Saturday, May 9, 2009

Sermon Notes - Yeah, I got into Mother's Day (Liturgy types are having various medical episodes)

Easter V
Fr. Tim Fountain
(Mother’s Day)

Our lessons today are not specific to motherhood, but they can help us toward Biblical perspectives on motherhood, and how God’s point of view isn’t always the same as the world’s. I will offer three perspectives this morning.

I. First, motherhood is a holy way for women – but not the only holy way.
(I include this to honor years of, "Well I’m not a mom, so I don’t count?" queries from women after Mother’s Day stuff in churches.)
A. Let’s approach this from a weird direction. The baptism of a eunuch in Acts 8:26-40 fulfills a prophecy in Isaiah 56 – For thus says the Lord: To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters…
1. This overthrows religious, cultural or family "duties" to have children. (Living single or not having children seen as a "curse," Mormon duty to "make bodies for spirits to inhabit," ethnic pressures, "duty" to provide grandkids, etc.)
B. The New Testament speaks of virgins, widows, prophets, and other holy women who, along with mothers, live lives that are pleasing to God. (There is a challenging verse in I Timothy 2:15 about "salvation through childbearing", but that needs an entire sermon of its own and it would not change what I just said).
C. So, while life-giving (the meaning behind the name "Eve" in Genesis) is a sacred potential in women, it is not the only way for women to fulfill a sacred purpose. But it is profoundly holy work if a woman accepts God’s call to motherhood. That is due our honor and support.

II. Second, motherhood can be sign of who God is – but it is not automatically so.
A. Those of us "born of woman" (raise your hand if you weren’t) did not chose or earn our birth. Thus our mother became our first real experience of grace – love unmerited and undeserved. As our reading from the First Letter of John points out, "In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us..." Before we know how to love or what love is, we are loved. This is first demonstrated (or at least should be) by our mothers, and it prepares us to understand what Jesus means by spiritual "rebirth," when we are made children of God, who loves us way before we even know who He is.
B. Along with this foundational experience of grace, mothers help establish the message that, at the end of the day, we are loved despite our faults and flaws. The acceptance, encouragement and nurture of mothers points us toward the God-sized truth in John’s Letter: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment… Mothers have a profound role in defining our lives as valuable and cherished – as objects of love and not wrath, which is taken to its fulfillment in the message of Christ.
C. But as I said, none of this is automatic. When I see the tabloid magazines at the checkout stand, with cover stories about grinning movie starlets choosing to "have a baby" outside of marriage, I do not see grace. I see a child who might have to be rescued by grace on down the line. I see an adult confusing childbirth with mothering.
D. And then there’s spoiling children – exempting them from values and discipline – which is a false and destructive love that is a betrayal of mothering, and sadly all too common in a culture that devalues fathers. So mothers can point us toward God – but it is not automatic. It involves holy choices.

III. Third, motherhood can show us the way of the cross – but this is not automatically so.
A. The New Testament affirms again and again that Christians are to "carry the cross" and "share in Christ’s sufferings." Even our lovely Gospel from John 15, in which Christ is the vine and we are the branches, says that we will be "pruned" – snipped and cut to bring forth our holiness.
B. Mothers suffer a profound pruning. It is called "Cutting the umbilical cord." This is at first a physical separation of mother’s and child’s bodies, but we use it also to speak of the painful, sacrificial work of letting a child grow up and go to fulfill his or her own God-given purpose. As we heard in another part of John’s Letter last week, We know love by this, that Christ laid down his life for us. Mothers share Christ’s cross by laying down their priorities to let their children grow into God’s priorities.
C. Looked at another way, when the umbilical cord remains uncut, mom is the vine and the kid is a branch. But we are called to a rebirth in which Christ is the vine, and we are the branches. And I think it safe to say that this calls forth a unique sacrifice – a Christ-like offering – from loving mothers.
D. And as I said before, this is not automatic. The many "mother in law jokes" upon which comedians depend point to the fact that some women find it harder than others to let the cord be cut. (Remember, in Biblical marriage it is husband and wife who become one flesh – you can’t do that with uncut umbilical cords around).
E. Our Gospel warns us that "branches" stuck someplace other than in the true vine, which is Christ, will ultimately wither and die. A mother must choose to make the life-giving, Christ-like sacrifice of releasing her children to God’s purposes – to graft them into Christ. This is not automatic, but a sacrificial choice.

May God bless all of you who are answering God’s call as mothers. Your lives are an on-going sacrifice – blood, milk, sleep, time, maybe sanity and many other resources are drained from your lives to give life to others. May Christ replenish and refresh you abundantly at His altar this day and always.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


cp said...

At St Andrews (a growing congregation out west led by a fine woman priest and two woman deacons) Mother's Day didn't really fit into the sermon, but we do a special liturgy for mothers.

TLF+ said...

A liturgical offering seems like a good approach.

This was an odd year for me. I usually avoid forcing the "Hallmark" days unless God really seems to bring something out in the lessons - which happened for me this time.