Sermon for Easter 7, Year B May 13, 2018

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26                          Psalm 1                                 1 John 5:9-13                                      John 17:6-19

Next Sunday is Pentecost, the day we celebrate the birth of the church, and the day we read about the Apostles receiving the Holy Spirit.  Our readings from Acts these past several weeks have, for the most part, been about events that take place after Pentecost.  We have been hearing about how the Christian Church began.  Today’s reading is no exception.

Since, after Judas betrays Jesus, he commits suicide, Peter announces they need to name another apostle.  Peter says, “One of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us– one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”   This is significant for two reasons.  First, it tells us that there is a distinction between the apostles and disciples.  Exactly what that distinction is, is unclear in the gospels.  It begins to become clear in this story in Acts, as the apostles are becoming the new leaders of Christ’s church.

For many years I made no distinction in my mind between an apostle and a disciple, I used these titles interchangeably.  This report of the selection of Matthias to be the new twelfth apostle, however, got my attention because it reveals something I had overlooked before.  Matthias was selected from among the disciples who had followed Jesus from his baptism to his ascension.  I don’t remember when it was that I realized what this means – that there were many, many more disciples who followed Christ from the beginning, both men and women, than just the twelve we call apostles.  So, it was from among these men that Matthias was selected.

The second thing of note was how Matthias was selected.  The apostles did not vote on who would become the twelfth – they draw lots.  We are told they prayed, saying: “Lord, you know everyone’s heart.  Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”  To the modern mind, drawing lots is leaving it to chance, but to them it was allowing God to select the man who was best suited for the job.

Today, we pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us in our decisions and we have an extensive process through which people are called to ordain ministry.  We have also come to appreciate the importance of recognizing that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not limited to men – but that was a different time and place and women had to  play a different role in promoting the kingdom of God.

I feel blessed to be living in a day and age when we can appreciate what women have to offer and have even set aside a date to celebrate the life of the woman who first taught us what it means to love.  For most of us this is the woman who gave birth to us and who raised us – but that is not true for everyone.  If this is not true for you, I ask that you think of someone who did this for you as I talk about Mother’s Day.

According to the history channel, Mother’s Day began in the 19th Century when, before the Civil War, Ann Reeves Jarvis helped start Mothers’ Day Work Clubs to teach women how to care for their children.  After the war, she organized a Mothers’ Friendship Day to promote reconciliation between Union and Confederate soldiers.  Then, after the death of her own mother in 1905, she held a memorial service to honor the sacrifices mothers make for their children. The idea of celebrating Mother’s Day really took off, though, once merchants helped promote it.

In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson officially established the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.  But, much like Christmas and Easter, merchants saw the opportunity it presented for them and what began as movement to get families together for a personal celebration, became a gift giving occasion.  So, by 1920, Ann Jarvis was publicly criticizing the commercialization of the celebration.

The idea of recognizing the sacrifices our mothers make for us, can easily get lost in what this day has become.  It should not.  Like the apostles and disciples, it is their commitment to making this a better world that we need to appreciate.  Self-giving love, self-sacrifice, are lessons that we are taught by example.

The apostles knew they needed someone whose heart was in the right place to take over for Judas.  None of the disciples or apostles were perfect, and none of our mothers are perfect.  But, our mothers –  birth mothers, adoptive mothers, and the women who fill in for our mothers, teach us about the love Christ has for each of us because of what is in their hearts.

My mother died a few years ago, but she lives on in my heart and her influence will continue to guide me in my life.  In our gospel reading, Jesus says in his prayer for his disciples, “the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them.”  I can understand this, in part, because of the lessons I learned from my mother.   And, just as Jesus prayed for the protection of his disciples, my mother prayed for my protection.

Matthias was selected from among the men who followed Jesus because God knew his heart was in the right place.  Today, on Mother’s Day, I want to give thanks for all the women who have followed in the way of Christ who have their hearts in the right place and taught and raised us to love others as Christ loves us.

Let us pray.

Loving and Gracious God, we thank you for the gift of our mothers.  Be with them that they may be filled with your Spirit and have the strength to lead their families through the pain and disappointments in this life.  Help us to learn from our mothers how to give of ourselves that others might know and understand the depth of your love for all of humanity.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.