If we are lucky, there is a line of women in our lives that has influenced us for the better. Today we celebrate mothers and all who were like mothers to us: birth mothers or adopted, mothers by blood or by choice, friends, sisters, grandmothers – we take time today to remember the effect they’ve had on our lives.
My Grandma O’Brien was only 48 when her husband died, leaving her to care for 9 children on her own. She raised my father and his brothers and sisters in a duplex in Brooklyn, a small home with one bathroom and three tiny bedrooms. Her children grew up and started families of their own and throughout all of our lives, Grandma was there, a constant presence quietly supporting and loving us. My grandmother’s faith was strong but never forced on anyone else. Her love taught her children and grandchildren that we should take care of family and friends and strangers alike, reflecting God’s love for us without expecting anything in return.
We’ve been focusing for a few weeks on a piece of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount called the Beatitudes. Today, we look at verse 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the Earth.” Like so many other verses in the Beatitudes, our understanding of what Jesus is saying may change as we look deeper into the words that he uses. For some of us, the word “meek” may conjure up thoughts of a passive, weak, timid person. Someone who needs Jesus’ help in order to get anything done.
The Greek word, pra-us, that is translated as “meek” is also sometimes translated as “gentle” or “mild.” It denotes someone who is humble, a person who does not try to be showy or who acts only for their own benefit. That’s how I’ve always viewed my grandma O’Brien.
There is a line of women in the Bible who were meek, gentle, humble. Of course, the voice of women of the Bible often has to fight to be heard. It seems as though we’ve spent thousands of years doing our best to remove women from scripture – or at least to relegate them to background characters. But no matter how hard we tried, their stories and their voices are so influential, that they still come through.
Women in scripture are strong and powerful and caring. They are often the ones to speak the truth, standing up to powerful men and even to God, and doing so for the sake of others.
We hear stories like that of Sarah, barren and childless into her old age. When God promises that she and her husband Abraham will have a child, Sarah laughs right out loud at God’s unexpected news. Or Tamar, a women who used her cunning and wit to gain the inheritance that was her due. And Hannah, whose faith in God was so strong that she prayed day and night for a son. When Samuel was born, she knew that he was a child of God and support his ministry as he grew to become a great prophet. And of course, Mary, the unwed, pregnant teen who gave birth to and raised Jesus.
Of course, these stories were written thousands of years ago. The men back then must have been threatened by the inspirational voices of strong, humble women but that was then, this is now. We live in an enlightened world where men and women are on equal ground and everyone’s voice is heard.
Ok, maybe that’s not true. Sure, we’ve made some strides in the past two-thousands years but unbelievably, we still have a ways to go. In our own country, there is still too big a disparity in salaries, the ratio of men to women in leadership and power positions is still too unbalanced, and the rates of domestic abuse towards women is still too high. And those are only the issues on the surface.
There is a line of women in our world who are still being silenced.
Almost a month ago 276 girls were kidnapped from their school in Nigeria by an extremist terrorist group that does not believe that girls should be educated or that women deserve a voice. The group has threatened to force the girls into marriage and to face more violence. Many countries and individuals around the world have expressed outrage and anger and this brutal crime but many seemed reluctant to do anything about it. There are reports now that the U.S. and other countries are finally sending military to try and find the girls but we are still left with a feeling of helplessness.
There is a line of women who need our prayers.
This Sunday, many churches in the UCC and other denominations are making an effort to pray for the girls. We have printed out slips with the names of the 180 girls that we know and 96 slips that simply say “Child of God, Name Unknown.” I’d like to pass these around and I ask you to take one or two and to intentionally pray every day for her safe return until they are back where they belong.
What has happened to these girls in Nigeria is terrible and horrifying. Unfortunately, this sort of violence towards girls and women is all too common in our world.
Former President Jimmy Carter has said that “The abuse of women and girls is the most pervasive and unaddressed human rights violation on Earth.” It is estimated that one out of every three women worldwide will experience physical or sexual abuse during her lifetime, with rates reaching 70 percent in some countries. Such violence includes rape, domestic violence, human trafficking, honor killings, child marriage, and genital mutilation. Girls are denied access to education, the political and economic rights of women and girls are oppressed, and women and girls are used as tools of war.
As you pray for the name on the slip you’ve taken, pray also for all women who face violence. Pray for our country and our world that we may listen to the voices of all women, that we may work to provide safety and education and medical care and food to everyone regardless of gender.
We have all been experienced and been influenced by a line of women who are powerful and humble, intelligent and witty, gentle children of God. MCC is blessed to have such strong female voices in our community. On this Mother’s Day, as we remember our mothers and all who have been mothers to us, we join our hearts and our voices together praying for the day when all women will be recognized as children of God. Amen.