Weekly Preaching: Mother's Day

May 12th, 2017

Mother’s Day preaching. So tough. So easy to be schmaltzy, to regale people about the wonder of Mom. But then I’m one of the people for whom it’s an uncomfortable day, and I’d resent you or just stay home if you did the Mom & Apple Pie sermon. At our place, we cope with Mother’s Day by mentioning it in the pastoral prayers, where we can thank God for mothers who are a blessing, ask for solace for those grieving a lost mother, and pray for healing of fractured relationships — and for those for whom infertility has made Mother’s Day all but unbearable.

Onto this week’s lections: The Psalm is lovely. I’m fascinated with the project of preaching on the Psalms; I even co-wrote a book with my friend Clint McCann about it called (not very cleverly) Preaching the Psalms. I know some folks who use the Psalms in the summer for a different kind of odd-seasonal preaching.

As for the Acts text: I’ve never preached on this, and won’t come May 14. How startling though!  Stephen’s dramatic death, with Saul/Paul in the crowd, watching. I wonder, since Stephen did what Jesus did, namely forgiving his killers as he’s dying, if Stephen’s mother (it’s Mother’s Day!) might have been nearby… like Mary was.

1 Peter 2 could be read as the charter/constitution for the church! A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (I feel a 3 point sermon coming!). What I love is that 1 Peter establishes the defining core of the church’s existence, and mission, as... what? Verse 10 tells us: Mercy. Pope Francis declared 2016 as The Year of Mercy. So should be 2017 too, and next year also. So little of it out there, and in us. Candidates for ordination that I interview in my role on the Board of Ordained Ministry, I hate to admit, are at their weakest when describing mercy. Any sermon on mercy is helpful; a wonderful book on Mercy is the one the pope says transformed him, Walter Kasper’s Mercy. I plan to focus on John 14, but allude back to 1 Peter 2.

Certainly, John 14 invites us to speak of resurrection and eternal life; how many people present heard these words at the funeral of their own mother? But again, the risk is getting too sappy.

I love the spatial image that Jesus is in a room with his friends, and he speaks of a house with many rooms that he is preparing for them — a “mansion,” mind-boggling to poor fishermen. When we are in a room, maybe the sanctuary at the Lord’s table, at dinner on Mother’s Day with family, or even sitting alone when you’d prefer not to be alone on a holiday, can we envision being at table with Jesus, his friends, and the communion of the saints?

This text has the loaded “I am the way, the truth and the life.” For many this is a clarion call to evangelism — and exclusion. I have a 7-minute video on this text I commend to you, sorting out the theology of what it means that Jesus is the way. Clearly, Jesus isn’t giving a lecture on the fate of non-Christian religions. He isn’t even demanding assent. The mood is somber; he is about to die. He is preparing them for their grief and way forward. I am sure he’s saying Friends, you’ll be so forlorn; but there is a way. You’ve known me, been with me...

It leads to the best line in the passage: “Show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” I’ll likely quote Mick Jagger speaking for our generation: “I can’t get no… satisfaction… I tried, and I tried, and I tried…” When we see the Father, then we are/will be satisfied.

“Show us the Father.” Jesus must have sighed and thought — I just did — by washing your feet, by breaking bread, by healing, by touching the untouchables, just by showing up on earth. God wants us to see God, know God, love God — and Jesus shows us clearly the full heart of God. That’s it. How lovely. Beautiful Savior.

Then Jesus does that thing again: declaring the disciples will do even greater works! Seriously? But yes, Jesus invites us to be him in the world when he’s gone. We’re not alone; the promised gift of the Spirit is the key, the way. Here’s where I think I’ll dive back toward 1 Peter and that threefold way of being Jesus in the world. By his grace, no matter how bumbling we might be, we really are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. Who else will rise to this? Jesus puts himself in our hands.

And so we pray. How grossly misread is his admonition to pray? Whatever you pray in my name, I will do it. You always have those “prayer warriors” out there who think that means God is somehow subservient to us and flat-out must answer our prayers. As if prayer is about answers… Prayer is a relationship. Prayer is communion with God, confession, thanksgiving, so much more than grabbing onto God to do our bidding. And, to pray "In Jesus' name" isn't muttering those three words, but being in sync with the mind and heart of Jesus.

My newest book, Worshipful: Living Sunday Morning All Week, is available. My forthcoming book, Weak Enough to Lead: What the Bible Tells Us About Powerful Leadership, will appear before too long.

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