Sunday, May 14, 2017

Easter 5A

John 14:1–14




Have you ever wondered what life would be like if mothers ruled the world? Make no mistake—no mother is perfect. I love all that my mother did for me, but she certainly had her flaws. And there are children who have had to grow up with abusive mothers. But I still would like to see what life would be like if mothers ruled the world.


At our Team Ministry meeting on Thursday, when I shared where my sermon was heading, Pastor Robyn mentioned a quotation about what would have happened if three wise women had visited the baby Jesus on the first Epiphany: “Three wise women would have: Asked directions, Arrived on time, Helped deliver the baby, Cleaned the stable, Made a casserole, Brought practical gifts, And there would be peace on Earth.”


Isn’t it striking that our nation has more military fire power than any nation has ever had, and yet we have so much fear and anxiety in our society? It has been suggested that our military has grown weak in recent years. A couple of weeks ago we attended our son Luke’s graduation from Army basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia. We were impressed with the precision with which his company marched. The infantry squad demonstration opened our eyes as to how well-trained they are and how much fire power they are armed with. Luke told us story after story of what they had to go through in basic training. It was amazing how well the Army had prepared these young men in just three months.


As powerful and well-trained as our military may be, our most insightful military leaders have come to realize, what most mothers have known for a long time, the most intractable conflicts in our world today will not be solved simply with superior military force.


The roots of Mother’s Day go back to 1870, when Julia Ward Howe, author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” sought to establish a Mother’s Peace Day. She had been devoted to abolishing slavery, and she had strongly supported the Union Army. But the bloody carnage of the Civil War had cut deeply into her heart and soul.


In her Mother’s Day Peace proclamation of 1870, she wrote: “Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of 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 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 . . .


 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 learning after his own time, the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God . . .” It sounds like Julia Ward Howe had done some thinking about what the world would be like if mothers ruled the world. Some may dismiss her peace proclamation as idealistic or even naïve. But she may have been more in touch with the actual realities of war.


Growing up in Wisconsin during the Vietnam War, I remember watching the Civil War movie Shenandoah. The Anderson family owns a farm in the Shenandoah valley. Jimmy Stewart plays the father. The Andersons want to stay neutral, but then one of the sons is captured by the Union army. At one point the father offers his assessment of the war: “It's like all wars, I suppose. The undertakers are winning it. Oh, the politicians will talk a lot about the "glory" of it, and the old men'll talk about the "need" of it— the soldiers, they just want to go home.”


The Civil War in Liberia lasted from 1990 to 2004. President Charles Taylor’s regime and other warring factions inflicted tremendous pain and suffering on the people of Liberia. Over 200,000 people died in this conflict— almost 10% of Liberia’s population— and over a third of Liberians were displaced. There were half-hearted attempts to make peace, but no lasting peace agreements were reached. Liberian women “had to endure the pain of watching their young sons . . . be forcibly recruited into the army. A few days later these young men would come back into the same village, drugged up, and were made to execute their own family members.”[1]


Finally a group of Liberian women got fed up. They decided to take destiny into their own hands In April of 2003, led by Lutheran lay person Leymah Gbowee, they began a non-violent campaign for peace. The campaign began in St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Monrovia, the site of the 1990 massacre of hundreds of women and children. Gbowee declared, “In the past we were silent, but after being killed, raped, dehumanized, and infected with diseases . . . war has taught us that the future lies in saying NO to violence and YES to peace!”[2] They called themselves the “Women for Peace.” The group included Christian and Muslim women. At one point they simply laid down in the street between two warring factions. The efforts of the Women for Peace were a major factor in ending the war in 2004. In 2005 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected president, the first female head of state in Africa. Life in Liberia has still been challenging, but it is so much better than it was during the war years. In 2011 Gbowee and Johnson Sirleaf were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.


In a Mother’s Day 2012 blog Nadine Bloch. an artist, nonviolent practitioner, and political organizer, reflected on the resistance of mothers down through the ages. She was especially drawn to mothers in Chile who resisted brutal and patriarchal regimes. She highlights how music was used to educate, empower, build community, and put forward alternative visions for Chilean society. But it was especially moving to read how “during the brutal dictorship of Pinochet, mothers spent hours stitching stories of resistance and suffering in the 1980s into a traditional tapestry form, arpilleras. Disregarded as inconsequential women’s work, it was possible to smuggle and sell these beautiful quilts both into and out of jails, and outside of Chile— moving information to sons and husbands, and spreading news beyond the borders even when a suppressed press corps could not. This galvanized anti-Pinochet sympathizers globally and resulted in both financial and political support for the resistance.”[3]


In John 14:6 Jesus says to his followers: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” He adds in 14:12: “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do.” It seems obvious that Julia Ward Howe’s peace proclamation, the women for peace in Liberia, and Chile’s mothers who resisted reflect the way of Jesus in the world. God’s presence was reflected in the works of Jesus. God’s presence is reflected in those who do the work Jesus wants them to do. Surely, as disciples of Jesus, we want the way of Jesus to reign in the world.


When the disciples were jockeying with one another for positions of greatness in God’s kingdom, Jesus called them together and explained, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:42–43). In God’s kingdom people rule by serving, not by lording it over others. It sure seems that our chances would be better of Jesus’ way of ruling winning the day if mothers ruled the world?


On Thursday I attended Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon’s Annual Dinner. Sahar Bassyouni, Director of the Islamic School/Academy of the Muslim Educational Trust, was awarded the Religious Education Award. The Muslim Education Trust is one of EMO’s interfaith partners. The Religious Education Award is “presented in recognition of outstanding commitment to the development of religious sensitivity, respect and inquiry through education and interfaith dialogue.” There were many fine speeches given at this event, but hers was especially moving. She exuded faith in God, humility, respect, and truthfulness. When I asked my daughter Mary what the highlight of the evening was for her, she said, “Listening to the Muslim woman speak.” Jesus once said to his disciples, “Those who are not against us are for us.” Sahar embodied much of what the Bible teaches is the way of Jesus in the world.


On Friday morning I attended the Willamette West Habitat for Humanity Annual Breakfast. We heard many fine speeches, but once again I was deeply moved by the words of a Muslim woman, 15 year old Nabila Hersi, a freshman at Beaverton High School. What an articulate, poised speaker she was! She was so appreciative of the Habitat home she and her family live in. She expressed sorrow that a few extremists had given her religion a bad name. When she was finished, I said to the person next to me, “We may be looking at a future governor of Oregon.”


Nabila, Sahar, Julia Ward Howe, Leymah Gbowee, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and the Liberian Women for Peace, the Chilean mothers who resisted, and other mothers, grandmothers, and women we cherish and admire all embody in some measure the way of Jesus in the world. What would life would be like if mothers and women such as these ruled the world?

In Jesus’ name, AMEN.











[2] Ibid.