Singing a New Song
Mothering – Grit, Grace and Hope
Rev. Mary Kendrick Moore
Arlington Congregational Church
Mother’s Day - May 9, 2021
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.”
It is always hard for me to pick a sermon title that can sum up the next 15 or so minutes in a few catchy words. So know that my subtitle is Mothering – Grit, Grace and Hope. On this Mother's Day we are filled with thoughts of those who brought us into this world. Many can look back on our mothers with gratitude and comfort knowing that we were cared for and loved. We are also mindful today of those who have memories of mothers who were physically or emotionally distant. For others on this day, the focus is on being a mother and for some, wanting to be a mother. Whatever the range of emotions we carry on this day, we can know that we are influenced by those important ones in our lives who gave us birth or who took on the role of mother, teaching us to live and learn and love and grow in this journey of life.
Not many years has Mother’s Day ever passed without my thinking about my best friend from elementary school. Her name was Jill. We grew up in an era when mothers rode around in their cars with kids in the back seat without car seats while they smoked up a storm. That was before mothers had been told this was not a good idea. But those things didn't stop how much both Jill and I look back on our mothers as incredibly strong women who faced life during an era when so much was changing. When we were in the fourth grade Jill and her family moved from our small town to Atlanta. Tears were shed, while we imagined how in the world we would ever stay friends. As we settled into the idea of not being in school together, the two of us took up letter writing and for years, even until way after we graduated from college, we sent letters back and forth talking about our life and seeking comfort in sharing what challenged us. But it was our mothers that we really have to thank for that; because every summer they made sure that we spent a week together at each other's house, and that cemented our lifelong friendship. We watched our mothers experience difficult times in their own relationships and we watched them live through an era when they stayed at home not because they thought they had a choice but because it was expected of them. Yet we saw them maneuver through a changing world and be able to sing their own song. It wasn't until my mother was 72 years old, a year after my father died and his car was still in the gravel driveway, that she took a driver's education course and got behind the wheel and insured that she was not going to simply sit at home. She got in touch with her inner grit and she started singing a new song.
And isn’t that what we are called to do and be in a community of faith together. God, with that same kind of mothering spirit – giving us birth, empowering us with grit to sustain the hard times, giving us the freedom to learn and grow and make our own choices, and having an open-armed spirit always ready to embrace us.
On this Mother’s Day, we can be moved by an image of being held close to the steady heartbeat of God. See a God who takes delight in holding our hand while we learn something new. Imagine God challenging us to be all that we can be. See God who sits beside you when you cry; or holds out a hand when you fall. I can hear God say, “It’s okay; everyone makes mistakes.” When it comes to our mothering God, grace prevails, and at the end of the day after our tantrums and bad choices, our Spirit mother stays close.
Carlyle Marney once told about an old man who was asked, "Have you ever seen God?" He said, "No, but I have known a couple of Jesuses in my lifetime." That is what Jesus is talking about when he said, “This is my commandment that you love one another.” No one has ever seen God, but what you can see is love.1 The love of a mother for her child; the love a child longs for from a mother; the love between partners; the love of one friend for another. As we look back on our memories of our own mothers, some of those memories are good and some of those memories may be troubling. In most cases, even with good memories, they are bittersweet. This is wonderfully captured in the beautiful song from the musical Mama Mia!
Schoolbag in hand, she leaves home in the early morning Waving goodbye with an absent-minded smile I watch her go with a surge of that well-known sadness And I have to sit down for a while
The feeling that I'm losing her forever And without really entering her world I'm glad whenever I can share her laughter That funny little girl
Slipping through my fingers all the time I try to capture every minute; The feeling in it Slipping through my fingers all the time Do I really see what's in her mind Each time I think I'm close to knowing She keeps on growing Slipping through my fingers all the time
This poignant and beautiful song reminded me that while a mother wants to stay close, from the time a mother lays her infant down in the crib alone and walks out of the room, a mother spends her life with little twinges of the blues that come with letting go, watching her ride off down the sidewalk on her bicycle for the first time, watching him walk into the room with his cap and gown on, handing him the car keys for the first time, listening to her questions the first time she is heartbroken, listening to their challenges as they decide their future. In the context of that kind of loving relationship, we wade through irritability and eye rolls and arguments with tenacity and commitment - because we love, because we care.
As we first mother, we provide every drop of food and drink, then one day they push something away, establishing their own tastes. We walk alongside them, holding the back of a bicycle. At first they need our help with everything; and then one day, they say, “I know what I’m doing.” They learn their own gifts, they develop their own talents, they embrace their own identity, they find their own music that stirs their soul. They begin to sing out their own new song.
There are clear parallels to faith here. In our very early faith journey which is not dependent on what age we are, I think we want God to hold on to us without letting go and we often ask God how and when to do things. We long for a God who won’t let go of the back of our bicycle. Especially when we are young in our faith, we want God to hold our hand, tell us what to do. We want God to keep us from being afraid in the dark. We want God to guide us, give us signs about what we are to do, where we are to go. Yet while God is with us, God doesn’t always keep us from falling. And every time we fall, every time we fail to love, every time we stumble into anger and conflict, God has created us in such a way that we can live and grow and love and learn, with the emotional and spiritual ability to find meaning and hope in our life circumstances, to find and sing a new song within our heart for our next future.
We only have to look as far as the past year as we coped with pandemic to explore what this means for us. Haven’t we had to learn some new songs over the past year? We felt like we had the rug pulled out from under our normal lives. We collectively moved from dine in to drive through, from the routines of our busy lives to isolation and a whole lot of time either alone or without our normal circle of friends and family. How many of you had never used Facetime or Google Chat before last year? Before last year, if you were zooming, it probably just meant you were moving fast! We had to learn some new songs. We learned that our health and our country were more vulnerable than we had imagined. We got inventive with face masks and the world experienced the creation of a vaccine in the shortest time it has ever been done. We learned to sing some new songs. And our churches . . . our churches whose existence is rooted in community, in face to face encounters, has embraced online technology in a way we would have never imagined. We stumbled through what it means to worship together outside under a tree, outside in a parking lot, or on a screen. We learned to sing some new songs; let’s face it - a whole new playlist! We learned in a new way that church is more than the building – perhaps the very song that Jesus has been teaching us all along. Like the words from the song, imagine that God is looking at you saying, “Each time I think I come close to knowing you, you keep on growing.”
Jesus shared poignantly with his followers, “As God has loved me, so have I loved you.” And issued this invitation, “Abide in me.” This phrase doesn’t mean come by for a cup of coffee; this phrase doesn’t mean text me every now and then and see how I am doing; it means “get a moving truck, pack up all the furniture and move in.” Move in - to the space God has created in all of us for love. Abide – has the feeling of spending time in the living room of your heart.
And as always, Jesus was bold in what he shared. He didn’t stop with the statement that he had felt the love of God, and had loved his followers. The next lines? Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you are to love one another.” Love one another. This is not an invitation to polite niceties; not meant to encourage shallow emotion, not merely a feeling, not even meant to describe how you tell your spouse or partner that you love them, unless you have had a horrible fight, and then it gets into the hard kind of love that Jesus is talking about. Love the one you love when you wish they would act more loving; love your child when you wish they had made different choices. Love the one that feels unlovable to you. These days that even describes Democrats loving Republicans and Republicans loving Democrats! Love the one who is different than you.
I am not sure I can think of a story that Jesus told that did not in some way link love with action. Remember the great story when the disciples asked him, “When did we see you hungry and thirsty?” and he makes it clear that when you feed another who is hungry or give a drink of water to one who is thirsty, you can’t tell the difference in that and demonstrating your love for God. This story speaks to the divine potential in every single one of our interactions—a unity, power, and love present in all things, sometimes hidden right in our plain sight. These sorts of stories should always leave us with a haunting question: What are we missing? Is there an entire world, right here, as close as our breath, but we aren't seeing it because we're moving too fast . . . cut off from the depths, our eyes not as open as they could be? (from Rob Bell, What We Talk About when we Talk About God)
Jesus sang a new song. He wasn’t concerned with upsetting the religious structures of the day; he wasn’t concerned with who he might offend. When one sings a new song, it has a ripple effect just like a pebble dropping into a pond. That is how Christianity spread so quickly throughout the whole of Asia. When you sing a new song, is has a ripple effect just like a pebble dropping into a pond. It spreads out around you and impacts how those around you experience the world, and it might be the inspiration for them to begin to sing their own new song. A song of grit, a song of grace, a song of hope.
One of my favorite authors, Frederick Beuchner in his book Beyond Words, shares these words: “Farewell discourses happen frequently in life – a parent reaches life’s end and says to the son, you look after your brother, okay? If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Love is the frame we see them in. Jesus says to us, ‘You look after your brothers and sisters, okay?’ Those that look like you and those that don’t. Those that act like you and those that don’t. Those next door and those around the globe. You do that for me, okay?”
I’m always intrigued by different art styles and have enjoyed the art of Erin Leigh**, a mixed media collage artist who also sometimes calls one of her styles art doodling. She shared these words about her art:
The longer I live the more I realize that life requires constant courage. baby steps every day. As I take risks with my art, I find myself able to take risks in other areas in my life. As I learn and grow through my creations, I find myself wanting to learn and grow in other areas. As I find freedom and courage in taking my art a new direction, I find my freedom and courage in life, in my relationships. If there's one thing I've learned so far through my artistic journey, it is that I need to create. I was born to create.
We too are born to create. Some create through birthing children; some through birthing art; some through birthing programs and ideas; some through hospitality; some through birthing music, some through writing. This birthing – all with the pangs of labor and the sheer delight at something new breathing its breath for the first time. We are born to create . . . through … you fill in the blank for what you are called to bring into this world. And go sing your song. You do that, okay? May God ever lend grace and courage to our birthing. Amen.
**You can view Erin Leigh’s work at www.artbyerinleigh.com or visit her blog at www.artbyerinleigh/blogspot.com. She offers something totally delightful on her blog – numerous simple instructions about how to do your own artwork in a series called 31 Days of Scripture Art Journaling and another called Doodle your One Little Word. Try this, and have fun!)