MOTHER’S DAY MESSAGE
Reverend David Melville
FRANCIS ASBURY UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
BATON ROUGE, LA
May 14, 2017
Sue Tillman shared with me one day about watching a special on the poet/writer … well, Renaissance woman … Maya Angelou, who was confronted by a young, angry rapper who wanted to use one of her poems in his rap. Ms. Angelou declined, explaining to him that she didn’t want her words mixed with some of the inappropriate words he was going to use. In the process of explaining, she told him he didn’t need her words, and he didn’t need the inappropriate words. She told him, “You Are Enough.” The young man shared how that her advice changed his life.
This morning I want to introduce you to a special lady and apparently, mother: Lydia. [READ ACTS 16: 11-15 AND 40]
Lydia has only two brief mentions in scripture, but enough to learn from and to learn more about Jehovah God – our God – a god so different than any other deity. I believe one of those differences is particularly meaningful as we think about our mothers today: God loves and accepts us for who we are. We are enough.
By introducing Lydia – a businesswoman selling purple fabrics, head of a household, and leader of a house church of new believers in Philippi … as Ruedell, Barbara and Marie hosted us at their house last September (Talk about three Lydias!) … by introducing Lydia, God told all of us, “You are enough. You have dignity and worth, and a vital place in My kingdom. Don’t ever forget that. One day the world will know a beautiful, sensitive soul named Maya Angelou, and she will write words as if she is singing, and she will inspire others to love themselves just as they are. She will assure a young rapper, ‘You are enough.’”
But you know, as beautiful and as inspirational as Maya Angelou’s words were, they were not new. Those words and that assurance came to us a long, long time ago … oh, say, at creation … when God created us in God’s own image. “Male and female God created them.” [Genesis 1:27] And just to be clear, we are told in the creation story, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.”[Genesis 1:31]
Loving ourselves as we are is a very difficult challenge for many mothers, and a difficult challenge for us “non-mothers” as well. There are so many expectations and pressures on us to be this way or that and to be perfect. God had made Adam and Eve “good.” But after the fall of Adam and Eve, the world quickly started saying “You are not good enough.” Cain and Able were divided over the perceived value of their sacrifices, and we have been conflicted ever since. For a variety of reasons, we feel we are not enough. For a variety of self-serving reasons, we make others feel they are not enough.
And eventually, God sent Jesus to deliver a new memo. We signed a memorandum of understanding with the Conference detailing how we are to proceed with re-purposing Francis Asbury United Methodist Church, didn’t we? Lydia and other women of her day liked the new memorandum of understanding Jesus delivered. Jesus said it was not enough to merely complete the male; it was alright to be complete on your own. Women were freed of the guilt associated with Eve, were not considered impure just because their body life cycles sometimes rendered them impure physically. Women and mothers were free to be caring and nurturing, sensitive and sacrificial, but also free to be intelligent and strong, and equal to men in every way. Sometimes different … but always equal.
Alien observers from outer space may have observed that much of the worth Jesus gave women … and all of God’s creatures … was not given by society until the 20th century, and in the 21st century there are still inequalities and discrimination against women in business, in society, in the home, and even in the church, which basically are saying that women are still not enough. But you can’t fault Jesus. It’s not Jesus’s fault that human beings play a zero-sum game in which allowing someone else to feel like he or she is enough somehow subtracts from our feeling that we are enough. But in God’s kingdom, there is no such math. We are all enough.
Through the centuries following Moses, Jews were asked, upon rising in the morning, and before closing their eyes at night, to recite the Shema: “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” [Deuteronomy 6: 4-5] “Love your neighbor as yourself.” [Leviticus 19:18] I remember when flying to Israel on the Israeli airline, El Al, which – as you would expect – had a lot of Orthodox Jews on board. After flying all night over the ocean and we slowly started to wake, I noticed several Orthodox Jews, with their long ringlets of hair, beards and black attire, standing in the aisles reciting the Shema as the sun seeped through our windows.
Jesus referred to the Shema of His ancestors when he told a questioner: “’Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” [Mark 12: 29-31] The Lord our God not only asked us to love Him; He gave us permission to love ourselves, even when we’re not very lovable in our eyes or in the eyes of the world. He asks us to love ourselves even when we fail in motherly love or any kind of love. He asks us to love ourselves when we hit it out of the park as a parent, and when we strike out. He loves us through sins, abortions, addictions and missed opportunities, and He asks us to love ourselves as well. It seems I heard somewhere before: “God created us in God’s own image. Male and female God created them.” We are worthy. We are enough.
St. Paul — resented by many as being no friend of women – was one who certainly worked side by side with women more than he had ever done when he was a Pharisee named Saul, and it was Paul who wrote to the new believers in the region of Galatia: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” [Galatians 3:28] I think Jesus opened Paul’s eyes on the road to Damascus in more ways than one.
You know that as a businesswoman Lydia experienced highs and lows. As a part of church committees you know she had highs and lows. But evidently she gave all she had, and it was quite enough to be a solid business person and church leader. And in the department of courage, which all new Christ followers had to muster, I bet some days she – like Peter on the night of Jesus’ arrest — wasn’t brave enough. But at least on one occasion – the one recorded in Acts 16:40 – she welcomed Paul and Silas after they were released from prison. That was a risky step in those days under the Roman authorities. Just as Paul had a target on his back, those befriending him had a target on their backs as well. Minister as I might to prisoners, I have never felt the need to have them in my house after they were released from prison. (One time I did have an ex-con do work in my mother’s house, but that’s another story for another Mother’s Day.) Sorry, Mom!
Verse 40 indicates that when Paul and Silas — newly released from jail and heading to the next town – first stopped by Lydia’s house maybe for refreshments and to use the facilities, “they met with the brothers and encouraged them.” I have a strong feeling that Lydia and the other women gathered there encouraged Paul and Silas as well. That’s what mothers do … they encourage us. Thank you if as a mother or as a woman you have been an encourager to some man, some pastor, some child. Thank you for helping others to be enough.
Finally, remember that Lydia was enough when it came to spreading the fire called Christianity that roared through the Roman Empire and beyond in her lifetime. As we talked about last Sunday, Jesus left it up to us … not a band of angels, not a mighty army … but up to mothers like Lydia to start the fire. I bet that in her work as an artisan and a merchant, and in her membership in guilds and trade associations like we still have today, she had plenty of opportunities for presenting the Good News. And I bet she took full advantage of such opportunities, or we would not be talking about Lydia today.
How many young people have found Jesus because of the mothers … or the grandmothers … or the great grandmothers in this room? You are all Lydia’s; you have all proved that you are enough. Thank you!
I believe the sacrament of Holy Communion takes us for who we are, accepts and loves us for who we are, but also gives us strength – if we will receive it – to be the best baptized believer we can be. I believe we are enough for God, but His unconditional love and acceptance of us should not stop us from wanting us to be and becoming, better.
I decided to do something different this Mother’s Day: serve the sacrament of Holy Communion in honor of our mothers, and indeed of all women. You may never have received the elements on Mother’s Day because in the United Methodist denomination we usually serve Holy Communion on the first Sunday of the month, and Mother’s Day is rarely on the first Sunday. So tell everyone you see this week, “My pastor did something crazy again today. He flipped the schedule and broke the rules.” But hopefully you also will tell them, “As a Christian mother and woman I appreciate what Jesus came to earth to say and change, and I’m glad we changed the schedule this month to honor me!”
SACRAMENT OF HOLY COMMUNION