Sunday, May 12, 2013

Shall Pierce Your Soul, too

Shall Pierce Your Soul, too
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
May 12, 2013
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Genesis 21: 1-6; 22: 1-2
Luke 2: 27-35 

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29     “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
30     for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32     a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword shall pierce your own soul too.” [1]  

I decided to leave the lectionary again, this time for Mother's Day. I remember being at staff meetings in Hampton talking with my mentor Dr. Bob about how Mother's Day fits into the church calendar. I mean because it's not a religious holiday, it is instead a secular observance. The fact that I have to leave the lectionary to preach on a mother's day topic shows that. So what do you do, how far do you go? I decided this  year, I may not do it every year, but this year to pretend that Mother's Day is a Christian Holiday, a biblical holiday, rather than  Hallmark Holiday, and look at two of the biblical accounts of motherhood, one Old Testament and one New Testament. These are our mothers from the readings, Sarah and Mary. I have to admit that my idea for this sermon isn't completely my own, but was one planted in my mind from a question I was asked.
A woman that I work with at Blue Ridge was scheduled to give a chapel address, and wanted to do so, to a congregation of boys, on a perspective that she had unique to them, as a Mother of boys. She asked me, she said, "Pete, I don't have any theological training, but I wanted to give these boys a mother's point of view, is there anything I should think about in terms of where Sarah is, when Abraham is called to sacrifice Isaac?" In other words she wanted to know what was the official take on what Sarah was going through during that scene, because her Bible seemed to be silent on it, and she wanted to make sure she had it correct. It was funny, I thought for a moment and had no clue. I told her, I had just watched the first of that new Bible miniseries, which showed her realize Isaac was gone, and head out running, and Abraham and Isaac were coming up over a ridge, and since Abraham was so much taller for a split second she thinks he is alone, until Isaac's head pops up barely over the ridge and into view. I remembered seeing that scene, but it didn't register with me until she asked her question. I said it seems you are free to imagine Sarah's reaction anyway you want because the Bible is silent. But it got me thinking, about what it must have been like for Sarah at that moment, and certainly Mary goes through very much a similar situation, except that God was providing for Mary in a very different way. . . on the other side of the death sacrifice. Mother's are amazing.
I usually don't like computer chain type things, but this, my mother in law posted on facebook the other day, gets at describing a mother's experience in a way I never could because I am not one, nor never could be. So here it is:

"We are sitting at lunch one day when my daughter casually mentions that she and her husband are thinking of "starting a family." "We're taking a survey," she says half-joking. "Do you think I should have a baby?"

"It will change your life," I say, carefully keeping my tone neutral.

"I know," she says, "no more sleeping in on weekends, no more spontaneous vacations."

But that is not what I meant at all. I look at my daughter, trying to decide what to tell her. I want her to know what she will never learn in childbirth classes.

I want to tell her that the physical wounds of child bearing will heal, but becoming a mother will leave her with an emotional wound so raw that she will forever be vulnerable.

I consider warning her that she will never again read a newspaper without asking, "What if that had been MY child?" that every plane crash, every house fire will haunt her.

That when she sees pictures of starving children, she will wonder if anything could be worse than watching your child die.

I look at her carefully manicured nails and stylish suit and think that no matter how sophisticated she is, becoming a mother will reduce her to the primitive level of a pear protecting her cub. That an urgent call of "Mom!" will cause her to drop a soufflé or her best crystal without a moment's hesitation.

I feel I should warn her that no matter how many years she has invested in her career, she will be professionally derailed by motherhood. She might arrange for childcare, but one day she will be going into an important business meeting and she will think of her baby's sweet smell. She will have to use every ounce of discipline to keep from running home, just to make sure her baby is all right.

I want my daughter to know that every day decisions will no longer be routine. That a five year old boy's desire to go to the men's room rather than the women's at McDonald's will become a major dilemma. That right there, in the midst of clattering trays and screaming children, issues of independence and gender identity will be weighed against the prospect that a child molester may just be lurking in that restroom.

However decisive she may be at the office she will second guess herself constantly as a mother.

Looking at my attractive daughter, I want to assure her that eventually she will shed the pounds of pregnancy, but she will never feel the same about herself.

That her life, now so important, will be of less value to her once she has a child. That she would give herself up in a moment to save her offspring, but will also begin to hope for more years, not to accomplish her own dreams, but to watch her child accomplish theirs.

I want her to know that a cesarean scar or shiny stretch marks will become badges of honor.

My daughter's relationship with her husband will change, but not in the way she thinks. I wish she could understand how much more you can love a man who is careful to powder the baby or who never hesitates to play with his child. I think she should know that she will fall in love with him again for reasons she would now find very unromantic.

I want to describe to my daughter the exhilaration of seeing your child learn to ride a bike. I want to capture for her the belly laugh of a baby who is touching the soft fur of a dog or a cat for the first time.

I want her to taste the joy that is so real it actually hurts.

My daughter's quizzical look makes me realize that tears have formed in my eyes. "You'll never regret it," I finally say. . .

I already had chosen to talk about Sarah and Mary when I read that on Thursday. I couldn't get over the simple honesty of it, the rawness of it, it was even called primitive parenting, so I couldn't get over the idea of projecting those feelings onto Sarah and Mary, their experiences because the emotions, feelings, and honesty of the post seemed timeless, transcending culture, time, and anything, getting at what connects mothers, and therefore Sarah and Mary are included in it.
What was Mary thinking when Simeon said to her, "“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed  so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword shall pierce your own soul too.” Did she have any thought of what was to come, was she warned, was she prepared? What about Sarah? She's there loving her son, the child of promise, the child they had waited for, for so long, the laughter brought into her life, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” But all of a sudden she looks up, Abraham is gone, Isaac is gone, to sacrifice, but all of the lambs are still there accounted for, they had taken none with them. A sword pierces your soul, too.
There is a connection between mother and child that is so amazing, so magical, that words cannot even come close to describing it. I stand in awe by it daily. It is the very definition of compassion--feeling with, because it is there. When a child laughs, the mother laughs, when a child cries the mother cries, when a child feels pain so too does the mother, when a child triumphs so too does the mother. Everything that a child goes through a mother goes through right there with them, from the beginning to the end, that feeling doesn't seem to go away even after the child is grown. So when a child is called by God to serve, the mother is called as well, and when that sacrifice, the sacrifice that love demands, is made and called for, the mother must go through it as well, and the difference seems to be that mother's don't get to choose because God does and the child does, it is between them, God and Child, and so the Mother seems to have to just let it happen. We as people are called in a general way to love God and to love our neighbor, love does not exist without sacrifice, and we are all called in personal ways to love, and serve, and love does not exist without sacrifice. Can there be anything harder for a Mother to do than introducing their child to the Christian life? Because if being Christian is to be a little Christ, then we introduce our children to becoming the same sacrifice that Jesus made and that Abraham was willing to make, a complete offering to God, discipleship with all its cost. It is certainly much bigger than dressing them up and bringing them to church on Sunday morning. The realness of the claim of the call is quite intense if we allow ourselves to think about it.
What an amazing picture of the image of God, though is a Mother, the character of God, the love of God who would love so much to give the gift of freedom because love requires it, bearing the personal heartbreak of allowing what you created to make the choice to suffer. God seems to believe that it is all worth it, and so does each mother who has taught their children to walk this Earth, through the hardship, the war, the pestilence, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, the endless trains of the faithless, the cities filled with the foolish, the broken hearts, the bumps and bruises, the failures and defeats, the dreams deferred, the tears shed. Oh what faith is required to believe that there is more to it all, but yet every mother who teaches her child is a testament to that faith.. God let us choose the hard way, knowing that in darkness there is light, in pain there is healing, through suffering there is strength, despite hatred there is love, and love is more powerful after all, but so much more costly at least in the immediate, soul piercing kind of way, but this is where faith, love, and hope are connected, that the promise of blessing made to Sarah is still and always will be true, that the call to Mary still includes favor, that her heart now sings out to Joy because salvation was on the other side, real, true, deep, infinite, all encompassing, life is there, full life in God's loving hands is there. So on this day where we thank mom's, we also thank God, and we thank everyone who has ever truly loved, for to have loved is to know to have experienced that sword piercing your soul, too, knowing that all who have loved have also lived and therefore have had a mother. Hallelujah, Amen, May it truly be so!


[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Lk 2:27-35). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.