Sixth Sunday of Easter/Mother’s Day – Yeat B
May 09, 2021 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Acts 10:25-26;34-35;44-48  Psalm 98:1-4
I John 4:7-10  John 15:9-17

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.

Today is not only the Sixth Sunday of Easter.  Today is also Mother’s Day. Today’s readings are made to order for Mother’s Day. All of the readings are about love. However, as a male priest, I feel uniquely unqualified to preach about the love a mother experiences for her children. Nonetheless, I’ll do my best.

Today’s readings dwell on the love God has for us. You might say, “Because God is male, God’s love for us is exclusively like a father’s love for his child.” Nothing could be further from the truth!

In the Third Book of the Prophet Isaiah, the last chapter describes the joy of the return of the Jewish people from the Babylonian Exile in unabashed maternal imagery. The prophet declares,

“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her,
all you who love her;
rejoice with her in joy,
all you who mourn over her—
that you may nurse and be satisfied
from her consoling breast;
that you may drink deeply with delight
from her glorious bosom.

For thus says the Lord:
I will extend prosperity to her like a river,
and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream;
and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm,
and dandled on her knees.
As a mother comforts her child,
so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem

Listen to all that feminine imagery there. God’s love for us is very much like a mother’s love for her child. God’s love is unconditional and arose out of the act of God creating the Universe, just like the love of a mother originates from the fact of a child growing within her when she chooses to be pregnant.

Most of the time, mothers love their children throughout their lives, even though her children may disappoint her. I know that even though I disappointed my mother many times, she loved me as only a mother could at the end of the day.

Every living creature has a mother, and at some level, every mother loves her child. Such is true not only for human persons but for the animal kingdom as well. The National Geographic films show us that out in the wild, mothers give birth to babies, often take care of them, and fiercely protect them from predators.

Mothers have been known to give up their own lives for the sake of their children, both born and unborn. We hear in the news about pregnant women afflicted with cancer forgoing life-saving treatment, knowing they would die so that their child could be born and live.  In the news stories about the mass shooting in Las Vegas several years ago, we heard about mothers using their bodies to take a bullet so that their children would survive.

Not only does God love us like a mother, but we experience God’s love in our mother’s love. A mother is an image of God, an icon of God’s presence, a window into God’s mystery, a tangible embrace of God’s gentleness. God as a mother loves us into being and embraces us with Her kindness.

Notice that I said, “Her kindness.” Conventional Christian terminology is almost devoid of the femininity of God.  Yet, given the intensity of a mother’s love for her offspring, a motherly image of God is entirely consistent with the description of God in today’s Second Reading, where we hear, “God is love, and love is from God.” We refer to God all the time as our Father, but wouldn’t it be more accurate to say, “God, our Father and Mother?”

The image of God presented in today’s readings calls for us to reimagine who God is. Perhaps we need to think about God as more in line with its Greek etymology, which, according to ancient interpreters, meant taking care of and cherishing all things.

But the holy mystery of God is beyond all imagining. Given the pervasive use of almost exclusive use of male metaphors concerning God, correction of androcentric speech on the level of concept alone is not sufficient. Other images must be introduced which shatter the exclusivity of the male metaphor, subvert its dominance, and set free a greater sense of the mystery of God.

We ought to consider expanding our repertoire of images by uttering female symbols into descriptions about God’s divine mystery. Describing God’s attributes and God’s work with both feminine and masculine metaphors would be very helpful.

The quotation from Isaiah is one of many throughout the Bible with imagery of the Divine Feminine. Here are a few more examples.

In the Book of Numbers in the Torah, we read,

“Did I conceive all these people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, “carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child, to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors”?

In the New Testament, First Peter tells us,

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk so that by it you may grow into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

Describing Christians as newborn babies craving milk, with the Lord being the source of the spiritual milk, clearly suggests breastfeeding, a quintessentially feminine activity.

Why is that important? Images mediate the world to humanity. Images, however, do not equate to what is imaginary, but contemporary science, literature, and philosophy tell us images are part of the structure of how people know and perceive their world by assisting in developing paradigms to assemble data and interpret reality.

We as human persons think through images. Even the most abstract concepts at root bear traces of the original images which gave them birth. Just as we know the world through the mediation of imaginative constructs, likewise, we construct our human knowledge of God.

Yet as much as we might do with promoting equality through language and imagery, power is where the rubber meets the road.  Discomfort with women in power roles drives discomfort with the femininity of God. Even some women feel that way. They see powerful men as giving them a sense of security. We see this most poignantly in opposition to women in ordained ministry.

Substantial evidence documents that despicable conduct furthered opposition to women as bishops, priests, and deacons that arose from biological and psychological ignorance. The fact is, the early Church did have women in ministry. The earliest churches were in homes and were headed by women who undertook pastoral duties and, believe it or not, celebrated the Eucharist.

There is no early Christian art showing only men presiding at the Altar. Instead, the artistic evidence is otherwise.  Doctor Ally Kateusz is an art historian at the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research. She undertook a thorough investigation that documented that women served as bishops, priests, and deacons and that the Vatican engaged in the deliberate misrepresentation and destruction of evidence to cover it up, all to perpetuate the false notion that from the earliest days of the Church, the ordained ministry was exclusively male.  These outright lies and determined hiding of evidence casts grave doubts on the viability of continued reliance on tradition to keep women away from the Altar.

Doctor Kateusz’s findings were truly astounding. She discovered early Christian artwork depicting women performing as bishops, priests, and deacons dating to six-fifty A-D, two hundred fifty years before the first known written liturgy for ordinations. Some mosaics show Mary the Mother of Jesus in the vestments of a bishop.

However, according to Doctor Kateusz, some of this artwork was defaced and concealed. She pointed out that in nineteen-sixteen, the Holy Office in the Vatican forbade any image of Mary dressed as a bishop. It also ordered that mosaics depicting women as performing the functions of ordained clergy were obscured by a massive altarpiece.

The opposition to women in ordained ministry is in no way a respectable theological position. Instead, it denies the true nature of God, who is described repeatedly in scripture as full of compassion and mercy, long-suffering, and of great goodness. Aren’t those the qualities we associate with women, and in particular, with mothers?

All clergy are icons of God. We mediate between humanity and God. To leave women out of that equation denies who God really is and how God relates to the world.

Women in Holy Orders bring unique and precious gifts to ministry that men usually do not. They tend to be more focused on the dynamics of human relationships than on fixing problems. They are better at listening to people in pain as they describe what hurts. Women in ordained ministry honor the respective differences in the incarnational reality of men and women and allow the Church to benefit from these differences.

The fact is, female church members need women’s gifts; they need woman-to-woman ministry.  The Episcopal Church, and most of the Old Catholic churches, of which we are one, are intelligent enough to ordain women as bishops, priests, and deacons.  However, the whole of the Church, the entire Body of Christ—not only women—needs women’s gifts.

Women have a different lived experience of sexual abuse and assault, from which the whole Church would benefit. Women have a different perspective on the judicious use and squandering of authority as well as its misuse and abuse. The whole Church benefits from this different perspective.

Also, women have a different view of pregnancy, childrearing, marriage, and family life, which benefits the entire Body of Christ on a practical, pastoral level. Here at Saint Cecilia Catholic Community, the ministry of Deacon Sharon blesses us with her unique way to serve the people of God.

We worship a God who loves everyone equally. As Saint Peter makes clear in today’s First Reading, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation, whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” Note Peter’s words. “No partiality.” “In every nation, whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”

Those words would seem to tell us that sexism in the Church is unacceptable as it flies in the face of who God is, a God who loves us all equally, regardless of gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation, or any other immutable characteristic. God’s love knows no boundaries. In fact, God’s love breaks boundaries. God’s love is not something humans can control or contain.

But in what sense does God love us?  One of how the English language is defective is that the word “love” encompasses multiple meanings.

We use the same word to describe a romantic relationship as we do that between non-romantic friends.

We use the same word to describe our feelings towards our family and our country,

We use the same word to describe our favorite sports team and our preferred food.

And we use the same word to describe, our Church, and God Himself – or maybe God Herself!

The New Testament was originally written entirely in Greek. That language contains four principal words for love: eros, storge, phileo, and agape.  Eros is sexual attraction.  Storge refers to love between members of a community, family, or tribe. Phileo is the love that grows between people who choose to be with one another.  Agape, however, is selfless love. That best describes the love God has for humanity.

In preparing this homily, I consulted an interlinear translation of the New Testament to drill down into the meanings of essential words in the text.  Agape was the term for love appearing in both the Second Reading and the Gospel. It was considered in Greek society to the highest form of love because it is selfless love.

Agape has been described as taking pleasure in something, prizing it above all other things, and be unwilling to abandon it or do without it.

Agape puts the beloved first and sacrifices pride, self-interest, and possessions for the sake of that beloved.

Agape is the kind of love that holds relationships together in an everlasting sense.

Agape is the kind of love God expects of us in our relationships with other people.

Everlastingly, without limit and condition, is how God loves us. On the cross, we encounter Jesus, who gave up his own life because He loved us enough to make so supreme a sacrifice. God’s love for us is not based on our individual merits. It is not based on what we do or don’t do. God’s love for us is truly unconditional.

The Church has traditionally taught that the love Jesus has for the Church is the model for love between spouses. For Catholics, marriage is not just a contract. It is a sacrament.  The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony mirrors the same way God loves us, that is, unconditionally.

Unconditional love means each spouse is willing to sacrifice himself or herself for the other. That’s truly something that’s not on the radar for many people who divorce their spouses based on the prevailing ethic of today’s world, best articulated as, “I’ll stay with my spouse as long as I am happy.”

The problem with that viewpoint is that it is one-sided. It disregards the interests of the other spouse.  For Christians, that way of thinking is not acceptable because it does not follow the paradigm of God’s relationship with us. True love is selfless and unconditional, not selfish and conditional.

Jesus recognized the sacrificial nature of true love when he said that the greatest love is shown by one who lays down one’s life for one’s friends. What is friendship?  Its most important characteristic is that friendship is a relationship entered by choice. It is not biological, like sexual love or the love between parent and child. Jesus demonstrated that by reminding his disciples that he chose them as his friends.

For Jesus, true friendship is unconditional. True friends are those who would lay down their lives for each other.  Again, true love is selfless, not selfish. Without a doubt, My wife, Deacon Sharon is my best friend.

The words of Jesus tell us something about the value of friendship in our own lives. Friendship is not only unconditional love; it is unconditional loyalty.  A friend will put your interests ahead of his or her own interest. On a practical basis in our world, a friend will lend or give when we are in need, nurse us in sickness, and stand up for us against our adversaries.

As you go through life, you will realize that good friends are hard to find, and when found,  are not easy to keep. Given its self-sacrificial nature, friendship is the most demanding of all loves. That is why what destroys friendships is selfishness.

The most challenging thing for all of us to accept is when someone rejects our offer of friendship, when someone shuns our outstretched hand, often because that person would instead pursue a life agenda without us. Sometimes that’s based on pure selfishness, and other times, it’s based on fear of intimacy with us or fear of the commitment friendship would entail.

Given the unfortunate ethic in today’s society that says rejection of other people is acceptable notwithstanding the teachings of Jesus, our quest for friendship must forage into an ever-widening circle around us.

That is what Peter was doing in today’s First Reading, which manifested a plan to extend the salvation proclaimed by Jesus beyond the local Jewish community. Peter recognized that the Holy Spirit was active in the Gentile world and declared that they should be accepted through baptism into the Christian community.

Effective this Sunday, we are re-opening the Church to vaccinated people.  Let us interact with the people coming through our doors, not just guests or visitors but as friends. Reach out to them. Find out what’s going on in their lives. Find out what their needs are and fulfill them as best you can.

As Jesus chose His disciples to be His friends, we are called to reach out to others like our friends. As a community, we will prosper by building friendships among ourselves and those outside the Church.

Jesus entrusted the continuance of His ministry to His disciples, a trust the disciples freely accepted arising out of their unconditional love or and loyalty to Jesus. As successors of His original disciples by way of our baptism, Jesus trusts us to do likewise.

Let us pray. O God, our Mother, and Father, look with favor upon women’s ministry as bishops, priests, and deacons in your Church. Send your blessings upon the congregations committed to their charge, fill them with knowledge of Your truth, enlighten them with Your holy wisdom, and grant that they may nourish Your people with the compassion of our Savior Jesus, Who lives and reigns with You forever with the Holy Spirit. AMEN.