Pastor Mom

Quite a number of years ago, when I first started the journey through seminary, friends would ask, but what will we call you when you're finished? I thought about how my life had been involved for so many years around my love for children. So, I enthusiastically answered, Pastor Mom. And, then I got a little bit more serious and responded, Oh, I know, how about Reverend Mother? Well, but then, I wouldn't be Lutheran anymore would I?

When a fellow parishioner and seamstress, Anna Brennan, sewed my alb, I searched high and low for lace to add that would include symbols of childhood, building blocks, rocking horses, balls, or teddy bears. There was a stole in the Augsburg catalog that was a tapestry of faces of the children of the world. I just knew that would be the first one I would own.

For many reasons it seems most appropriate that my first Sunday after my last class and my final approval interview should be Mother's Day. For you have been my adopted family these last two years. I have spread my wings and you have let me fly. I have seen frowns of disapproval, read words of encouragement, and heard the joy-filled laughter of success. We have sat at many tables for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I have discovered new culinary delights like slippery pot pie. We've discussed the health benefits of pizza with anchovies, peanut butter on pancakes, and even the occasional road kill. We've learned to read each other's hand signals, lugged boxes up and down stairs, walked, talked, taught, and played. I have gained friendships that have shouldered my greatest worries, laughed with me over my mistakes, worked tirelessly with me on my projects and taught me to sing. You have gifted me with love, constant prayers, and camels on all the special holidays. See, you are mother of a pastor, well almost, there's still a few more steps to go. Nevertheless, I extend to you my sincerest gratitude. For you have made my years at Feagaville a joy. And, I pray that in my learning and growing I have not neglected or hurt anyone in the busy-ness of our time together.

For mothering carries with it the reality of hellos and good-byes, births and deaths, beginnings, becomings, and endings. Today is officially the end of internship. It is also the end of a life that has become as normal as breathing - seminary student. Yet, even these years of preparation had their beginning. They began in experiences that were given new meaning - reevaluated in the light of Jesus Christ - and the desire to share that meaning. Now, as these years draw to a close, a new experience of life with Christ begins and you are still a part of that.

Yet, it is in the midst of this bittersweet truth of birth and death that we come to know something of God's love. As we draw closer to the instant when our growth toward intimacy moves toward the inevitable leaving - the process of growing toward independence - we can feel God's own birth pains. God, our creator, gave us life that we may be in relationship with our Lord. Still our birth as individuals; leaving to stand or fall, to learn and grow, to die and be reborn children that desire to return for intimacy gives depth, meaning, and honesty to a connection that otherwise would be mere dependence.

A mother is constantly saying good-bye in order to witness the unfolding of her child's life. The infant is conceived within her body and from that moment on the mother constantly reevaluates her life in relationship to this baby. The two are inseparable and yet that bond must be broken and the child born into the world. Each developmental stage requires letting go and saying good-bye to a relationship that must end and a new one begin. But the love never ends, it just widens and deepens.

The Hebrew language builds on this concept of birth as the beginning of love. The word for womb rehem evolves into the nouns, adjectives and verb forms that we know as compassion, mercy, and love. Through my own experience as a mother I can vouch for the fact that it is not just a feature of language but a physical reality. For many years after my boys were born if I observed one of them getting injured, I could feel a sensation in my lower abdomen. The place of their conception remembered them and continued to feel for their well-being.

You may remember the famous verdict of King Solomon in the Old Testament story of the two harlots. Each had given birth, but one baby died in the night and the one woman switched infants. Now they appeared before the king to decide the fate of the living child. Solomon's decision was to divide the baby in half so that both women could hold something. The natural mother, of course, could not allow such a thing and would rather the other woman nurture and raise her son than see it die. King Solomon's wisdom knew that the mother's love would transcend her desire to possess it. Here was a love that knows not the demand of justice only the self-giving demand of life itself. The Hebrew says that her "compassion yearned for her son." Interestingly the word compassion is translated from the plural of the word for womb. rahamim.

But it is not only women who experience this kind of love. The Old Testament uses the same phrase when Joseph sees his brother Benjamin. He was so overcome with emotion that he sought a place to weep. And, ultimately, it is God who shares with us compassion, mercy and love, all from the root word. Speaking to Israel, Deuteronomy 32:18 even uses the word for labor pains. "You were unmindful of the Rock that begot you and you forgot the God who gave you birth." And Isaiah 42:14, "For a long time now I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself, Now, I will cry like a woman in labor, I will grown, I will pant."

Often in our troubles, we may think that the Lord has forsaken us, forgotten us and yet, Isaiah 49:15 responds, "Can a woman forget her nursing child? or show no compassion for the child of her womb? EVEN THESE may forget, yet, I will not forget you!

This is the depth of God's love that the authors of our readings today are trying to convey. That Jesus Christ was willing to lay down his life for US. That we may be confident no matter what befalls even death itself that we are in the care of God.

I mentioned earlier that the love of motherhood was bittersweet. I imagine that each of you have stories to tell of the joys and sorrows of parenting, of saying good-bye to the toddler, the kindergartner, the baseball player, ballerina, the teenager, and said hello to the young adult that could relate to you with knowledge and understanding. Oh, the love that flows from your heart. Today is such a moment. For Angela and Danny Crouse will witness the baptism of their son Derek who now enters into a new relationship with God. Connie and Stephen Wisner have just welcomed their son home from the silence of naval maneuvers somewhere on the sea. All they could do was place their love for Bobby in the care of God. And, finally, Debbie and Heath must entrust their son Andrew who has given them so much love into the waiting arms of Jesus.

We are all on the way to becoming. We may think for now that we are becoming adults, bankers, bakers, farmers, teachers, pastors, inventors, doctors, and more. Yet, eventually, we all become like Andrew Donald, the embodiment of God's love. Our death is but a birth, a transformation into a new relationship. Each new dawn we die to what we were yesterday. Each new dawn we are given new life to LIVE, forgiven in the mercy, compassion, and love of God's new creation.

This moment may be all we shall ever have again together, or it may be the birth of new beginnings for us all. What we say and do today will remain with us and reshape us in some way. Through our relationships we come to know the very depth of God and we eventually realize His Name is Love.

Read other sermons by Pastor Joan