Monday, May 9, 2016


This week I read some letters written to pastors that were from women who were not mothers.
They were about some of the pain that they have experienced on Mother’s day in Church.
You know the church will sometimes, in order to celebrate Mother’s day, hand out a flower to all the mothers, or asks all the mothers to rise so we can give them a round of applause.
Of course there is nothing wrong with celebrating mother’s day, or mothers.
I am grateful today for my mother.
But you can see the problem.
We can lift up motherhood as the most important expression of what it means to be a woman and in doing we leave out a lot of women.
We leave out women who choose for one reason or another not to have kids.
We leave out women who for one reason or another can’t have kids.
This is to say nothing of the pain that we might inflict on people that don’t have a good relationship with their mother.
So we wouldn’t want to exclude women or divide them up into categories.
Instead we want to be the place where we all come together to celebrate our life in Christ.

Some of you know that yesterday I ran a half Marathon.
And I could not have done it without my wife, Vicki.
She was my coach.
She was the one who gave me encouragement when I needed it, and she told me to suck it up and just do it when I needed it.
Are not these the attributes that go into a great mother?
Motherhood is about encouraging us to be our best, to do our best?
And that is not something that is only about being a female or being a mother.
All of us should be this for each other.
We should be coaching one another to be better than we think we are.
And as long as you do that for someday in life, I feel like you are being a mother.
I know it is an unconventional way to think about it.
But I know that I am a better parent because I watch my wife coach our kids into being better than they think they are.
If you can do that then you are mother.

This week I was also thinking a lot about identity.
What is that makes us who we are?
There are lots of ways we identify ourselves.
These are all part of trying to define ourselves and the world around us.
Just for example, I am a white, middle aged, pastor, husband, father of two, of Swedish and German decent, Lutheran, New Englander, Red Sox, Patriot, and Celtic fan.
All those things are how I identify myself to others.
They are things that make me who I am.
There is nothing wrong with identifying ourselves.
There is nothing wrong with finding our tribe and where we belong.
The thing is that we live an ever increasing multi-diverse world.
We live in a world that is blurring the lines more and more about what it means to be who we are.
And I am going to assume for many of us this is unsettling.

In the good old days (And I of course mean the 1980’s), it appears to have been easier.
We identified with a group of people and we tended to stay within the boundaries of that group.
For example, Lutherans hung out with other Lutherans.
My mom would tell me stories about when she was a kid and her Roman Catholic school friends would not go into her house because my grandfather was a Lutheran minister.
Or when I was in Long Island the old timers would tell you that people of color would never have crossed over the Belt parkway into Valley Stream.
In the old days there were defined roles for men and women.
Men went to work, came home, put up their feet as their wife handed them a drink.
Men wore the pants, and women wore dresses.
We had our places.
We had our fixed identity.

Part of this for me came up on Monday night as a sat in the synagogue listening to the stories of a man whose wife was a holocaust survivor.
In many ways the story that he told was not mine.
I am not Jewish, I never have been, and I don’t know what it is like to be a Jew.
I don’t know what it is like to be called a “Christ killer”, or to have my mother killed in a gas chamber.
But I was there, and I could feel the story.
It didn’t matter that it wasn’t me.
It was just like I could feel the pain of the women who wrote the letters about feeling excluded on Mother’s day.
Can we hear someone else’s story?
Can we feel someone else’s pain even if we don’t identify with their group?

There is something easier about knowing our place.
Some days I wish that my wife and I didn’t have to negotiate as much as we do.
Maybe it was easier for my grandparents.
My Grandfather went to work, came home.
My grandmother washed the clothes, cleaned the house, took care of the kids, and cooked the meals.
All of that has been up for debate and negotiation in our house.
Maybe it would just be easier if we all knew our roles and stayed there.

I am convinced the anger that is out there in our country is about the blurring of these lines of identity.
People are feeling like they have lost their place.
Or maybe even worse they don’t know where the lines are anymore.

If you find yourself in agreeing with me I want to offer a way to think differently about your identity.
I believe that our Gospel for today can help.
Our Gospel reading for this morning is Jesus saying goodbye to his disciples.
He is at the last supper and is trying to give them words of comfort and inspiration.
Like a mother he is trying to coach them up to be better than they think they are.
And he prays to God that they might be one.
What does it mean for us to be one.
If I line all of you up and brought up any subject I guarantee we would not be one.
I guarantee there would be as many opinions as there are people in this room.
Even if it was something that we thought we all agreed on.
If I asked everyone to tell me what they thought the importance of communion was I am sure I would get a large spectrum of opinions.
Those opinions would be based on your identity.
They would be based on your age, what you were taught as a kid, what you believe is important about communion.
Not even our theology makes us one.
Because you might indentify as a Lutheran, but what that means to you is different for all of us.
If not that than what would make us one?
What makes us one is Jesus.
Jesus tells us that he is in us, and we are in him.
Jesus brings us together.
And the love that Jesus has for us is what holds everything together.
Jesus hopes that we have the same love for each other that he has for us.
Meaning that what makes us one is the love of Jesus.
It is not agreement on any one thing or subject.
It is not age, gender, race, sexual identity.
For me it is this simple.
God loves us is what makes us one.

For me, and I hope for you, this is the only identity that really matters.
However else we might see ourselves.
Whatever else we call ourselves, it is only the love of God given in Jesus Christ that really matters.
When we see someone else, we don’t have to identify them by labels.
All we have to do is see them as a child of God and listen with an open heart to their story.
That is the identity that you and I are given.
That is the identity that matters most.
All the other ones fall under that identity.

What this means is that whatever else someone is.
Whatever line they may have crossed they too are children of God.
We believe God loves them the same that God loves us.
And if we are to answer Jesus prayer then in love we need to see them as one with us.
If we are to be mother’s to the world then we have to coach them up, encourage them, and yes challenge them to be the best version of themselves.

In our baptism we are reminded that we are children of God.
And our baptismal call is to remind others that they too are God’s children.
That is our true identity and the only one that really matters.

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