Have you ever noticed how your awareness is affected by what you read or are thinking about? A certain theme floats around in your subconscious. Then one day something catches you eye, speaks to you in what you have read. Then you see things that you have not really noticed. They become vivid. They speak to you in new ways. Our habitual way of being is challenged.
Habit is interesting. It helps us do things without reflection. It organizes our daily living. This is Mother’s day for most of us. The church tried to change it to Christian Family day but the habit of Mother’s day is just too strong. The power of Hallmark is just too strong. What it does is it appeals to our need of relating, for we would not be here without a mother. Habit gets us through those mundane things and it can also make us miss a deeper meaning. In the case of Mother’s day we have lost its original meaning. In 1872 Julia Ward Howe, reformer and poet and the author of the lyrics to the Battle Hymn of the Republic, issued a Mother's Day Proclamation. She was the first in America to suggest that a day each year be set aside dedicated to honoring the ideals of motherhood and peace. For the next 8 years she celebrated the holiday, "Mother's Peace Day" with a group of women in Boston. The women who originally celebrated Mother's Day conceived of it as an occasion to use their status as mothers to protest injustice and war. In 1914 Anne Jarvis vowed to honor her mother's political activism by creating a national Mother's Day. Thus Mother’s day.
I remind us of this history because it tells us of importance of relationship and the reason we gather to celebrate our relationships. Also to remind ourselves that we need to ask questions about our habits, to find the meaning embedded in them.
Our desire to celebrate Mother’s Day speaks to our need of community. The way it is used speaks to the fact that even good ideas can be corrupted and be used in ways that lessen our relationships.
Peter Berger called our time the homeless mind. What he suggested is we work out our identity in a world that has lost its center. Our reality is defined by the question of whether we live in a society or an economy. Society means we live in relationships for good or ill. Economy means we serve the interests of commodities - who we are is determined by our consumption not by what we do to enhance the common good.
We have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and our democratic structures. We are losing social capital. A sense that reality is created by relationships, by connecting with one another.
The good news is there is a way of being the church that helps us build relationships. We can rebuilt habits of the heart that create a sense of ourselves as belonging to a community that cares about relationships. Congregations are reinventing themselves, rediscovering the idea of holy hospitality. Which is all about relating to one another and the common good. It is learning to discover spirituality that informs life. It is to experience the lure of God as the basis for relationship, because the nature of God is the one who seeks relationships, not only seeks to relate but needs to relate.
If God is still speaking, what are we hearing? Or “are we even listening?” God’s voice seldom comes in a dramatic way. It is often a “sigh too deep for words.” How do we listen for God in our lives? Christian spiritual teachers have reminded us that hearing God in our lives is nurtured by commitment to prayer, meditation, worship, and hospitality. Are we quiet long enough to hear God’s still, small voice, or “whispered word” (Marjorie Suchocki) amid the storms of life?
Our reading of Paul is about creating of relationships. Paul goes to a new community. In it is a woman who had been a god seeker - a gentile who is part of some Jewish prayer group. Paul speaks a word, Lydia becomes unbound-finds new energy in his words and is moved. Notice the next action - she and her household are baptized. Her household. Now in our individualistic age we find this a bit quaint. After all have we not heard people say “my mother made go to church and that is why I don’t now.” My answer is always is “I see your mother still determines your actions.” The comment is a sign of the break down of a relational world. What it signifies to me is we have failed to transmit the faith for what we have done is transmitted obligation - not the excitement of the spiritual exploration.
This is the negative side of relational communities. When they lose their dynamic nature they are in the mode of survival, or dogmatism, or the preserving of the status quo. This is when faith is turned into community control. When religion goes bad, like all repressed activity, it emerges in destructive and distorted ways.
For a whole household to be baptized today means an encouragement of a relational community that celebrates holy hospitality. This means the affirmation of seeking and searching, an affirmation of difference within a whole. This is a community that does not seek for social conformity but one that seeks to create people fully alive, singing many songs, painting many images, weaving quilts of many colors, knowing each tread is crucial to the whole image.
At our best we live this relational reality. It is checking in with a neighbor. It is to offer communal prayers for one another and our world. It is to explore the insights that push us into new insights. It is to find the lure of God in unexpected places.
This is this church’s gift to this community - the willingness to risk and let go. Is this not the reality of God’s love for us? Which is always said metaphorically - a Mother hen who cares for her young.
We honor the need for relationships by Mother’s day. To honor the gifts given we need make them our own. It is to build on the positive gifts of relationships.