Confused Categories
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

May 10, 2015

Acts 10:44-48
John 15:9-17

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

I have been working a jigsaw puzzle. I am sure it was a gift to us after we got here, as it is the state of Michigan, with the shape of the state, and scenes of all four seasons. At first glance it looked to be a fairly easy puzzle. Yes, it had two different scenes of water, and lots of scenes of trees, but they were pretty distinct on the box cover. But as I worked it, some of the pieces would fit by shape, but not by color or design. Others fit by color, and seemed to fit by shape, but they were in the wrong spot and for all of the pieces to fit, I had to find a place where they fit better.

I know a lot of people whose lives seem to be like these puzzle pieces. I want to fit there, but I do not. I want to be over here with these, but that is not my spot.

I know a lot of stories of women that are like this. And such stories become even more bittersweet on days like Mother’s Day, when one aspect of women’s lives is celebrated. There are so many who are mothers who do not feel like celebrating. There are so many who are mothers who are grieving the loss of children, or grandchildren. There are so many women who want to be mothers but cannot.

And there are all too many stories of infertility, stories of miscarriage, children with serious health problems, and the loss of a child.

There are mothers who raise foster children, adopted children, classroom children, Sunday School children.

There are women who would be great mothers, but are not allowed to adopt.

And there are so many who have stories of a mother who was not nurturing, who was not present in good ways, who was not loving.

Is there a place in the puzzle of life for all of these strange pieces?

The original Mother’s Day came out of women’s peace movements after the Civil War. The mothers of the dead on each side of the war started working together to reunite families divided by the war. This itself had grown out of efforts to improve sanitation and health in Union and Confederate camps during typhoid outbreaks.

Alongside these efforts were the Mother’s Day for Peace rally in New York City, organized by Julia Ward Howe, author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and an amazing force in building up groups for women’s rights.

Ann Jarvis, who had organized many of the Mother’s Day Work Clubs during and after the Civil War, died before Mother’s Day was recognized. Her daughter Anna continued the work, and got Mother’s Day national recognition. Ironically, she spent the rest of her life fighting the way it was commercialized, even to the point of hoping to get it rescinded as a national day.

So even as we celebrate mothers, we do so knowing that this is one set of threads in the tapestry of the lives of those who are mothers, and we acknowledge and love all of those whose opportunity or wishes to be mothers have been frustrated by life, circumstances, health or other reasons.

Our place in the spectrum of churches (on the progressive side of the mainstream) gets joked about sometimes for being too PC, too politically correct. We can’t acknowledge mothers without also acknowledging those who are not. We have to qualify everything.

But there is a reason we do it this way. We know that life is messy. We know that the puzzle pieces of our lives do not neatly fit into the spaces we had envisioned for them. And we love people in all of these places, not because it is the politically correct thing to do, but because Jesus loves us in all the messiness of our lives, and lays down his life for us in all our messiness. And we are called by Jesus to do the same for one another.

If we are to be Jesus’ friends, as he calls his disciples, then we too will bring love to the messy places in life.

And for all of us who think that our puzzle piece is too weird, too different, too broken, too jagged, to fit in, I would bring us back to the story of Peter from the book of Acts this morning.

Peter has gone to the Gentiles, to non-Jews, and he has some Jewish Christians with him. And as he preaches, the Holy Spirit comes upon all who hear him, Jews and Gentiles alike. And those who had come with him are astounded. For them, the way they came to faith was growing up Jewish and then becoming followers of Jesus. It was assumed by many in the early church that this was the way it was supposed to happen.

But God is not confined to our categories, Jew/Gentile, Mother/Not a Mother, joyful/grieving, in/out, us/them. God has a place for every puzzle piece; God has a place for each and every one of us: especially those who do not easily fit in; especially those whose lives confuse our categories

Our job is not to categorize. Our job is to love one another as Jesus loves us.

Thanks be to God.