Homily for Easter VII C, Mothers’ Day, John 17: 20-26 NRSV

Jesus said: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. ‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’ “

 

Mother of GodFirst, I’d like to begin by saying “Happy Mothers’ Day” to all mothers present. “Happy Mothers’ Day” to you. And, I suppose, in these days of political correctness, I should almost make an apology to the fathers present among us for excluding them from this special greeting. I hope you do understand the rationale for your being excluded. Next, that makes me wonder about those women present today who may not happen to be a mother and who may therefore feel that they are being excluded.

And so, in order that all present today may feel included and be one of us, lets us remember that each of us has (or has had) a mother. That’s what we have in common among us. Let us each give thanks for our mothers by wishing them a Happy Mothers’ Day — or by doing so simply through fond and tender recollections of all that our mothers have done for us.

Happy Mothers’ Day to all!

Now that we have managed to deal with some potential barriers, let’s take a look at what Jesus had to say about all this in today’s gospel from John. The reference takes us back in the time-line. At the end of March this year, we celebrated Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus as the Risen Christ. Today, in the gospel reading, we’ve returned to just before his crucifixion.

The Gospel of John is different than the other three. The other three, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are the Synoptics. The Gospel of John is often referred to by scholars as the Fourth Gospel since it is notably different.

For example, in the Synoptics, it was in Gethsemane that Jesus offered his final prayers. Today and before this moment in this gospel reading, he offers the same prayers with his disciples while they were having their last supper together. This part of the Fourth Gospel is known as the Farewell Discourse.

Jesus has just shared a meal with his disciples. He has washed their feet. He has explained that he is leaving them. He then prays for himself. He prays for those at table with him. And he prays for those beyond the group of disciples. He prays that all may be one. In fact he says that three times that they all may be one… that others beyond the table may be one… that we all may be one.

Jesus is praying for inclusion not exclusion. Some people may interpret this passage about all being one as a call to convert the heathen so that they may see things as we do and therefore to become one with us. But that would be seeing things from a perspective of what divides rather than what brings together. Divisions are what separate nations, faiths, and people. Jesus goes beyond the system of divisions. He tells his followers to love one another and to be listening for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

Michael Marsh, an Episcopal priest says it well:

If Jesus is praying for our oneness then he is also recognizing and rejecting the boundaries and differences that divide us. There are divisions within ourselves, our families, […], our nation. We live in a world full of divisions – male or female; rich or poor; gay or straight;  [French or Anglo; Non-indigenous or Indigenous,] Christian or Muslim; conservative or liberal; educated or uneducated; young or old; heaven or earth; divine or human; sinner or saved; orthodox or heretic. We could go on and on listing the boundaries that we encounter and all too often establish or promote. They are not just divisions they have become oppositions. These divisions exist not only out there in the world but primarily and first in the human heart. We project onto the world our fragmented lives.

For every boundary we establish there is a human being. Ultimately, boundaries and differences are not about issues. They are about real people, with names, lives, joys, sorrows, concerns, and needs just like us. I think we sometimes forget or ignore this. It is easier to deal with an issue than a real person.

Whether or not we admit it the boundaries we establish and enforce are usually done in such a way as to favor us; to make us feel ok, to reassure us that we are right and in control, chosen and desired, seen and recognized, approved of and accepted. In order for me to win someone must lose, in order for me to be included someone must be excluded otherwise winning and being included mean nothing. The divisions of our lives in some way become self-perpetuating.[1]

This is not what Jesus’ final prayer is about. His prayer is about loving one another. [To abridge the inscription on a popular tee-shirt:]

  • Love your neighbour
  • Love your Muslim neighbour
  • Love your Indigenous neighbour
  • Love your Black neighbour
  • Love your gay neighbour
  • Love your Jewish neighbour
  • Love your atheist neighbour
  • Love your Christian neighbour
  • Love your messy neighbour
  • Love your disabled neighbour
  • Love your homeless neighbour
  • Love your addicted neighbour
  • Love your enemy neighbour

Being one has to do with breaking down barriers and divisions through love. That is the commandment Jesus calls out from the depths of his final prayer. He says to love God with all our heart, and all our soul and all our mind,  and to love others as we are to love ourselves and as God loves each of us.

Being one is a radical call to love. It is a radical call to acceptance, to transcending artificial boundaries.

That is exactly what Mothers’ Day is all about especially for us in North American because Mothers’ Day here came about because of a proclamation shouted out by a woman whose name was Julia Ward Howe at the end of the American Civil War, one of the bloodiest wars of all history.

The words of her proclamation still cry out to us in concert with Jesus’ final prayer for us all to be one:

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts,
whether our baptism be that of water or of fears!

Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by
irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking
with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be
taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach
them of charity, mercy and patience.

We women of one country will be too tender of those of another
country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From
the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says “Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance
of justice.”

Blood does not wipe our dishonor nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons
of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a
great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women,
to bewail and commemorate the dead.

Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the
means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each
bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a
general congress of women without limit of nationality may be
appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at
the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the
alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement
of international questions, the great and general interests of
peace.

Julia Ward Howe
Boston
1870

It would seem that the North American version of Mothers’ Day came into being as an echo of Jesus’ own prayer for us all to be one.

And so, on that note, again, Happy Mothers’ Day to all.

Amen.

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Read more background about the origin of Mothers’ Day from HuffPost Religion:  Mother’s Day History Is Steeped In Radical, Religious Feminism

[1] Michael Marsh in his blog https://interruptingthesilence.com/2010/05/16/that-they-may-all-be-one-a-sermon-for-easter-7c-john-1720-26/

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