John 15: 9-17
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
It’s Mother’s Day. for some of us whose mothers have passed, or who were estranged from their mothers, or who never had children, it can be bitter sweet. But I hope that all of us have had someone in our lives - a parent, a grandparent, a god-parent, a relative or friend, who have shown us the unconditional love that Jesus talks about here - who have guided us and helped us to grow in wisdom and love.
Many years ago, at my mother’s wake, the night before her funeral, a good friend of hers, Sister Agnes, a Catholic nun, began the gathering with a scripture reading and a homily about my mother. She described my mom as a combination of the two women in this story I am about to read, and as I recall she captured the essence of my mother perfectly. The story is from Luke 10:38-42. As you listen, see if your mother is reflected in either of these women.
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’
My mother was a home maker and a devout Catholic. If you asked her what were the two most important things in her life, I’m sure she would tell you her family and her faith. She balanced them both. I learned so much from my mother. I am who I am today because of her. Many of you may feel the same about your moms. (or dads, or someone who raised and influenced you in a positive way as you grew up). Years ago I wrote her a letter about what I had learned from her. I’ve rewritten it today for this service as a tribute to motherhood, and to help us think about what our mothers have taught us.
My dear, beautiful Mother,
The greatest gift you can give another person is life and love. You gave me both. I have always felt your love and as a result of that I have been able to love myself and to love others. As a child you constantly gave me a sense of security which has carried over into my adult life. Years ago I was hiking in the mountains with a friend and he asked me what in my life gave me my sense of security, and without a second thought I said my parents and my family. I have always known that you were there for me no matter what; someone I could share my joys and my disappointments and my fears with. You always listened. You never judged. Even though you and dad are no longer with us, that sense of security has remained, and enabled me to trust now in God’s presence and guidance in my life.
I had the happiest childhood and adolescence anyone could ask for. I always felt nurtured, loved, secure. You taught me to pursue my passions. You encouraged me in whatever I chose to do. You provided ways for me to explore my creativity through drama and art classes. You helped to shape who I am today.
You and dad took us kids on all those wonderful trips - taught us to explore the country and the world - to learn about things and people outside of our own little sheltered world. You drove us past tenements in South Chicago and the back roads of West Virginia, so we could begin understand that not everyone had life as good as we did, and we must consider others in our own life choices - reaching out to those in need.
You taught us to value education and learning. You were always there to help us with our homework, to share ideas and argue politics - to make us think. We didn’t all have to agree, but we had to be able to debate our opinion and stand up for what we believed in.
You taught me how to cook and iron and clean and how to make a house a home, a place to invite friends and strangers alike. Most of all, by your example, you taught us how to love unconditionally: ourselves, our family and our friends. Our friends became your adopted children. Our house was the home everyone wanted to come to, and a major reason they wanted to come there was you. You made them feel welcomed and loved.
And you knew how to have fun. At our house there was always good food, games, laughter, music, wonderful, wonderful parties - creative parties, parties that crossed generational lines, where everyone felt welcomed. You and dad had more good friends living across this country than anyone I know - life long friends. I have been blessed with that too. But I believe the reason I have all my friends is because you taught me how to be a friend, by your example. You showed me how to reach out to others with compassion in times of need; how to write cards and letters and keep in touch. You have to work at friendships, just like any relationship. It doesn't just happen.
You taught me the importance of faith, by taking us to church every Sunday, praying with us, giving us a Catholic education. But then you allowed us to make our own choices about which path to follow. You always said it didn’t matter what faith tradition we followed, as long as we had one - a relationship with God. You were one of the first to suggest to me that maybe I had a calling to ministry. You could sense that in me when I wasn’t ready to share that deep seeded desire with anyone.
I remember how our family room became the craft room for your women’s fellowship group from church - how proud you were of how much money you all brought in to help those in need - the beautiful quilts you raffled off - and made thousands of dollars - how you volunteered your time to raise money for our school. You taught me the importance of giving back.
You prepared me for adulthood, for the world, and then you gave me wings to fly. You encouraged me to follow my dreams. You celebrated with me when they came true and supported and encouraged me when life handed me disappointments. Knowing you and dad were there made me fearless. Jan and I were once talking about how in the world did we both have the nerve and ambition to go out and pursue our dreams - in New York City, of all places - and do all the things we’ve done? The answer was easy - “Mom” - you encouraged us - you gave us permission.
You taught me to try and always be positive and look for the good in everything. It’s not always easy. We’re not always successful at it, but we keep on trying. I realize through all of your pain and suffering in the last years of your life, you continued to teach us the most valuable lessons of life; how to face pain and adversity and loss with courage, dignity, an incredible sense of humor, patience, a joy of life and unconditional love.
You taught me to feel compassion for others who are suffering, how to open my heart to the suffering of the world, and try, in whatever little way I could, to alleviate that suffering. That is your legacy mom, your greatest gift to all of our family. You raised us to love and support each other unconditionally, through good and bad, without jealousy or judgment.
Your heart and your lessons live on in all of us, and we will pass them on to our children and to our friends.
Your loving daughter, Susan
I wrote a letter like this to my dad too before he passed, and I’m so glad I was able to share with them while they were still living, what they meant to me. Too often it’s only done at one’s funeral.
You will find an insert in your bulletin. Take a couple of minutes now to write on it one thing that your mother, or father, or someone influential in your life taught you. And then we will pass the mike if anyone would like to share.