University Congregational Church
May 8, 2016
“Here’s to Moms!”
For a number of years, I have struggled to preach on Mother’s Day and here are my top 3 reasons…
• Mother’s Day is not a religious holiday
• People who are here have a variety of relationships with their mothers – some good, some not so good.
• You can only say so many words about Mothers before you start to sound like a Hallmark card.
This year, I did a little research on Mother’s Day and found something new that has given me a new perspective. I hope it will not only apply to the mothers in our lives, but to each person here today.
People in different countries celebrate Mother’s Day on different days of the year because the day has a number of different origins. One school of thought claims this day emerged from a custom of mother worship in ancient Greece. Mother worship — which kept a festival to Cybele, a great mother of gods – was held around the Vernal Equinox around Asia Minor and eventually in Rome itself around the Ides of March. The Romans also had another holiday, Matronalia, that was dedicated to Juno and mothers were usually given gifts on this day.
Mothering Sunday, commonly called “Mothers’ Day” in the United Kingdom, has no direct connection to the American practice. It falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent (exactly three weeks before Easter Sunday). It is believed to have originated from the 16th Century Christian practice of visiting one’s mother church annually, which meant that most mothers would be reunited with their children on this day. Most historians believe that young apprentices and young women in servitude were released by their masters that weekend in order to visit their families. As a result of secularization, it is now principally used to celebrate and give thanks for mothers, although it is still recognized in the historical sense by some churches, with attention paid to Mary the mother of Jesus as well as the traditional concept ‘mother church’.
In the United States, Mother’s Day is copied from England by social activist Julia Ward Howe after the American Civil War with a call to unite women against war. She wrote the Mother’s Day Proclamation. Today, some organizations are working to revive Howe’s original vision of a holiday that celebrates peacemaking by mothers and others.
This is the Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870, written by Julia Ward Howe as a call for peace and disarmament. An excerpt follows:
From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace…
Howe failed in her attempt to get formal recognition of a Mother’s Day for Peace. However, the idea of a day celebrating Mothers caught on and was declared officially by some states beginning in 1912. In 1914 President Woodrow Wilson declared the first national Mother’s Day, as a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had died in war. Nine years after the first official Mother’s Day holiday, commercialization of the U.S. holiday became so rampant that the originators of the idea of a Mother’s Day became major opponents of what the holiday had become. Today, according to the National Restaurant Association, Mother’s Day is now the most popular day of the year to dine out at a restaurant in the United States.
And as a Christian minister, I find myself asking:
• What if we revitalized Mother’s Day for the purpose of peacemaking and justice?
• What if the mothers stood together and spoke out for justice for all of our children?
• What if the mothers in our lives and around the world were vocal, not only about drunk driving, but about violence and guns; about the welfare of children; about war in Afghanistan; about making the world a gentler, kinder place?
The traditional word for today reminds us of the challenge given to all of us who follow Jesus.
Luke 4:18-19 (NRSV)
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The Iroquois society and other tribal groups named a “Grandmother’s Council” for their tribe. The thought was to give them power and important jobs in the tribe since their wisdom and skill made them uniquely qualified to make tribal decisions.
One of the main things that Iroquois women controlled was choosing the chiefs of clans and removing them if they didn’t properly fulfill their jobs. Women voted to decide which men were in the Great Council.
The Iroquois women could start and stop wars. Because the Council of Grandmothers saw conflict from the point of view of losing their sons and grandsons, they had a different sense of whether a conflict was significant enough to lose these precious family members. And when the Grandmother’s Council did agree to a war, they could also end the war when they chose.
If someone said things that clashed with the Women’s Council, they could replace them. If the men wanted to go on a journey that the women did not approve, they would refuse to give them food and supplies.
The entire lineage of the Iroquois tribe went back to one woman and the family name passed through the women’s family. Women had the rights to the land they farmed and each clan divided their land plots among the women. Women owned all the normal things of everyday life such as blankets, cooking utensils, farming tools, and so on. All that the men owned were their clothes, weapons, and personal things.
Women had many important jobs in the Iroquois tribe such as planting and harvesting the crops, collecting wild nuts and berries, making clothes, clay pots and baskets, taking care of the homes and the children. And of one of the most important jobs was being a Clan Mother. The Clan Mother was the oldest and/or most respected woman and had all the power over the clan. The Clan Mother could choose and remove the Chief of the clan. The women worked well together and men and women worked well in cooperation together too.
In fact, Iroquois women had many more rights than American Colonial women. It took many years for Colonial women to earn some of the rights and power that Iroquois women had. It was the example of Iroquois women that inspired the first suffragettes like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton who worked for women’s rights and the right for women to vote.
If we are to keep with the original intent of Mother’s Day, and we really recognized what all mothers hope for – then we need to recognize not only what Mother’s Day is – we also need to strive for what Mother’s Day should be.
* Mother’s Day should be a day when all people who mother are recognized.
* Mother’s Day should be a day when women’s voices crying for peace are heard above the clamor for war.
* Mother’s Day should be a day when the world looks upon all children with value and love.
* Mother’s Day should be a day when the family unit is held in high esteem and given priority.
* Mother’s Day should be a day for giving – not chocolates and flowers – but giving lasting gifts of love, self-respect, a hand UP, or a bit of encouragement to the excluded and hurting in our society.
* Mother’s Day should be a day to proclaim that we will dedicate our lives to making certain that every child has food and shelter and is able to feel safe.
* Mother’s Day should be a day of passionate activism!
Let it be so! Amen.
Kay, Jazmin. The Roles of Iroquois Women.