working with teen mothers to showing up again and again for her family, her neighbors and her friends. When I think of that poem today about What I learned from my mother, I deeply resonated with the part about showing up even in the hardest times to comfort others after a loss, bringing a meal, sitting with people in sorrow, and celebrating their good news. She taught us about love in action through her example. There are so many ways in which she quietly helped others in need that I can’t even begin to share them. She is one of the most thoughtful people I know. She took her life and her faith very seriously and even over this past year, and despite slowing down a great deal, she continues to speak about her concerns for the future of our planet, for the quality of life she hopes we may live for our grandchildren and great grandchildren. When it was time for her to get the vaccine, she said, oh, there must be so many others far more in need than I am. Her greatest joy, like so many other mothers, is to spend time with her children and her grandchildren, and with her friends. She is a great friend to so many. And it hasn’t always been easy. With seven kids, I’m sure she was forever tired. I was speaking with a friend this week and we were sharing the exhaustion of being mothers. I told her about my mother who would go out to do the grocery shopping and she’d pull into the driveway and just sit there…just sit there. And we all wondered what she was doing, but now I understand. I think she needed just a little more time to collect herself before walking back into the door and starting her work yet again.
The writer Paula Cooey tells the story of her own mother Polly whose deep joy was teaching dance to children. Her mother traveled throughout rural north Georgia, holding classes in the public schools as an itinerant dancing teacher from the late forties to the sixties. Every spring she held a recital, and all the students performed. Polly believed that every child who wanted lessons should have them and that every child, no matter how poor, should be encouraged to want them.
She never let lack of talent exclude a potential pupil. She reasoned that knowing how to dance and actually performing gave one confidence in public, no matter how clumsy and graceless the performance.
Polly choreographed elaborate productions for children who came from lower middle class, working class, and rural families. These families experienced layoffs and job loss, loss of home and income from floods and crop failure. There were single parent families and families with many children.
Even at a dollar an hour, once a week, most parents could hardly afford to pay for one child, never mind two or more. So Polly and the other mothers worked out a barter system, trading home grown produce, transportation, hair care, and an array of other services in exchange for lessons. Polly and the mothers of her students understood that children needed confidence and that this confidence could be acquired through bodily discipline and practice of dance. They knew well this confidence was much more important than talent. This confidence grew even more in front of an audience of doting parents. Polly’s work was one long sustained act of extraordinary generosity; in her imaginary world, every child who wished for it might learn to dance.
And all of this work took place against a backdrop of rural poverty, economic instability for working class and lower middle-class people. Despite the overwhelming societal and economic pressures, her work became an amazing force for transformative and shared joy. Polly’s joy in dancing bore lasting fruit
and heaven on earth was realized when a child transformed and grew in their confidence. Heaven on earth was realized when a community came together in spite of the economic hardships and sacrificed for the betterment of their children.
I wonder if some of you are familiar with Grace Street Ministries? Grace Street Ministries is a ministry out of Portland begun by a woman named Mair Honan who walks the streets of Portland ministering to the homeless. She offers them prayers, a listening ear and help with material needs whenever she can. A friend of mine, Rev. Abby Lynn Haskell, shared an experience she had when visiting a UCC summer camp in Maine called Pilgrim Lodge. She said that when Pastor Mair spoke to the large group of kids gathered there that her stories were so riveting that she kept 111 teenagers, jammed packed into a sweltering hot lodge completely enthralled for over an hour and a half with her stories of the joy based loving she does on the streets of Portland.
She shared beautifully moving stories of the people she met. People in the midst of the hell of poverty and mental illness, People able to connect with the love of God she offers. Her stories of joy-based loving were so inspiring that there were young people after she spoke who were raising their hands and asking if they could go on one of her walks with her! Her request was simple; take a moment to see the invisible people; talk to them. She challenged each of them to carry a Dunkin Donuts card for $5 and give it to someone they knew could use it. Pastor Mair’s joy in people bears lasting fruit and heaven on earth is realized as she validates the worth of each child of God struggling on the streets
And heaven on earth is realized as she encourages others to see and to minister to the invisible.
This joy-based loving can become a powerful vehicle for change, a powerful way to participate in helping co-create what we call the Kin’dom of God here on earth. The Theologian Frederick Buechner wrote: ‘The place God calls you to is the place where your deep joy and the world’s deep hunger meet.’
We are called to feel great joy. Like all mothers, like all parents, our Divine Creator, Our loving Mother yearns for us to know the deepest joy in our lives. This is the joy that comes from love, being loved and loving others. And so today, I hope you may remember a story of joy from your own childhood, a story of being protected and embraced and cherished by your own mother in a way that may feel that joy once again now and on days when you really need it. Amen.
(Inspired by writings by Rev. Abby Lynn Haskell, UCC)