by Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens
Cover Image: “The Good Shepherd” by Armento Liturgical Arts
Today, we turn our hearts and our attentions to the women in our lives who have cared for and nurtured us throughout our lives. But, as much as we celebrate those mothers in our lives who loved and protected us, we also acknowledge that mothers are human. Mothers make mistakes.Not all of us have positive memories of our own mothers endnote all of us have turned out to be the mothers we wanted to be. This is why I call this day, “Mothering Sunday” to include all of the women (and men) in our lives who “fill in the gaps” when our own mothers can’t be present in our lives.
I learned something about my own mother at last years’ Ladies Tea. While sitting at the table, enjoying our tea and scones, mom told us a story about her childhood. As I’ve mentioned before, my own mother experienced a traumatic loss when her mother died by suicide when mom was only eleven years old. My mother was the oldest child, her sister was 10 and her brother was only 9 months old, so Mom took over a lot of the “maternal” duties for the family. My grandfather worked hard to support his family and to keep his children together. When he was young, he’d lost his own mother and he and his siblings had been separated when they were young, so he did not want the same fate for his children. With the help of neighbors and friends, the family survived and thrived.
At the Tea last year, Mom said that she had been to similar Ladies’ Tea-events during her childhood. Some of the ladies in their church growing up had taken Mom under their wings and recognizing that she didn’t have a mother to take her to the Mother’s Day Tea, they invited her and her sister. Mom had special memories of those times, because someone stepped in to mother a girl with no mother of her own.
This is the kind of love we celebrate today, not only the love that comes with having children of our own, but in the “mothering” we have received from others and the mothering that we can do for those we mother. As I say each year, mother is not only a noun, but a verb. And today we celebrate and honor all the people who’ve mothered us.
AND did you know that Mother’s Day actually has Methodist roots?
It does: The official Mother’s Day holiday arose in the 1900s as a result of the efforts of Anna Jarvis. Following her mother’s 1905 death, Anna Jarvis conceived of Mother’s Day as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children.
In May of 1908 she organized the first official Mother’s Day celebration at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia.
“Following the success of her first Mother’s Day, Jarvis—who remained unmarried and childless her whole life—resolved to see her holiday added to the national calendar. Arguing that American holidays were biased toward male achievements, she started a massive letter writing campaign to newspapers and prominent politicians urging the adoption of a special day honoring motherhood.
By 1912 many states, towns and churches had adopted Mother’s Day as an annual holiday, and Jarvis had established the Mother’s Day International Association to help promote her cause. Her persistence paid off in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.” (1)
SO, I want you to think of someone who mothered you and tell me… What is one characteristic that you admire in your mothering figure?
Kindness, unconditional love, sacrifice…. these are the qualities that make a good mom. They are also the qualities we admire in a good shepherd.
Let’s look at our scripture and see what John wants us to know about Jesus.
John 10, beginning at verse 22:
As we begin the text we see that this discussion takes place at the festival of the Dedication in Jerusalem. This is the festival we know as Hanukkah celebrated in November or December. Why is this an important note? Because the in the previous chapter there is a mention of the Festival of the Booths, which is a Harvest festival in September/October. This means that Jesus has been in Jerusalem for a period of time; Months have passed with Jesus in the heart of religious and political power.
At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe.’
Now, Jesus has been with them for months – preaching and teaching, healing and instructing, and they were getting impatient. “Just tell us plainly.” they plead. “Are you the Messiah or not?”
And then he brings out the imagery of the sheep. He explained that because the questioners don’t believe they are obviously not a part of his flock. “You are not mine.” he says. “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” (which is a sad statement and makes me feel bad for the questioners.)
But let me give you an image:
do you remember being a small child and being lost in a department store and the feeling like there are so many legs around you, but you can’t find the right legs, the legs that belong to you? or switch roles and imagine… You are at a children’s party and every child is calling “Mom, mom…” and you can identity your child’s “mom” out of all the others.
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” Jesus says.
Now, this “good shepherd” talk is beautiful and serene but the imagery, for all its romance and beauty, especially when imagined in green temperate climates… but the reality of the Judean hills was that it was a very HARSH climate, bathed in danger and conflict… and it has long been a setting used by biblical writers. In fact, in Ezekial chapter 34, verse 22 states that “The shepherd messiah would rule in justice and peace. The hungry sheep would be fed. The lost sheep would be restored.”
“Jesus used the imagery of his own activity, of Gods activity, through the parable of the 99 sheep. Shepherding was a big metaphor which could encompass the vision of the reign of God with the full range of political, social, and personal dimensions which that entails. It is much bigger than pastoral care, understood often in a very limited sense without the wider dimensions.” (2)
Author William Loader states: “To acclaim someone as the shepherd is to make a statement about counter claims and competitors. Acclaiming the reign of God the shepherd calls into question all other claims to authority. It is dangerous and leaves one vulnerable to expedient discounting by those who recognize threat or find such alternatives as subversive or just untidy and bothersome. Some or all of these responses killed Jesus. He would give his life for the sheep.” (3)
If we are his sheep, we hear his voice and listen to him. We follow his guidance. We trust in his protection from the dangers of the world. We know that our shepherd will be at our side when we are hurting, caring for us in our pain. We understand that our shepherd will be merciful in dealing with us because they love us. This is what we understand about Jesus as our Good Shepherd; this is also what we admire about our mothers and those who mother us.
On this day when we remember those who’ve mothered us, as we honor our mothers and as our own children honor us, let us remember the Jesus who cares for us and guides us, who protects us and helps us along life’s paths. And let us STRIVE to be good shepherds to those we love and care for and protect, those we are called to mother. Amen.
- Found on https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/mothers-day
- William Loader found on http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/LkEaster4.htm