Today I’m preaching about memory,
when I only thought of you
when I only knew one way
to think of myself,
who might not like the way I turned out.
And even though
I won’t be talking about
that last thing directly,
I know that every time we talk about
the places from which we came,
or the people who raised us,
the people who taught us,
about the things we believed first,
someone listening may be hurt.
And I don’t know how to offer up
a sufficiently collective trigger warning.
Life is hard; faith is harder.
I could catalog the losses,
the messes I made,
inflicted and received.
Life is hard.
Faith is harder.
It’s worth it, but it’s harder,
living an examined life,
striving to please You,
working out our salvation,
even following the via media –
these things are all harder
than just claiming the popular,
being in the moment,
going out to brunch.
I wonder what triggers You,
the One whose bosom holds
all our weeping, all our losses?
I wish I could send you flowers,
but at least I can call you,
Life is hard, yes,
and faith is harder,
yet I am grateful for it,
grateful for intangible mercy,
grateful for a mother
better than I can ever be,
grateful for a Mother who
You are Father and Mother to all Creation.
You planted us and you nourish us.
You exist beyond our comprehension and
transcend the labels we use to describe you.
But we are label-makers,
and this Sunday we face one
we just can’t get right.
Too much, and it hurts people.
Too little, and it hurts others.
Also, and you know this, we have our own stories.
Our mothers have died
or are still too close
or were never close enough
or never quite meshed
or smacked us too hard
or nurtured us enough
or lived life with panache
or served you with whole hearts
or loved us unconditionally
or all these things, in unequal measure,
over a lifetime.
That’s just to get started.
Some of your servants are mothers,
and some have lost children,
and some wanted them but never did have,
and some never wanted to,
and some had more than they expected,
and some gave theirs to other mothers,
and some feel it goes by too fast,
and some wish it went by faster,
and some worry what their kids think of them
and whether they will remember this awful card holiday
and sort of wish they would
even though it shouldn’t matter.
Bearing all of this in mind and prayer,
we ask, Holy One, with your heart for all people,
give us a measure of grace with one another,
an instinct for the places where some hurt and others chafe.
Give us a measure of mercy and a big dose of patience where our mercy is strained and a sense of humor when people get on our nerves and a heart full of the unconditional love you give so freely to us, ready to share with those who need it most. Amen.
Easter 6B/Mother’s Day May 10, 2015 Acts 10:44-48; John 15:9-17
This Mother’s Day, although I’m sure there will be phone calls from the older children and there is a card from the younger one, the primary mothering relationship on my mind is with a puppy.
Teddy turned 11 weeks old yesterday, and while some things are improving, others are still challenging. He slept through the night last night – yay! But the first thing he did this morning was run off with something he shouldn’t have in his mouth – a very special handknit item – and even though he shouldn’t have it, he just looks so darn cute, it’s hard not to laugh.
We start puppy kindergarten tomorrow night.
The Housebreaking Bible informs us, “Let’s face it. If your dog isn’t housebroken, nothing else matters. Cuteness and personality can win big points for Fido, but his looks and charm may begin to wear thin once you realize that cleaning up after him has become your full-time job.”
I don’t want you to think that he is entirely untrained, or that we are. House-breaking really trains the people as much or more than the puppy. We get into a routine we have forgotten since the last time we had a puppy – 2003 for one of us, never for the other. It feels like having a baby. Most of his seeming mistakes are really our mistakes (don’t stop to find the cell phone; he needs to go out and pee now, or you will be cleaning up a puddle!). I know from experience that the puppy wildness and the small bladder and the long naps will pass, and in time I will have a fine companion who is loyal and steadfast. I remind myself of that with regularity.
I also remind myself that just as we feel frustrated with backward steps, ours and his, God must have similar feelings about humankind. We seem to learn, and then we backslide. We make progress toward peace, and then we go to war again. We become more accepting of one minority group, but we turn back the clock with another. We gain an understanding that care for others matters, but we forget to ground our service in worshipping God and wonder why we burn out so quickly.
I’m grateful that even thought our looks and charm wear thin, we are still God’s full-time job. When Teddy gets wild because he is tired, I stroke him and say gently, “Settle, settle.” Then when he is safely in his kennel, I imagine God saying the same thing to me. “Settle, settle.”
The other feature of our weekend, as usual, was baseball. Yesterday’s Little League matchup had its challenges from the beginning. Our team had only 8 players due to a combination of one kid playing on a travel team, another having a soccer tournament and a third calling out sick. And because fewer players means the good batters come up more often, not only did the team have only two in the outfield, but each time we reached the end of the batting order, we got an extra out, which was tough on the last of our 8 who had been called up to help from Senior Pony.
The bleacher was full of moms, grandmoms and granddads, and little sisters. We like this team because the families are uniformly encouraging not only of their own children but of all the kids on the team. One mom told us how they had already been to a soccer game with an older child, and had witnessed him just missing a goal. “It’s okay, sweetheart!” she yelled to the embarrassed middle schooler, adding insult to injury. She took me back in time to other bleachers, a small set right behind home plate on a field in my hometown of Portsmouth, Virginia.
My brother played on an integrated Little League team, which in the early 1970’s was still a fairly new thing. I don’t know how much the kids thought about it, but for many of the parents, it was their first time sitting as peers with parents of another race. One of the African-American mothers had two boys on the team, one a very good player, but the other… well, let’s just say the coaches had him on the team to get his brother on the team. Their mama, a big woman situated in the middle of the little set of bleachers, would call out every time there was a disappointment: “That’s all right! I still loves ya, honey!!!”
Disadvantaged from the start, our team nevertheless held the lead yesterday. The two loudest enthusiasts for our team were both preachers. Not me, I assure you. I am a quiet cheerleader, knitting a sock to cope with my anxiety about the outcome. Knit one, cheer two, I like to say. No, these two preachers are Jack’s grandpa and Will’s mama, both ballplayers themselves, and they have opinions about the coaching and the umpiring, and neither of them are shy to share those thoughts at a good preacher’s volume.
When a bad call almost took the ball away from us at what should have been the last out, a call that went against the first baseman, both Will’s mama and Jack’s grandpa leapt up off the bleachers, about ready to go over the fence. Luckily for the umpire, they held back and quickly turned their attention to the disappointed boy standing near 1st, Will.
“You’ve got this, Will!”
“We believe in you!”
When the next ball was a line drive just past his easy reach, and he caught it and held it, the team dogpiled on him! And the mama and the grandpa high-fived.
We still say Sweetheart, sometimes, or call the now big kid by the little kid’s nickname.
“That’s all right! I still loves ya, Honey!”
This love for and encouragement of our kids is what we want all parents to provide, and I believe it’s what God is always providing for us.
Yesterday I also attended a training for mandated reporters over at St. Paul’s UCC in Mechanicsburg. The presenter tried to help us understand the difference between parenting we might not approve and actual abuse or neglect. Some parents are just cruddy at it, she said. And there’s no law against cruddy parenting.
The forty people gathered, some pastors, but mostly volunteers, chuckled at that, remembering things we have done less than perfectly as parents or youth leaders or teachers. We chuckled, but a little uncomfortably, because we knew what was coming, a definition of behavior that does qualify as abuse or neglect. When we are confronted with real stories of terrible parenting, criminal parenting, we wonder how it can happen.
For every person who celebrates mothers today, there is someone grieving over words of love never spoken, or wishing for love that was less conditional, or to be the kind of mother she dreamed of being. Despite our tendency to make heroines of human mothers, no human person will get it right all the time.
Jesus knew that of course, as he sat with his disciples after dinner on the night he was betrayed and arrested. Abide in my love, he said. This is the last chance I will have to talk to you! Hear this. Live this. I am dying, literally dying, to make this point. My love is sacrificial and total.
We don’t always get it right. Teddy wants to love us, so much that he carries off our shoes to lavish his affection on them, or puts his teeth on us the way he did his littermates. How have we tried God’s patience? What do we tug on obsessively, even when we are not sure why?
“Settle, settle,” says God. I am here, and I love you. There is no greater love, says Jesus, than the love I have for you.
We don’t always do things the way we want to do them. We stand with the bat on our shoulders and think we have our eyes on the ball and imagine it sailing out of the park, but instead it goes foul. We stand ready with the glove, but misjudge the catch. The lesson of the baseball game is to keep playing. Get ready to come to the plate again. Pick up your glove and play another day. Be open to the possibilities.
“That’s all right! I still loves ya, honey!!!”
This is the love God shows us all the time. This is the love God commands us to share with others – our children, other people’s children, all God’s children.
God is not an umpire waiting to call us “out.” God is an enthusiastic spectator, wanting us to do our best, sitting on the edge of her seat like a mother at a Little League game, calling out her love for us when we fear we have failed utterly.
“That’s all right! I still loves ya, honey!!!”
In the name of the One who birthed us, saves us and never gives up on us. Amen.