Dialogue Sermon – Mother’s Day, 1997
Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church, Dillon, Colorado
Deborah Hage, Pastor Kari Reiquam (both mothers)
Texts – Psalm 1:1-3, John 17
Kari – What does it take to nurture growth in others. What exactly is it that mothers do? Do only mothers do it? Or, is there something in the love which mothers have for their families which we can learn to apply in other arenas of life?
Deborah – It is hard, if not impossible for us to know what truly causes those around us to grow because of their relationship with us. The acts we carry out with a powerful sense of direction and purpose may ultimately have little meaning in the world, while acts which we dismiss as unimportant may have a profound impact. For several years I was the cub master for over 100 little cub scouts – feeling it was my duty to see that every young man who wanted this experience would be provided it. The number of hours devoted to this work and the number of nights gone to meetings cannot be counted. Seeing me go out the door again one of the boys came to me and said, “Mom if you’re doing this for us, don’t”. He would rather have had me home at night then out saving the world. Unimportant to him, important to me, important to the other scouts? Who knows if my participation had any particular value. On the other hand, our evening ritual of sitting down to dinner together every night, was given little thought by me, yet one of our daughters has told me that for her, while she was growing up, eating together every night was what made us family. She was sorry so many of her friends at school did not experience that and wondered what they did at that time that could possibly be more important.
Kari – Dinners together, Cub Scouts, what are the things that we do that bring growth…and what is it we want those we nurture to grow into? Today’s Psalm speaks to us of growth. “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, but their delight is in the law of the Lord. They are like trees planted by streams of water which yield their fruit in its season and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.”
The image the psalm presents is of a tree that is forever green, giving and providing life, bearing fruit at appropriate times and prospering. Prosperity is not related to material wealth as much as it is related to a life that is so full it can give the excess away. Prosperity is seen in what one has to give when living in relationship with God.
To prosper is to keep growing and giving. And growth is nurtured through trust. When we are loved we are given the ability to trust and to take risks, to change and to act with courage and conviction. Trust enables us to act for the sake of others, to venture out in love with gifts of healing.
God knows we need trust to grow into the fruit bearing trees God wants us to be..and so God blesses us with a promise of faithfulness. God promises to be true and hopes our trust will grow in the grace God gives.
Nurturing involves trusting and entrusting, faithfully reaching for love and faithfully letting others grow from the abundance of God which we pass on to them. “Like a tree planted by streams of water…”
Deborah – Like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither, In all that he does, he prospers.
Except for the “he” part it sounds just like me, doesn’t it? Don’t you all see yourself in that? Yielding fruit in its season, never withering, everything going according to plan, no glitches. Yup – sounds like just about everyone I know. All you have to do is avoid sinners, avoid sinning, study the Bible and you got it made. Only …. you and I know life is not like that, not for students, not for store clerks, not for lawyers, not for truck drivers, not for anyone – and definitely not for parents.
What the Psalm doesn’t mention is all the weeds and tangle of undergrowth that tends to be found around the base of trees – particularly trees growing wild on a riverbank. The Psalm doesn’t mention the weeds in our life either – just assures us that life with God is a life of peace and contentment. Well, it just ain’ t so.
I cannot tell you how many times I have stood in this sanctuary and argued with God over the unfairness of the weeds, the events everyone in our family has been called to deal with. For those who don’t know us we have had numerous children over the years, giving birth to two, adopting 7 and several others with us for therapeutic foster care. Most of them have come to us with the emotional and behavioral issues common to children who have been severely abused and neglected. Paul and I stepped out in faith, convinced we were responding to a call by God to bring other people’s children into our lives and make them our own. We were going to use our abundance of love and grace, our prosperity, to meet the needs of others. We were going to heal them with our love.
Our failures are notable and painful and we have had to continually ask, “Why did God call us to fail?” Why did God call us to do something we obviously, in hindsight, could not do? Did we misinterpret a call intended for someone else with more skills, more patience, more wisdom?
One of our foster children, lived with us for almost 2 years, is currently somewhere on the streets of Dallas. She turned 19 last Thursday. Another turns 18 next week and is not expected to graduate from high school – though I believe he has stopped stealing cars.
Another child displayed his anti-social bent early on. When he was 12 we tried a parenting technique with him called “line of vision supervision”. For several weeks one summer we made sure he was never out of the sight of at least one member of our family. After dealing with that successfully I gave him permission to ride his bike around town, with the stipulation that he had to be home to check in an hour. He faithfully returned home at the appointed time and I smugly concluded he had learned his lesson and allowed him to leave for another two hours. This went on through the day. In the early evening I received a phone call. An acquaintance said, “I’m not sure, Deborah, but I think I just saw one of your kids climb out the window of the home next door.” My son hit 6 homes that day! I thought he was coming home to check in with me. What he really was doing was returning home to get tools necessary for his activities and to hide his loot. He is currently in jail for kidnapping a man at knife point and stealing his car – could be facing 20 -120 years.
Another son hasn’t lived at home for several years, since he threatened to kill me. He is now accused of breaking and entering into several businesses. He goes to trial early next month. In the meantime, as a juvenile, he is under house arrest and was hospitalized last weekend because his foster mother was afraid he would commit suicide. He told the psychiatrist at the hospital that by the time he entered our home at age 6 he already knew he was a goner. Why did God call us to take this young man, knowing there would be no discernible results from years of hard work?
Another, born with fetal alcohol from heavy maternal drinking which results in retardation and stunted personality development, also showed signs as an adolescent that we were out of our parenting league. When he was about 14 our family stopped by the Grand Canyon. After driving several hours out of our way we parked about 50 yards from the rim and everyone poured out of the car, glad to be released from the confines of the van, to walk along the canyon rim trail. One son refused. Citing fatigue and disinterest he simply refused to get out of the van. I cajoled, I pleaded, I reasoned, all to no avail. In exasperation I abandoned all of the wonderful parenting techniques I teach around the country and resorted to anger and punishment. “If you don’t get out of the car right now you will not get dinner with us tonight!” He sullenly, slowly climbed out and followed us to the edge. I turned to insure he was still behind us. Coming up the path on the other side of him could be seen two women, their wide eyes and dropped jaws framed in the iridescent stream coming out of him, sparkling in the sunlight, and into the Grand Canyon. The non-verbal message was clear. His continued unwillingness to conform to the simplest of family or societal expectations has resulted in him being in jail as well.
A daughter, 16, has left our home to return to the birth mother who neglected and abused her. Talk about a blow to our ego. After years of loving her and offering her the best we had she is living in extreme voluntary poverty, under horrid conditions, in Denver.
The litany could continue. People, you want weeds – in the soap opera I call my life – I got weeds! The events and emotional turmoil which surround our children as a result of their abuse could continue for the rest of their lives.
The cost of discipleship is high – high for all of us. I don’t know that there is an adult in this room who can look back on their life and say it has never had weeds mixed in with the fruit. The image of the tall, straight, strong tree growing up towards the sun that we project onto the world hides an inner reality of hurt egos and lost visions.
Believe me, when I gave birth 24 years ago to our first child, I never dreamed the intervening years would carry such heartache or that my personal rallying cry to deal with the resulting ulcers would be “medication, meditation and merlot” – not necessarily in that order.
But what is the big picture here? Jesus, clearly tells his disciples in the gospel text for today that he was not praying to take them out of the world. Rather he prayed to keep them from the power of evil. Then he proceeded to live that out. Living in the world, paying the cost of discipleship, sustained by the love of God, sanctified and consecrated – preserved from the power of evil. And, in the end, redefining what it means to be successful and prosperous.
Kari – Deborah, you take us to our gospel for today. Jesus is preparing to leave the disciples. They will have to cope with a treacherous world. A world where trust is broken, where fear is prevalent. He knew that betrayal is inevitable and that they will be confronted by powers that oppress and destroy.
How does he prepare them? He prepares them by praying for them. His prayer is not a mere nicety, but a relinquishment to the power and love of God. His prayer is his commitment, to God and to the disciples, to remain with them in faithful love no matter what they face and how they succeed or fail. Jesus’ prayer is a promise, a promise to be true. He prays for unity with God, in Jesus. He prays for joy for them that they may know the deep fulfillment of God’s presence. He prays for victory over evil that they may have the strength to overcome evil and live in trust instead of fear. And, he prays that they may represent Christ to the world. The prayer is a prayer that followers would go into the world, not to escape the pain and failure, but to be empowered to create love and trust in others.
Jesus prays, and then he lives out what he prays for. He gives his life that we may know the depth of God’s faithful love. God would be true to death and through resurrection we know that Gods faithful love is an ever-flowing stream. Maybe our gardens are full of weeks and maybe our plants haven’t grown and prospered in the way we dreamed, but God’s river of life and love is flowing still and we are invited to trust and to love and to hope once more.
Deborah – Let me tell you where I find hope for my children, where I see the prayers of Jesus for his disciples being answered in our lives. I believe that no act of love is ever wasted. The world and each and every one of my children are better off for having been loved by me. The man who was kidnapped at knife point was not killed. To some that seems like faint hope – but without the stability of our home for ten years maybe that man would be dead.
We each step out in faith every day – not knowing which of our doings will bear fruit and which will not. We cannot predict where the music of love which we play will be heard and who will be helped by the hearing and what growth will occur. We don’t know when we take an action whether or not we will be successful. We have learned from experience that we can do everything right and the results are still disappointing. Conversely, we can do everything wrong and events work themselves out to everyone’s benefit. However, I’m not sure that success is even the issue.
God does not call us to success – in our limited vision of time and space we don’t even know what that will look like. For some of my kids, maybe success will mean they won’t abuse their kids or spouse, maybe it will mean they won’t kill anyone, maybe…maybe not. I just know that I am not called to success. Just like Christ’s promise to his disciples that he will be with them forever, I am called to commitment. I am called to be a tree, planted in the world, beset by weeds, nourished by the love of God, committed to being the best mother I can be. Knowing that in good times and bad the love of God is present. Together, we are all growing.
“And now I’m glad I didn’t know
How it all would end
How it all would go
Its best our lives are left to chance
I would have missed the pain
But I would have missed the dance.”
Happy Mother’s Day, Happy Father’s Day, Happy Whatever-it-is-you-do-to-nurture-others Day. Amen.