may 9, 2010

Anna Blaedel
First UMC, Osage
Mother’s Day 05.09.10
Psalm 67
John 14:23-29

Last year, on Mother’s day, I preached about my mama—her faith, her nurturing and shaping of my faith. I shared stories about how she learned to live Jesus’ teaching, the core and key commandment of scripture—love your neighbors, no matter who God gives you as neighbors. My mom learned this Great Commandment as move by move, new neighbor by new neighbor, God kept giving my mama every kind of neighbor she feared, or dreaded, or in her heart of hearts didn’t want, or knew would push her out of her comfort zone. It started with an African-American family. Next, a Jewish one. People with mental health issues. Then, two gay men, now married, raising adopted children.

So, last year I preached about my mama, and this year I’m going to preach about my mama. I feel certain that, with all my mom has taught me, I could preach about her every mother’s day, plus a few other Sundays along the way, for the rest of my preaching tenure, and I wouldn’t run out of stories, or teachings, or lessons imparted with love. Let us pray…

This morning, I want to share 5 things my mom has taught me. Five things that touch to the heart of Christianity. The heart of Christian faith.

First, she taught me that showing up in worship each and every week was the bare minimum of practicing faith. Sunday morning worship was a non-negotiable when I was growing up. We did not miss Sunday worship. We did not miss Sunday worship. From the day of my baptism, when I was 5 years old, until when I graduated high school, I could count the number of Sundays I wasn’t in church. This isn’t hyperbole, or a preacher wanting to make a point. There were under ten missed Sundays, in over 12 years. When I fact checked this with my mom, she said, “Surely there weren’t TEN!” It was likely closer to five, but we are sure it was under ten.

When sports clubs held practice on Sunday morning, we didn’t play on those club teams. When we were traveling or on vacation, we looked for the nearest cross and flame, there always was one, not too far away, and we went into worship. My family has worshipped in the United Methodist churches of Texarkana and Texline, Winnemuca and Reno…

In fact, being on vacation sometimes left my mom inclined to double or triple up on services, just for the sheer enjoyment…this was NOT about guilt or rigid religious obligation. When we were at the beach, when we still go to the beach, we go to beach church—a service right on the beach. And, sometimes, into town afterwards for church at the little beach chapel. When we were in London, we went to Wesley chapel, one, two, three times…in ONE day. I have a picture of me, age about 14, standing in the pulpit John Wesley preached from—this is many years before I first considered becoming a pastor, looking, perhaps, a little weary of Wesley, and his worship!

Mothers impart habits, both good and bad, on their children. Habits these children later learn and commit to keep, or to break. My mom instilled in me the habit of regular worship. Showing up in worship each and every week is the bare minimum of practicing faith. I don’t feel at all sure I would be a pastor today, or even part of the church, if I hadn’t been in worship each week growing up, thanks to my mom.

Lesson 2: Showing up for worship each week will never make you part, really part, of a faith community. You will not feel connected, be part of the connection, develop deep relationships, really know your pastor, really deepen your faith, if your only contact with the church each week is sitting in the pew Sunday morning. It takes Sunday School, book groups, outreach to the community. Cooking meals. Serving meals. Reading scripture. Leading a small group. Teaching a class on a subject close to your heart. Visiting other members of the congregation. Praying for each other, regularly and intentionally. Going on retreats together, marching together, witnessing together, working together. You already know this, I suspect. Part of how we develop closeness is through regular contact.

Those of you who are here often…who peel potatoes, and attend bible studies, and teach Sunday school, and attend circle, and yes, even serve on committees…those of you who set up tables, and ready the sanctuary for the next liturgical season, and attend midweek services, and come to the United Methodist 101 study, and mow the lawn and tend the garden and tend to the children’s folders…In order to be and become the body of Christ, we have to have contact with each other. Showing up for worship each and every week is the bare minimum of practicing your faith, but. and. Showing up for worship each week will never really make you a part of a faith community.

Lesson 3: Think back to last year (and try not to feel too guilty, but maybe a little bit convicted, if you weren’t here this Sunday, last year!). Being a follower of Christ means loving your neighbors, whoever God gives you as a neighbor. When my family moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina, not everyone welcomed us. We were Yankees. And this still, truly, can be an issue for folks in the deep South, where the Civil War is still taught, in some schools, as the “War of Northern Aggression.”

Our next door neighbors were the Heater-Lees. They were a nice, fairly traditional, family—mom and dad, and two little boys not far from the ages of myself and my sister. They had a gentle, loving Black lab, a pool with a slide, awesome toys. The perfect neighbors. And, they were black. And, this was enough to make most of the neighborhood turn away, turn against them, not let their children play with them. My sister and I were allowed to play with them, and were eager to play with them, which points to other lessons taught by my mom.

Last week, I called my mom, distressed. Really, upset, actually. Scared. I learned that there are 7 active groups of the KKK, the Ku Klux Klan, within 60 miles of here. Spread throughout the country, and the state of Iowa, are active hate groups, including the KKK. Looking at the Hate Map of Iowa, however, brought me to tears. Made my heart pound. Made me sick to my stomach. There is one dot, indicating such a group, in Cedar Rapids. One in Des Moines. One in Boone. One in Cedar Falls. And, a big, bright red cluster of dots, right around Osage. Charles City. Clear Lake. Rockwell. Mason City. New Hampton…the list went on and on. I felt, I feel, sick, and scared.

Then, within a few days, I learned of a Facebook group, organized solely around “Praying for President Obama’s death.” Praying for someone’s death, for anyone’s death, is really appalling to me. For the death of our nation’s leader, elected by the people. This is not a Republican/Democrat issue. This is not about who you voted for, or whether you agree with the new health care plan, or not. Praying for his death. There is so much racism in the attacks against him…not part of the “real,” read, “white” America…it goes on and on. I felt, I feel, sick, and scared.

So, feeling sick and scared, I did what I do when I don’t know what else I can do…I called my mama. And, she reminded me of our time in Fayetteville. Of learning that our neighbors, across the street, members of our church, Haymount UMC, refused to talk to our next door neighbors, the Heather-Lees. That only one other family in our neighborhood had contact with them, spoke with them, build connection with them. My mom loved a lot about Fayetteville. She loved our church. She loved our neighborhood. She loved our neighbors. She still does. And, she knew then that she could never live there for long, that she could not stay, and raise her children in the kind of environment where people who call themselves Christian can be so un-Christ-like, where people who call themselves Christian will turn away from kindness, compassion, connection, turn toward hate, prejudice, fear, because of the color of someone’s skin.

My family is still in contact with the Heater Lees. They are one of the few families we still see regularly, with whom we have stayed connected. And, my family no longer lives in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

My mama taught me, being a Christian means loving your neighbors, whoever God gives you as a neighbor.

Which, brings me to lesson 4. Being a Christian means standing up for people who are pushed to the margins, of the church, and of society. Standing up for love, and standing up against hate, no matter the consequences. Just a few years ago, my family went to our family farm for Memorial Day. The farm where my grandpa grew up, down in Southeast Iowa. Our extended family still owns a small piece of timber connected with the farm, and every year we gather there for our Bell family reunion. There is a little cemetery, where my grandpa, uncle, and countless other relatives are buried, where my grandma, and parents will be buried. And, there is a little church, built sometime around 1840, in which my family has gathered for many years. Recently, we have been part of the work and the financing to restore this old, one room sanctuary. So, we drove down for Memorial Day, to put flowers on graves and go to a church service held in that little church.

Within a few minutes of the pastor starting his sermon, my mom, dad, sister and I were getting nervous. The sermon was, well, to call it “Fire and Brimstone” would be a gentle understatement. You can imagine the kind of language, the message. Unfortunately, it is heard all too often these days. Filled with hate, and fear. The horrible, evil people bent on destroying “us,” whoever the “us” is…The pastor started by lambasting Muslims, followers of Islam, then went on to gays and immigrants and feminists, and …well, you get the point. We didn’t know what to do. Again, that sick, scared feeling was settling in the pits of our stomachs. It got so bad, the language turned so violent, we knew we couldn’t stay. My mom turned to me and whispered, “You speak. I speak. Or we leave.” I was in favor of fleeing. My mom, fueled by faith, not fear, felt called to witness.

At the end of the sermon, she stood. She named her connection to this church, to the Christian faith. She quoted scripture, the teachings of Jesus. She preached. Perfect love casts out all fear. Judge not, lest ye be judged. Faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love. What does God require of you, but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God? The greatest commandment is this—love God, and love your neighbor.

I was filled with fear, imagining all that this angry, hate filled crowd could do. My mom was filled with faith, and the call of faith: Being a Christian means standing up for love, and standing up against hate, no matter the consequences.

And finally, briefly, lesson 5: Practicing our faith as disciples of Jesus means constantly re-evaluating our beliefs. Rooting ourselves in the teachings of Jesus, and opening ourselves to the whispers of the Holy Spirit, the Friend, the Advocate, whom God sends in Jesus’ name—remember the gospel text from John we read this morning—the Holy Spirit who will teach us everything, Jesus said, and remind us of how, in this time and this place, we might follow and be faithful to the teaching of Jesus, the call of God.

It is hard to shift beliefs. Think, if you can, of the last time you did a 180 with a deeply held belief. A time when your conviction changed, because of the movement of the Holy Spirit. Doing this requires deep listening, deep faith, deep humility, and deep trust in the spirit of our Living God. My mom does it well. My sister and I have dubbed her, in fact, “The Queen of Transformation.” It is not that she is wishy-washy, or easily swayed. But she is willing to rethink, to reconsider, and to reorient her beliefs, when she feels the Holy Spirit calling her to be more open, more loving, more compassionate, more gentle. To draw the circle wide, and then wider still. The Queen of Transformation, seeking to live her living faith.

“Jesus answered Judas by saying, “Those who love me will follow my teachings, and my God will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the teachings you hear are not only mine, but from God, who sent me.” Jesus continued, “I have said all these things to you while I am still with you. But the Friend, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom God sends in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…” May it be so. Amen, and amen.

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