Sunday, May 13, 2018

Joyful Celebration

Scripture Luke 24:44-53 NRSV  

 24:44 Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you--that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”  24:45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,  24:46 and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,  24:47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

24:48 You are witnesses of these things.  24:49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” 24:50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them.

24:51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.  24:52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy;   24:53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

I have mentioned before how difficult preaching can be when my calendar tells me we are supposed to be celebrating more than one important event.  Today, for example.  It is the day we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord into heaven and it is Mother’s Day.  Unless you’re Mexican.  Mexican Mother’s Day was on Thursday, May 10th.  Same day every year.  So much easier to remember than the 2nd Sunday in May.  Just sayin’ … Wait.  Do Mexican American mothers get two Mother’s Days?   

This year we hear the Story of the Ascension from the Gospel according to Luke instead of the version recorded in Acts.  In Acts, if you remember, while the disciples are staring up into the sky where Jesus has just ascended beyond the clouds wondering what just happened, two men appear and tell them to get back to Jerusalem and wait, as Jesus told them to.  In this version, they worship him and go back to Jerusalem with great joy (not confusion), and spend all their time in the Temple praising God.  I don’t know about you, but I think I might like this version of the story better.   

Mother’s Day, though.  Every online clergy group I belong to there is filled with warnings about the difficulties of preaching on Mother’s Day.  Because . . consider.  There are mothers and grandmothers here today surrounded by loving families, looking just like all the advertisements on TV and online.  The restaurants will be filled with happy families taking Mom out for dinner, the flower shops are working overtime, and the chocolate industry is ecstatic - not to mention the manufacturers of large household appliances.   And we all want to celebrate their happiness with them.  But for others here, Mother’s Day is a reminder of loss, mothers and grandmothers who have passed or simply live far away, or are in a hospital or nursing home, and are missed on this special day.  Some have or had mothers who were not very loving, or were abusive, or emotionally absent, or physically absent.   Today might be a painful reminder to some that they are not themselves mothers.  Or that they lost their children.  And somehow we, preachers, have to walk that invisible line that helps those who need to grieve, or get past their anger, and yet doesn’t make the happy families feel guilty about their very happiness.   And it doesn’t help when we, as the preachers, fall into that motherless and childless category.  

For me, it feels a bit like living in Psalm 137.  The Hebrews in exile cried out,  “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”   How can we celebrate a day that brings us pain and stresses us out?   In Brian McLaren’s book Naked Spirituality, an example given of God’s love was the mother who takes her child’s drawing and loves it, no matter what it looks like, and hangs it on the refrigerator for all to see for decades to come. (pg 80) For me, that was a bad example - because my mother took those childish drawings and pointed out what was wrong with them.  This was typical of our relationship.  She has been gone 26 years now, and I am finally beginning to heal from my anger and resentments.  Likewise, I am childless, not by choice, and because I was raised to believe that as a woman my primary job in life is to have and raise children, questions about children can be painful.  It’s better today, but  still painful.  Until I began serving a church I was able to stay at home on Mother’s Day and avoid the pain entirely, but that’s no longer an option for me.  So I have begun to heal, and I am grateful for that - I am grateful that God put me in a situation where I had no choice but to seek healing.  This Mother’s Day, I wear my mother’s pearls, in remembrance.  This Mother’s Day, I celebrate with the families who are engaged in joyful celebration, while also grieving with those for whom today is filled with pain.  

A Public Service Announcement:  Regardless of what I was taught growing up, being a mother is not necessarily the most important thing a woman can do.  Many women are mothers and are really good at it and should be celebrated today and every day.  Others are not - their gifts lie elsewhere.  So please, if you are tempted to try to make childless women “feel better” by telling them all the ways in which they are mother-like, know that this is not necessarily helpful or welcome. For some women I know, it just makes the pain worse.  So, please don’t do that.   (Unless you are telling them what a great Pet Mom they are.  You can always do that.)

I think the disciples must also have been living in a “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land”  moment.  After all, they had just said goodbye to Jesus, their Lord, who had been dead and then returned and now is gone again, gone for good this time, but still alive . . . I mean, they watched him go up into the sky to be with the Father.  He left them behind.  I’m sorry, but that just had to be totally stressful and crazy-making.  Yet they are celebrating.  They worshipped him and went home in joy and celebration, and they spent all their time in the Temple blessing God.    

Not just praising God, but blessing God . . . not asking to be blessed by God, but blessing God.   It seems a bit odd, perhaps, because when we ask God for blessing we are seeking to be strengthened and helped and made better in some way.  Obviously, humans cannot make God stronger or better.  But humans can say things to God that indicate that God is blessed - we can magnify God’s name.  We can exalt God, and speak God’s name with gratitude and admiration.  So this is what the disciples did.  For all the days from the time when Jesus ascended into heaven, they went to the Temple and raised their voices in acclamation of God’s greatness and grace.
Remember that these were people who were fearful when Jesus died. These were people who, until Jesus appeared to them after the resurrection, hid away for fear that they, too, would be taken and killed.  The day has not yet come when the Holy Spirit would fall upon them - that’s next week.  But here they are, fearless, in the most public place in Jerusalem, the Temple, every day, lifting up their voices in joyful celebration of what and who God is.   Not worrying about whether someone might recognize them as having been with Jesus. They went to the Temple daily, telling God - and everyone else present - how awesome and wonderful God is.   They obeyed Jesus’ final instructions, to call for humanity’s repentance and to proclaim God’s forgiveness, beginning in Jerusalem - and they began that work by blessing God, daily, out loud, in the Temple in Jerusalem.   We cannot be in the Temple - or the church - all day every day to praise God.  But we can lift up God’s name in praise where ever we might be.  We can bless God and glorify him with our hearts and our lips, all the days of our lives.  For our God is an awesome God, and worthy of all praise.  

Let us join with the disciples in worshipping our Lord, Jesus the Christ.   Please stand and sing with me, “Come, Christians, Join to Sing.”

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