Sermon: “A Mother’s Prayer”

May 8, 2016: Easter 7 – Mother’s Day

Acts 16:16-35
John 17:20-25

There’s such a contrast between these two passages – quite aside from their difference in length. The Acts reading is a narrative, while that in John is a prayer. The story in Acts is big and bold, even violent. In John, it’s quiet. Acts is filled with conflict, while in John, as Jane put it on Wednesday during our Bible study, “There’s so much love in this passage.”

In fact, when I read it preparing for today, it suddenly jumped out at me that this is a mother’s prayer. Jesus, pouring out his love on his disciples even as he faces the horrors of trial and crucifixion the next day. Jesus, praying “also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one” – Jesus was talking about and praying for us. That’s why the United Church of Christ adopted that prayer as the motto for the new uniting denomination in 1957.

“That they may all be one.”

A mother’s prayer. Motherhood wants the best for children, including strong relationships with the other children of the family. Mothers may justifiably dread when the children gang up on her in a game, prank, or family argument, but it’s heartbreaking to see children estranged from one another. “That they may all be one” includes the parents as well, for their relationship will influence the children, for good and for ill.

It’s a mother’s prayer, offered by the one who would have gathered the people of Jerusalem as a hen gathers her chicks beneath her wings.

And I was thinking about mothers as well as I read about Paul and Silas. The prayers their mothers must have raised for them, probably starting somewhere along the lines of, “Stop guiding my crazy boy into these dangerous places, God. NOW!”

The prayers of that unnamed girl’s unmentioned mother. Did she know what had happened to her daughter? Did she know how afflicted she was, and how others exploited her? Did she pray for her to be released from that double bondage, or did she pray that desperate prayer of a parent who does not know where her child is: “God, keep her safe.”

Did she pray for her freedom?

Every mother, I imagine, prays for her children to be free.

There’s a commentary series called the Prison Lectionary on the Internet, with articles on the Bible written by people in prison. Matthew B. Harper notes that when the earthquake breaks the door to the prison, Paul and Silas do not flee. He writes, “So this is a story, not of escape, but of being set free. Free from demonic possession, free from prison, and even a profound freedom while in prison singing, praying, and praising.”

There’s lots of freedom in these texts, in these mothers’ prayers: freedom from exploitation. Freedom to be where Jesus is. Freedom from illegal and unjust force, particularly when used by authorities. Freedom to see the glory of Christ.


Pastor Eric spends #ThursdaysInBlack

Pastor Eric spends #ThursdaysInBlack

I don’t know how many of you have noticed, but if you see me on a Thursday, I’ll be wearing black. And not just my shoes. I’m wearing it as part of an international movement called #ThursdaysInBlack. And, of course, like so many of these modern advocacy movements, it has a hashtag.

I’m quoting now from the Thursdays in Black Website at

“The Thursdays in Black campaign protests began in the 1970s and its roots lie in groups such as Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina. These women began wearing black sashes in honour of their friends and family members who were disappearing, being raped, and abused. They would gather every Thursday in silence to protest the loss of loved ones under the military dictatorship, with the aim of raising the government’s awareness that these acts of violence were happening in their homeland. Other groups have developed, including women who wanted to express outrage at the rape-death camps in war torn Bosnia, the Black Sash in South Africa, and women who oppose the Israel occupation of the West Bank and ordinary woman all over the world who oppose sexual violence.

“In the 1980s, Thursdays in Black became an international human rights campaign supported by the World Council of Churches as a peaceful way of saying ‘I support the human right of women to live in a world without violence, rape and fear.’“

Why? Because the numbers are horrifying. On average, a woman is sexually assaulted in the United States every 107 seconds. Less than two minutes. That’s at least four women attacked since I began this sermon. In Hawai’i, a 2003 study found that one in seven women suffer rape in their lifetimes.

I was late to the #ThursdaysInBlack moment. I learned about it from colleagues on the national staff of the UCC, who began posting a weekly group photo. I decided to sign on myself at roughly the same time that I was in the throes of packing to come to Hawai’i, so I didn’t actually start until I’d arrived here. It was more than I could get organized while moving.

It’s an awareness campaign. It’s not a solution. Seeing the photos each week reminds me that in any group of five women in the United States, there’s a good chance that one of them has suffered a sexual assault. That’s a good reason to be aware, and to behave with sensitivity, gentleness, and compassion.

The solution is to change our culture, which fills us all with so many assumptions about responsibility for sexual violence against women. Have you noticed that when a woman is attacked, we ask about what she was doing in the place she was? Or what she was wearing? Or how much she’d had to drink? Or how she came to be in a tense situation with a person she’d known for some time?

Why don’t we ask these questions:

You saw this woman in an unusual place. Why did you think it was ok to attack her?

You saw this woman wearing a particular outfit. Why did you think it was ok to attack her?

You saw this woman who’d drunk too much. Why did you think it was ok to attack her?

You’ve known this woman for a long time. Why did you think it was ok to attack her?

Most people are assaulted, not by a stranger, but by someone they know. For some groups, it’s as high as 90%.

In 2013, a well-known public figure tweeted this: “26,000 unreported sexual assults in the military-only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?”

Well, they thought men should behave themselves. And that the system should give justice to those assaulted when men don’t meet those expectations.

Sexual assault is not inevitable. It is not normal. It is not right. That’s why I wear black every Thursday.

Many years ago, I saw two children playing, a boy and a girl. They were teasing each other, and the boy offered a particular threat if the girl didn’t stop something she was doing. He said he’d give her a kiss.

We’ve all seen that.

This time, the mother stepped in. She told her son not to threaten with a kiss. A kiss should be something that’s offered generously, and welcomed joyfully. It should be given and received with enthusiasm by both parties. It should be shared.

Never a punishment. Never a threat. Never taken. Never inflicted.

The good news is that sexual assault rates have fallen in the United States. Between 1993 and 2013 they fell by 49% – a tremendous gain. That’s wonderful – and it’s not enough.

So I’ll be spending #ThursdaysinBlack a while longer.

Freedom from sexual assault. Freedom from exploitation. Freedom from war. Freedom from mob beatings and unjust imprisonment. Freedom from a bound spirit. Freedom to be where Jesus is. Freedom to see his glory.

That’s a mother’s prayer, and Jesus’ prayer, and all unworthy, my prayer. Amen.



Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on May 8, 2016

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