Harrowing Of Hell
May 10, 2020

Mothering the Children of Christ

The Rev. Ruth Anne Garcia

Good morning Christians, seekers, and friends:

First of all, I want to wish everyone a Happy Mother’s Day. Now, I know that might sound rather strange to our ears—wish everyone a happy Mother’s day—because isn’t Mother’s Day, as the name suggests, supposed to be a day for mothers…. And while, of course, it is. I would also argue that it is a day for all of us too – a day to honor our mothers.  Every one of us, after all, has or had one. Our mothers gave us birth and for that we literally owe them our lives. And yet, motherhood isn’t as simple as just that. Because much of what we are honoring is the ones who held us, loved us, fed us, raised us, who bandaged our skinned knees and who taught us to be the human beings we are today. And while for some of us, those things were done by our biological mothers, for others we might have been mothered by another mother or mothers, or our grandparents, an aunt or uncle – our fathers…  And the difficulty doesn’t stop there—there are some of us who long to be mothers but for whom for whatever reason conceiving a child isn’t possible. There are others for whom, while having given life, struggle with physical, psychological, or social difficulties  to ‘mother’ their child.  For all of these reasons and more, Mother’s Day is not just a day to honor our mothers, but it is also a day in which we may find ourselves feeling all of the feels – from deep gratitude to unresolved conflict and sadness, anger and shame. Sometimes that which sparks complete love and gratitude in one heart, reminds another of their feelings of being incomplete or unloved. These are some of the reasons that preaching on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day always makes many of the pastors and priests I know circumspect. We do want to honor the important work of parenthood but we don’t want to hurt hearts or wound souls with our words—we hope to give hope where it is needed. We want to inspire folks. We want to teach. We want to share the life-changing Good News of Jesus Christ.  And through the power of the Holy Spirit, on our best days we might do just that.  Because if there were anything I wish I could do, it would be to preach words that not only soothe suffering – but that would help inspire folks to get to work changing the world and following Jesus.  Because, while I might not be a biological mother, my Christian heart leads me to want nothing more than to protect our children from harm – from gun violence, from global warming, from prejudice and racism. I want to protect our children from the evil and the forces of darkness that seek to keep them from seeing just how much possibility, love and goodness that they have been given by God.

So, today on Mother’s Day, I feel we have to speak about the importance of being a mother, father, parent or mentor in whatever form that takes. Because as Christians we sometimes have a hard time hearing what Jesus is saying quite clearly. In today’s gospel, for example, Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me…I go and prepare a place for you, [and] I will come again and will take you to myself…. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”  Jesus clearly tells us that we don’t need to  fear – that he will come and lead us where we need to go. He also makes it clear that by knowing him we DO know God… Yet notice Phillip’s very human response, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

Isn’t it just like we Christians to often waste our time thinking, like Phillip, that we need to wait for something else – some sign or some currently unknown and unanswerable thing—to signal what we are being called to do rather than listening to Jesus’ own words?  How often have we spent our time worrying about things over which we have no control rather than focusing on the things we can change – like our roles as spiritual guides and friends—as mothers and fathers—parents to all the children of God. When Jesus was asked what the most important things we needed to do and know about being a Christian were, he answered, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” And on the night before he died Jesus gave us his final commandment as believers that we shall love one another even he has loved us.

Friends, in this time of Covid 19, we are not only facing a virus to which we have no immunity and about which we have very little knowledge; we are also entering into a time and a future for which nothing heretofore has prepared us. Yet, we are also facing a mirror in which we can truly see those things which we have valued most –those things we have built up, valued, and idolized. And these things do not seem to reflect what Jesus identifies as most important. In fact, the stress and uncertainty we are experiencing seem to be worsening situations which both our actions and inaction have set in place. And while COVID-19 might seem to be the culprit behind all that seems to be unravelling in the world around us, I wonder how the world would be different if we truly did what Jesus would have us do.

In Luke, Jesus, mourning the fate of the holy city cries, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Friends in 2020, we are suffering and losing God’s beloved children to the virus Covid 19. We are also, however, losing God’s beloved children to hatred– to gun violence, to global warming, to prejudice and racism. This Mother’s Day, for example,  the parents of Ahmaud Arbery are mourning the senseless death their beautiful young 25-year-old son who was chased down and shot while he was out for a run. In Flint Michigan, the family of Calvin Munerlyn are mourning the loss of their son who was shot at work over a request his request of a patron to put on a mask.

These things weigh on my heart. How did we get here? How have we failed our children or become complicit in this situation? I cannot help but think of what my own Mom would have said… because there is nothing about the death of Ahmaud Arbery or the death of so many other innocent men and women that honors God or our mothers or parents who held us, loved us, raised us and taught us right from wrong. Love of prestige, position, power and ‘individualism’ hasn’t raised us up or led us into the Good News life of Jesus Christ. Nor has the love of money soothed our suffering or inspired us or others in our Christian life-changing to work in the world.

Maybe it is time to get back to the basics. Because it seems to me we’ve yet to understand the incredible possibilities and true importance of mothering – of caring for one another. This makes me think back to my time in seminary when I was warned against getting ‘stuck’ in children and youth ministry. It wasn’t that my professors had anything against kids, it was just that there were very few young priests in the Episcopal Church then. So, as a young woman, my advisor warned, that they would try to ‘stick me’ with children’s ministry—what many then deemed as lesser or ‘women’s work’. Sadly, I knew what he meant since as a young person I had been approached more than once by someone who asked if I would like to teach Sunday School – at one church the very first time I walked in the door. So, I listened and negotiated my first position in a parish accordingly.  Except, not too long after this, I realized I absolutely loved working with children and youth! Far from being stuck with them, I loved the deep and authentic questions they asked about God and their lives and the way they kept me on my toes spiritually. Effectively working with children and youth makes it impossible to become too rigid or take yourself too seriously because they have a finally attuned BS meter that senses insincerity and hypocrisy from a mile away.

It bothers me to this day that at that time churches not only couldn’t understand the importance of ministry with children and youth and acknowledge that it not only requires at least the same level of expertise and training as other kinds of ministry; but that we need to carefully screen and train leaders in such a position of trust. I shudder to think that before the institution of safe church policies, just about anyone who volunteered was allowed to work with children and youth.

While I have been missing you all terribly, that first week when we were unable to meet in person, onething buoyed my heart and lifted my spirit. Our lovely parishioner Kerstin Millius told me that while watching the livestream at home, her son saw me on the screen and said, “I see Ruth Anne. I really like her. She likes kids.” My heart was full. Because I love children and her son can tell!  I am so grateful that while God didn’t give my own child, I have been gifted me with the honor of being a part of the lives children in our church. I can’t believe how blessed I am that for over two decades children and good church folks have called me Mother Garcia. But this blessing is not one I share alone. Regardless of who we are, as Christians we are called to protect and care for one another – to love our neighbor as ourselves and with strong resolve and active love to nurture one another into living fully into our life in Christ. It is not easy work. Mothering is the most exacting, the most tenacious and most powerful work there is. In the last few years, our young people have come to the fore to speak about the need for gun control and climate change and we have watched amazed at all that they have accomplished. What we have not done sufficiently, however, is to heed their call to protect them and to keep them safe as mothers, fathers, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings and fellow Christians. If we want to follow Jesus, we need to be rise up and be the courageous spiritual guides and teachers Jesus made us to be. In honor of our Mothers everywhere, may we courageously do whatever needs to be done to guide and protect ALL of God’s children. Happy Mother’s Day to all who do so….