This is a message I gave to First Friends Meeting. I also shared a version of it for Freedom Church of the Poor.
> 1 John 5:1-5 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
Celebrating Mother’s Day
Happy mother’s day to all of you who are mothers, all those of you who desired or desire to be mothers but do not have children of your own, and to all of you who have mothered other people’s children with your life and your love.
Depending on how things are in your life, Mother’s day can be a celebratory day or it can be really complicated.
I think many of you know that I have a small coffee business and work every Saturday at the Corner Market selling the coffee I roast. Yesterday, there was a vendor set up next to me, and every time some he perceived to be a woman walked by, he would ask them “are you a mother?” Some of course said yes, it was a little easier if they had a baby in their arms, but there were plenty who said “no,” and looked down or quickly moved on. I cringed every time he tried to guess. The intention was nice, he wanted to wish people a happy mother’s day, but the side-effects from guessing wrong were far too great in my opinion.
Today, when we have meeting for worship fall on days like this, it often feels to me a little precarious.
You want to honor people. But you want to recognize just how difficult days like today can be.
- I have a friend in her late 20s whose mother died tragically a little more than a year ago. I know today is very difficult for her.
- I think of those who have been trying to have children but for one reason or another they have not been able to.
- I think of my dear friend from Camas who died just a few years ago. She was the clerk of our Meeting there for most of the time I served as pastor, and while she had no children or grandchildren of her own, she very much was a mother to my pastoral work. She helped bring that work forth in me in ways I will never fully be able to name.
So when I think of Mother’s day, I not only think of my wife and the mother of my children, my mom who I love, my mother-in-law who I have a great relationship with, but I also think of people who may experience today very differently.
When Mother’s day was officially thought up by Anna Jarvis in 1905 and later made into an official holiday in 1915 by Woodrow Wilson, the United States was in some ways, very different. The 19th amendment hadn’t been signed into law yet, and then in 1920, only White women would be allowed to vote. It would be another 45 years before Black and LatinX women would gain that same right.
Back then, as now, patriarchalism, misogyny, and sexism were present in culture, the workplace, the homes, and church. Women and their bodies have been devalued by those benefiting from empire for as long as empire has been around.
To recognize, in this instance, a need to celebrate, is also a recognition that things are not the way they are supposed to be.
Consider the great pain and loss women and their families have experienced because of poverty, lack of health care, systemic racism, the consequences of militarism, the lack of funding for good public education, and the challenges that come with – especially in poorer communities – ecological collapse polluting water, air, making communities vulnerable to drought and fires and more.
We should also include in this list:
- Those who cannot have children of their own
- Those whose children go hungry during the day and fall asleep not knowing where their next meal will come from
- Those whose children have not found their way home
- Those whose children are incarcerated unjustly
- Those whose children are profiled, targeted, gunned down
- Those whose children are locked up in cages at the border on their way to find a better life
- Those who suffer from broken relationships with their children
- Those who see their children suffering from mental illness
If we talk about Mother’s Day we must be broad in both the celebration and in the grief we share that comes with the cost of loving and birthing life in this world.
There is a powerful, and very scary image, in Revelation chapter 12 of a woman crying out in birth pangs who the “great red dragon” tries to devour. The dragon is a stand in for the Roman Empire, the woman a stand in for, Mary the mother of Jesus, but I also think women more generally throughout time.
In Revelation 12, the woman survives because she is part of a broader movement of liberation and resistance against the empire. This kind of degradation of women and women’s bodies has been something that God has been building a movement of resistance around for thousands of years and yet there are so many ways that even still in 2021 we continue to deny that work.
As bell hooks said:
> Clearly we cannot dismantle a system as long as we engage in collective denial about its impact on our lives.
On this mother’s day, as we reflect on what God is seeking to birth in our world, remember that Empire and its interlocking systems of evil have always devalued and attacked those who identify as women in our world.
Let’s celebrate those who do mothering work of all kinds, those act of resistance to these larger forces at work, and continue to strive to be a community (and movement) that works together to make the world better for all those who have not been able to celebrate the way they deserve.
What is born of God?
It is interesting to me to read this text from 1 John 5 on Mother’s day because it tells us very clearly that God is not just like a parent but a birthing-parent, placing emphasis on “what God is giving birth to.”
The word for “to bear” or “beget” is used three times here in verse one.
It focuses on “the begotten of God,” that which God is bringing into life.
If this chapter were to end with a query, it might ask:
> What is born of God?
I think this chapter from 1 John is trying to help us identify: what is born of God in this world? Because once we know, we can better join that work, participate in that movement of God.
The author is trying to tell us something about what it means to be the children of God, those who have purposefully aligned themselves with the work of Jesus in the world.
To believe in Jesus is to love the parent, God the great birthing-mother begetting in this world. And what does it mean to love the parent, but to love the children of that parent, the fruit of that parent, the results of what the parent is bringing into this world.
And we do not have to guess what this work looks like in the world do we?
1 John says it plainly, you know because it looks like people following the commands of God, and we know what those commands are, do we not?
Jesus told us that the commands of God are to love God with everything we’ve got and to love others, love all of God’s children, love all that God is bringing to life in this world.
That our work is to watch for, participate in, and help midwife into existence that which is born of God.
**What is born of God?**
Can we identify the what and the who of that which God gives brings to life in this world?
Can we see the seeds and work of God being planted all around us?
Are we committed to all of God’s children — that is every single living thing, all creation — or is there some limit to that in our hearts and minds?
**What is born of God?**
Are our hearts and our minds open and awake to see what is born and being born of God all around us? Are the spiritual glasses we wear the right prescription? Clear enough? Powerful enough to see even the subtlest movements among us?
**What is born of God?**
The author tells us that one way we know what is born of God is it conquers the world.
– It is born of God if it restores rather than tears down.
– It is born of God if it connects rather than cancels.
– It is born of God when the hungry are fed.
– It is born of God when the sick are healed.
– It is born of God when violence is no more.
– It is born of God when budgets that fund militarism around the world and in our communities is reinvested in social uplift.
– It is born of God when people no longer have to be afraid of getting sick.
– It is born of God when no child goes hungry.
– It is born of God when schools are funded appropriately.
– It is born of God when the poor say we are children of God not because of what God has said but because of the kinds of policies and support we as a people commit ourselves to.
– It is born of God when all can experience true liberation.
– When all know that they are loved.
On this Mother’s day we read this text that speaks of God as a parent, and those who are the begotten children. You and I are children of God, but we are not God’s only children. And there are some of God’s children who are hurting right now. There are some of God’s children who are still waiting to be able to celebrate and say with us that:
> we know what is born of God is it conquers the world!
Let us love and commit ourselves as a community to all of God’s children throughout all of creation.
– The children of God as the seeds of peace.
– The children of God as the seeds of love.
– The children of God as all those who are a part of the more-than-human world: the birds, the flowers bursting forth with life, the budding trees, the vegetables doing the important work of growing and will eventually sustain our bodies, the sea animals, and all creeping things on the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars and the water that restores us and makes us whole.
Today is a day to reflect on the mothers in our lives as well as more broadly the business of being a mother, the act of mothering, the act of bringing forth new life, and a new world where every moment is a celebration of the children of of God, the most revolutionary mother.
> “What does God do all day long? He gives birth. From the beginning of eternity, God lies on a maternity bed giving birth to all. God is creating this whole universe full and entire in this present moment.” -[[Meister Eckhart]] (a quote shared during meeting for worship that I wanted to include here).
I cannot help but think about these gatherings for worship each we not as the labor room but the birthing classes. Here we are practicing bringing new life into the world. Gaining the tools. Gaining language. Working with our birthing partners – each one of us – to prepare to be out in the world and in the rest of lives bringing into life the kind of love that will conquer empire.
– What is being born in you and around us? Can we identify that which God is bringing into life?
– Who are those who have mothered you?
– Who are those who have mothered this meeting?
– Who are those who are yet to be mothered?