Psalm 25:1-9 and Ephesians 1:15-23
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
May 13, 2018
In the church book club last month, we read and discussed the book written by Tracy Ferguson called Dear Mater (which is the proper British/English term for Mother). It is a collection of the letters of a WWI soldier of the 102nd infantry named Arthur Jewell sent home to his mother living in Ben Avon. It was a touching book about a man’s service to his country and a love between mother and son. Here is part of one letter:
France, June 10, 1918 Dear Mater,
I was overjoyed a couple of days ago when the supply sergeant drove up in his mule wagon and gave me a bundle of letters from home. Some of them were dated April and some May, but they were all good. In several places along this Western front the shell holes in no-mans-land are as familiar as the bumps in the old front yard, where the lawn mower used to stick. The shells have to be pretty thick to annoy me as much as Lieut. McGlasson, my bunkie, does when he snores, and I have worn my gas marks in gas attacks so often, that I think no more of it than you do of putting on your overshoes on a rainy day. And thru it all we live very comfortably, have three good meals and a good sleep every 24 hours and feel quite happy. It is a point of honor not to let the Hun disturb our personal comfort or tranquility of mind in any way. Good night, Arthur
And another letter: June 17, 1918 Dear Mother,
I will drop in on you some night--you know I always arrive in the night, preferably just after you have gone to bed--and then I will see if there are any cookies in the pantry. If there aren’t I am sure there will be some made the next day. Until then, we must be content to write letters which is, at best a rather poor substitute. Well, I must close this substitute now. Good by, Mother dear. Love from your son, Arthur.
Letters may be a poor substitute for being there. But the letters were a precious treasure after Arthur died in battle. His mother held onto the letters as a way of holding onto her son, long after he was gone.
Today we mark the Ascension of Jesus. At the end of the Easter Season, according to the Gospel of Luke, after Jesus’ death and resurrection and re-appearances, he is carried up to heaven. The disciples were sad that he was no longer with them, but they had his words that were written down and compiled into the Gospels and later disciples like us have letters written by Paul to the churches about Jesus and his truth. These words are a precious treasure which we could hold onto, long after Jesus was gone. Today’s passage at the end of the gospel of Luke has Jesus saying, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still living…”
Since 1851, The New York Times has published thousands of obituaries: of heads of state, opera singers, the inventor of Stove Top stuffing and the namer of the Slinky. The vast majority chronicled the lives of men, mostly white ones. But, notes a New York Times article: Charlotte Brontë wrote “Jane Eyre”; Emily Warren Roebling oversaw construction of the Brooklyn Bridge when her husband fell ill; Ida B. Wells campaigned against lynching. Yet all of their deaths went unremarked in our pages, until now. Now, we’re adding the stories of other remarkable people. Below you’ll find obituaries for these and others who left indelible marks but were nonetheless overlooked. (Amisha Padnani, Jessica Bennett, 3-8-18)
Today is a special day because we celebrate Mother’s Day. It is a day we give thanks for our mothers, who gave us life, loved us no matter what, and helped us become who we are; and yet often their contributions are overlooked. Today is a day that we can remember the women who are often overlooked. This week, I was thinking about Jesus’ mother Mary. She was a remarkable person, who left indelible marks but was nonetheless overlooked. In the Reformed churches, we hardly acknowledge her, accept on Christmas Eve. And so this week, as I was thinking about Mother’s Day and Ascension Day, I was inspired to write my sermon in the form of a letter...a letter I imagine Jesus might have written to his mother before he went away and left for her to hold onto after he was gone.
Dear Mother, I write to you this letter knowing that you will miss me when I am gone, as I will miss you.
First I want to say thank you to you. Thank you for giving me life. I loved how you told me the story of my birth--every year on my birthday. I loved the part of you riding on a donkey while you were pregnant. I did not love the part where you could not find room in Bethlehem. But, it all worked out. You were resourceful and used the animal manger for my crib.
I am sorry for the time I ran away from you and made you worry--but you knew where I would be--in the temple, learning more about God. You are the one who told me stories about God and made me want to learn more.
Thank you for everything you taught me. Every night you would tell me a story--the story of God and God’s people. I will always remember the story of creation--how each day God created something new...and at the end of the day saw what was created and called it all good. It is all good. I have enjoyed the flowers and trees--especially the date palm trees! I like the birds, the fish, the animals....but I still don’t understand why God created mosquitoes.
I also loved the story about the Exodus. Wow! How amazing that Moses got the people out of slavery in Egypt….and I am glad you told me the beginning of the story, how Moses’ Mom hid him in a basket, to save his life. That’s what you did to me, too, Mom, saving me and keeping me from harm all of my life.
I know that’s why you were nervous when I set out to the Sea of Galilee to begin my ministry. You knew the time had come, but you knew you could not protect me any longer. But, I took with me all that you taught me.
I taught them about God’s provision. One day, I took a few fish and multiplied them to feed thousands. I learned from you...you always seemed to be able to feed me and anyone else who came to our table hungry, even the sinners and outcasts. In this, I tried to teach people to trust God to provide.
I taught them about God’s protection. I told them the story you told me about the good shepherd leaving the 99 sheep to find the lost one. In this I tried to help people trust God to protect. But, I realized that they had to see it to believe it. And so, I had to use my powers--to heal a sick woman, to give sight to a blind man, to still a storm. Don’t worry I didn’t do it to show off….well, there was one time, I walked on water. You should have seen their faces!
I taught them about God’s love. I told them one of my favorite stories about the prodigal son who goes away and wastes everything, but when he returns home, his father runs out to greet him, forgives him and welcomes him home. It’s a story about God’s love, of course, and it is also a story about your love for me. You were always there.
In this, I tried to teach people to trust in God’s love to always be with them.
I tried to make it easy for people to understand and easy to follow me.
But still it didn’t seem easy for people. I kept calling. In hopes they would follow me. I still do.
I know the hardest day for you was the day in Jerusalem when I had to carry the heavy cross on which I would die. Everytime I fell, you were there to lift me up--with your love. I never got to thank you for staying with me until the very end. Even when my closest friends had deserted me, you never did. Even though it was the last thing a mother wanted to see, you stayed there at the foot of the cross, watching it all. Your love reminded me of why I was doing it--to demonstrate that love really is more powerful than fear and hate.
I know that you were one of the first to the empty grave that morning--nothing could keep you away. The other women were surprised and the men were unbelieving. But you, you knew what would happen. In fact, you were the one who reassured me that I could do it, when I was not sure I could. You gave me the strength to believe in myself in my darkest moments. You were the one who reassured me that everything would be okay. You were the one who went out from the tomb with the others and told people the good news--that life is more powerful than death.
Mom, don’t worry about me. I am with Abba now. Although I am not there, I am with you in spirit. I can hear you. So feel free to talk to me everyday. And please share this message with others, tell them I said: I am with you. So feel free to talk to me everyday. I can hear you. And I will answer you--with provision, protection, and love.
With deep gratitude and all my love always, your son, Jesus. Thanks be to God, Amen.