May 8    Women’s Stories by  Rev. June Fothergill  Scripture: Acts 16: 16-34,40

Mother’s Day

The kids next door told their mother she wasn’t to lift a finger this morning for Mother’s Day. They were going to do all the cooking. So they took out three pots, two frying pans, a double boiler, three mixing bowls, a chopping board, six measuring spoons, eight serving dishes- and Mom was delighted.  She said it was the best Jell-O she ever tasted.  ( p. 134 An Encyclopedia of Humor ed. Lowell D. Streiker, Henrickson Publ. 1998)

Today we invited each of to make a name tag honoring our mother’s.  As we do this I realize that each of us has a different experience of our mothers.   On this day we tend to talk about the tender, loving aspects of our experience.  Yet, we know that how we experience our parents can vary a lot.  For some of us memories of our mother’s are not easy ones.  Erma Bombeck quipped  one time, “I came from a family of pioneers. My mother invented guilt in 1936”  ( p. 141 Encyclopedia of Humor..)

The truth is that people even mothers are multi faceted.  We have more than one story about  our lives.      Recognizing that about each other and our parents is part of our growth in maturity of faith and life.    A small example of what I mean.  When I was growing up I tended to place my parents into two catagories. My mom was the one who I went to for emotional issues (romantic struggles) and my father was the one I went to about intellectual issues ( what do I write for my history paper).  Yet, I as became an adult and spent time with my folks, I was blessed with some important discussions with my father about emotional issues and discovered my mother was a pretty darn smart woman!  There was more to them than I had seen initially.

This morning as we look at this story from Acts and hear the mother poems folks want to share- we also discover that the person we meet have more than one story. They show us a variety of ways we human beings encounter Christ.   Let’s look at the three women in our story as an example.  Three women you say? Come and see.

1. Lydia   Lydia was a merchant of purple cloth.  I can imagine her running her business, efficient, thorough,  maybe even a little bossy.   That is one story about her. One that intrigues us today, for we know so little about the lives of such women in the ancient world.  But that is not her only story.  She was also a  God worshipper.  She gathered with a group of women at the river to pray to the God of the Jewish people.   Apparently there was no formal synagogue. Maybe she knew about this God from her growing up in Thyatira or her travels as a merchant. We don’t know.  We do learn from this story that her faith opened her to receive the good news of Jesus Christ and be baptized- she and her household.  She wasn’t just a business woman, she was a woman of faith.  But this is not all.  After her baptism Lydia speaks.  She offers her home as a place for the new group of believers to gather. She offers with humility, to be a servant of Christ.  So, we discover in the story we read today, her home becomes the center for the new church in Philippi.  She is likely a leader of that fledging Christ Community.  Lydia’s stories help us see the women of  early church in a deeper way.   Her story invites us to look beyond first stories and impressions to see the multifaceted reality and beauty of each person.

2.  The second women in the story is obviously the Slave girl.  Her stories are very different than Lydia’s.  First of all she had no name.  Her story is that of millions of slave women down through history who work for their masters, their lives unnoticed or named.   But the fact that she is unnamed isn’t her only story.  We learn that she has a gift or curse of divination.  Therefore her masters used her to make money for themselves through her fortune telling.  Compared to some of the roles a slave woman could have, this might not have been too bad a life.  Yet, still she was not in her own mind.   Like other folks who have demons within them, she yells out a witness when she sees  Paul and Silas.  “ These men are slaves of the most high  God who proclaim to you a way of salvation “  and follows them around.  This was not how they had planned to run their evangelism program!  She was loud and disruptive.  Paul was irritated and recognized that she was not in her right mind.  So finally one day he calls on the demon spirit in her to leave!  And it does!  Now we know this slave girl as someone who has been freed for a more whole life by Christ through Paul.    This is another direction for her story.  Yet, there is a problem.  The story in Acts stops her story there. We never hear what happens to her.  Does she become part of the new Christ community formed at Lydia’s?  or now that she is useless to her masters is she sent back to work in the field or worse?

We don’t know but the blank space invites us to realize that often we don’t know the truth about the lives of the people we meet.  Sometimes people suffer in ways we are unaware and have strengths we cannot see.  Since that slave girl’s day millions of women have suffered abuse and slavery and now today we no longer accept this a part of “ life”.   We work together with others all around the world to fight the institutions and system that would keep some form of slavery alive.  Her non story reminds us that even though we may not know another person’s whole story, we can value them.  This lesson has led to the movements in our world to eliminate slavery because- even slave girls deserve their freedom and their story.

3.   Finally the third women.  I suspect that I would have been this woman in the ancient world.  She is an everyday woman who we realize must have been there in the story.  The jailer’s wife.   She is not mentioned directly but it says that the jailer washed Paul and Silas’s wounds and put food before them. It says that his whole household was baptized.    Now I wonder, can you really imagine the jailer putting food before them by himself?  Surely there was a woman in the kitchen.  Who supplied the clean clothes to dress the wounds? Who likely actually did the tending?   It is not hard to imagine a wife behind the scenes.  This is her story- one we imagine so that it can be told.  And there is also the additional story of her own experience of faith- she was baptized into this new faith because of the marvelous thing that happened to her husband.  We wonder what the experience was like for her.  What would it mean for her to meet Lydia?  To discover what following this Jesus might mean in her own life?

Her story reminds me that there are many ways to come to faith in Jesus Christ.  In those ancient days it was usual for a whole family/ household to convert together. The religious choice of the head of household influenced the whole family.  Today we are very intent on our personal experiences of faith.  The Jailer’s wife reminds us that our faith in also communal- we come to it as part of a family and it gives us an expanded family.   The jailer’s wife reminds us of all the mothers and grandmothers who taught us faith, who showed us what it means to know Jesus.  We are not alone , we stand upon the lives and stories of those who have gone before us in faith.

Some Mother’s Day Poems:

Now I invite you to share any poems about your mothers.  I have a few here to share from our guest down stairs as well. We give thanks for all these persons and their stories.

Mother Lydia

M- Merchant of purple cloth

O- Open heart from God.

T- Took a risk to be baptized into a new faith

H- Hospitality was her gift

E-  Eagerly she listened

R- Responsible for a whole household of  Christ.

 

Mother Slave Girl

M- Made money for her master

O- Odd behavior

T-Took a risk to shout

H-Healed by Paul

E- Everything changed.

R- Rest of her story- unknown

 

Mother Jailer’s Wife

M- Maybe she was there

O- overseeing the kitchen

T- tending Paul and Silas

H- helping with the

E- everyday tasks of life

R-receiving  a new faith

 

My Mother

M- Model of growing faith

O- Open to life

T- Teacher of prayer

H- Healer of the heart

E-  Ever available

R-  Reliably herself

 

 

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