given on Sunday, May 10, 2015–Mothers Day
I John 5: 1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ[a] has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. 2 We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments. 3 Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. 4 For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. 5 And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
6 And Jesus Christ was revealed as God’s Son by his baptism in water and by shedding his blood on the cross[b]—not by water only, but by water and blood. And the Spirit, who is truth, confirms it with his testimony.
Ladies: Hold up your purses. Now, look around at each other’s purses and/or bags. Do they look the same or are they each different? Could you divide them up into similar categories? Does each bag show the personality of the one holding it?
If we are all being totally honest, we like our bags more than we need them. Plus, we do have to admit that the styles of the bags seem to identify our ages and/or our personality.
How does this pertain to Sunday morning worship? Well, this Sunday it does. A woman’s purse or bag has long been a symbol of preparedness, at least in our society. It serves as a means of carrying supplies, identity, currency, and sometimes a snack, medicines, or even emergency repair items. Kids quickly learned to turn to mom if they needed something and odds were that it was in that bag.
Going over this, I wondered what does that design and contents of purses/bags tell us. Could it identify the personality, the age, or the person’s role in life? Does the choice of the purse/bag change as our lives change? That lead to the next question: Do we wear our faith like we carry our purses/bags? What in or on that bag shows how important our faith is to us?
A few months ago, a Christian retail company sent a sample devotional, Woman of God: Joy in the Journey (which, by the way, is small enough to carry in a bag). Five different mothers in the Bible are the subjects of the devotions targeting 21st century life. The mothers include Sarah, Ruth, Deborah, Mary and Martha.
The stories of these five individuals are extremely different, but each one shares as examples of how God led to such joy for each one of them despite all their different, trying, real-life experiences. The first one is about how Sarah’s faith helped her withstand the emotional drain of not having children in a society that believed children was evidence of God’s favor.
Sarah remained faithful. The devotional puts this in very real perspective:
For years she and Abram had waited and prayed for a child. . . .Still, [at the age of 60] Sarah waited. She waited another 25 years? She went through menopause, maybe even holding her breath when decreasing hormone levels interrupted her monthly cycle. Still, no baby. Little by little, her joy seeped away.
Sarah’s faith survived all the issues and late, very late in life, she gave birth to a son. Her faith sustained all the ups and downs in her life, and God never forgot her, either.
The story of Ruth, found generations later in the Old Testament, is a story of loss. She learned of God’s love through her marriage, but her husband died. She was in a foreign land with no family except her mother-in-law Naomi. Returning to her home would have distanced her from the faith that sustained her through her losses.
By living in a faith-based community, despite all the poverty and loss that Ruth found Naomi and herself living, God remembered them and Boaz served as God’s loving arms to care for them. Marrying Ruth, Boaz also accepted the care of Naomi, too. And even more, Ruth then gave birth to a son who was part of Jesus’ lineage.
The third woman is Deborah. Her story is found in Judges 4 and 5. The description of Deborah is very different as she was a prophetess and a judge for the Jewish people. In today’s society, she would be one who broke the “glass ceiling” in the male-dominated world. She stepped out of the ancient stereotypical female role.
Her role may be an easier one to relate to in our lifetime since our culture includes many female leaders. Still, the devotional states that despite her community role, she considered herself a mother and the Israelites turned to her even in battle:
. . .the spirit-wounded Israelites lived immobilized by fear. They needed to turn to their Lord in faith and rekindle their confidence in his love. They needed Mother Deborah.
What a job for that woman of God! Mothering one screaming toddler or stubborn teen exhausts any mom, yet Deborah joyfully took on an entire nation, especially their army. Where did she find the strength?
Debra drew her power from the Lord.
The model of how faith gives us the strength to manage our difficult lives reaches beyond the Old Testament right into the New Testament with the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Many Mothers’ Day articles and sermons would naturally seem to relate to the story of Mary, but today her personal story demonstrates the power of faith.
Mary was a teenager, raised in a devout Jewish family of Levites priests. Naturally she had to question how this could happen, but when reassured by Gabriel that nothing is impossible through the power of the Holy Spirit, she believed. Her faith in God, through the Holy Spirit, could do anything, and that gave her the strength to carry out her role in the birth of God as the human son Jesus.
The Old Testament shares the changes in the role of women, but the New Testament continues the story. Faith in God is so important to manage all the various roles women must manage. Yes, the demands life places before us tire us—men and women both.
The final story in the devotional is Martha’s story. We have heard someone described as ‘a Martha.’ The reference is to the way a person attends to all the details of serving meals, keeping house, preparing for visitors, and making sure the visitors’ needs are met.
And like Martha, the need to make sure everything is perfect for the guests, makes us so frustrated with others who do not help. We complain that no one cares; we gripe because we have more details we have to get done before we can join in the visiting.
But Jesus loved Martha and kindly told her to let go of all the business in being the hostess. He knew that her stress was interfering with the love of God. He slowed her down and loved her so she could receive the joy of knowing God.
The irony of Martha’s story is that once she did slow down, she was able to reduce her stress and recharge so she could do more. That sounds like the advice we all need today. We need to spend time with Jesus in order to reduce our stress and recharge to serve.
What changes have mothers had? Or, maybe there really are no changes in mothers. The women of the Old and New Testament have lived with the same issues and problems as today’s women. There really is no change, the change is in knowing God.
Granted, the handbag demonstration may have seemed a little corny, but it shows us how fashion or purpose affects the choice of different purses/bags. The stories of the five women are each different, too. Yet there is this one unifying key: faith. God created us in his or her image. The physical changes in men and women today may be evidenced through various data, but faith in God is as important today as it has been since the beginning.
Today’s scripture follows the crucifixion. The fact that the man Jesus was no longer present was a definite change for the earliest believers, but the presence of God did not change. The presence of God is always available and available to everyone:
1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ[a] has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too.
The stories of the Bible include five mothers who struggled with all the same problems we have yet today. And despite everything, the only thing they needed was to love God and receive God’s love:
3 Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. 4 For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. 5 And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
These verses from I John were written after Jesus’ resurrection from the tomb. We must know that they are words for today, too. None of us know when the second coming of Jesus will be, but just as mothers have known throughout the generations, God defeats evil as long as we believe.
I guess the most important thing to carry in my bag is my faith and maybe a way to read the Bible so I can spend some time with him as I learn to model the faithful who have lived before me.
The stresses in life drain us
So thank you for sharing the stories
Of your faithful followers.
With each story, we find you.
In our own lives,
We have stories of mothers
Who also managed challenges
by their faith in you.
Thank you for them
And for the others
who model faith for us.
Guide us in our own lives
To spend time with you
Through words of the Bible,
Prayer, song and meditation
So we, too, can manage life
And all its changes with joy
And the strength you provide.
Closing words from scripture:
The lectionary scripture from John 15 are too valuable when talking about how faith works, especially in the context of mothers, to ignore. Therefore, these words are shared in part as a benediction for each and every person who is facing life challenges.
John 15:9 “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. 10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. 16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.