May 31st is the day the Church commemorates “The Visitation” the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth as it is recorded in the Gospel According to Luke 1:39-56. Since reading Jane Schalberg’s “The Illegitimacy of Jesus”, I can’t help but wonder if Mary’s visited her cousin Elizabeth or escaped to her cousin Elizabeth seeking protection for the crime of being raped in a culture that all too often blamed the victim. Historians estimate that Mary may have been all of twelve years old when she became pregnant. There is ample evidence in the New Testament accounts of Mary’s story that suggest that she may indeed have been raped. So rather than sweep the possibility under the rug, on this the Feast of the Visitation, I’m reposting a sermon I preached a few years ago during Advent. I do so because women young and old continue to be raped and to this day, are forced to flee from the accusations and persecutions of cultures that continue to blame the victim. What follows is a written approximation of the sermon which in addition to Jane Schalberg is also indebted to John Shelby Spong’s “Born of a Woman” and “Jesus for the Non Religious” along with John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg’s “The First Christmas”.
Sadly, one doesn’t have to travel too far into the past to arrive at the time when women’s voices were not heard. Indeed, in the Lutheran church, it was only a few short decades ago. For most of us that time is within our own lifetime. For generations, men have told our sacred stories. Men have decided which stories made it into the canon of Sacred Scriptures. Men have interpreted the stories that were allowed to be told. Men have translated, taught, and commented upon those stories from pulpits, in universities, in seminaries, in commentaries and in the public square. Continue reading →
“I”ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Yes and no. We will not forget what you said and I will never forget how you made me feel!
Leaving Behind the Miraculous Jesus to Welcome the Human Jesus
The celebration of Jesus’ Ascension is a church festival that I have always chosen to ignore. The ancient tradition that has Jesus floating up into the clouds stretches the credibility of the church to such an extent that I’ve always assumed that the less said about the Ascension the better. But I was challenged by a parishioner to try to make some sense out of the Ascension story so that 21st century Christians would not have to check their brains at the door should they happen upon a congregation that still celebrated the day. What follows is a transcript of my attempt to leave behind the miraculous Jesus in order to be better able to welcome the human Jesus down from the clouds. I am indebted to Bishop John Shelby Spong together with Clay Nelson of St Matthew-in-the-city for their liberating insights.
Traditionally, on the 40th day after Easter, the church celebrates the feast of the Ascension. But because so few people in the 21st century are willing to come to church during the week, the Ascension is celebrated by the church on the first Sunday after the feast of the Ascension. Since I have been your pastor we have not celebrated Ascension Sunday. But as this particular Ascension Sunday follows so closely after Jack Spong’s visit with us, I thought that it was about time that rather than avoid the Ascension, I’d like to try to confront it.
Jack has been telling his anti-Ascension story for quite a few years now. Just in case you’ve never heard it or have forgotten it, let me remind you. It seems that Jack was speaking with Carl Sagan, the world-renowned astronomer and astrophysicist. Jack says that Carl Sagan once told him “if Jesus literally ascended into the sky and traveled at the speed of light, then he hasn’t yet escaped our galaxy.”
With that said, let me just say, that the Ascension never actually happened. It is not an historical event. If a tourist with a video camera had been there in Bethany they would have recorded absolutely nothing.
I know what the Nicene Creed says, “Jesus ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” But like the members of the early church, I do not have a literal understanding of the scriptures. And so, as I do not understand the Bible literally, neither do I understand the Nicene Creed to be a literal interpretation of the faith. Like all creeds the Nicene, Apostles and Athanasian creeds are snapshots of theology as it was at a particular time in history.
We would do well to remember that the Creeds were developed to answer questions about the faith in a time when people understood the cosmos to be comprised of a flat earth, where God resides above in the heavens and located beneath the earth were the pits of hell. I know that the universe is infinite. I also know about gravity. I also know that it is highly unlikely that Jesus had helium flowing through his veins. I’ve flown around the world, and I can tell you that there is no heaven above the clouds. So, I can say with confidence that: The very present Jesus of resurrection faith did not literally elevate into heaven while his disciples looked on.
The writer of the Gospel according to Luke and the Book of Acts are one and the same person. The same writer wrote the Gospel according to Luke to tell the story of the life of Jesus and the Book of Acts to tell the story of the Holy Spirit at work in the followers of Jesus. Although we don’t know who the author was, we do know that he was not an historian. Neither Luke nor Acts are historical accounts. They are both addressed to a character named Theopholus. Theopholus is Greek for lover of God. The books are addressed to the lovers of God, that’s you and me and the author makes it clear that he has written these books so that we, the lovers of God, can believe and have faith. The books were written somewhere near the end of the first century. Somewhere between 50 to 60 years after the death of Jesus. Perhaps between 80 and 95 of this Common Era.
The important question for most biblical scholars is not whether the Ascension actually happened but rather, what did the Ascension mean to the author in his context. And to that question we might add a more pressing question: Given what the Ascension meant in the first century, does it continue to have any relevance for those of us who live in the 21st century?
I believe that the followers of Jesus experiences of Jesus the man were so overwhelming that they saw in him the human face of God. I also believe that in very powerful ways the followers of Jesus continued to experience Jesus presence.
Those powerful experiences of Jesus after his death were so intense that they defied description. Given that Jesus was now dead and gone, yet his presence still seemed to be with them, the followers of Jesus used the Hebrew story of Elijah and Elisha to construct a belief about the Spirit of Jesus continuing to be powerfully among them.
By the time the writer of Luke and Acts got around to writing these stories down, there were different versions of the story being passed around in the early church. The writer of Luke/Acts paints a picture of a re-formed bodily Jesus going up into the heavens in the Ascension and a windy, fiery Spirit coming down at Pentecost. The writer uses powerful familiar Hebrew images to portray the experiences of Jesus’ followers after his death.
In order for us to move beyond the literal and beyond the historical and even beyond the metaphorical meaning to arrive at the meaning that the story of the Ascension can have for us today in this time and in this place, I’d like to tell you two stories that I heard about from a preacher who serves an Anglican parish in Auckland, New Zealand. Clay Nelson is a friend of Jack Spong who tells great stories. The first story is an actual, literal, historically accurate Ascension story followed by a metaphorical Ascension story.
The literal historical Ascension story took place in 1982. But it the story that actually began some twenty years earlier when Larry Walters was just 13 years old and he saw weather balloons hanging from the ceiling of an Army & Navy surplus store. It was then that Larry knew that some day he would be carried up to the heavens by balloons. Sure enough when he was 33 years old, on July 2nd 1982, Larry Walters tied 42 helium-filled balloons to a lawn chair in the backyard of his girlfriend’s house in San Pedro, California. With the help of his friends, Larry secured himself into the lawn chair that was anchored to the bumper of a friend’s car, by two nylon tethers. Larry packed several sandwiches and a six-pack of Miller Lite and loaded his pellet gun so that he could pop a few balloons when he was ready to come down. His goal was to sail across the desert and hopefully make it to the Rocky Mountains in a few days.
But things didn’t quite work out for Larry. When he cut the cord anchoring the lawn chair the second one snapped, launching Larry into the skies above Los Angeles. Instead of leveling off at about 30 feet as he’d planned, Larry rose to 16,000 feet and at that height Larry couldn’t risk shooting any of the balloons. So he stayed up there drifting cold and frightened for more than 14 hours when he found himself in the primary flight approach corridor for LAX.
Legend has it that a Pan Am pilot was the first to spot Larry and quickly radioed the tower telling them that he’d just passed a guy in a lawn chair with a gun. The Federal Aviation Administration was not amused. Larry started shooting out the balloons to start his descent but accidentally dropped the gun. After drifting for a couple of hours he eventually landed in a Long Beach neighbourhood entangled in some power lines. Larry survived without any serious injuries.
Now that is an historically accurate ascension story. It’s a funny story and a true story, but it is not a life changing story. But Larry did inspire a wonderful Australian movie, called Danny Deckchair, which is untrue, is in fact full of truth. Now when a New Zealander recommends an Australian movie, I take notice, so yesterday I watched Danny Deckchair and I do believe that it is a modern metaphorical interpretation of the Ascension.
The movie’s hero, Danny, is a bored labourer who drives a cement mixer. Danny is an unlikely Christ figure whose story is similar to Larry’s. Danny ascends from his backyard in Sydney during a barbecue and lands less than gracefully in a small town in the Australian outback. By this act of departure and arrival everything changes not only for Danny, but also for those he left behind and those he meets in the outback. Danny’s unique departure inspires those at home to take risks of their own: to live life more boldly, to act on their dreams, to become all they can be.
In acting out his dream, Danny finds new confidence and becomes the source of inspiration and affirmation for the townsfolk in the outback who used to see themselves as backwater hicks, but now see the importance of their actions in the life of their town. Everyone is transformed by Danny’s ascension. New Life and love accompany his resurrection.
The writer of Luke/Acts two versions of Jesus’ Ascension are not true like Larry’s lift off but are true like Danny Deckchair. While the event certainly did not happen in a literal way, the story does attempt to capture the quality of a real man whose coming and going in their lives changed them forever. The writer of Luke/Acts Ascension story is not so miraculous after all. The Ascension story is about the joy the disciples felt about the ongoing ever so real presence of Jesus after his death. The God they saw in Jesus they found in themselves. In Jesus’ departure they discovered that they could love as wastefully as he did. They could live abundantly as Jesus did. They could heal and reconcile just as Jesus did. With Jesus pointing the way they had found God and while Jesus was gone, the God that Jesus pointed to was everywhere, even in them.
If we are to move beyond the literal, beyond the historical, beyond the metaphorical to the life-changing meaning of the stories that have been handed down to us, we may just have to give up our tenacious hold upon the notion of Jesus as some sort of miracle worker who defies the laws of gravity, and time and space.
If we are to engage the stories about Jesus in a way that allows those stories to intersect with our lives we will have to embrace Jesus’ humanity. My Kiwi colleague Clay Nelson puts it like this: “If your faith is sustained by a miraculous understanding of Jesus that has to ignore what you know about the real world, then let me ask you: Is it a faith that can sustain you in the real world? Eventually this world of advancing scientific knowledge, that no longer requires a personal God to create, heal and sustain life will make the God we have had irrelevant, if it hasn’t already. I think God would rather be dead than irrelevant. And if God is irrelevant, Jesus, who has been portrayed by the author of Luke/Acts and the church as the incarnation of this God, will suffer the same fate. If he hasn’t already.”
Nelson reminds us that Jesus was human and the human Jesus does not suffer the fate of an irrelevant god..“The human Jesus, instead of only showing us God in all God’s glory, also shows us in all of ours. This Jesus becomes a window through which we can glimpse the mystery of love and life and being we are all called into. This Jesus through his radical love of even his enemies invites us into that mystery that surrounds us and is part of our very being. This Jesus becomes the doorway through which I’m willing to walk into that mystery. For this mystery, I am willing to die to have new life. Mystery makes sense to me, the miraculous doesn’t. The mysterious Jesus inspires me and calls me to new levels of being. The miraculous Jesus helps me as much as telling a child that Santa comes down chimneys. The mysterious Jesus sustains my faith. The miraculous Jesus impedes my faith.”
Like my Kiwi colleague Clay, I no longer need to believe in a miraculous Jesus in order to experience the mysterious Christ who lives and breathes in with and through Christ’s body here and now.
The writer of Luke/Acts is preparing his audience of God lovers for the arrival on the scene of the very Spirit of God that lived and breathed in with and through Jesus.
So, as we approach the celebration of Pentecost, may you find in these stories handed down to us by our ancestors in the faith an inkling of the powerful presence that Jesus’ first followers experienced after Jesus had left them.
May the joy they felt at the realization that the God they saw in Jesus they now found in themselves. May the realizations that those first followers experienced in Jesus’ departure, when they discovered they could love as extravagantly as Jesus did, that they could live as abundantly as Jesus did. That they could bring about healing and reconciliation just as Jesus did.
May these realizations live and breath and have their being in you. May you know the joy of seeing Jesus point the way, the joy of finding God, may you know the God Christ points to who is everywhere, even in you. May you love as extravagantly as Jesus loved. May you live as abundantly as Jesus lived. May you be Christ’s Body here and now, in this place in this time!
I had the distinct pleasure of baptizing our grand-daughter this morning. The sermon welcomes her to this grand journey of life that we travel as companions. The sermon begins with an adaptation of a creation story by by Dr. Paula Lehman & Rev. Sarah Griffith. the readings were included Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Acts 17:22-31 and John 14:14-21
This coming Sunday’s first reading from the book of Acts provides an excellent opportunity to explore a vision of God that has all too often been ignored by institutional Christianity. While doctrines of the Trinity abound, the rich tradition of panentheism that permeates the writings of the mystics is neglected. For those of us who are attempting to reconcile all that we are learning about the realities of the cosmos with our visions of the ONE who lies at the very heart of reality, panentheism provides a way of speaking about God that moves us beyond theistic notions of personifications of the deity toward a deeper awareness of the presence of God in all things together with the assurance that everything is in God.
Let me begin by saying, that panentheism is, in and of itself, an evolving term. The term can be found in the works of German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, process theologian Alfred North Whithead, and more recently in the work of Juergen Moltmann, Matthew Fox, Philip Clayton and Marcus Borg (for Borg’s ideas about panentheism follow this link). The word itself is made up for three Greek words: pan = all, en = within, theism = god. Panentheism is used to describe God as ONE who is in everything. Panentheism (unlike pantheism) does not stop with the notion that God is in everything, but goes on to posit that everything is God. God is in the universe and God transcends the universe. God is greater than the sum total of the universe. But the universe cannot be separated from God. We are in God and God is in us. God breathes in, with, through, and beyond us.
The term panentheism is proving helpful to Christians in the 21st century who are working to articulate our faith in light of all that we are learning about the universe. It is also invaluable to those of us who have a deep reverence for creation and are seeking ways to live in harmony with creation by treading lightly upon the earth. Panentheism is also a concept present in many faiths and provides us with a common way of speaking together about our Creator. But like all language the term fails to fully capture the nature of the Divine. It is merely a tool to help us think beyond the idols we have created to function as objects of our worship.
The Apostle Paul insisted that God is “the One in whom we live and breath and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) As we look towards the heavens, we see an ever expanding new story of who we are. Just as Paul struggled to find ways to articulate the nature of the Divine to his contemporaries, Christians continue in every age to find ways to articulate the nature of the Divine to each new generation. We do not abandon the wisdom that has been offered by those who have gone before us. But we cannot ignore the wisdom that is being revealed to us here and now in our time and place within the communion of saints.
Whenever we try to articulate what God IS, language fails us. For the most part, the institutional church has defined God with words and expected that members of the institution will confess loyalty to those words. Many of the words, with which the institution has traditionally described God, craft an image of God as a supernatural being up there or out there who is responsible for creation and from time to time interferes in the workings of creation. As we continue to learn more and more about the magnitude of creation, both in time and space, our traditional words about God seem ever more puny. While some respond to our ever-expanding knowledge about creation by attempting to make our notions of God fit into the tight little containers that were crafted by our ancestors, some are seeking new ways to speak of the CREATOR OF ALL THAT IS, WAS OR EVER SHALL BE. Often our attempts are as clumsy and as limited as the attempts of our ancestors. But sometimes, sometimes the likes of Tillich breathes new life into the notions of our ancestors and Paul’s description of our God as “the one in whom we live and move and have our being” becomes for us, as Tillich imagines, “the Ground of our Being”.
Below is a video that I have shown to Confirmation students (ages 12-15) as we begin to explore the great religious questions that have inspired wisdom seekers from the beginning of human consciousness: Who am I? What am I? Where do I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? etc. The responses of young people inspire me! I cannot wait to see what they will reveal to us about the nature of our reality! As you watch this video, I offer you a benediction. It is a blessing that I have adapted with permission from the work of John Shelby Spong.
God is the source of life, so worship God by living,
God is the source of love, so worship God by loving.
God is the ground of being, so worship God by having the courage
to be more fully human; the embodiment of the Divine.
Evolutionary Christian theologian Michael Dowd speaks compellingly about Jewish and Christian expressions of God as the personification of Reality (that which when you cease believing in it doesn’t go away). Dowd sees Christ as the personification of integrety which is the way of living in right relationship to reality. In light of this coming Sunday’s gospel reading from John 14:1-14, Dowd provides an interesting take on Christ, the personification of integretiy as the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Way back when I first began going to church, I had one of those bibles…and I dare say many of you have probably had one too…I had a red-letter bible. For those of you who’ve never had one, a red-letter bible is a bible where all the words of Jesus are printed in red and for a long time I actually believed that if it was printed in red, then Jesus actually must have said it and there are hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of Christians who still believe that if they are printed in red they are the actually words of Jesus.
When I first began reading the New Testament, many of those red-letter words were difficult to read. The 14th chapter of the Gospel according to John was just one of the many texts that I read with great trepidation. “I am the way, the truth and the life no one comes to the Father except through me.” These particular words in red led me to believe that my family and most of the people I loved, were doomed, because they didn’t believe in Jesus. So, you can imagine my delight when I went to a young adults’ retreat and one of the pastors told us that just because words are printed in red, it doesn’t mean that Jesus actually said those words. I remember going back to my home parish and asking my pastor why he never told us about the things he was taught at the seminary about the words of Jesus and I can still hear him answering, “Most laypeople aren’t ready to hear that. It would destroy their faith.”
It’s an old argument amongst the clergy. It’s as if some of, “them” whoever “they” are, believe that the world as they know it will come to an end as they know it if they were to let lay-people in on the secrets of the trade. Should we or should we not teach laypeople about the historical critical methods that we all learned in seminary. When I say we all learned, I’m talking about the vast majority of clergy from the mainline denominations, like the Lutheran church, the Anglicans, the United Church, Mennonites, even Roman Catholics, and I dare say more than a few Baptists. We all learn the historical critical methods that academic scholars have been perfecting over the years. But the sad truth is that very few of us actually teach the historical critical methods that we have learned when we get into the parish. Many of my colleagues still argue that either laypeople aren’t ready to hear it, or that they don’t want to hear it. Either way, they’re not about to start preaching it from the pulpit and run the risk of destroying people’s faith. Besides, the folks who clearly don’t want to hear any of it just might run them out of town.
I’ve never really understood this attitude. I think perhaps the fact that as a layperson I was relieved to hear that Jesus didn’t actually say all the stuff that’s printed in red. So, from the beginning, I’ve always tried to teach the historical critical methods that I have learned to apply to my own study of the bible.Continue reading →
For those of you who have asked for a print copy of Sunday’s sermon, I have posted it below. You can find the readings that preceded this sermon here and listen to the audio of the sermon here
God forgive me, but I can’t even remember her name. Staring back through the mists of time, I can barely remember the pain in her eyes. More than three decades have passed since I lived and worked in Vancouver’s east end. I was young, young and foolish, young and carefree, young and adventurous, young and callous. In my early twenties, I was still trying to figure out who I was. I was in no condition to understand who she was. How could I know? None of us knew.
I knew Jesus back then. Some might even say that I was obsessed with knowing Jesus. I went to church every Sunday and I hung out with church people. I knew the Father well back then. I was young, the world was my oyster, my future stretched out before me. I knew that my work in the travel industry was only temporary; just a means to an end, a way to make money so that I could spend it enjoying life. At the time, I was working in a pretty unglamorous part of the wholesale travel industry packaging holidays, to Mexico and Hawaii. We used to joke that it wasn’t brain surgery, just bums on seats, just filling every plane our company chartered with warm bodies so that they could get away from Vancouver’s gloomy, rain-soaked winter; bums on seats, anybody could do the job; day in day out filling airplanes, it was positively mind-numbing work.
The company I worked for occupied an entire three-story office building on the northern edge of Vancouver’s East-End. The East-End of Vancouver is still one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada. Back then, the gentrification of the East-End that Expo 86 and then the 2010 Olympics brought, couldn’t even be imagined. Good upstanding middle-class people avoided the poverty of the East-end, unless of course they were young like me, and then the depravity of the neighbourhood was kind of a badge of honour; as we braved the streets on our way to dance the night away in the clubs that sprang up on the edge of the East-End were rents were cheep and cops had so much more to worry about than the kind of mischief that we got into. So, I lived and worked in the East-End and saved my money for the life that stretched out in front of me.
I wish I could remember her name. I’m ashamed to confess that I cannot remember her name. But the pain in her eyes, those dark mournful eyes that I will never forget. I’d warned her more than once. It was against the rules. She was hired to clean our offices. She was to go about her work and make sure that she had the place spick-and span ready for us when we arrived in the morning and then she would be on her way. But time and time again, I’d find her lingering, long past the time when she should have left; lingering and talking on the telephone; she was the cleaner, she had no business using the phones. I was the newly minted supervisor of the reservations department; it was to me that the staff came to complain about the untidy conditions in the staff room. If she spent as much time doing her job as she did sneaking around making phone calls, we wouldn’t have to put up with the unwashed mugs in the sink. I warned her over and over again, but she just wouldn’t listen. My boss told me to fire her; but I was young and I’d never fired anyone before, besides wouldn’t Jesus want me to give her just one more chance; God forgive me I thought I could save her. Oh don’t worry, I wasn’t planning to save her for Jesus or anything as crass as that, oh no, I was going to save her from herself. I was going to redeem her from her lazy self and see to it that she kept her job. God forgive me, I did not know what I was doing.Continue reading →
The plight of particular mothers in Canada promoted a change to the readings for this Sunday. You can find Luke 23:26-34, The Mother’s Day Proclamation, and Luke 24:1-5a by clicking here. The music for the song sung after the sermon “Sweetgrass and Candle” can be found here.
You can listen to the sermon here
To further explore the issues discussed in the sermon, I highly recommend watching the National Film Board’s film “Finding Dawn” it can be viewed by clicking here
Today churches commemorate Julian of Norwich, who is perhaps one of the greatest English Mystics. Although she has never been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church she is venerated in both the Lutheran and Anglican churches. Julian is the author of the first English book ever to have been written by a woman: Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love.
Click here to listen to a meditative sung liturgy inspired by Julian’s writings
John chapter 10 causes me to remember Mrs Tanner, my grade ten english teacher. I can still see her handwriting all over my carefully crafted compositions. Red ink everywhere as she constantly admonished me not to mix my metaphors. Clearly the writer of the Gospel of John never had the benefit of Mrs. Tanner’s guidance, or he would not have dared to record Jesus words the way he does in his long and rambling I AM passages.
Before we even get to chapter 10, we read that Jesus says: “I AM the bread of life.” and “I AM the light of the world.” In chapter 10, we read, Jesus says, “I AM the gate,” “I AM the Good Shepherd.” Later we will read, that Jesus says, “I AM the Resurrection”, “I AM life.” “I AM the true vine.” “I AM the way.” “I AM in God.” “I AM in you.”
But in the tenth chapter the writer of the Gospel of John goes all out and has Jesus using not just a metaphor but a mixed metaphor. For in chapter 10, we read that Jesus declared: “I AM the Gate. The gate through which the sheep must pass.” and then mixes it up by saying, “I AM the Good Shepherd.”
Which is it? Gate or Shepherd, come on, I know your Jesus but I’m trying to understand how Jesus, who is after all, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is both the Gate and the Shepherd.
I wonder if Mrs. Tanner ever took her red pen to the Gospel According to John? If she did, the letters MMX would have appeared all over this Gospel. MMX = mixed metaphor wrong! Looking back, I know that Mrs Tanner was just trying to help us to be more careful about our ideas. But today I would have to ask of her, and indeed of the writer of the Gospel of John, “What’s a meta for?”Continue reading →
In a world where rape remains an weapon of war as whole populations are transformed into refugees, in a nation where the number of aboriginal women murdered soars above a thousand, in communities where mothers continue to struggle to feed, cloth, and house their children, there is no time for sappy sentiments on the day established to call for peace. Peace can only be achieved through justice and justice for mothers requires action by women and men everywhere.
Preachers have several choices when it comes to proclaiming the Gospel on Mothers’ Day. We can of course ignore the fact that it is Mothers’ Day. After all Mothers’ Day does not appear on the Church calendar of feasts and commemorations. However, Mothers’ Day is reported to be the third highest attendance day; out numbered only by Easter and Christmas! I suspect that a great many offspring choose the day to placate their mothers. So ignoring the event seems like adding insult to injury to those guilt-ridden offspring who hope that their efforts won’t go unnoticed. Sadly, the presence of the Christmas and Easter crowd, all too often tempts the preacher to resort to sentimentality in order to entertain the infrequent worshippers. The history of the creation of Mothers’ Day ought to compel preachers to resist temptation and find the courage not to compromise.
Most of us think of Mothers’ Day as a kind of conventional holiday that celebrates traditional family values; the kind of traditional values that encourage women who are mothers to keep on keeping on. But celebrating the traditional motherhood is definitely not what Mothers’ Day was originally intended for. The very first Mothers’ Day was intended to be a celebration not just of mothers, but rather it was designed to be a call to action by all women.
One of the first founders of Mother’s Day was Anna Jarvis back in 1858. Anna Jarvis gathered women of the Appalachian mountains together in what she called mother’s day work clubs. Where women worked together to eliminate poverty. When the Civil War came about, the mother’s day work clubs created medical camps. They were places of nonviolence for men from both sides who were wounded in the war.
At the end of the Civil War, Anna Jarvis organized the Mother’s Day Friendship Day, which was a call for radical peace. Anna Jarvis brought together the leaders from the north and the south for a time of reconciliation. Mother’s Day was originally about reconciliation and peace.
Then along came a woman named, Julia Ward Howe who wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. Julia Ward Howe called for women to protest the cruelties of war everywhere and to gather together to call for peace. She called for a national day of peace for all women. She issued women’s’ declaration, and from the streets women shouted :
“Arise then women of this day, arise all women who have hearts, say firmly our husbands shall not come to us reeking with the carnage for caresses and applause. Arise women of peace.”
Anna Jarvis’ daughter also named Anna Jarvis approached President Wilson and petitioned for a national Mother’s Day. It was Woodrow Wilson who called for the second Sunday of May to be the national Mother’s Day. Shortly thereafter, n anti-suffragette movement spoke out against the women who were calling for peace. So instead of being a day for women who were active and present in the world, it became a day to celebrate mothers who stayed at home with the children.
Anna Jarvis the founder of Mother’s Day was so angry with Woodrow Wilson that she filed a law suit, that petitioned the courts to put a stop to Mother’s Day because as the court papers insisted, instead of it being run by women, suddenly Mother’s Day was being run by men in an effort to keep them in the house barefoot and pregnant.
Sadly, the world was not ready for such strong willed women to shout out loud. And so, Anna Jarvis was arrested at a Mother’s Day celebration and she spent the rest of her life in a sanatorium?
On mothers’ day we would all do well to remember Julia Ward Howe’s Mothers’ Day Proclamation. Dated 1870 but sadly it is still so very relevant today:
“Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or tears!
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 taught them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another 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 not wipe out 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 & commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesars 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.”
To those of you who continue to point out that the Mothers’ Day apostrophe belongs between the r and the s, all I can say is: “Move it!” Until we can move beyond thoughts about our very own mother to the realization that mothers everywhere are worthy of celebration the vision of peace that this day is designed to call us all toward will remain but a dream. Let this day be about mothers everywhere!!! Moving the apostrophe is but a small reminder that the holiday does not belong to any individual mother but to mothers every where!!! Let peace break out this Mothers’ Day!!!
For additional resources for the celebration of MOTHERS’ DAY click here to listen to a MOTHERS’ DAY sermon click here
This has been an amazing weekend at Holy Cross as we’ve explored a new story of what it means to be human and discovered new ways of contemplating the Divine Presence that permeates the cosmos. Michael Morwood has taught us and challenged us to peer through 21st century lenses at the one we call G-o-d. Michael concluded his time with us by delivering the sermon on Luke 24:13-35 in which he moved us beyond the Easter stories to a place were we could imagine so much more than words can capture! Enjoy!!!
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Richard Holloway, the former Primate of the Scottish Episcopal Church, interprets the story of the resurrection not as an historical tale, but as our own story. Holloway has written of his longing for a humbled and broken church. His own humility and brokenness shines through this video as Holloway embodies his own longing.