First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
Date: May 12, 2019
Scripture: Taoism; Tao Te Ching 6, Luke 8:19-21
Taoism; Tao Te Ching 6
The Valley Spring never dies. It is named the Mysterious Female. And the Doorway of the Mysterious Female is the base from which Heaven and Earth spring. It is there within us all the while; Draw upon it as you will, it never runs dry.
Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, ‘Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.’ But he said to them, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’
As a preacher and one particularly sensitive to pastoral care in the community of faith… Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day, and particularly difficult Sundays to navigate. While, in general, it has become a day of honoring our mothers, those who brought us into the world, so to speak. We all had a mother. Traditionally and on this day all of the celebration around Mothers are in the sense of what Mothers are supposed to be, what is the ideal. The difficulty with that is all mothers do not fit into one mold, as if any of us do, and all mothers do not act or exist in a healthy, loving way. I have known of persons who intentionally do not come to church on Mother’s Day because of the message too many churches convey, at the exclusion of experiences of mothering that were not helpful.
So, I believe it is important to be sensitive to all of us gathered here this morning on this Mother’s Day, that for some gathered in this room Mother’s Day may be filled with grief, memories of abuse, thoughts of what are longed for but not possible… On this weekend of remembering mothers, we must be mindful of all those who have mothered us and whom we have mothered. Remembering our birth mothers can bring memories filled with joy and celebration. Remembering our birth mothers can be filled with pain and fear.
There have been those known as mother who have abused, abandoned, misused, and ignored. There are those on weekends like this, who long to have children and cannot, and who adopt children and love them, and are no less mother than others. There are those on weekends like this, who have lost children through miscarriage, sudden death, and disease for whom this weekend brings waves of emotion and grief. There are those on weekends like this, who have chosen not to be mothers themselves, or are unable to be mothers and still have the gifts and grace to be mothering to those around them. And there are those on weekends like this, who are mothers as parent is supposed to be, grounded and founded in unconditional love and grace. Mothers, parents, those who have mothered us, inspired us, guided us, taught us… parents both female and male…
We have come here this morning to celebrate the mothering of those who have shaped who we are. For you graduates, we are here this morning to honor those parents and mothering figures who have shaped and molded you and prepared you to turn another page in the chapters of your life as you move ahead…acknowledging the struggle of growth and the joy of commencement…commencing on the journey of life and faith… Being sensitive to those around us on such a weekend as this, because, while we all long for this weekend to be filled with love, joy, and celebration… for some, it is also filled with fear, pain, heartache, and grief.
The honoring of mothers has a long history. Celebrations of mothers and motherhood can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who held festivals in honor of the mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele, but the clearest modern precedent for Mother’s Day is the early Christian festival known as “Mothering Sunday.” Once a major tradition in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe, this celebration fell on the fourth Sunday in Lent and was originally seen as a time when the faithful would return to their “mother church”—the main church in the vicinity of their home—for a special service.
The use of “Mother’s Day” in America can be traced back to the 1870’s. In 1870, poet and activist Julia Ward Howe wrote an appeal—known as The Mother’s Day Proclamation for women to unite for peace. Two years later, she declared a “Mother’s Day for Peace” should be celebrated every June 2. Howe was calling for the end of state-supported violence, motivated by the recent devastation of the Civil War and Franco-Prussian War. For years, she organized events around the day. Later it would be Anna Jarvis, who campaigned Congress through many letters and moving speeches to make it an officially recognized day. In 1914, Jarvis got her wish when Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation that declared the second Sunday in May a “a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.” Later she would denounce the holiday because of its commercialization. And spent her last days trying to remove it from the calendar of official holidays.
While I find it a difficult day to navigate from a preaching perspective I do believe it is important to address on this Sunday morning, partly because the holiday is obviously not going anywhere, and that is okay, but in the church we need to acknowledge and be present for all who gather and find ways to appropriately name the difficulties and pain that exists within this day. Remembering the breadth and depth of the emotional range this day carries…
It is unconditional love that should undergird that which we consider mothering and our approach to it…
The unconditional love of mothering transcends blood relation, transcends gender… it is the guiding grace of a family made up of mom and dad and child, two moms, two dads, single moms and dads, aunts, uncles, grandmas and grandpas, for to be mothering is about loving a child unconditionally, and we are all called to be that kind of love.
All of this being said… I want to take us in a little different direction perhaps than usual today. One of the things I think of when I think of my own mom, or my grandmas… is the memory of food and the gathering around the table whether on a daily basis or for the big family reunion gatherings. For many of us the image of those who have mothered us brings with it images of good food and a place at the table. I know for some the practice of sitting around the table in today’s world may be a bit of a lost practice, but let me say this…I believe you can find that same connection of family and same image mothering and the same image of good food and place whether is sitting at the table or on the couch… I know, there are those who might debate that with me…. But for now… that is my story and I’m sticking to it.
So, for the purposes of today, I want to talk about mothering as it brings us to the table. What do you remember of those who have mothered you and your favorite foods they prepared for you? Anyone? Or, one of the images of mom and those who have been mothering to me… is the struggle to get them to sit down… they were always up getting one more thing to the table, or filling drink glasses, or remembering to shut off the oven, or the forgotten salad in the fridge, always making sure everyone had what they needed while everyone else is going about their eating… and the mothering one is hovering over the table making sure everyone feels welcome?
I remember the story of my friend Robert and his mother’s love of fried chicken and especially the neck. He grew up eating his mom’s fried chicken but no one in his family ate the neck except his mom. She would hold it back, until she would finally sit down at the table with the rest of the family. She would bring the neck with her on her plate, it was the best piece of the chicken, obviously, because mom always kept it for herself.
There is a song.. “Fried Neckbones and Home Fries” by Willie Bobo… I wondered how that song originated… The history of Soul Food and African American slaves who had to eat the scraps and leftovers that no one else wanted. They would create delicacies out of these scraps that would become soul food for them, including smoked chicken necks.
As I listened to the story of Robert’s mom, he told of how he longed to eat a fried chicken neck because it was surely the best part of the chicken, and how very disappointed he was when he first had the chance. He would discover, his mother didn’t hold back the chicken neck because it was the best piece of the chicken, she kept it for herself so the rest of the family could have the best pieces and she would take the last… placing the needs and desires of her family ahead of her own.
To a large degree it isn’t just about love… it is about hospitality and welcome. Making sure everyone has a place and everyone has enough, even if that means setting aside one’s own needs and wants to make sure that happens. Opening up one’s life, one’s home, one’s arms, one’s arms to the neighborhood and the world with a reckless abandon of love, setting aside our own comfort and need and placing connection and community first.
The scripture passage we read this morning from speaks to this image of putting others before self. Jesus, more than once, spoke to the image of Kindom, one of being the last, of being servant of all, a sacrificial love of others. And in the passage from Luke the story is Jesus mother comes to see him and we are told he says, “Who is my mother…but those who do the will of God.” Those who welcome, show hospitality, those who love unconditionally…This love of God, this welcome, this hospitality, this embrace, this table is not limited to just a few, just one faith, just one group, just one church… But to ALL…
If the faith is to grow, if this beloved community of Christ is to really be present… it is not just for their benefit… the doors must be thrown open and everyone invited to the table… Because our faith… our following of the Way of Jesus is about creating space for all who would come and sit at the table… even if that means we eat the last chicken neck instead of the breast, the drumstick, or the thigh. This love we profess to follow and have… is about putting our needs last and the needs of others before our own…the love of Christ is a sacrificial love for the good of not only the community of faith… but for the common good of all who would come… all who find a place at the table… and the table is unlimited, unencumbered, ANYONE and EVERYONE is welcome.
And in the midst of all that is right and wrong with such a weekend as this, we might be called to remember it is unconditional love that should undergird that which we consider mothering. We honor this morning the mothering presence that has brought you to this moment, to inspire you on, and encourage you to find your passion and purpose. Hopefully, you have had that Mothering influence in your life that has encouraged you to be fearless as you pursue that which would set your soul on fire. To find that passion that will not let you rest.
There was a scene in the recent Avengers movie… don’t panic not a spoiler… Tony, i.e. Ironman, has made a discovery that could change everything but it is risky. He and Pepper and discussing it and Tony suggests he give it up, “Put a pin in it,” he says, “Put it in a box and drop it in a lake and go to bed…” Pepper replies… “But would you be able to rest?”
As a little mothering advice from your pastor… that is what I wish for you as you make these next steps… to find that passion, that purpose, that faith, that inspires you to make this world a better place…to also be a mothering presence… in the context of Jesus’ teaching… doing the work of the Divine Spirit… making justice happen, loving as loves, and being the very reflection of God in the world. To find that rhythm of life and faith…that not only inspires you to work for the common good of all… but that gives you rest.
I want to close with words from another movie… one of my many favorites, Secondhand Lions… Uncle Hubs speech to his young nephew. These are words to carry with us all as we journey into the world each day and we encounter a world in need of healing, rest, and love. Here are his words…
“Sometimes, the things that may or may not be true, are the things that one needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good. That honor, virtue and courage mean everything; that money and power, power and money, mean nothing. That good always triumphs over evil. And remember this, this is the most important: Love, … True love never dies. It doesn’t matter if those things are true. We need to believe in them, because those are the things worth believing in.” May it be so. Amen.