|May 13, 2001|
|First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct 06776|
|Rev. Michael Moran|
|Write to Rev. Moran|
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?"
He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."
And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.
Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.
He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.'
Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?"
He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
Sermon: Are You My Mother?
Are you my mother? asks the little bird who has fallen from its nest. For some such a question would be foolish. We know our mothers better than we know ourselves. Our mothers have blanketed us with their love since the day we were born and have guided us each step along the path. They have made sacrifices great and small and have protected us with tenacity and even ferocity.
Such a mother was Hagar whose story we read in the opening pages of the Bible Genesis chapter 16.
Hagar did not have an easy life. I dont know if you could call her the first single mom in the Bible, but she had no proper husband. She was the Egyptian maid to Sarah, wife of Abraham. When Sarah could not conceive, Sarah sent Hagar to lie with Abraham and bear a child in her place. And we think surrogate mothers are a new deal!
Well, Hagar got pregnant and promptly took on an attitude towards her boss, and Sarah reacted so aggressively that Hagar fled out of the camp and into the wilderness.
Hagar was trying to get as far away from Abraham and Sarah as she could when an angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water. The angel tells her to go back and submit to Sarah, and gives her both a promise and a warning. The promise is that through this child she is carrying, she will be the mother of a multitude. And the warning is this and here I quote - He shall be a wild ass of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone's hand against him; and he shall live at odds with all his kin."
And so Hagar returned to the tents of Abraham and gave birth to a son who was named Ishmael.
Everything went well until Sarah miraculously got pregnant and gave birth to Isaac. Although usually counted as a blessing, for Hagar the birth of Isaac turned out to be a curse. At a party on the occasion of Isaac being weaned, Sarah gets paranoid about who will be the heir to Abraham, so she demands that her husband drive Hagar and Ishmael out of the household.
Mother and son go into the wilderness again, but this time they lose their way and cannot find any water. They are near the point of death when Hagar raises a prayer, really a cry, to God: "Do not let me look on the death of the child."
God hears and they are delivered. Ishmael, we are told, grows to become an expert with the bow and marries an Egyptian woman and gives to Hagar the multitude of generations that God had promised.
So Who is my mother? would be an easy question for Ishmael. His mother Hagar was the poor servant who suffered and sacrificed for his nurture and protection. She was a single woman subject to the unpredictable treatment of a wealthy household, used, abused, and discarded. But she stuck by her child and through her love and perseverance he was given the gift of life and posterity.
I sure you dont have to go back into Bible times to find examples of this kind of mother. I have seen such mothers in this congregation mothers who nurse their children through serious illness, who guide them through difficult choices, who advocate for them and never lose hope, who comfort them and keep faith even when everyone else has given up. Im sure there are many stories we all could tell of children who would have no trouble answering the question, Are you my mother?
But let me share with you about a story I read in the newspaper a while back. It was about a girl named Brooke Ellison. She graduated last year from Harvard, and her senior honor thesis was entitled: The Element of Hope in Resilient Adolescents.
Brooke Ellison knows something about hope. On her first day in seventh grade she was hit by a car and left paralyzed from the neck down. She breathes with the help of a ventilator and gets from here to there with the help of an electric wheelchair. She guides her wheelchair, as well as the cursor on her computer, by touching her tongue to a keypad that is embedding in a retainer on the roof her mouth.
Brooke does not feel she is special, but expects, if people take notice at all, for others to focus on her mother who has sat at her side every step of the way since the day of her accident. Her mother turns the pages in her books when she studies. Her mother raises her hand in class when Brooke has something to say. Her mother left their home and went the four years to Harvard with her daughter, a feat noted with a mock degree in virtual studies conferred on mom by Brookes classmates.
Im the brawn, shes the brains says the mother of her daughter. Both are an inspiration, an illumination of the fierce protective love of a mother for her child that overcomes fear and makes the impossible a reality. This is, admittedly, a front-page story. It is the tip of the ice-berg of the many everyday stories where mothers put on the armor of love and fight the good fight for their children and make abundantly clear that quality of love which is, in our faith, the basis of creation, the central nature of God, and greatest expression what is holy and good.
How does this motherly love come into a persons life? While some become mothers by birth, some become mothers by choice, and sometimes not ever their own choice. Here the question Are you my mother? moves into a broader sphere.
It was very odd last week: I was working on this sermon and listening to an CD of old songs by Les Paul and Mary Ford when this song came on; do you recognize the words?
Whither thou goest, I will go
Wherever thou lodgest I will lodge
Thy people shall be my people, my love
Whither thou goest I will go
For as in loves story long ago
That same sweet love story now is so
Thy people shall be my people, my love
Wherever thou goest I will go
How many times these words have been read or sung at a wedding, only God knowest, but the fact is they are not spoken by a wife to a husband, but by a daughter in law to her husbands mother.
These words come from the Bible, from the book of Ruth. Ruth is the daughter in law in question, and Naomi her mother in law. Now Naomi has come upon some very difficult times. Originally from Bethlehem in Judah, she and her husband and two sons are forced to leave home during a time of famine and try their luck for a better life in the land of Moab. But disaster seems to follow them. Naomis husband dies, and after her two sons marry Moabite women, her sons die also.
Naomi does not know what to do, but hearing that times have gotten better in Judah, she decides to return to Bethlehem. She tells her daughters-in-law not to come with her, but to stay in their own land and return to their mothers. One does just that, but not Ruth.
Ruth chooses to be a daughter to Naomi, and says to her, as Mary Ford sang: Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.
Some of you may know the story, that when they return to Bethlehem they are in poverty and must rely for food on the grain that Ruth can glean from the fields after the farm workers are finished with their harvest. The rich land owner Boaz sees Ruth out there and learns of her kindness to her mother in law and, well, one thing leads to another and pretty soon they are making music like Les Paul and Mary Ford and from their union comes a son, Obed.
Obed, by the way, is the father of Jesse, who is the father of King David, and you go 28 generations from David and you come to the Birth of Jesus, from Bethlehem, the ancestral home of Naomi, who through a kindness of her daughter in law Ruth was given security and joy in her old age.
In a way Ruth answers the question Are you my mother? in much the same way as her future great plus 28 greats grandson answered the question of the lawyer in todays reading. The lawyer asked, Who is my neighbor? And Jesus replied with a story about two men who were as far from neighbors as people could get in that society, for one of them was a Jew and the other was a Samaritan, and they were as far apart then as the Israeli and the Palestinian are today. The Jewish man fell among thieves and was left by the side of the road. Many passed him by. But, the Samaritan chose to treat him in a neighborly way, and the racial or religious or political or even common sense distinctions that separated them were completely overcome by the kindness, compassion, and human decency that were shown.
Jesus points out that all the distinctions we draw are overcome by love. The traditional forms of neighbor, mother/child, spouse, family, clan and even country do not create boundaries that love cannot cross.
Who was a neighbor to the man who fell among thieves? Jesus asked. And the lawyer had to answer, The one who showed him mercy. Go and do likewise, Jesus concluded.
Hagar illustrates the courage of a mothers love to protect her child; Ruth illustrates the kindness of a childs love to care for her mother. We need courage and kindness today; our children need protection and our elders need caring.
There are those who become mothers and children by birth, and those who are blessed with that relationship by choice. Today we honor them all, and recognize how their love, compassion, patience and perseverance shape our lives and send us to our destiny. We honor them, we thank them, and we promise to go and do likewise.
Let us Pray:
O love that will not let us go, we come to know you first through the eyes of those who look upon us with motherly love when we are young. We give you thanks for all who have nurtured us and cared for us and guided us along a good path in our lifes journey. We ask your blessing this day on all mothers and children, and especially on those who we remember and honor with the gifts of Church World Service blankets. We thank you that through our life together as a church and through our ecumenical relationships within Church World Service we are able to have such a small offering on our part reach around the world and help families in need in your name.
We think of the needs of families this day, and pray that a spirit of trust, affection, and hope may dwell in the homes of your people. And for those who have no homes, for families displaced by war, famine, flood, or any misfortune, we ask you to open for us a path of service, that in holy love we might find a way to serve them in their need, even as you have served us in Christ our Lord, who emptied himself and endured the cross for our sake, that we might live for others and come to life eternal.
We pray this day, O God, for all those we love who have departed this life and entered that home where all your children gather in peace. We gather here to seek the comforts of faith and to share in a fellowship of caring and hope. Help us to be family to one another and to encourage one another in our difficult times.
We pray also for all who struggle with illness and disability. Help us never to take our health for granted, but to embrace it as a blessing and employ it in your service.
God, grant us to live a life that is an honor to our mothers and fathers, a blessing to our children, and a thankful response to your gracious love in Christ our Lord. Amen.
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