May 12,2019

Easter 4 May 12, 2019   Ps 145, 2 John 1-5,12-13; John 19:25-27, John 2:1-12

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The mother of Jesus makes only two appearances in John’s gospel…We only get to hear her speak in our last reading today. But even these brief moments are enough to let us know… how powerfully-strong-a-place she has in the heart of her son.

And… What a challenge it must have been – bringing up Jesus – truly God and truly human. I can’t imagine all that Mary must have gone through. Though I do remember how, quite often, over in Luke’s gospel, she pauses and ponders… Ponders the angel’s announcement of her coming pregnancy by the Holy Spirit. Ponders the testimony of shepherds, telling of angels singing to them of his birth. Ponders the words the prophets Anna and Simeon speak to her when she and Joseph present baby Jesus in the temple. Ponders again the words her son speaks to her as a twelve-year-old– when he’s finally found on the third day apart from his family – discussing bible interpretation with bible scholars in the temple while his parents have been searching frantically for him…. Mary has been through quite a lot even before Jesus becomes a teenager…

So it’s a blessing here, to see, in our last reading today –

Jesus doing a Mother’s Day thing – making something like 150 gallons of wine from water, when friends of his mother run out of wine at a wedding party.

(To run out of wine was a disgrace at a Jewish wedding – which typically included the whole village – so everyone would be talking about this running out of wine forever and a day.) So it’s a blessing Jesus is there to help.

But – at first glance Jesus sounds a bit less-divine, a bit-more-human today – maybe over-tired or having a bad-hair day – as he replies to his mother’s mentioning of the dilemma of no wine – saying “so what’s that got to do with you or me? My time hasn’t come.” Which sounds like a “no” to me… But what do I know?

As his mother, who knows much better than me how to interpret Jesus – tells the steward of the wedding party – “Do whatever he says.” Which the steward does – and good wine flows abundantly… The party is blessed. And we remember this story at weddings ever since. And I think the story works for Mother’s Day also… As we think about the roles of biblical mothers, our mothers, and all who have been as mothers for us… Remembering…

Neither I nor anyone I know has ever been able to turn water into wine – even if it’s Mother’s day and mom’s telling us the wedding party’s running on empty. Sorry mom, that’s way above my pay grade.

But even I have learned to honor my mother…. Learned, as I’m sure most of us have – to honor all the women of faith who have helped shape our lives in more ways than we can ever adequately say “thank you” for… and…

Even I have learned to honor the biblical mothers of old…Starting with Eve, first mother of the bible… Sarah, mother of Isaac, child of promise… Hagar, mother of Ishmael, child of another promise… Rebekah, mother of twin boys Esau and Jacob, wrestling in her womb, born wrestling with each other and with destiny…

Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah, the wives of Jacob and mothers of the twelve tribes of Israel. Jochebed, mother of Moses. Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses’ step-mother. Zipporah the wife of Moses and mother of his children. The un-named mother of Samson who speaks face-to-face with an angel who won’t speak to her husband. Ruth, the Moabite foreigner who becomes great-grandmother of King David. Time won’t permit us to recall today all the mothers of the bible who gave birth, raised and nurtured every man, woman and child that ever was in all the pages of sacred scripture…

Each of these women of God gifted for motherhood by God, our Father, who is surely our Motherly Mothering God also – as we hear God say through the prophet Isaiah in our Thought for the Week: Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, even when you turn gray I will carry you….

Which has me recalling a children’s book, given to our daughter Rohi when she was little by her aunt Julie, titled Love You Forever… Which starts with a young mother rocking her baby, singing – I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living – my baby you’ll be.

Then, next page, her baby boy’s two years old, and there’s a picture of him sitting on the bathroom floor, a big smile on his face, holding the end of a long roll of toilet paper wrapped across the toilet and around a cat – his other hand holding a watch over the toilet, and the book says (quote) – “he took all the food out of the refrigerator and he took his mother’s watch and flushed it down the toilet… Sometimes his mother would say “this kid is driving me CRAZY!””

But at night (now, on the next page) when her two-year-old is sleeping –  she crawls across the floor quietly to see if he’s really asleep. And if so, she picks him up, rocks him in her arms, and sings again – I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living – my baby you’ll be.

On the next page, now he’s nine years old – tracking mud across the kitchen floor in the picture – and the story continues: “And he never wanted to come in for dinner, he never wanted to take a bath, and when grandma visited he…said bad words. Sometimes his mother wanted to sell him to the zoo!

But again on the next page, he’s fast asleep, and his mother somehow still manages to pick him up, rock him in her arms, and sing again I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living – my baby you’ll be. Then –

On the next page he and a friend are teenagers – one talking on the phone, the other using a lamp as a make-believe microphone – pizza and soda on the floor, pictures and household items knocked over and tilted and (quote) “he had strange friends and he wore strange clothes and he listened to strange music. Sometimes his mother felt like she was in a zoo!”

But again on the next page…Mother still goes into his room at night, and at least metaphorically rocks him in her arms, singing I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living – my baby you’ll be. And time flies, and…   Her baby boy is grown up, living across town in a house of his own. And now his mother drives over to his house at night, and if the lights are out, she puts a ladder up against the house and crawls in his window. And she holds him and rocks him and sings… I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living – my baby you’ll be.

Till finally one day, when she’s much older, she calls her son and says–

“You’d better come see me because I’m very old and sick.”

“So her son came to see her. When he came in the door she tried to sing the song. She sang I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always…

But she couldn’t finish because she was too old and sick.

The son went to his mother.

He picked her up and rocked her back and forth, back and forth.

And he sang this song: I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always,

As long as I’m living – my Mommy you’ll be.”

“Then he went into the room where his very new baby daughter was sleeping. He picked her up in his arms and very slowly rocked her back and forth, back and forth. And while he rocked her he sang: I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living – my baby you’ll be.

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Probably all mothers have lived some version of this story… I know…

My mother lived the words of the book…

I was her first born… Then my sister Annie, then Sam, then Eben… She held each of her four babies in her arms, rocked us… sang to us… And for sure… We kept her up many a night… Holding us when we were babies and we cried and needed to be fed or have our diapers changed… Waiting for us to come home safely when we were teenagers…

Later my sister Annie and her children and her son Andrew’s wife Kate took turns taking care of mom… Changing her garments, trying to coax her to eat and drink… Singing to her… On my last visit all I could do was say some psalms and sing to her… Till it was time next morning to hug and say goodbye…

When I called home to say I was at the airport, about to get on the plane Reah told me my sister Annie had just called to say mom had gone… almost as soon as I left…

On the way home I kept remembering stories of mom and how…

Mom’s mother, from the time she was little, wanted mom to go to college. Which she began to do… but dropped out to work for the army, where she met dad, a sergeant at the time. They got married exactly three months later. She returned to college thirty years later, when my youngest brother Eben was in high school. Then mom taught art in the rural counties of Western Washington state, traveling and teaching town-to-town, school-to-school, a week at a time – mothering children in the art of seeing color and beauty and light… in a world that can sometimes seem all gray and cold… She’d been an amateur painter; now she began selling paintings…. but she’d always say after the cost of paint, canvass, frames, and gas money it worked out to just a dollar or two an hour…

Which I’m thinking… might be a metaphor for mother’s pay…

As I watch my wife patiently teaching and caring for our daughter…Teaching and taking care of her other child, her husband, whom she accuses of still being half-teenager…

Singing to her children as we sleep the same song…

I think I’m hearing God sing …along with my mother and grandmothers, my wife’s mother and grandmothers…

All our mothers and grandmothers and all who have been as mothers for us…

Singing together… with God…

I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always,

As long as I’m living – my baby you’ll be.

Thanks be to God! Amen.