Sermon: Mothers and God-mothers (John 17: 6-19)


Mother’s Day is a day when we lift up our moms.

For some, that comes so naturally that it scarcely rates as a day.

There are some families where, on Mother’s Day, the grandmother shows up unannounced with dinner already made in pots covered in tin foil, along with flowers for her daughter, and all anyone has to do is go get it from the backseat.

These are families where motherhood has become a form of sisterhood — a powerful shared experience of family and what it is to be “the mom” and of all that demands.

There are families where mom gets breakfast in bed, made by everybody else, on Mother’s Day.

I have a feeling that in a lot of those families, mom may be a lot more awake than she pretends to be — that upstairs she is listening with her “mom ears,” those ears that always hear everything that goes on — and that the gift is not so much the breakfast she is served, but more the pleasure of listening to somebody else having to wrangle the children through an exercise involving open flames, getting things out of the knife drawer, and adjudicating who gets to carry the tray.

Of course, there are families where a phone call pretty much does it.

And there are others for whom even that might be asking too much.

My own grandmother was like that.

If you called her on Mother’s Day, you had to do it before the Mets game, or you wouldn’t keep her attention long enough to say thank you.

You’d be like, “Happy Mother’s Day, Nanny! I just wanted to call and say how much I…”

And she’d be like, “Wait, Mookie Wilson is coming up! Come on, Mookie! I just love Mookie!”

And you’d maybe try to fight that for a minute or two, but it never worked, and finally she’d say, “Well, this is long distance, so….” And that was your cue to hang up and let her get back to her game.

Which was always funny because if you were sitting in her living room, watching the game on some other day, her phone would ring constantly, and she had no trouble whatsoever talking and watching.

I think I was in my late 20s when I realized that it wasn’t her love for the Mets that was the issue.  It was this particular kind of “thank you” that was the issue.

That if you wanted to thank my grandmother…if you wanted to show her love… to say “I love you” outright was not the way.

She was also not the kind of grandmother who wanted a hug ever, or who wanted a handmade card.

But a New York Mets cigarette lighter?  She would have gone on and on and on about that.

It occurs to me that this is one of the great challenges of a day like this.

Because each one of us has their own particular language of love…our own particular ways in which we feel seen and appreciated and known for who we are.

That’s important.

It’s important because I’m not entirely sure that Mother’s Day leaves a lot of room for that.

Cards, flowers, breakfast in bed — those things all have their place, to be sure.

But if there is really anything to this day, it is because it offers us the chance to say to someone that they are noticed. They are seen.  They are appreciated not just for everything they do, but for who they are.

You’ve heard about the mom whose family got her a new vacuum cleaner for Mother’s Day?

The good news is that the jury acquitted her of all charges.

If all we have noticed about our mothers is how much cooking and cleaning and carpooling and caretaking our moms do–if the only part of who they are that we’ve come to know about them over the years is the part about the logistics of taking care of us–well, shame on us.

If that’s all we’re celebrating on Mother’s Day, then we’re not celebrating our mothers much at all.

Really, we’re just finding another way to celebrate ourselves.

And that’s not the point.

I mean, is that who God sees when God looks down at your mom, or mine?

Does God look down at them, doing all the things they do, going all the places they go, spinning all those plates they spin and wearing all those hats they wear…does God look down at them and say, “Hey there’s whatshername, Max’s mom?”

Or does God look down and say “There she is.  There is my child…who is doing so much…who is making it work in so many ways…She may be far from perfect and yet…Isn’t she amazing….”?

Isn’t Mother’s Day really supposed to be about giving thanks for that person…that person that God knows?

Do we see her today? How does she want to be loved today?

Do we really even know?

And not just her.

Another thing it’s important to mention today is that motherhood takes many forms.

Each of us is nurtured in so many different ways, and by so many different people.

On this day when we are called to see our mothers more deeply…more completely…let’s acknowledge how important it is for us to have people in our lives who see us with that same kind of profound insight.  Who see something in us.

Today, I’m thankful because I’m aware, not only of my mom, but also of other mother-figures I have had in my life — especially spiritual mothers.

You see, my mother is not a particularly inclined to talk about religious things, and I grew up in a home without much, if any, God-talk.

There was a great deal of talk about right and wrong, and fair and unfair, and kindness and unkindness.

That has shaped me profoundly, and looking back on it, I feel very clear that the Holy Spirit was hovering over a whole lot of that talk.

But my spiritual life really came together because at various points in my life, other mother-figures appeared.

Other women, my true God-mothers, came along, and they shaped me decisively, and reshaped my thinking in important ways.

My God-mothers were women who were willing to talk about God…and prayer… the strength it takes to turn the other cheek, and to render to no one evil for evil.

There have been those God-mothers in my life who were not just willing to lift me as a spiritual person, though I’m grateful for that, too.

But what was even more important were that they were willing to level with me…they told me, not only about grace, but about the work of learning to carry their cross.  Every day.

That’s formed me, too.

Some of them are in this very room right now.

Who are your God-mothers? Who has played that role in your life? Someone, right?

Who’s on your heart this morning?

A Sunday school teacher? A praying or a meditating person? The author of a book you read years ago but have never really forgotten?

Or maybe the person you’re seeing wasn’t even explicitly churchy…she was a God-mother of a different kind…maybe a beloved aunt who didn’t see things quite the way your parents did? A friend’s mom with a million bumper stickers on the back of her station wagon? The teacher or the boss who loved you dearly but rode you hard and didn’t see those things as opposites?

Didn’t these people give us life, too? Wasn’t the Spirit moving in them, somehow?

To me, Mother’s Day wouldn’t be complete without them.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to put someone on a pedestal than to listen to what she has to say.

If you think about it, that’s something that Jesus and many women have very much in common.

Let’s not do that today.

Instead, let’s listen.  Let’s ask ourselves how the people in our lives want to be loved today.

If we do it today, maybe we will make a point to do it again tomorrow, and so on.

In our Gospel this morning, Jesus lifts his eyes to God and says, “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I have been glorified in them.”

It is a prayer for his disciples — a recognition that even though he is soon to depart, his work continues in the lives of those who stay and carry on.

Today, I hear it also as a particular prayer for the many ways in which the love of our mothers and God-mothers continues the work of Christ in the world.

Hard as life can be, confusing as it can be, unjust as the world can be…nevertheless, there are those who have found a way to give us life in all its forms.

And the point, simply, is that God is glorified in that giving.  God is present in that giving. God is transforming not only us, but all creation in that giving.

The job of Mother’s Day is to name that as we give thanks for our mothers and our God-mothers in whatever ways we do.

However we express it, may we always be grateful for the love in their labor and the labor in their love.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s