I don’t ever preach on Mother’s Day.
This is because it’s a landmine of a topic, and as a homily subject, usually ends badly. The only sermon I ever walked out on was on Mother’s Day, when I was in high school. The priest (who absolutely should have known better) was lamenting that the holiday was not mandated in schools everywhere. I sat there in angry tears. My own mother had undergone another surgery for cancer the month before, and I had again been reminded that my hold on Mother’s Day was fragile. The idea of forcing school kids into a happy Hallmark narrative seemed both insensitive, false, and borderline cruel. So I left.
But this year, for whatever reason, I reasoned that Mother’s Day might be like those difficult texts in the Bible. They do not improve when you ignore them–they just get co-opted by people you disagree with. The way to deal with difficult things is to talk about them, and poke and prod at them until they become less difficult.
So here’s what I said on Mother’s Day.
Rev. Megan L. Castellan
May 10, 2015
Easter 6, Year B
John, Mother’s Day
There are times when holidays sneak their way into the liturgical calendar, despite not actually being at all liturgical themselves. Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day—these sort of snuck their way in there, even though Jesus had not very much to say on the subject of Pilgrims or on the subject of constitutional democracy.
But, over the years, the church found good enough ideas in those holidays that we wanted to emphasize them, and so, on the calendar they went. Not the whole thing, maybe, but Independence Day allows us to talk about how our freedom enables us to serve God and one another. Thanksgiving, as we just sang, lets us talk about how everything we have is a gift from God, and not a product of our own ingenuity.
So we come to today, which as I’m sure Hallmark has told you, is Mother’s Day, a day that likewise attempts to slip its way into the church calendar.
So on this day, in many places, flowers are distributed, and songs are sung, and tributes to mothers are read. “Motherhood!” the day trumpets! “Mothers are great! Hooray for mothers! We can aspire no higher! They are PERECT GEMS!”
But in many ways, this is not the easiest fit to sneak into our church calendar.
Because yes, mothers are great. Parents are great. Parents, ideally, teach us and help us grow, and provide a firm foundation our whole lives through, and help us construct our worldview from a place of safety and security. Being a good parent is one of the most important things in the world—there’s a reason why Jesus refers to God as Father, why he invokes this parental metaphor for this foundational relationship. It’s an immense thing to be a parent, to be a good parent. And we absolutely should honor that, and support it, wherever we find it.
And we should do that even more, because we recognize how rare that is. When we recognize that not everyone has the Hallmark certified ideal of Parents. Not everyone’s mother is fantastic. Not everyone’s father is a pillar of strength, warmth and unconditional love. Not everyone’s parents can manage to be what they hope to, or need to be, for their children, every second of every day.
And really, if every parent was the Hallmark certified ideal, what would therapists spend their lives doing?
If we’re going to slip Mother’s Day (Father’s Day too) into the calendar of the church, then it can’t just be about proclaiming all parents as paragons of virtue, when we know that this is not always the case—that the reality we live in is often much more complicated. Because in the church, where we are called to be inclusive, and welcoming of everyone, and we are called to live in reality, to recognize where our people are. And the reality is, not everyone had or has, families that fully reflected the love of God. So we need to be careful. Not to mention that not everyone is called to be a parent. There’s that reality, too.
And let’s also remember that we are called in the footsteps of Jesus, not of greeting cards. Jesus, who had a slightly, less-than-greeting-card-esque relationship with his family. He ran away from his parents at age 12, he hid for 3 days, and then, when they finally found him, instead of being apologetic, or buying them flowers or chocolate, he talked back to them when Mary merely pointed out that they had been worried sick. Not quite the dutiful son you’d hope for.
Once he grew up, he left home, never to return again. When Mary and his siblings came to collect him, they told the crowd outside the house where he was that he was possessed by a demon. So they’re possibly not on the same page with his ministry at this point. He, in turn, turns to the crowd when he hears this, and says “Who are my mother and my brother and my sisters? Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” and proclaimed anyone who followed him to be his family.
That was actually a huge deal in 1st century Jewish society. You didn’t leave your family—your family was quite literally who you were. It determined your job, your marriage, your future, your faith, everything about you. You could no more announce that you were heading out on your own then announce that you were going to walk to the moon.
Yet that’s just what Jesus did. (Remember that, actually, next time some politician invokes Christ’s name in a discussion of family values.)
Jesus left his family of birth, and constituted for himself a new family, no longer limited to ties just of genetics. But to ties of love. To ties of faith.
If we’re going to find a deeper meaning to Mother’s Day, I think it’s going to be there.
The vocation to be a parent, when done well, involves loving another being, loving your child, in an unconditional way. Valuing their happiness even as much as your own, and ensuring that they know themselves to be loved and safe, and protected.
Basically, you embody the love of God for your kids. That unconditional, here-you-are-safe, here you are known, sort of love. Love that is undying and never ending. You reflect the sort of love God has for us.
But when Jesus tells his disciples in today’s gospel that they are to love one another as God has loved us, he doesn’t limit it to a certain group of people. He doesn’t limit it to women, or people with kids, or mothers, or anyone else.
As Christians, all of us are called to this—whether we have children or not. All of us are called to embody that sort of love for each other, for the world. That’s how we’re supposed to love the rest of the world– all of us, all of the time. We’re called to mother the world–with that fierce, sort of unbreakable love.
Julian of Norwich called Christ our own mother, because Christ gave of himself like a mother, and taught us how to love each other, like a mother raises children, and teaches them to talk and walk. We then put those lessons into practice when we love one another. Each time we baptize a new person, we commit ourselves to support them in their life in Christ. It doesn’t matter if it’s a screaming 6 week old baby or an older 55 year old–each time, we welcome them into the household of God, and we welcome them into this new family–this bond of love.
So, on this Mother’s Day, as you exchange cards, and flowers–give thanks for all those who have shown you that love of God in your life. Give thanks for all those who have taught you how to love, no matter who they were. And then, go out and mother the world. Clean its scrapes and bruises. Wipe its tears. Love it in spite of its mistakes.
For so God does for all of us.