This Prayer's For You
When a 19th century feminist lay dying, the only thing that would comfort her were Bible readings where Jesus showed special mercy to women. Let the words of Jesus speak to mothers today. Our text is from Jesus' prayer in the upper room on Maundy Thursday. The prayer is called His high priestly prayer. There are some real gems here for moms to take home.
The first gem is Jesus' startling words about eternal life. "This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ." Most people would say eternal life is time. Time stretched out forever and ever. Like "Amazing Grace" sings, "When we've been there 10,000 years/ ... We've no less days to sing God's praise/ Than when we'd first begun."
In a way, eternal life as extended time might be attractive to Moms because they have no time. I have never met a mom who didn't feel rushed, harried, as if Time was ever nipping at her heels and would devour her if she slipped. It's interesting that time is never personified as a female. It's never "Mother Time" but always "Father Time."
So to hounded Moms, eternal life as extended time might seem like a blessing, but it's only a potential blessing, something off in the distance. If eternal life is extended time, the person who feels like they have no time feels like they have no eternal life. But here Jesus tells us the amazing truth that eternal life is knowledge: not knowledge of how to cook, raise kids, please a husband, have a better home and garden, but knowledge of the true God and Jesus Christ. Notice Jesus doesn't say it's loving the true God and Jesus Christ; He doesn't say it's feeling their presence...something the person chased by time hardly ever feels. Nor does Jesus say eternal life is looking, acting, or talking like a Christian; He says it's knowing.
"But I don't know enough about the true God and Jesus Christ!" First, who could ever say they did know enough. Second, keep reading. Jesus says, those who do know were first given by God the Father to the Son and then the Son revealed the Father to them. Then Jesus speaks of certainties. "Now they do know that everything you have given Me comes from You ...They have come to know with certainty that I came from You." And how did they know all this? By deep thinking? By sincere loving? By skillful reasoning? No by the words of the Father that the Son gave to them.
Moms, dads, kids and other sinners, you have those Words. The true God has spoken to you through His Son, Jesus Christ. He has made Himself known to you in the Words of Baptism, the Words of Absolution, and the Words of Communion. In these 3 you know the true God and Jesus Christ because in them you're clothed with Jesus, forgiven by Jesus and fed by Jesus so that He might bring you into the presence of God. This is eternal life. Though you lack time to catch your breath, though you never feel you have enough time, eternity is yours in the knowledge that God the Father accepts you, loves you and cares for you in God the Son. Let time nip at your heals; let it devour you. Time eventually comes to and end; the everlasting life you have in the knowledge of God in Christ does not.
Eternal life isn't time that moms never have but knowledge which Christ gives them is one gem. Here's another: God is glorified not by the Law but by the Gospel. Jesus says, "I have brought You [the Father] glory on earth by completing the work You gave Me to do." The Father didn't send the Son into the world to make you a better mother, wife, or woman. The Father didn't send the Son into the world to get something out of you. The Father sent the Son to do what all your working and worrying could never do: Keep the Ten Commandments perfectly. And He sent Him to do what all your feeling bad, guilty, and ashamed could never do: satisfy the wrath of God against your sins.
God is glorified by the Gospel not the Law. Moms this should speak to the Supermom myth. Notice, you seldom hear of Superdad. You ask a man if he's a good father and he'll probably say, "Good enough," or, "So-so." Ask a woman if she's a good mother and you've tapped a well-spring of doubt, guilt, and maybe even shame. Newsweek recently had articles on this. There solution was to chill out. Newsweek didn't tell women to do this or that differently for your family, but it still told them to do, i.e. it was still the Law, do things for yourself differently.
Well moms, dads, kids and other sinners, I am here to tell you God is glorified by what Jesus did for you (Gospel) not what you do (Law). The highest worship of God you can do is to rejoice in what Jesus did for you. In fact woe to you, if you think you can stand before God based on how good of a mother you are, how clean your house, how well fed your family. This may get you the title of Supermom or into Good Housekeeping, but it can't get you into heaven. God's glory is not your being able to wash 10 loads of clothes a day, but Jesus washing you in Baptism. God's glory isn't your being able to make all your kids' ears clean, but Jesus speaking the forgiveness He won by His perfect life and death into your ears. God's glory is not the fine table of food you set, but Jesus setting a Table for sinners like you with His Body and Blood.
Mom's you glorify God when you say, "Amen" to this, when you glory in all that God in Christ does for you, when you let Jesus be the Perfect One and you be just a sinner in constant need of forgiveness. Nothing makes the Triune God happier, indeed all of heaven rejoices not over what men, women, or kids do but over sinners who repent and find comfort in Jesus. As often as your conscience stabs you with what you are not as a mother or person, know that heaven rejoices when you glory in the forgiveness and comfort of who Jesus is and what He did and does for you.
There's yet another gem in this text for mothers. Unity comes from God not from man. Moms want a united family. When my kids are fighting with each other, it's not that they're not united that bothers me. No, it's the fact that they're disturbing me. Even though it's a sin against the family, it isn't to me. And I'm not alone in this. No, father has ever said to me, "I really want my kids to get along," or , "I hope they grow up to be close." I use to think moms chasing after a united family were chasing after something material. No, it's not material at all. It's spiritual.
Here's the gem from the text: The unity of your family doesn't depend on you. God doesn't hold you responsible for that. If your kids remain at each other throats till the day you die, God's doesn't say, "Well she failed. She's a second class mother."
Disunity is more of a sin to women than it is to men. This being said, women have to evaluate carefully attempts to achieve unity. They want it so badly that they can be blinded by wrong attempts to achieve it. This is true in home and Church. The modern way to achieve unity in the Church is by not talking about differences. Virtually all fellowship between churches since the 1920's has been preceded by saying things like, "Our differences are not as great as what we have in common." "We can agree to disagree."
Moms, women in general, your passion for unity should help you see this for what it is. Because you want family unity so badly, you tried many ways to achieve it. The kids are fighting and you tried to make them get along. You tried making them hug when younger and shake when older. You made them apologize. You taught them the good virtues of sharing, kindness, and politeness. But none of that unified them, did it? That's because unity is a gift from God.
When your kids are united, getting along, it's beautiful, magical, but you have learned you can't make it happen. The Church can learn from you. Human efforts can't produce true unity. If they could, Jesus wouldn't need to pray the Father for it. He would have just left "how to achieve unity" instructions, but they would have been what mothers have already tried without success. Unity of Christians and families is a gift. And as eternal life is knowledge of the name of God and as God's name is glorified by the Gospel, so it's the gift of God's name that produces unity. The last sentence of our text literally reads, "Holy Father, you must keep them in Your name which You have forever given to Me in order that they might be one just as We are."
God's Name is everything He tells us about Himself in the Bible. God works unity by bringing people to a common confession of His name. There can be no contradicting beliefs, teachings or creeds among truly united Christians because there certainly are no contradictions between the Father and the Son and Jesus prays that Christians may be one just as They are.
But what about your family, Moms? What about unity among them. Well, they will have a certain outward unity if they have a shared name. But what you really long for is the internal, spiritual unity. Well, Moms, dads, kids and sinners, do what Jesus does. Pray the Father for it and confess that His name is the only way to achieve it. Remember He's already worked this miracle in your case. In His name you are baptized. In His name you are absolved and reunited to Him. In His Name you eat at a Table where the many are united into the one Body and Blood of Jesus. You are united to God in Christ so firmly that God Himself declares nothing can separate you from His family. From the security of being united to His family, you will be able to pray for the true unity of your family and know you are heard.
I don't know what you got for Mother's Day, but here on 3 gems from Jesus' prayer for you: Eternal life is yours now in the knowledge of God in Christ. God is glorified by your being saved. The unity you crave is a gift of the God who has already united you to Himself for all eternity. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Easter VII (5-8-05, Mother's Day), John 17: 1-11