A sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, which this year coincides with international Mother’s Day
In today’s first reading, Paul is in the heart of the classical world, the seat of learning and philosophy, the seed of so much that continues to influence our lives today. And among the idols, he has found an altar dedicated to an unknown god – the “just in case you missed one” altar. I know whom you are missing, Paul tells them, although you cannot cast an idol of the true, living God.
The world will always create idols and define good and evil by its own imagination, which makes it hard to know who to trust, where to turn; but Jesus tells his disciples, “I will not leave you orphaned.”
You know my way.
The commandment he gives is love, not of idols, but of God first, and of the image of God in every single, every last, every lonely person. The image of God which is not an idol, but a glimmer of glory, sometimes hard to see because we dress it up like an idol, mistaking the reflection for the original. We are like the child who reaches for the wrong hand in line at the supermarket, the false mother our distracted imagination has created. We do have a tendency to trust demigods instead of God for our salvation. We are not so far removed from the Athenians.
We mistake God for false idols, and we love them instead of our true Love. And then, we try to mould humans into the forms we have set and created for them, instead of recognizing in our beautiful biodiversity and cultural range the unlimits of God’s creativity, and loving all aspects of God’s image in them.
But disobedient children that we are, Jesus, whom Dame Julian of Norwich called our true Mother who carries us always,[i] tells his disciples, “I will not leave you orphaned.”
You know that I don’t dwell on Mother’s Day in church. It’s painful for a lot of people for a lot of reasons. It isn’t a festival of the church, and it wasn’t designed to celebrate our Lord Jesus Christ – but given that Jesus himself has given the opening this morning, telling us that he, our true Mother, will not leave us orphaned, perhaps this is the moment to acknowledge that if we are to keep his commandments, truly to love God, our first Mother, and to love one another, all of God’s children, to create fewer orphans ourselves, then we should support safer mothering.
For example, our nation is the worst place in the over-developed world to have a baby in terms of health outcomes. That is a travesty. Just so that we know that this is a product of our broken systems, our wrongful idolatry of wealth and whiteness, the health outcomes for babies and birthing parents of colour are even worse than they are for white families.
If we were to undermine our national racism and undergird those most in need of healthcare and help, we could change that.
But the number one killer of pregnant and post-partum women in this country is not obstetric complications. It is homicide. Mostly by intimate partners, many with a gun.
I told another parish this week that even that tray of cookies for the women’s shelter at Christmas is violence reduction, because when we support women’s efforts to get out of abusive relationships, we save lives. We leave fewer orphans.
If we were to undermine our national idolatry of violence as a social tool and undergird efforts to remove lethal weapons from those with a track record of abuse, we would save lives. We would leave fewer orphans.
If Mother’s Day were a day to observe the commandments of Christ, our true Mother, to love God and to love one another as Christ has loved us, we would leave fewer orphans.
And if Mother’s Day is painful for you, I am so sorry. I remember the first one after we lost our first pregnancy. Knowing that Christ is her Mother, too, helped me to know that she was in safe and loving arms, even if they weren’t mine. But grief abides, I know. Lean on Jesus, lean into the heart of God. She will hold you. She will not leave you orphaned.
I imagine the Athenian in the marketplace of idols like that child in the supermarket, searching among the shrines for the right god, the right hand to hold, lost among the monuments to human pride, stumbling across the altar to the unknown god, and weeping, because he doesn’t know where else to turn.
And Paul says, “What you do not know, I have seen. And this God will not leave you bereft, or lost, or alone.”
For Christ is our true Mother, and She will not, has not, does not leave us orphaned.
[i] “and our Saviour is our Very Mother in whom we be endlessly borne, and never shall come out of Him.” Julian of Norwich. Revelations of Divine Love Digireads.com. Kindle Edition.