Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Why I Don't Preach a Special Sermon For Mother's Day

...or for Memorial Day, Father's Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, or Columbus Day, even though I believe in the importance of observing all of these days (except for Columbus Day, since its namesake was a racist, greedy slaver who didn't actually "discover" North America).

I have a pretty durned spiffy mom.  She does extremely difficult and important work through the law firm she owns by exonerating innocent people from prison, saving others from the death penalty, and litigating for the civil rights of a wide swath of people.  She and my dad did at least a passable job raising me and my sister, at least on the basis of our lack of a criminal history and our general status as slightly mild contributors to the greater good of society.  She has flown out to Washington to visit my congregation several times, and they absolutely adore her, undoubtedly because of her (overly eager, frankly) willingness to embarrass me with all manner of amusing stories from my childhood.

But I won't be talking about my mom in my sermon on Mother's Day this Sunday.  Or on any Mother's Day.  And it's not because I don't care for her...I do.  An awful lot.

It's because I care for everyone, also an awful lot.  And what brings people together as a church community isn't our reverence for our mothers, but our reverence for God, who is Father and Mother (if you consider that Jesus refers to Himself as a mother hen in Matthew 23, which was the passage I preached on last Sunday) of us all.

And much as I would like to boast about my earthly mum (see above), I am supposed to boast about my heavenly mum first and foremost.

Which really is how it needs to be in church.  Not everyone has my mom, even if I wish that they did.  Not everyone has a good or great mother.  Plenty of us have sadly had downright lousy or even abusive mothers, just like plenty of us have sadly had absentee or abusive fathers.

But none of us have an absentee or abusive God.

None.  Of.  Us.

The God who is God of me is also God of you, and the God who loves me loves you just as much.

Our human parents, though they should and must strive to be like that, aren't always.

For the same reason, I don't give a sermon about my rather spiffy dad on Father's Day, or a star spangled sermon on July 4th weekend: because yes, ideally, our nation is supposed to be about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all, because all of us were created equal by God, but in point of fact, our state still treats very few of us as true equals, and instead treats the rest of us as cogs in a machine built to serve that privileged few.

Put a different way: for some, Mother's Day or Father's Day is not about a great parent in their lives, because their mother or father was no such thing.  And for some, Independence Day is not always about a great country, because if you are, say, American Indian (again, Columbus Day...), how might you feel about a great country that has for centuries treated your family like obstacles rather than like people?

In other words, celebrating for one person is akin to having to recall and relive abuse for another.

Church needs to be about giving thanks for the perfect in our lives, not simply the good.  That's what sets us apart.  God doesn't abuse us.  God never will.  We aren't forced to relive abuse at God's hands because there is no abuse at God's hands.

And religious communities are the only things whose entire existence is devoted to the task of honoring that God.

I won't be straying from that existence this Sunday, at least not in my sermon.  I do have a special children's message planned for Mother's Day, and in past years, I have used things like my newsletter column to talk about Mother's Day.  Our church will also be providing flowers for our moms, for we really do have quite a few amazing moms in our ranks, moms who amaze me and make me proud to be their pastor.

Yet church also needs to remain a place for those whose experiences with mothering, either as a mother or having a mother, are considerably more gray than black or white.  Church needs to able to welcome those with mixed and terrible experiences from their parents as well as those who have had amazing parents.

So this isn't about me trying to be nitpicky (because God knows, us pastors love being contrarian to one another).  Indeed, this is soul sized stuff, for the church needs to welcome even those who have been mixed or terrible parents themselves.

Because that is the radically noxious nature of grace: we have welcome those who we might not want to celebrate, and celebrate those who we might not want to welcome.

It is what God, through Jesus's redemption of humanity, did for us.  God, like the mother hen Jesus spoke of in Matthew 23, gathered us under His, or Her, wings.

And so we are called to follow it thusly as well, and gather all under our wings, regardless of their experience with or as parents.

Happy Mother's Day,

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