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Good Shepherd-Fourth Sunday in Easter:  Shepherding and Mothering Roles Both Call for Sacrifice, Love & More

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing to you oh Lord, Amen.

Blessings on you this beautiful Mother’s Day and Good Shepherd Sunday!  I realize that Mother’s Day is more of a Hallmark holiday than something in the church liturgy.  However, I appreciated the fact that both of these occasions fall on the same day and have some interesting similarities.  

We pick one day a year where we give homage to mothers and to Christ as the Good Shepherd.  The images we see in our mind's eye of a saintlike mother holding her newborn baby are not dissimilar to the artwork we see of the Good Shepherd holding his lamb that once was lost.  However, as pointed out in our e-formations, most art depicting the Good Shepherd is unrealistic and sentimental: shepherding was a difficult and dirty job for the men and women who herded the flocks.  However, the sheep were gifts from God and essential sources of life for the people. And, although it has been a few years since I was the mother of small children, I do recall that the job of motherhood was also often difficult and dirty (sometimes downright gross), but I still thought of my boys as gifts from God! Both the shepherding role and the mothering role call for sacrifice and love, dedication, and patience. 

For many, Mother’s Day is such a joyful day to remember some of the most precious moments of our lives and to honor those who have mothered us.  For some others, it’s a reminder of broken relationships, tragic losses, deaths, and unfulfilled hopes. Let us face it. All mothers are not good mothers.  Some are neglectful or even abusive.  Some women became mothers who never wanted to be mothers and others have tried desperately to conceive and can not.  And there are some days when the greatest of mothers lose their grip on “sainthood” when pushed a bit too far by a small one.  

Let’s keep in mind that I am not just talking about biological mothers. Other people “mother” as well, be it grandparents, uncles, aunties, older siblings, fathers, stepparents, etc.  Some people worry that too much emphasis on ‘motherhood’ is exclusionary. But if you think about it, Mother’s Day is the MOST inclusionary moment of the year. Why? We all have mothers of some sort or fashion, whether it is a biological mother or an emotional bond that ties us to someone else in a maternal way. 

Even good mothers are not all alike.  When I was a child, I was always a little embarrassed that my mother was not a “normal” stay-at-home-mom like most of my friends had.  In fact, she not only worked as a teacher, she was also a member of the National Guard.  It wasn’t until I was in high school that I began to appreciate that I had a mom who really did wear army boots (and why was that considered an insult anyway?) and also she was a sharpshooter with an automatic rifle.  Maybe that is why it was so hard for me to find boyfriends in high school?  But I digress.  

It is interesting to take a look at some of the mothers in the Bible and how it stresses the vital role of women in the care of the family, the transmission of the faith, and how mothers should be honored and cared for.  Do you remember the Proverbs 31 woman?  You know, the one who works her flax and wool with eager hands, gets up while it is still dark, provides food for her family, buys a field with her savings and plants a vineyard, trades profitably, and opens her hands to the needy!  I have always found that much perfection kind of hard to take! 

What an overachiever compared to the average working mother, usually sleep-deprived and running on empty with too much to do and too little time.  But yet the Proverbs 31 woman “watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.  Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her…. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Yes women, let us focus on that last part, “the woman who fears the Lord should be praised”!  Forget all that overachiever stuff! Amen?

Not only is motherhood vital in the Old Testament, but in 2 Timothy 2:5, but Paul also calls out the mother of Timothy and his grandmother. He honors them for being the ones who gave Timothy a vision of what to believe. Paul states “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” If Paul called out moms and grandmothers for meritorious conduct, we should too! 

In Romans 16, verse 13, Paul is sending his personal greeting to his friends in Rome.  He says, effectively, “Say hi to Rufus…and to his mother who was a mother to me.” 

Do you know who Rufus is? He was the son of Simon of Cyrene who carried the cross of Christ on the last leg of the painful Good Friday journey. This means that Simon most likely went home from that experience a changed man. And he shared the power of that moment with his wife and sons, Alexander and Rufus (Mark 15:21). And, then in an intersection of faith and circumstance, no doubt orchestrated by the Holy Spirit, that story was shared with Paul.  Can you imagine being like a mother to the great apostle Paul, the most significant convert in the history of the church!

And what about Mary, the mother of Jesus. She said yes to God knowing that the situation she would be in would have others wondering if she had been compromised before marriage.  But she took on that challenge and cared for the very Son of God.  And Jesus obviously loved her because he made sure that John took her in after his death on the cross.

Let’s look back at our reading on Dorcas.  We don’t know if she was a mother or not, but she was certainly mothering.  Her kindness and her work with clothing were well-known, especially to the widows in town.  She was a faithful and devoted woman of charity and when she passed away, the community mourned her.  So much so that they summoned Peter who came and raised her from the dead!

The three persons of Godhead transcend any gender role however, have you given any thought to the mothering side of the Godhead?  We focus a lot on the masculine or paternal attributes of God.  There’s nothing wrong with that unless those earthly metaphors come to define or limit our understanding of God. 

There are some beautiful maternal images applied to God in the Scriptures.  In Isaiah 66:12 - 13, the Lord seeks to provide comfort to Jerusalem stating “For this is what the Lord says: “Behold, I extend peace to her like a river, And the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; And you will be nursed, you will be carried on the hip and rocked back and forth on the knees.  As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you…” Beautiful imagery.

In Matthew 23:37 Jesus speaks of Jerusalem.  “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”  

In Deuteronomy 32:18 God is angered by his children, the Israelites, stating that they deserted the Rock, who fathered you, and forgot the God who gave them birth.

In looking at our Psalms 23 reading, think about how many of the things the Lord provides that you might associate with mothering.   He provides safety, shelter, guidance, food, water, and comfort.  He prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies.  That sounds like something a mom would do.

Our Revelation passage states that “the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,  and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” That sounds like mothering to me.

I love the passage from our gospel reading today.  “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”  I love the assurance that passage provides.  It is so reassuring to think of hearing Jesus’ voice and knowing him.   No one can take us away from him! No forces of evil can snatch us from his hands.

Now I won’t ask for a show of hands but for those of you who are mothers or mothered someone, have you ever lost your child in a grocery or department store?  One minute, things are fine, your child is hanging off your pants leg getting underfoot.  Then, in an instant, you look around and find him or her gone.  Instantaneous panic sets in, right?  You are suddenly terrified that someone has snatched your child and you have lost him forever.  Then, you find him, playing peak-a-boo hiding out behind a rack of coats and you are so relieved you found him but so angry at him for scaring the “you know what” out of you!  Probably not one of motherhood’s greatest saintly moments if you know what I mean!  

It is nice to know that no one can take us away from the loving, mothering, hands of Jesus. He is both our shepherd and our sacrificial lamb. We are washed in his blood and he died for our sins.  And, because of that, we can look forward to spending eternity with him, worshiping day and night, sheltered by God, no hungering, no thirsting, no scorching heat, we will be guided to the springs of the water of life. And no more tears!