Happy Homemaking!

Date: May 9, 2010 Mother’s Day
Scripture Lessons: Revelation 21:1-10, 22-22:5 and Acts 16:9-15
Sermon: Happy Homemaking!
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

One year when I was in elementary school, I remember bringing home those countless beginning of the year forms. As I was older, my parents encouraged me to fill out the forms myself. That made me feel grown up and responsible. So, I proceeded. Even though this was way back in the 60’s, our school system in Montgomery County Maryland was progressive. On one form, there was a place to list, name, address, etc. for the father, and a separate place to give information for the mother. They did not assume the family was a mother, father, and children living in the same house. The form also asked about employment. Father’s job. Mother’s job. Again, progressive considering most moms that I knew did not work outside the home. My mother had worked outside the home, one of the few, but at that particular time, she was in between jobs. So, as I filled out the form, I got to the blank “mother’s occupation.” I mentioned this to her, and said, should I put “housewife”? She said no, she was not a housewife. She was not the wife of a house. She was not married to the house. And she was not devoted to keeping house. She said to put down homemaker. She said “homemaker” conveyed that she was responsible for creating a home, for our family, and for making the world a better home for all people. So, I put down homemaker, not housewife.

When we listened to the visions from Revelation that were read this morning, we heard of the home God is creating for humankind. We heard about the river of life flowing through the city. A river that nourishes all life, that is clear and clean. No oil spills! And trees that bear fruit each month so that there is always food. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. This may have helped inspire Julia Ward Howe’s vision of women coming together to cultivate international peace. In the city of Revelation, there is always light. You know the saying, “We’ll leave the light on for you.” Continuous welcome. Constant safety and security. And the gate never closes. This is an image of homemaking.

In the story from Acts, we hear of Lydia, a God fearer, a Gentile, not a Jew, yet one who practices the Jewish faith and finds life in its teachings and practices. She and her household and friends gather at the river to pray. Again, a river symbolic of the divine river of life-sustaining love. And they gather to have their spirits nurtured and sustained. And Paul and others come and offer their teachings about Jesus. Lydia is baptized and her entire household. While we may see this as heavy handed religious coercion, in that context, Lydia was being a homemaker. She was giving those of her household needed spiritual nourishment. It has been said that the gospel “is one hungry beggar showing another hungry beggar where to find bread.” Lydia was feeding the spiritual needs of her household. She wants to make sure that all in her domain are cared for and provided for in every way.

And she extends this homemaking and hospitality to Paul and his cohorts. She invites them to stay at her home. She offers food, shelter, and safety to these travelers. She is extending her homemaking beyond her immediate household. And, in this case, she is taking a social risk. We are told that Lydia is a dealer in purple cloth. Purple cloth was extremely expensive to make due to the dye process involved. So, as a dealer in purple cloth, Lydia was typically hobnobbing with the elite, the rich, royalty, people with power and influence. So she had a reputation to protect in the interests of her business. Now remember, Paul and those with him have been imprisoned for their preaching. They are not considered the most desirable or reputable characters. They have a rap sheet. Yet that does not deter Lydia from inviting them to stay at her home. She still offers them hospitality. She still takes them in and makes them feel at home. Baptized and imbued with the holy spirit, she extends her homemaking beyond her kin, to these fringe outcasts.

On this Mother’s Day, as we celebrate those who have mothered us, and made a home for us, we are invited to consider the image of homemaker as an image for the Christian life.

A mother seeks to make a home a place that is loving, where people are cared for according to their needs, where we are nurtured physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. A home is a context for play and work. A place to learn and grow and make mistakes and practice forgiveness. A place to feel safe. Where we learn to take turns. Share. Work as a team. Make a contribution. Take care of each other. Laugh and cry together. This image of home also reflects and describes the intention of Christian community.

Jesus created home among his followers. He created community that nourished people physically, spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually. It was safe space. There was team work, sharing, everyone making a contribution. Everyone important and needed. No one left out.

We are called to create this kind of community in the church. Where all are cared for and nurtured. Encouraged to share and take care of one another. Where everyone is valued and respected and fully included. Where all feel safe. And Christians, in turn, are called to go out into the world to make the world a loving, safe, peaceful, home for all people.

Christians are called to be homemakers for the whole world. Seeing that the needs of all people are met. Creating the context for all people to thrive and flourish, with no one paying the price for another’s well-being , except by choice. In a home, there are no victims, no oppression, no imbalance of distribution of resources leaving some uncared for. What mother would give one child a huge sandwich for lunch and only a cracker to another child? Of course not. The church community is called to care for all, within and beyond the church family.

While my mother was busy being a homemaker for our family, she was also busy being a homemaker in this broader sense, as a committed Christian. Though she worked outside the home most of my growing up years, she was also busy making the world a better home for all. She was very active in our church. Always serving on committees and helping with projects and programs. She was active in the civil rights movement in the 60’s in Washington, DC. She was protesting the Vietnam War. She was busy working to end poverty. I remember as a child being driven to downtown D.C. to see the tents erected on the Mall calling attention to the plight of poor people. And every time there was an event, my mother and others from our church, were busy arranging housing and making sandwiches for bus loads of people who were coming from UCC churches around the country. She was a real homemaker in the spirit of Jesus and Lydia!

When we moved to Minneapolis in the 70’s, we were afraid that my mom might be bored, being away from the Washington scene in the 60‘s. But she found ways to continue her homemaking even though my grandmother lived with us and did most of the housework. My mom was active in school integration, chairing the advisory committee at the junior high school. She was active in numerous local elections. At one point, she had signs for two competing city council candidates out in our yard. They came by to ask about it. She said the corner was large and in a high visibility location and she wanted to be fair, so she decided to have both signs up. Equal opportunity, that’s my mom. She was part of a task force to redesign the Minnehaha Parkway in our neighborhood, everyone’s yard. And she was active in the gay rights movement, especially within the church, which she believed should be a safe, welcoming home for all people. And should be making the world that way for everyone.

As a Christian, my mom was about making not only our household a true home, but the church and the world a safe, nurturing home for all people as well. It’s not that what she did was so great, but she gives us a model that involves balancing work, family, home, church, community and service in a way that honors the Christian calling to be homemakers for all.

This image of our Christian calling as homemakers is just as significant today as it was in the first century, in the 60’s, and in the 70’s. In terms of homemaking, the church needs to be a community of support for families. All kinds of families. Whatever the composition. Some years ago, I had a former LUCC member come in to talk with me. She advised me to preach and teach that a Christian family is a mom and a dad and children. She made her case. I told her respectfully, that I could not do that. It was in conflict with my Christian conscience and calling. I told her that I believed all families needed the care, nurture, and support of the church. And families with a single parent raising the children, families with same gender parents, multigenerational families in one household, needed as much if not more support, acceptance and love as more traditional nuclear families. I even used biblical examples. Mary and Martha and Lazarus, three siblings, who functioned as a household. The disciple whom Jesus loved taking in his mother. She wasn’t persuaded and eventually left the church.

The church needs to support all families. We need to be a community of love and care and actual assistance to the families of our faith community. Helping older people who are caregivers for spouses, grandmothers raising grandchildren, single parent households, adult children responsible for parents, same gender couples that are families, interfaith families, couples going through difficult times, families who go through divorce, older people who need help with transportation or household maintenance. The church is here to support all in the congregation, as a family. Offering help, companionship, and whatever is needed so that all feel connected to a home, a family, a community, here in the church.

And since it is Mother’s Day, we want to highlight that the church needs to encourage and support families raising children, a daunting challenge in the face of technological advances and increasing violence in society. As the mother of three, I can testify.

All people, in all kinds of families should feel the support and acceptance of this church as safe space with alternative values to the greed, violence, competition, and self absorption promoted in society. This is the kind of community Jesus gathered, this is the kind of community witnessed to in the New Testament. This is the kind of family we see in Lydia’s household.

We also need the church as a household of love and acceptance to help us to heal when our individual homes and our personal families have been a source of pain and difficulty. Journalist Ida Tarbell who wrote in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, kept this newspaper quote in her scrapbook: “The family is a severe test of Christian character.” [From Taking on the Trust: The Epic Battle of Ida Tarbell and John D. Rockefeller by Steve Weinberg] Sadly, sometimes our families are not the locus of love, nurture, support, care, and safety that we would like them to be. The church needs to be a context for the healing, self acceptance and divine affirmation that may not have been instilled in us through our home life. The church should be a community of care and recovery when the family is a source of harm. It can be a context for emotional healing for those who have been damaged by family.

The church is also needed as home for those who feel outcast, worthless, and abused by society. Sadly, the world does not treat everyone with dignity and respect. And the church needs to be a place for healing and restoration when we are damaged by the unfairness, prejudices, and oppression of the wider world. This includes being a haven of solace for refugees and immigrants and those who are desperately in need of a sense of home, protection, well-being, and safety. The church cannot endorse efforts such as the law in Arizona requiring people to have documentation at all times. Hunger is hunger. Food is food. The church is to be a community of generosity, care and compassion precisely to those most in need. Lydia took in those ex-convicts. This sense of familial care and concern in the church cannot be limited by documentation, nationality, language, income, gender, education, sexual identity, skin color, or any other characteristic of a person. For the church, each and every human being is a child of God. That’s all we need to know. And we are called to create home for all of God’s children.

And on this Mother’s Day, as we consider our calling as homemakers, in the image of God, according to the model of Jesus, we want to remember what kind of a home the world is for women in our times. Several weeks ago, as part of the Eckerd College series on “The Plight and Promise of Africa,” Nicholas Kristoff, a coauthor with Sheryl WuDunn of the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, told us that he believes as slavery was the moral issue for the 19th century, and totalitarianism was the central moral issue for the 20th century, gender equality for women is the moral issue that will define the 21st century.

In our country today 14.6 million families struggle to put food on the table each day. [Fact from Bread for the World] This is in part due to the inequity in women’s pay in the U.S. Mothers in this country are paid 73 cents on the dollar for commensurate jobs done by men. When I graduated from college in 1982, we had buttons pinned to our graduation robes with the number 76, because at that time, women made 76 cents on the dollar compared with men for the same job. It has gotten worse. Now it is 73 cents. Single mothers make 60 cents for every dollar made by a man in an equal job. In the course of a lifetime, for equal work women make $400,000 to $2 million dollars less than men. This has a definite impact on the poverty rate in this country where one fourth of

U.S. families with children under 6 years old live in poverty. Many of these households are headed by single women. If we want to make this country and this world a better home for all people, men, women, and children, we need to work for equality for all. Yet and still, the women of the world continue their 30 year wait for the United States to adopt the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. This treaty has been used worldwide to promote women’s rights and make progress on property rights, systemic sexual violence, and women’s leadership. The U.S. is the only industrialized country that has not ratified this treaty.

There is still much work to do to make this world, this country, and the church a true home of peace, harmony, healing, equality and abundance for all people. Our homemaking job as Christians is not done. When we as Christians hold back our homemaking efforts for women or any group or people, we hold back families, parents, the progress of society, and care for the earth.

As the church fulfills its calling to be home and create home, we help to create the loving community of God’s dreams. We help to make the earth a haven for all life. So, in the spirit of God, Jesus, Paul and Lydia, in the spirit of the author of Revelation, and, in the spirit of my mother, no less, I encourage us all, this Mother’s Day, to claim our calling as homemakers! Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.