Good morning! We may as well start out by naming the elephant in the room: it’s Mother’s Day. Sure, it’s the Fourth Sunday of Easter, but really, we all know, it’s Mother’s Day. You know? I mean, what’s the resurrection of Christ compared to the awesomeness of moms, right?
Mother’s Day is incredibly complicated. On the surface, it seems simple. Yay, moms. Let’s have a day to celebrate them, and all the hard work they do, and how much they love their kids! And there is nothing inherently wrong about this. But let’s dig a little deeper and underneath that, “yay, moms,” there’s often a lot of other stuff. We all come here today with our own baggage about moms and motherhood and Mother’s Day - We're so incredibly grateful for our mothers, we're sad that they're no longer with us, we have a terrible relationship with them for whatever reason, our own children -- intentionally or unintentionally -- make it extremely difficult to be a mother, we desperately want to be mothers and are stuck feeling angry or jealous towards those who already are, we feel like we are bad mothers or "not real women" because we have suffered miscarriages or couldn't conceive at all or we delivered by c-section instead of naturally. Maybe you never knew your biological mom, or she did a terrible job of caring for you as a child, or maybe her brain is wracked by Alzheimer’s and you just don’t know how to relate to her anymore. Maybe your child has wandered off the beaten path and you wonder what you did wrong in raising him, or whatever. Even for those of us who have a generally good relationship with our still-living mothers, it isn’t perfect, is it? No family is, after all. Mother’s Day is about so much, much more than just flowers and breakfast in bed. Yes?
So it’s good that Mother’s Day is not a liturgical holiday. It is not marked in red on the Church Calendar. It’s not a feast day like Christmas or Easter or Pentecost – All Saints or Ascension or Holy Trinity Sunday or even Reformation Day. We needn't - and shouldn't - let this holiday, and however we feel about it, define our Christian life. Because the Church is not about mothers. It is about Jesus. Even when the Church has traditionally lifted up specific women like the Virgin Mary or her cousin, Elizabeth, who were both prominent maternal figures, the point is not that they were mothers, but that they pointed to Christ. Mary’s Magnificat, in Luke 1, is not about “Yay, God made me a mother,” but “yay, God has saved his people!” Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary is not, “congrats on being pregnant – by the way, how’d that happen?” It’s, “Come on in, dear mother of my Lord! And look, the child in my own womb is leaping for joy in the presence of the prenatal Christ!” Mothers are a good and wonderful thing – and they are meant by God to love and serve and raise their children, and most of them do a darn fine job of it. But motherhood, and families in general, are not, and cannot be, the focal point of church – ever. The focus of church is always and only Christ.
Even our Bible texts for today call us to that. Let’s look at the story from Acts – the book of Acts, more fully, the Acts of the Apostles, is basically Volume II of the Gospel of Luke. It’s written by Luke, and it picks up shortly after the first Easter, in the time of the very early Church, as Jesus’ disciples and other believers in Christ began to get their bearings and get organized in a world – and a religion – that had been forever changed by the Resurrection. And in today’s reading, we get a brief glimpse of what life was like for them.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)
Now, it’s important to recognize that these were normal people we are talking about. They are not living in some ancient hippie commune, or leading some sort of desert monastic life where the cares of the world wouldn’t distract them from religious practice. Those sorts of lifestyles didn’t develop for at least another couple hundred years. These are people who had jobs to complete and fields to till and laundry to do and meals to get on the table. Kids to get to bed even when it was light outside way past bedtime and ill relatives to care for and the thousand other things that come along with daily life. And surely they lived their lives in all the ways that it was necessary to do so.
But they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. What do we devote ourselves to? Work? Sports? Money? Politics? Family? On this Mother’s Day, it is critical that we remember that families – nuclear families, extended families, friends who are basically family – are important things. They are gifts from God to us, so that we can be cared for and loved, nourished and nurtured, and experience companionship and a good – abundant, Jesus might say – life. But they are not God. They are not God.
Unfortunately, however, in our culture “family” can become just as much of an idol as an Old Testament golden calf. It is very easy for us to let “family” slide into first place when it comes to our priorities. We say it, don’t we, without even blinking an eye: “my life revolves around my family,” or “my life revolves around my kids,”. And often this happens without our even noticing. But we wake up one morning and find that the faults of our mother are the entire reason why we can’t seem to get our own life together, and we must ponder this, and wallow in it endlessly. Or that literally every waking moment of our day is devoted to our children and grandchildren and their needs/wants/desires/or 1000 extracurricular, extra-expensive, extra-time-consuming activities. This is how our culture is, is it not? But this is a problem.
Because as Christians, we are not given license to “devote ourselves” to anything other than Christ. Parents, and grandparents: yes, this means that your children or grandchildren are not the most important people in your life. Jesus is. Kids: your friends and family are not the most important people in your life. Jesus is. Husbands and wives: your spouse is not the most important person in your life. Jesus is. Those of you who have a family structure that doesn’t look like you wish it did: because you lack …. Spouse, children, godly parents, whatever, that cannot be what defines your life. Jesus is what defines your life.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Jesus is the Gate. Jesus is the One by whom we go in and out and are led to food and water and a safe pasture to graze. Jesus is the One who provides us a fence to protect us from danger, who shields us from thieves and robbers who come to kill and destroy. Jesus is the only one who can lead us through the valley of the shadow of death, because He has been there first, Himself. Jesus is the one whom our life revolves around, because it is He who literally gives you life, life abundant, and it is He in whom you have goodness and mercy because you dwell in His house forever.
What a blessing that is! What love! In a culture – and even, too often, a Church – that idolizes “family” above all else, how wonderful it is to know that Jesus the Good Shepherd who leads you beside still waters and restores your soul, the Gate who protects you from evil and opens the doors of Heaven, that same Jesus promises us life and goodness and mercy simply because He loves you – regardless of what your earthly family does or does not look like.
He leads you to waters that are more still and refreshing than the most tightly tucked-in covers of a bedtime routine. His goodness and mercy are more than even the most Pinterest-obsessed SuperMom could ever provide. He protects you from enemies far greater than even abusive or neglectful parents. His rod and staff comfort you more than a longed-for baby in a barren womb.
It is to Him and him alone that we look, for the fulfillment of every need, not out of blind obligation “or else”, but because He is our Shepherd. He calls you by name, and you know His voice. He knows exactly where the green pastures and still waters are – because He is the green pastures and still waters. It is safe to follow him, even through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, because He alone knows the way out.
Mama sheep – and Daddy sheep – you could do nothing better for your children and grandchildren, than to teach them this. And in fact, all of us here in this congregation are sheep who are led by the Good Shepherd. We care about, and find a good deal of things in this world important, worthy, helpful, useful, lovely things to support and take part in. But like the early Church, we devote ourselves only to the teaching of the apostles, to prayer and fellowship and breaking of the bread. As St. Peter writes, yes, we had all gone astray like distracted, dumb little sheep. But through the death and resurrection of Jesus, regardless of any other fact about your life, you have been returned to the Shepherd of your soul, and you will dwell in the house of the Lord – forever.
My goodness, but your cup overflows!