Year C, Easter 4
May 12, 2019
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
It is Mother’s Day. I don’t know that I have ever said those words at church. I had a rector years ago who had some strong opinions about things. One example is that she wanted to be called Reverendinstead of Mother. “I’m two people’s mother already and that is quite enough.” Another example is Mother’s Day. She had a lot of thoughts about Mother’s Day in relation to the church, the most important of them being that one should never, ever, under any circumstances talk about it. The Mother’s Day minefield; those are my words but they capture the spirit of her concern. Some of us had great mothers, and this is a day to celebrate them. Some of you are great mothers. Thank you for your service to humankind; brunch and flowers for you! And some of us didn’t; some mothers aren’t. Maybe images of your mom don’t include pancakes and carnations; maybe kudos for your maternity is the last thing in the world you want from anyone. There are some women who are mothers who never wanted to be, and others who did, but as children grow or people change, they now feel trapped, oppressed by the role and expectations, trapped by their children. That must feel terrible. Our culture is brutal to mothers who don’t fit the ideal, assigning a special place in hell for “bad” moms. And then others want/wanted more than anything to have a baby and that hasn’t or won’t or for whatever reason did not happen. And mothers have children and children have mothers who have been lost to death, to the state, to custody rulings, to drugs or mental illness or the street. O the heartbreak. And all of those experiences of motherhood are here in this little church.
Rachael Held Evans? You may have heard that name. She is an Episcopal convert from the Evangelical world who has been a star on the progressive speaking and writing circuit for the past couple of years. Very good stuff from her. Last week, at age 37, a mother of a one and a three year old, she died very suddenly after a short hospitalization, some sort of brain seizures. What will mother’s day mean to those children in years to come? So I haven’t spoken of Mother’s Day in my years here, the chance for causing harm has seemed too great.
But as I was preparing for this sermon, reading the scripture and commentaries and noticing the secular calendar (or at least the bulked up flower section at Market of Choice), some things started bubbling up. Each of the four readings appointed for the 4thSunday of Easter in Year C one, are honest about the state of the world and how we experience it. It ain’t all hunky-dory: good people die; we sometimes do find ourselves walking through the valley of the shadow of death, enemies are present; hunger, thirst, and scorching heat happen; we sometimes struggle with our faith, our beliefs, even in the face of God. The world isn’t all bad, by no means, but sometimes it is pretty bad.
Second, and here is the hope, we are not alone in it. Even though death happens, life happens, too. Even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need fear no evil, a rod and staff are there to comfort us. There is hunger and thirst and scorching heat, but we will be guided to springs of the water of life, and every tear will be wiped away. There is eternal life in God, life beyond time and space. These texts don’t deny the hazards of existence, but they give us hope, they give us reason to live without fear, they give us a vision of a watchful, loving God.
Now besides Peter raising Tabitha (that’s Aramaic, it is Dorcas in Greek – both words mean Gazelle), that is some pretty concrete pastoral care going on, but besides that miracle, the reason we can live without fear is a vision, a vision of an ever-present, watchful, loving God. Presence. Guidance. Assurance. Encouragement. Protection. Those are qualities of God related by these texts. God is God, I am not arguing for the actuality of God in Christ with the Holy Spirit, I take that as a given, but this vision is about how we experience God. God is always both transcendent (meaning beyond our ability to apprehend let alone comprehend), and immanent (as present as your nose is on your face). How we experience God, what we attribute to the action-being-presence of God, that can get pretty tricky. It is easy to get confused and ascribe to God things that ain’t of God and to created things things that are. Most of the time, at least in my experience, we feel God, we experience God’s presence when we open ourselves to desiring God’s presence, when we make our own selves available for the indwelling of the divine. (Or at least when we stop saying no to it). When we make a space in ourselves, our bodies and minds and spirits, for this vision God, the vision of God as illustrated for us in the raising of Gazelle in Acts and the comfortable familiarity of the 23rdPsalm and the story of the robes washed white in the blood of the Lamb and in Jesus the shepherd in St. John’s gospel, when we do that, when we seek it, when we trust it, we get it. If you believe that that is what you will get from the foundation of the universe if you open yourself to the foundation of the universe, you know what, it will come. Presence. Guidance. Assurance. Encouragement. Protection. Or more poetically, “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!” When we open ourselves to that vision of God, blessing upon blessing, that is what you get.
Reading today’s scripture, feeling the vision of a vigilant and loving God in those ancient writings, and then thinking about Mother’s Day, thinking about my own mother, Windy’s motherhood to our daughters, the mothering I see and know of around here, things have gotten a little blurry for me. To celebrate, to call for celebration of individual mothers, that works for some, is needed by others, and is harmful to still others. But it is harmful, as it is worthy of celebration, because the ideal of motherhood is pretty darn close to the vision of God that scripture gives us. The ideal of motherhood is what we actually get from God. Because the ideal of motherhood is agape, selfless love. Blessing. Wisdom, thanksgiving, honor and power and might… Glory – ok that might be a stretch, but I’ve seen some hockey moms back in Boston from whom glory pours fourth when their daughter in the squirt league scores a hat trick. Those are ideals of motherhood. Presence. Guidance. Assurance. Encouragement. Protection. The ideal of motherhood really are fruits of the spirit that St. Paul lays out in his letter to the Galatians: love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Anyone have a mom that covered all those bases? Anyone a mom who covers them all for your children? Of course not. Which is a shame, because all of those qualities, from Assurance to Thanksgiving; Blessing to Self-control, are required, we need those qualities in our lives, we need to be taught them, shown them, given them. All of these qualities are the essential building blocks of a Christian, of a human being.
What we need from God, what we can actually receive from God, is the same as what we need, if not receive, from our mothers. Truly, once you are past nursing and bottom wiping, past shoe tying, nose blowing and boo-boo kissing, really once you have passed the stage of needing the real minute to minute bodily attention that mothers are uniquely suited to provide, what is it that we really need from a mother? Someone to tell us what to do? (As if that ever worked). Someone to clean up our messes? (The bigger we get, the bigger our messes and the more they are ours and ours alone to clean up). No. What we need is a moral compass. A gauge of right and wrong, of how to be in the world. We need a connection to the past, to those who have come before us. Most of all, though, what we need is a shoulder to cry on, an arm to pull us a little closer while sitting on the front steps. We need someone to be there, warm, familiar arms to hold us. We don’t need advice or marching orders. Moms can’t and shouldn’t try to live our lives for us, can’t protect us from our own questionable decisions, but can in word and deed assure us that we never have been and never will be alone. That no matter what, no matter what questionable decisions we have made, no matter what lousy things we have done, no matter how far we have missed our potential or sunk in the eyes of everyone else in the world, we are still loved. We don’t have control over much, our mothers have even less control over our lives than we do. But we don’t need someone to be in control (even your mother). We don’t need to be in control (because we aren’t). We don’t even need to feel like we are in control (again because we aren’t). What we need is the blessed assurance that we are not alone, because we are not. We need to know that when we fall, we can get up, or when it comes time that we really can’t get up, no matter how much help is offered, that thatis ok, too. There is a time to go gently into that good night because in the fullness of time every little thing is going to be all right. But that is only possible if we are secure in our love. The love of a mother is the ideal, but where we fail to receive or to give that, God is there. All of this love I am taking about here, this kind of love is the ideal of motherhood; and that sort of love is the starting point of God.
The ideal love of a mother is a manifestation of the love of God, it is God’s love happening. The ideal love of a father is, too, just with more neckties, less flowers. Sun shining on the kale starts, rain watering the fields (it must be raining somewhere), the companionship of a friend, the embrace of the one you love, the consolation of silence, the fragment of Christ’ Body and the sip of Christ’s Blood shared here, those are other examples of God’s love happening right here, right now.
We need to try to see those in our own mothers. That can be a painful exercise for some of us, seeking and not finding what you need or needed from your mother. Mothers, you should try giving all of those things. Again, though, that can be a painful exercise if you are not measuring up to the ideal, or if you do not have the opportunity to express it yourself. But the ideal love of a mother is the love of God. No one gets everything they need from their mother. No mother gives everything their children need. But God is here, always and everywhere for those who seek God.
So on this Mother’s Day, if you have a mother to celebrate, do! Or if you are a mother who is celebrating, do, have a second mimosa even, it is your day. But if you don’t, if you aren’t or can’t be, grieve the grief you have, and if you can, recognize the ideal of motherhood, the reality of God. That is something we all need, we all can get, and we all can celebrate. AMEN.