Every mother has the breath-taking privilege of sharing with God in the creation of new-life. She helps bring into existence a soul that will endure for all eternity.” -James Keller
I'm struck by the many home making images in this week’s scripture, images that evoke the work of our mothers.
Acts 2:42-47: They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. ….., they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.
You know, some one was baking that bread they were breaking.
And Jesus himself began as a bun in the oven.
Psalm 23 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
Who was it that made you take a nap time when you were little?
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
Preparing the table for guests was a wife’s responsibility and her contribution to the household’s honor.
1 Peter 2:19-25 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God's approval.
Think of what mothers suffer on behalf of their children. One of the most anceient symbols for Christ is the pelican, a bird that pierces its own breast to feed its young when survival demands it.
John 10:1-10 Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.
We've all heard the stories of those pretending to be the shepherd, the caregivers, the leaders, of those who abuse the little ones in their care.
The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.
The first voice most of us recognize is our mother’s. The one who tucks us in at night is recalled by the standing shepherd's "gate," his legs spread open as he brings the sheep into the fold each night, examining each one as it passes for cuts or bruises. e We are each in the care of one who knows every hair on our head.
What we hear, and what we listen to are, of course, not always the same thing.
A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin (5) and Ryan (3). The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. “If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, “Let my brother have the first pancake. I can wait.” Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, “Ryan, you be Jesus.” (contributed by Bill Heaphy.)
What might we hear if we listened to our mother's voices?
Mother deafness strikes early as we gain mobility and independence.
One mother talks about her experience in "I'm Invisible," a story traveling the internet.
…. the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I'm thinking, 'Can't you see I'm on the phone?'
Obviously not; no one can see if I'm on the phone,or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all.
I'm invisible. The invisible Mom.
Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this? Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a human being. I'm a clock to ask, 'What time is it?' I'm a satellite guide to answer, 'What number is the Disney Channel?' I'm a car to order, 'Right around 5:30, please.'
… the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude - … disappeared into the peanut butter…
One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England. Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in.
I was sitting there…my unwashed hair was pulled up in a hair clip and I was afraid I could actually smell peanut butter in it. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, 'I brought you this.' It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription: 'To Charlotte, with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.'
[It turns out that] no one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no record of their names. These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished. …. A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, 'Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it.'
And the workman replied, 'Because God sees.'
…. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, 'I see you, Charlotte. …No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn on, no cupcake you've baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become.'
Now, as anonymous as this author is, and as much as she becomes comfortable with the limits of her visibility, we only hear the wisdom of this story because she tells it. We can hear her voice.
What do you remember your mother, or mothers, or one who mothered you saying?
What do you hear our Biblical mothers saying?
Eve, the first mother
Sarah, mother of Israel
Hagar, the mother sent out to raise her son alone in the desert.
Rebekah, mother of two nations
Dinah, raised by the 4 mothers who were Jacob’s wives, among a tribe of brothers.
Jochebed, who make a small ark in which her son Moses could be saved.
Deborah, whose family saw her use her wisdom, her leadership skills as a judge of the people.
Elizabeth, whose child came in old age
And Mary, mother of Jesus, whose first child came in an unexpected way.
For every woman whose name and story we remember there are a myriad who remain silent and anonymous. In the Protestant canon, there are 205 named women. The most popular name in the Hebrew Bible is “Maacah,”(7) and in the Christian Testament, “Mary” (6). There are at least 600 unnamed women.
Some voices we can still hear, others are silent.
When we do hear their stories they are filtered through translation and tradition.
The garden of Eden’s “forbidden fruit” became an apple when Milton’s “Paradise Lost” became the book of the century (and also provided our images of hell).
The Rev. Wil(da) Gafney, Ph.D., associate professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia reminds her students how crucial it is that we listen to all the voices of scripture, working to discern what message God is giving us through them.
We must tell the truth that the bible says that fathers can sell their daughters into sexual slavery (Ex 21:7)—…..
We must tell the truth that the bible says soldiers can take virgin girls home with them as the spoils of war (Num 31:17).
We must tell the truth that the bible says cut the nails off the woman you take home as your war prize (Deut 21:11)—making the rape easier on the rapist.
Yes, we must tell the truth about what the Bible says.
Taken just by themselves, without modern eyes, biblical passages do affirm slavery, ethnic conflict, sexism, and many other attitudes that we find unacceptable today. [paraphrased]
But God does not affirm anything that detracts from the Imago Dei implanted upon humankind.
The scripture he heard in today’s passages is rich with God’s intent,
Just as the Bible is full of sometimes wonderful, sometimes challenging stories of mothers, today we hear a cacophony created by our media rich world. If we don’t like what we hear from out own mothers, there are plenty of others we can choose to listen to on screen.
Here’s the thing, the voices we choose to listen to, and the way we hear what they are saying in the contexts of their actual lives, shape the words that we read and the lives that we live.
The adventures of the tabloid cover mothers, the sit-com moms, the reality show divas has nothing on the drama of the biblical mothers.
Where do we hear God’s words of grace in these biblical women’s stories and in our own mother’s lives? It takes careful listening. As you spend time in the word of God, listen. As you spend time with your families, listen.
God is pouring grace into the world through our mothers.
Listen past your pre-conceptions.
Ask for the stories you haven’t heard yet.
Keep memories alive, not only for yourself, but for those who listen to you.
Go and listen for authentic voices, voices full of lived wisdom.
Prayer for mothers: Lord, we pray for the mothers of the world, the strong ones and the vulnerable ones, the resourceful and the impoverished, those who celebrate their children's acheivements and those who fear for their safety. Bless them, Lord.
As standards of living continue to rise, expecially in the nations of Africa, bless the grandmothers who carried water and the mothers who put in wells so that their daighters have time to go to school.
As women find ways to add their voices where they were once silenced, lead your people into collaborative communities where every gift is honored.
We pray for the people who resist progress fiercely, damaging others, communites, and their own souls. Bring blessing where we find only curses.
God, like a midwife, skilled and wise and strong, you are always bringing us to birth. You nourish and sustain us in the labor of becoming.  Amen
 Dumbarton UMC, Washington DC