Sunday, May 09, 2010

A Mother's Day Sermon

Delivered this weekend at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit in Bellevue, NE. Relevant Scripture: John 5:1-9.

Who is, as one Texas priest puts it, “that one person who manages to make you feel [both] that you’re special and that you aren’t living up to your potential?”

I can think of at least two answers. There’s Jesus, who loves us enough to die for us, making us feel both loved and unworthy at the same time. And then of course – there’s mom.

Today’s Gospel, this healing miracle, is I think a very appropriate passage for Mother’s Day. Mothers do many amazing things, from throwing awesome birthday parties to working two jobs. Not least among these is their miraculous healing powers – or at least, their children think so.

From the child’s perspective, woe to that boy whose owie is bandaged before it can be kissed! A child can’t open a child-proof cap – allegedly – but mommy can. No little boy, upon falling down and breaking a bone or waking up in the middle of the night with a tummy ache, screams “MEDIC!” No, they cry Mama.

Personally, when I was about four, I was playing in the driveway one day when all of a sudden my mom came tearing out the front door holding my blood-soaked baby brother. He’d crashed into the coffee table and gashed his forehead, not too badly but badly enough for a few stitches, and it didn’t take Mom three minutes to have him in the car and ready to go.

But that’s all small potatoes. Mothers’ healing powers extend far beyond the physical, don’t they? At one point in fifth grade, I guess the bullies just finally got to be too much for me. I didn’t want to admit to myself that their words hurt, but I was talking to mom about school and somehow came ‘round to the bullies, and I guess I just started crying. There we sat on the floor in the doorway to my room, her holding me close and rocking me back and forth, me bawling my eyes out for the first time in years. I was 11, not 4, but mommy will always be mommy.

Even in the Bible, we watch mothers take the steps necessary to heal their children, physically and otherwise. Think about Jochebed, who put her son Moses in a basket and gave him up to the Egyptian rulers rather than keep him herself and risk his death. Jochebed was lucky enough that she was able to continue to raise Moses as his nurse, but the nameless woman in First Kings didn’t know she could also get that consolation. She was prepared to give her child up forever to a spiteful prostitute rather than let King Solomon cut it in half. Better to spend a lifetime painfully wondering about the child’s whereabouts and welfare than to let it be the one who suffers – and I think most mothers would agree.

But all this raises the question: If, like Jesus and the peasants, mothers heal their children, who heals the mothers? Because let’s face it, it ain’t the kids. I’m not going to stand here and preach about my own worst behavior – that would be an hour-long sermon - but I think it’s fair to say that my brother and I are the source of some of our mom’s deepest wounds. Mothers take more pride and more joy in their children’s successes than do the children, yes, but that also means they take more shame in the failures and more pain in the wounds, and find more harm than was intended in the neglect.

Children give mothers their highest highs, but also their lowest lows. We see this even in the Bible. How painful must it have been for Mary to stand there, wailing at the foot of the cross, watching her son die, powerless not only to keep him alive but even to comfort Him? Never mind that it was predicted from the start, that Gabriel had warned Mary “a sword will pierce your own soul too,” it had to be the worst pain imaginable. But, Jesus made up for it by giving her one of the greatest gifts imaginable, that highest high a mother looks for, when He made sure that she would be the one to discover His resurrection, letting her know that the pain she was forced to see in her baby boy’s eyes was not the end!

That is who ultimately heals the mothers. Jesus is there for them for He is there for all of us. He is there to say, just as this man who suffered for 38 years was healed when he least expected it, so will you suffer over that stovetop and suffer through those dirty diapers – and suffer through heartaches and betrayals – only to be rewarded in the end by the God who asked you to do this in the first place. Mankind would not continue without the healing touch of mothers, and it wouldn’t be worth continuing without the loving rewards of Jesus Christ.

There’s another link between the two, as well. Who is it that usually first teaches a child about Jesus Christ? The vast majority of people the world over worship the same way their parents did, and indeed, though I do disagree with my parents on any number of other issues, it was my mother who first taught me the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm.

The Bible is replete with stories of such mothers. Mary is the most famous, but we all know the stories of Eve, Salome, Hagar, and yes, if there’s anyone who plans to crack mother-in-law jokes all weekend, don’t forget Naomi and Ruth. And then of course are Sarah and Elizabeth, both old and barren but given children in their old age, each made to be a living symbol of God’s promise.

There’s a sitcom you may be familiar with, “Malcolm in the Middle.” In one episode, one of the teenagers learns a valuable lesson about sexism and his own misogyny, then says something to the effect of “Women are just like anybody else, they’re people too!” Setting aside the irony of his language, there is an important point there. Women, mothers, are just people, no better or worse in God’s eyes than fathers, child-less people, or children. And just as no person deserves to be down, neither does anyone deserve to be put on a pedestal. We are all broken sinners, in need of the healing love of Christ.

But if there’s anyone on earth who can at least stand as a symbol of that healing love, it’s a mother.

My brother’s forehead was broken, but Mom picked him up and things were okay. We are all broken, but just as He did the man on the mat, Jesus will pick us up and it will be okay. So on this Mother’s Day, let both this Gospel story and the promises exemplified by Sarah and Elizabeth remind you not just of your own mother but of Christ’s healing love.