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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Easter - Mother's Day 5/10/2015

Today is Mothers Day; it’s not a church holiday. Liturgically, today is the Sixth Sunday of Easter although in the calendars I get from Thrivent and Augsburg, they do acknowledge that it’s also Mothers Day; I guess if they include Super Bowl Sunday they have to include Mothers Day too. It’s not a church holiday, that’s true, but…recent studies show, and by recent I mean 2012 which isn’t all that recent, recent studies show that maybe Mothers Day should be made a church holiday.

1000 Protestant pastors were asked which days of the year had the highest church attendance. Numbers one and two are pretty obvious, Christmas and Easter, or actually it’s Easter and Christmas; Easter was mentioned by 93% of those polled and Christmas by 84%. It does makes me wonder though, about the 7% that didn’t mention Easter and the 16% that didn’t mention Christmas; what days are outdrawing those two?

Anyway, coming in third at 59% was…Mothers Day. I don’t have any recent studies that tell me why Mothers Day comes in so high but my guess is that when mothers are asked what they want for Mothers Day, many must say, “Oh, just come to church with me.” As an aside, you might be interested to know that Fathers Day came in close to the bottom on this survey. I suppose there’s a discussion we could have about that too, but not today.

When I was at seminary I remember my worship professor, who I have very high regard for, he taught me a lot, but he said he hated Hallmark holidays like Mothers Day and thought we shouldn’t pay any attention to them in church, that we should just observe whatever the liturgical day is. I have to respectfully disagree. I’ll always remember visiting some shut-ins the week after Mothers Day when I was on internship and there was one woman who really didn’t have much going for her whose spirits had been tremendously lifted by her daughter’s Mothers Day visit; that in contrast to another woman I visited who was still teary several days later because her son had not visited or called her on Mothers Day. It might be a Hallmark holiday, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t have meaning.

Because it’s not a liturgical holiday though, that means that from a preaching perspective you never know what you’re going to get for scripture readings but you do know that there won’t be any intentional connection of the lessons with Mothers Day. Usually Mothers Day falls sometime during the Easter season, most often later in the season as is the case this year and that means a gospel reading from John. Some years then you might get imagery about shepherds and sheep, this year it’s vine imagery. For me then, the challenge is to honor my worship professor by preaching on the appointed texts for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, but if possible, to somehow connect them to Mothers Day knowing that for many of you the fact that it’s Mothers Day is more significant than it being the Sixth Sunday of Easter.

This year the gospel refers back to the vine imagery from last week, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” I didn’t have to deal with it last week on Holy Humor Sunday but although not mentioned directly, the vine and branches still form the backdrop for today’s reading. In typical John fashion, the vine imagery kind of winds around, not exactly following a straight path, but makes various connections centered on Jesus as the vine, those who follow him as the branches and the Father as the vine grower. As is the case with the shepherd imagery, vines are something that many of us don’t know much about, but in considering this image one thing that’s important to know about vines is that it can be hard to tell where a vine ends and a branch begins; they all become connected and intertwined and somewhat indistinguishable.

The word that’s used to get at these connections is abide, not a word that we use a lot in normal conversation. A lot of us love the hymn Abide With Me, but that’s about it. The Greek word translated as abide though, means remain or stay. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

One of the things I’ve learned about John is that it helps to go slow. If you read a passage like this quickly it can just become a jumble of repeated words; but…if you go slow and pay attention to the repeated words, there is a lot to chew on. What you can see though, I hope, is that with both the vine imagery and the repetition of words like abide and love, very close relationships are being described, specifically, very close relationships with the divine where we actually become part of the divine attribute of love. There are places in the Bible where humanity isn’t portrayed very favorably, being prone to sin and disobedience, but abiding in the love of Jesus is an image of humanity at its best. The image is then extended as that abiding and love are made known in bearing fruit, yet another image that is worth taking some time to think about.

With John though, even if you try to slow down and consider these images, he makes it difficult as he keeps adding another layer to things and that’s what happens in this chapter as the vine and the love and the abiding and the bearing fruit are culminated in a discussion about friendship. “You are my friends if you do what I command you. I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” Slowing down again though, what this talk about friends means, is that on this day that we celebrate mothers and a very close family relationship we get a gospel text that celebrates friendship or at least asks us to think about friendship.

Friends and family are different, right? You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family. There can be overlap for sure, sometimes you hear, “My mother is my best friend,” or “My wife or my husband is my best friend.” That’s nice and it certainly can be true, but usually, even with that overlap, there’s a difference. For many of us we have or have had friends who are as important to us as family but while it can be hard to describe, it’s still different. You treasure those people you call friends though; all of us have many acquaintances, people we know and like, but it’s a much smaller group that we would call our friends.

I suspect that this is part of what this discussion of friendship is about. Starting with a description of vines and branches and then finally using that image to call us friends is one way John gets at the closeness and the significance of the relationship with God made possible through Jesus. It’s not the only way he gets at the divine/human relationship though. Just as he uses different images to describe Jesus, images like the vine, the Good Shepherd and the bread of life, he also has different ways of describing the relationship that’s created between God and humanity. Friendship represent one way that the relationship is described, but remember in the first chapter of John he speaks of Jesus providing the power to become children of God. So in addition to friendship imagery there is also family imagery.

With all the images that John uses, it’s not that one is better than another but that one image isn’t enough; at one time or another one might be more effective than another in conveying who God is and also in conveying what our relationship with the God made known in Jesus is like. With the relationship it may be that being called Jesus’ friends is helpful, but being called children of God is also very powerful. Both images are needed. That sort of brings us back to Mothers Day.

I don’t think there’s any place in John where he uses mother imagery, but he could have because at its best a mother/child relationship is one of best examples we ever have of unconditional love, the kind of love that God has for each of us. It doesn’t mean that a mother always likes her children, none of us is always likable, but even when we’re not very likable, a mother’s love is still there. Those of us who have experienced that kind of relationship can be very thankful because it does provide a glimpse of and an experience of divine love.

So Happy Mothers Day…to everyone.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
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