Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sermon for Mother's Day 2015

Sermon for Sunday, May 10, 2015
First Presbyterian Church - Lake Crystal, Minnesota
Rev. Randal K. Lubbers, Pastor and Teacher

Gospel Lesson:  John 15:1-17

In the Garden, In the Cool of the Day

By Mary Oliver
Have I lived enough?
Have I loved enough?
Have I considered Right Action enough, have I
       come to any conclusions?
Have I experienced happiness with sufficient gratitude?
Have I endured loneliness with grace?

I say, this, or perhaps I’m just thinking it.
      Actually, I probably think too much.

Then I step out into the garden,
where the gardener, who is said to be a simple man,
is tending his children, the roses.

Have I lived enough?
Have I loved enough?
Sometimes it seems like life is passing me by. Sometimes it feel like I haven’t considered what Mary Oliver calls “Right Action” enough and I even feel ashamed because, doggone, if the pastor hasn’t come to any conclusions, then…. Well, what then? Of course then I’m falling into the common misconception that the pastor isn’t human. And I’m about to prove he is… After all…

What kind of a pastor swears in front of this very bouquet of roses when they fall over in the van while driving them from the florist to the church? What kind of pastor swears as he enters church because the box holding the bouquet--made limp because of the water which spilled when they tipped in the van—the bottom of the cardboard box disintegrates and the whole thing nearly crashes to the landing? And after this all happened I could only wonder… Yes, I know we’re Presbyterian but how many Hail Marys must I say now in order to cleanse these roses sufficiently from my anger and make them suitable for a sermon illustration? What kind of pastor would do all that?....  A human one, I guess?

The word human comes from the same root word as the words humus and humor and humility. The common root word refers to something that comes out of the earth, as in, “the Lord God formed the human from the dust—the humus—of the earth…” To be human is to be down-to-earth.

I can laugh now about my misadventure—to grasp humor is to be human (and humble)—and yet, the questions from the poem persist. And besides, not all my foibles are funny:

When I miss the mark it’s not always in private… and it’s not always pretty.

I can be reactionary instead of calming; cross instead of compassionate. My words can bite, sound bitter (even angry) and cut like a knife.

And that was me this week—Luke would vouch for it and some of you too. Right?  It’s hurtful and I’m sorry—I’m sorry. Please forgive me.

Mary Oliver asks, “Have I experienced happiness with sufficient gratitude?” And certainly I’ve experienced happiness—and just as surely I know I’m not sufficiently grateful. “Have I endured loneliness with grace?” Yes, I’ve endured… but not with the grace I see in others. My sense is that most people in our congregation are better than I am at all these things—better at doing what Jesus has commanded us to do and which we can only do while connected to the True Vine:

Oh, sure, there are times when I’m kind and compassionate, thoughtful and loving, gentle and meek and humble. Amazingly, I’ve even been told as much. Even last week. Wow.
But when I’m trying to do five things at once and feeling overwhelmed and when I’m a bit tired and my resistance to the acting-stupid-virus is at a low ebb; when I forget grace and forgo gratitude and start believing the world owes me roses. When I stop being humble… stop being human… Just then some jerk in a BMW will cut me off—obviously not understanding that I am the one who owns the road—and then the vase of roses tips over.

And there are two points here:  One, if you think pastors are somehow exempt from the earthiness of life, from days where your boots get stuck in the mud and manure, then you are mistaken. Pastors have terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days too. And, item number two:  as often as anyone, pastors need to confess and apologize and ask for forgiveness. At least this pastor does.  Because I don’t always endure with grace; and, for all the times I talk about gratitude, sometimes I forget to count my blessings.

I say, this, or perhaps I’m just thinking it.
      Actually, I probably think too much.

Then I step out into the garden,
where the gardener, who is said to be a simple man,
is tending his children, the roses.

The gardener is living and loving by tending the roses. Wow.

And so finally, we get to talk about the bouquet of roses—red and white and pink. The bouquet is at once a memorial and tribute, sermon illustration, and touchstone—a gentle reminder of grief and joy, tears and laughter, warm memories and deep agonies—of what it means to experience loneliness with grace and happiness with gratitude.

The thoughts behind the colors come from the sermon “The Pink Rose” written by my seminary professor and friend, Jeanne Stevenson Moessner.  In the South, where Jeanne was raised, it’s a custom on Mother’s Day to wear a red rose if your mother is still living.  And, in the South, men, women, and children wear white rose if their mother is no longer living—if she has, as they would say, “passed over.”

Red roses symbolize love, and red is the color of the Holy Spirit and the color of passion and suffering—appropriate for our long-suffering, patient, never-take-the-last-cookie moms.  The white roses are in remembrance of those we dearly miss—the white roses are for my kids and for any of you who, like them, can no longer say “Happy Mother’s Day, I love you, Mom” face-to-face.

In the South, Luke and Elyse would each be wearing a white rose; I’d be wearing red; and that just doesn’t seem right, does it?  The white roses are for you who feel just a tinge of sadness or maybe even a deep, renewed grief on Mother’s Day—whether you said goodbye to your mom 20 years ago or more, or just last week, or somewhere in between the extremes.

Two days ago, as I was just beginning to organize these thoughts, I said a prayer for Duane Jones and his siblings—on Thursday I’d spent some time with his mom Katherine and many in the family. She died Friday morning surrounded by many members of her family and surrounded by God’s love—one of the last things she read was the last few verses of Romans 8, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life; nor angels, rulers, things present, things to come; not powers nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation—nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”

White symbolizes Easter and resurrection and victory. We wear white at baptism, at confirmation, and in glory—white robes—because we’re clothed in Christ’s righteousness. White roses are celebratory. And yet our remembrances bring tears too.

My pastor-friend Kim was in the check out line at a Costco store and was greeted with “Happy Mother's Day!” to which she responded, “I'm not a mom.”

Not letting it go, the still-cheery clerk said, “Well, we all have moms.”

I imagine Kim paused at that point, composed herself, and then said, “Yes, we do; and mine died two years ago. I miss her.”

Mother's Day can be agonizing. And not just for those, like Kim, like some of you, who have lost your mom recently. There are agonies, heartbreaks, and tears even beyond the symbol of the white roses….

What symbol do we have, for example, for the oldest sister of four girls, who longs to be a mom—she’s in her 30s and her three younger sisters have seven children between them? What symbol for women who never bore children and for the women still dealing with infertility, for a woman waiting for a child to be placed with her through adoption, or for mothers who have lost children through miscarriage, stillbirth, accident, injury, or illness? What symbol do we have if a child’s mother is alive but not around—5000 miles away; or in prison; or imprisoned by addictions? What symbol do we have for the experience of losing one’s mother slowly—fading memories, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia?

For all these stories and more, our vase includes pink roses.

For the mother who has lost a child, a pink rose.
For the women who longed to be mothers, but could not, a pink rose.
For mothers who gave up a child for adoption, a pink rose.
For women waiting to adopt, a pink rose.
For all the other experiences—
so many that fail to fit into our neat categories, a pink rose.

The pink roses are for unspoken agonies and sorrows the commercialized Mother’s Day glosses over. And, the pink roses are also for the JOYS and BLESSINGS we risk overlooking if we buy into the one-size-fits-all approach.

Anne Lamott says,
…My main gripe about Mother’s Day is that it feels incomplete and imprecise. The main thing that ever helped mothers was other people mothering them; a chain of mothering that keeps the whole shebang afloat. I am the woman I grew to be partly in spite of my mother, and partly because of the extraordinary love of her best friends, and my own best friends’ mothers, and from surrogates, many of whom were not women at all but gay men. I have loved them my entire life, even after their passing.

So the pink roses are for the spiritual mothers in the church and for stepmothers and grandmothers who came to the rescue… for a whole host of substitute moms… my children could name dozens…

The red, white, and pink roses mean something different to each of us, based on our experiences. The pink roses, especially, are for all of us, just as God's grace and love is for all of us. Everyone. No exceptions.

And so Jesus' words surely apply to all of us too… “I’m telling you these things for a purpose: that my JOY might be YOUR JOY, and that your joy might be complete and mature.  So this, friends is my rule for living, that you love one another as I have loved you."

The pink roses carry a meaning unique to each of our own experiences.  My friend Jeanne wrote, “It would take an all-knowing, all-seeing, vulnerable, and loving God to fully understand the pink rose signifies to each one of us.” 

Jeanne—who taught pastoral care—was herself in need of tender care this year. She and her husband David experienced the death of their son.  Jeanne would be the first to tell you that God’s healing doesn’t happen overnight. And yet she would speak, through her tears, of grace and love and laughter-in-the-midst-of-tears…. and of hope!  She wrote, “Our God is a God who formed our inward parts, knit us together in our mother’s womb, and saw our unformed substance. It is from such a God that healing will one day come, a healing that extends beyond childhood, before birth, to the very womb. This healing is to be found somehow in the very womb of God.”

So now I think of the garden as the womb of the gardener.  It’s a place of healing. I don’t learn to live by analyzing what it means to love…  So much as I learn to love by living.  In the garden… Tending the roses…

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A Prayer for Mother’s Day (Rev. Leslie Nipps, adapted by Randy Lubbers for worship)

On this Mother’s Day, we give thanks to you, O God, for the divine gift of motherhood in all its diverse forms. We pray for all the mothers among us today: for our own mothers, those living and those who have passed away; for single mothers who helped their children pick out their own card or gift; for mothers who loved us; and for those who fell short of loving us fully; for all who hope to be mothers someday and for those whose hope to have children has been frustrated; for all mothers who have lost children; for all women and men who have mothered others in any way—those who have been our substitute mothers and who have done so for those in need; and for the earth that bore us and provides us with our sustenance. We pray this all in the name of our birthing and adoptive God, who loves us to the uttermost.  Amen.

1 comment:

John Sprole said...

Great sermon of the type, from-the-heart-to-our-lives, we all need.