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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

It's Complicated

2010-05-09 Acts 16:16-34 It’s Complicated
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

I want to be politically correct about this, so... to those of you who are mothers, grandmothers, other-mothers, like mothers, favorite aunt mothers, stepmothers, fairy godmothers, adoptive mothers, biological mothers, or professional surrogate mothers, Happy Mother’s Day.

I know it’s surprising, but Mother’s Day is not mentioned in the Bible, nor is it a Christian holiday. Nevertheless, along with Christmas Eve and Easter, Mother’s Day forms the third point in the church’s Axis of Attendance. Even if you’re only at church to prove to your mother that you haven’t totally crossed over to the Dark Side, I’m glad you’re here, and that you brought your mom as a witness. Both your mom and I are always happy to see you, whatever the circumstance. Of course, it would never hurt if you stopped by a little more often, or at least picked up the phone and called us once in a while to let us know you haven’t dropped off the face of the earth. But we’re not trying to make you feel guilty. We’re just happy you haven’t completely forgotten us.

The truth is, Mother’s Day is more than just the Rockwellian breakfast in bed and construction paper cards. For a lot of children, both little and grown-up, and for a lot of mothers, this is a bittersweet day. We remember people who aren’t here, or aren’t here anymore. We remember people who weren’t there, at least not the way we wanted them to be. So if nothing else, it’s safe to say, Mother’s Day is complicated. For some of us it’s a day to celebrate. For some, it’s a day to assuage guilt. For some it’s a day of mourning. And for some, it’s all of the above. It’s complicated.

Like the relationships they give birth, mothers are complex. Just when you think you’ve got them figured out, they go and surprise you. They go and do something totally out of character and wildly wonderful. They remind you that they really are human after all, that they had a life before living to pick up your dirty clothes. Or, on the other extreme, they do something that makes you wonder if they’ve been replaced with an evil twin. They make you wonder just how much they’ve been hiding, or how much you haven’t been paying attention. All mothers are complex, but some are complicated. They come with their own set of complications. Some mothers come driving a dump truck loaded with their own issues. Mothers are always complex, often complicated, just like the children they’ve birthed. For the church to pretend that Mother’s Day is just flowers and chocolates would complicate things even more.

The Bible is filled with marvelous examples of mothers. You’ve got the miraculously wonderful, like the Virgin Mary, and some who aren’t so wonderful. When it comes to motherhood, the Bible gives examples more than rules. It would be great if the Bible gave us Ten Simple Rules for being a good mother. And the moms would say it would be even greater if the Bible gave us Ten Simple Rules for being a good son or daughter. There is one BIG rule: The Fifth Commandment says, “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” In other words, your mother brought you into this world; don’t make her take you right back out again, too. But there aren’t any sub-commandments, so “honor” is left for us to figure out. In the passage from Acts, we heard about Lydia, a mother, a dealer in insanely expensive cloth, purple cloth, who became an evangelist for Our Lord Jesus Christ. Lydia, the Purple Lady, led her whole family to Christ and had them all baptized, which made her happy. And if momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy: Commandment Number 5.1. But the Bible doesn’t tell us anything about Lydia’s parenting techniques, doesn’t tell us anything about whether her children were happy, or resentful, or destined for a long life in the land which the Lord had given them. All we know is that Lydia was smart enough to run a very exclusive business, and faithful enough to say yes to Christ. Smart enough, faithful enough, was good enough to earn her a special place in our sacred book.

I think the fact that the Bible gives us general commandments (like the fifth one) and blurry examples (like Lydia) is itself a message of grace. The Bible is gracefully vague. Scripture gives us the concept, but then leaves us to fill in the blanks as best fits our personal situation. The Bible doesn’t say precisely how to honor your mother on a particular day; it just says to do it. The Bible doesn’t say how Lydia led her family to Christ; it just says she did. The Bible never, ever lays on our shoulders the pressure of perfection. Perfection is Jesus’ job. And it was just natural for him. If what we do in our relationships somehow honors the other person, the Holy Spirit will fill in the blanks, in ways that are smart enough, faithful enough, and perfect enough for our situation, our lives, and even our moms.

Mothers are complex, and often complicated. Mother’s Day is also complex, and often complicated. For some, Mother’s Day is a dance in the daisies; for others it’s a tiptoe past the tripwire. So, as a pastor and amateur priest, I think the best the church can offer on Mother’s Day is the gift of absolution. Whatever you and your mother don’t share, today share the gift of forgiveness. If your mom isn’t or wasn’t perfect, forgive her. If you’re a mom and your children aren’t or weren’t perfect, forgive yourself. And forgive them, too. If they had only listened. Oh well.

No, Mother’s Day isn’t exclusively Christian, and that, in itself, is a hopeful and forgiving sign. When we celebrate something as simple as Mother’s Day, we practice forgiveness. We practice forgiveness across family lines, forgiveness beyond religions, forgiveness past the barbed wires of gender, race, and wealth. Everybody proceeded from a mother, everyone is a child of someone, no matter what your faith or lack thereof.

In the spirit of simple forgiveness, I think the best the church can offer all mothers and all children on Mother’s Day is something moms are known for: a hug. On Mother’s Day, the church should offer you all a great big, spiritual hug. You know, when you hug someone, you don’t have to say everything, you don’t even have to say anything. Because a hug can say so many things. A hug can say, “I love you.” It can say, “I’m sorry.” A hug can say, “I forgive you.” A hug can say, “I’m proud of you.” A hug can be followed by a swift kick in the seat of the pants. A hug can say and do all of the above. A hug isn’t hard to do; a hug isn’t complicated, but it can be complex. A hug can mean many things at the same time. Kind of like Mom.

If you can hug your mom today, do it. If you can call your mom today, do it. Let loose of whatever holds you back, at least for one day. And if you can’t.... Maybe your mom (or your son or daughter) is in heaven. Maybe you can’t because some other reason under heaven makes a hug impossible. If you can’t embrace, forgive. Forgive the distance. Forgive the distance between you and your mom. Forgive the distance between your and your children. Because forgiving the distance is the only way to make it go away. Feel in your heart what you can’t in your fingertips. One way or the other, hug.

Mothers are complex. Motherhood can be complicated. Forgiveness is really pretty simple. The best moments of Mother’s Day share the simplicity of forgiveness. Those moments are what make it happy. Happy Mother’s Day to you all.