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Mother's Day Sermon
A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Gale Davis on May 11, 2014

Easter 4 A 2014

Psalm 23; Acts 2:42-47; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

Happy Mother’s Day! I love the idea of Mother’s Day. I love my Mom! I think I am so lucky at age 67 to still have her -- she will be 95 in August!  I adore being a mom! And am exceedingly grateful for my four children who have all grown into intersting people and my six grandchildren (all of whom are perfect!) -- many of whom I will see today.  Because being a mom -- honoring my mother, cheering for mothers in general and all they do for us -- is why, I think, the story plastered all over the news and internet this week is so disturbing to me: pitted against the backdrop of celebrating motherhood is the story of the Nigerian girls, pictures of mothers holding signs that say “bring back our girls.”

On April 15th, 276 girls were kidnapped from their boarding school in Chibok, Nigeria. On Monday of this week, eight more were taken. Nowhere could I find a list of their names that is complete, but I know that God who knows each of us by name knows them as well. And as I pray for them each day, I count on that knowing. Perhaps that knowing is more like a Mother’s knowing of her children than any other relationship. God knows us by name, scripture tells us. Each of those girls, like you and like me, is a whole person, a person with a mother, a family, with hopes and dreams. Each has a personality and a face, eyes to see and ears to hear. Each is beloved of someone...all are beloved of God.

As I prayed about and read about the lessons for this Sunday -- not only do they fall on Mother’s Day in the secular culture around us, but it is Good Shepherd Sunday to those of us in the church -- I thought about those young women, 15 and 16 years old, the ages of our high school sophomores and juniors, not much older than the youth we honored last week for moving up from being part of Rite 13 into being part of J2A.  I thought about the fear the young women must be experiencing and I wondered if they could remember the 23rd psalm that is so reassuring and comforting? I wondered if the good shepherd is calling them in their dreams at night and in their fear by day, promising to be with them?

The lessons for this Good Shepherd Sunday seem in some ways too benign in the face of such a horrific reality, more “Hallmark” than real, tamed somehow from the reality of life and the fierceness of the world, and certainly from the intensity of God’s love. 284 young girls stolen from their families and lives, to be sold into slavery and the sex trade. And we know that they are only a tiny percentage of the women and girls who vanish each year from their lives to be sold into slavery or to be used up and abused by their captors.

In the lessons we heard read this Mother’sDay/Good Shepherd Sunday, we hear an almost surreal story in comparison to the terror those young women are living, a most opposite story the lessons express, I think. The way we like to imagine God, and the way we would like to imagine family life is like -- what we hope or wish or imagine our Mothers are like.

From Acts we are told that in the early church everyone contributed all they had to the common purse, and it was held in common so that those who needed it would be taken care of. Seems quaint and impossible in today’s economic systems, yet that is close to the way these girls were raised, the way many African cultures exist, by living communally. Imagine going from that communal, everything is shared and all are provided for, to being stuffed into the back of a van; then perhaps on to the cartels of human trafficking where those girls will have to learn to care only about themselves and doing what their “master” tells them, if they are to survive.

The 23rd psalm, probably the psalm that most of us know by heart if we know any of them, brings comfort to so many of us in times of challenge. It promises God’s presence with us, even at a table with our enemies, cool waters in the heat of day, heads anointed with fragrant oils. It promises we are led by a benevolent shepherd into an idyllic place of peace, all the days of our life.

The lesson from I Peter admonishes us to endure, even in suffering, and promises that Christ will be with us when we do. Christ will honor our righteousness and deliver us. God will heal.

And finally in the gospel of John, we hear all about that good shepherd who calls us by name and whose voice is known to us. The one who stands at the gate to welcome us home, like a mother invites us into the safety of home, if we but listen to the voice we have known since before we were born.

All these lessons seem to be promising us a caring, present, guiding, loving, god/parent who will protect us at all times from any danger, and keep us comfortable and fed, refreshed and safe, individually known and loved.

I wonder if those 284 young women have any sense of that God who loves them even in the “unknown to us” place of that forest into which they have been taken? I wonder if they believe God loves them in that place of terror in which they now reside?

What do these loving, comforting words tell these young women in dire trouble? What do they say to us as observers, those of us from around the world who know of this continuing mistreatment of girls? What do these lessons teach us or tell us or ask us to say to their mothers?

It seems to me that if we are ones in the sheepfold whose names are called out by the good shepherd, then we must follow through the gate that is Jesus and be his hands and heart in the world today. If we are given so much, should we not share what we have after the example of the early christians? Should we not be taking righteous action to make sure that more girls are not taken and that these girls whose names God knows as surely as God knows ours, are returned to their families and lives? 

Like many of you, I am not sure how we in Andover ,Massachusetts can make that happen. Of course we can write letters and sign petitions, and yes, I am being political from the pulpit. I apologize for that if you are offended, but I can't help it. I don’t care if you write to Republicans or Democrats. I am not telling you how to vote, only to take a stand that honors women and girls and stands for justice for these innocents, as I truly believe Jesus would do. Begin to notice what happens to so many women world wide, and specifically these girls. Notice and do one thing to make a difference.

If you don’t believe in letter writing -- and many don’t, that's OK -- then perhaps you can pray for them? If not by name, then pray 284 times for the girls whose names we do not know but God and their mothers do. Pray that they can feel the presence of the Holy One, the Shepherd, who does know their name. Pray that they will be returned to their mothers safely. Pray that women and girls will no longer be collateral damage in war or fodder in militant tugs of war, a thing to be used to make someone else rich.

I am not telling you what to do, only saying that our faith begs us to do something to make the pastoral, loving images of the Good Shepherd visible to the whole world. Our actions and the way we treat others can change the world -- can and will. Our noticing these young girls half a world away and raising awareness of their plight to the rest of the world says more about what we believe than 1000 creeds (or marvelously constructed sermons.) Perhaps what I am asking is that you look at your own mother, your own children, and in their honor, for love of them, you do something that prevents such treatment of other human beings as these 284 girls are experiencing right now.

Last Wednesday at the 7 a.m. eucharist, one of the regular attendees brought pictures of what one woman, an artist,  is doing to recognize these girls, to call attention to them as individuals and human beings worth saving. She is making an origami dress for each one, out of patterned paper that looks somewhat like African fabric, only on a much smaller scale, of course. Each dress is a prayer, a hope, a sign that the girls are not forgotten, and that what is happening to them matters to so many around the world. It reminds me of the origami peace cranes of years ago. I guess we could say it is the artist’s Mother’s Day present to them and to the world.

Happy Mother’s Day. I pray that your day may be filled with people you love, and that what we do here as people of faith -- our prayer, the scripture we read, the hymns we sing, the silence and the conversations -- all inspire you to go from this place with the courage and conviction to live as our worship and our Good Shepherd call us to. Amen.

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Post Script. I have had quite a reaction to this sermon. Many of you have written to tell me what you are doing in response to this tragedy (it takes a long time to pray for 284 girls you tell me, and it does!). Several have said Education is the key, girls must be educated. So supporting institutions that make education for girls possible is one thing we can do. Our own Esperanza Academy is such a difference-making institution! 

Some of the others things you have told me about I pass on here:

http://www.itsagirlmovie.com/  This is a url to a documentary on the plight of girls and women in India and China.

Shared a link: "Honoring the Missing Schoolgirls": "In an effort to help empower African women, and honor the missing girls I have donated to Camfed https://camfed.org/donate/.

anglicanwomenatprayer.org is an organization that is praying for women world wide

If others become known to me, I will pass them on.

Gale+

Last Published: May 14, 2014 10:23 AM