This morning, we continue thinking about the Baptist Mission Australia theme of Mending; how we are invited to join with God in mending a beautiful, broken world.

It is also Mother’s Day which has made me wonder what advice Mary might have given Jesus about being part of God’s great mending work.

What would the woman who sang, “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly,” have said? What would the woman who treasured and pondered the words of the shepherd’s – that this child was the Messiah, the Lord, the good news of great joy for all people – have said?

What would the woman who had experienced her son’s rebuke – “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” and, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother…” – have said?

And what would the woman who knew her son was a sign that would be opposed, and that a sword would piece her own soul, have said to him?

This week, on the news, we heard another mother, a mother whose soul had also been pierced, along with so many mothers around the world – in Gaza, in Israel, in Ukraine, in Russia, in Brazil, and she gave this advice – to “live bigger, shine brighter and love harder,” in memory of her two sons.

And, with respect, I want to borrow those incredibly beautiful words uttered in the midst of that broken situation, because in them I hear an echo of what Mary might said to Jesus as he began his ministry in Galilee that we read in our passage today.

Firstly, thinking back to the experiences at Jesus’ birth, I think Mary would have reminded Jesus that he was to live, despite the challenges he would face, as part of something bigger; that he was to keep before him the vision of the kingdom of God – our world as God intended it to be – God’s rule of love on earth as it is in heaven.

And so, when John is thrown into prison, Jesus continues proclaiming the message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Repent. Reorient your lives toward God, for God has come to challenge and set right all that is not right in our world!

I am reminded, reading this passage, of the story Baptist missionary Hudson Taylor tells of his departure from England to China in 1853; how he describes his mother seeing him off at the docks in Liverpool:

Never shall I forget that day, nor how she went with me into the little cabin that was to be my home for nearly six long months. With a mother’s loving hand she smoothed the little bed. She sat by my side, and joined me in the last hymn that we should sing together before the long parting. We knelt down, and she prayed–the last mother’s prayer I was to hear before starting for China. Then notice was given that we must separate, and we had to say good-bye, never expecting to meet on earth again.

For my sake she restrained her feelings as much as possible. We parted; and she went on shore, giving me her blessing; I stood alone on deck, and she followed the ship as we moved towards the dock gates. As we passed through the gates, and the separation really commenced, I shall never forget the cry of anguish wrung from that mother’s heart. It went through me like a knife. I never knew so fully, until then, what “God so loved the world” meant. And I am quite sure that my precious mother learned more of the love of God to the perishing in that hour than in all her life before.

Remember you are part of something bigger – despite the challenges you will face – you are part of God’s great love for our world. I think perhaps these might have been words that Mary would have said to Jesus.

Secondly, despite the grief it might have caused her, like the grief it caused Hudson Taylor’s mother, I think Mary’s advice would also have been that sometimes shining brighter, sometimes being a light that shines in the darkness, being a light that shines for those in the shadow of death, means leaving aside other responsibilities.

And so, in this passage, there is heightened drama in the way these first disciples are called. ‘Immediately’ Peter and Andrew leave their nets and followed him. And again, ‘immediately’ James and John leave their boat and their father and follow him. Zebedee, James and John’s father, is mentioned three times in this passage. We are meant to notice the social dislocation that may ensue from hearing the call to discipleship.

I say ‘may’ because this is not the only call to discipleship in the gospels or in the early church or for us today. There are many models of discipleship. But the challenge of this passage remains. We are all called to weigh the cost of following Jesus in the light of being light in our world. As commentator Bill Loader writes, “Jesus…[places] the challenge of the kingdom ahead of family and work loyalties…not in principle and not for everyone, but nevertheless in a way that relativises them. There is something…more fundamental [Jesus is saying] than family and the local economy. To challenge these is to take a real risk, but for many people, real growth will never happen until they can make such a move. The same applies to communities and congregations; local conditions and loyalties can replace the God of the kingdom….”

I want to mention another pairing of names here. Like Peter and Andrew, like James and John, two women who set aside their social responsibilities for their Christian faith are Perpetua and Felicity. They are always pictured together, but they were not sisters, but noblewoman and enslaved woman, caught up in the persecutions of the church in 203 CE in Carthage, North Africa. One of many remarkable things about their story is that Perpetua wrote much of it herself, making it the earliest Christian document written by a woman. She was 22 years of age and breastfeeding a child and her many times she writes that her father came to beg her to recant, for the sake of her family, for the sake of her son. In one conversation, she directed his attention to jug in her cell. “Father, …do you see this vessel lying here to be a little jug or something else.” “I see it,” he says. “Can it be called anything else?” “No.” “Neither can I call myself anything else than what I am,” she says, “a Christian”. Eventually her child is weaned and cared for by her family and Felicitas, who was pregnant, gives birth to a baby who is given to another Christian sister to be raised, and both are martyred for their faith.

There are many models, as I said, of Christian discipleship, and there are many challenging parts of the story of Perpetua and Felicitas, but like Peter and Andrew, and James and John, for all of them and for generations of men and women since, the call of Jesus, the call to be part of loving and mending the world, the call to shine God’s light in our world is a call that relativises all our other responsibilities.

Finally, I think that Mary would have reminded Jesus that being part of something bigger, the love of God for the world, that shining this love brightly in the world also requires us to keep loving and keep loving and keep loving. That we are called to love harder than hate can hate. That we are called to follow and to keep following.

Perhaps it is no surprise then that one of Jesus’ last interactions, recorded in John’s gospel, is with his mother, saying to her and to John, “Woman, here is you son.” And saying to John, “Here is your mother.” “From that hour,” the text says, “the disciple took her into his own home”. The bigger work of God’s love continues. The forming of new community in place of the old continues. The work of love continues.

There is a 1922 poem by Afro-American poet Langston Hughes, Mother to Son, where a mother gives her son advice about things she has experienced in her life, the difficulties she has faced, and the need to always keep on going, “Don’t you fall now—For I’se still goin’, honey…I’se still climbin’” In looking at readings of this poem I discovered Martin Luther King Jr quoted it frequently in his speeches, a reminder to him in the voice of a mother’s advice that he was part of something bigger, that he was to shine brightly regardless of the cost and that he was to keep going, to keep loving this world that our God loves so much.

Can I invite you to listen to Martin Luther King Jr quoting this poem.

Mother to Son (Langston Hughes)

Well, son, I’ll tell you:

Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

It’s had tacks in it,

And splinters,

And boards torn up,

And places with no carpet on the floor—


But all the time

I’se been a-climbin’ on,

And reachin’ landin’s,

And turnin’ corners,

And sometimes goin’ in the dark

Where there ain’t been no light.

So boy, don’t you turn back.

Don’t you set down on the steps

’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.

Don’t you fall now—

For I’se still goin’, honey,

I’se still climbin’,

And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Langston Hughes, “Mother to Son” from The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Copyright © 2002 by Langston Hughes. Reprinted by permission of Harold Ober Associates, Inc.

Let’s sing this hymn together as our response to the God who continues to call us to be part of something bigger. As our response to the very challenging call of a God who may invite us to go on alone – to give up parts of our lives – but who will always be calling us into new community. As our response to the God who calls us to keep loving.