It’s Dangerous to Preach on Mother’s Day!
2 Corinthians 4:4-12
Epworth United Methodist Church
May 10, 2015
It’s dangerous to preach on Mother’s Day! I thought of wearing protective gear, but it wouldn’t look great with my liturgical garb. It’s dangerous to preach on the subject of Mother’s Day, for a myriad of reasons. As you know, this day brings up vastly different thoughts and emotions for people. Some people have wonderful mothers. Some have not so wonderful mothers. Some worry how their children would categorize them. Some still deeply miss the mothers they have lost.
Some women delight in being a mother. Some struggle with being a mother. Some of us alternate between delight and struggle depending on the minute! Some women deeply wish they could be a mother. Some have lost children. Some don’t know what to do with the children they have. So, it is dangerous to preach on Mother’s Day. No telling what feelings might surface.
“When a young minister was still single he preached a sermon entitled ‘Rules for Raising Children.’ After he… had children of his own, he changed the title of the sermon to ‘Suggestions for Raising Children.’ When his children got to be teenagers, he stopped preaching on the subject altogether.” (By Rev. Bernard Brunsting, from Funny Things Happen). Want to bet he doesn’t preach on Mother’s Day either?
It was a lot easier for me also, to talk about parenthood and kids, before I was a parent. I never knew I could be so glorious, before I was a parent. I never knew I could be so awful, before I was a parent. So why do I dare to preach about all of this? Because the Gospel has something to say about something this important – for those of us who are a part of families -- which is all of us. What it says might surprise us!
First, let’s think a moment about family. Who’s in your family? The Supreme Court is finally being challenged to legally recognize families that have lived and loved with commitment for many years, all across this country. Jesus shocked and challenged people to expand those they include in their circle. He called authorities, communities and individuals to draw the circle of their hearts wide, to broaden whom we see as siblings and neighbors. In Matthew 24:40 he says, “Honestly, whatever you did to those seen as lowly, those members of my family, you did to me.” How would we feel, think, act if we drew our family circle wide to include Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Michael Brown (and so many others who have been killed) as our brothers or our sons? Wouldn’t our hearts break like Gloria Darden, Freddie Gray’s mother? She could hardly talk when she said, “I got a hole in my heart. I will never be the same; I will never be the same.” Every attack against someone because of their race, their gender, their sexual orientation, their economic status, their age, their nationality, their ideology, their difference, is a hole in our hearts. Every attack is a hole in our hearts, because we are family -- sometimes amazingly magnificent, sometimes horribly dysfunctional. But we are all family.
Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians gives us hope for this family and our individual families. It says, “We have this treasure…in earthen vessels.” He’s saying that we are just like clay pots, made from the best…..mud! Do you hear the echo back to the Genesis passage when God is described as making people out of the dust of the ground (Gen. 2.7)? So, Paul says we’re like clay pots!
I’d rather be more like the finest lead crystal! Why didn’t he say that? Why didn’t he say we were made out of something elegant, glorious, fine? No, instead he said we’re more like ordinary stuff, clay pots. Pots have been used to store and carrying everything for more than 17,000 years. Pots -- were useful, but most were ordinary as mud!
Today, pottery is used as a home decorating statement. So, to better catch the essence of Paul’s metaphor and its impact on his audience, it’s like he’s calling us (not crystal, but)… Tupperware! “We have this treasure… in Tupperware!” Except that doesn’t quite capture it either, because clay jars are breakable. So it’s more like: “We hold this treasure in old, cracked Tupperware!”
When have you felt like old, cracked tupperware? When have you had one of those cracked-tupperware days? A small boy told a Sunday School teacher: “When you die, God takes care of you like your family did when you were alive - only God doesn’t yell at you all the time.” Definitely clay pots.
Shari Hanson knows that our busy, imperfect lives are a lot closer to cracked Tupperware, than to Waterford crystal. Her little son Dirk was at her mother’s house one day. He followed his Grandma into her bedroom as she put some things away in the closet. He asked, “Grandma, what room is this?” “It’s a closet, Dirk.” “We don’t have closets at our house.” “Of course you do. You have lots of closets.” “No, we don’t.” So she tried another tack: “Where do you keep all your clothes?” His face lit up, “In the dryer.”
Our lives are not made of fine china! But, here is where the Good News comes in! Paul says that these clay pots, cracked Tupperware lives hold a treasure! Paul says the treasure is the presence of Christ. There’s a treasure within us even on those not-fit-for-public-viewing days, even when we fail to see the treasure in each other. The Spirit and power of God lives in these muddy lives. God goes with us, moves in us, through all our relationships, even through our broken and cracked places. The passage says the extraordinary power of God resides here - in this ordinary, often cracked, stuff of our living! Paul goes on to say: We are surrounded by trouble, but not crushed; unsure of what to do, but not hopeless; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed, for what they did to Jesus, they do to us – trial, torture, mockery and murder; yet Jesus lives in us!
According to Paul we are very human, very imperfect, very ordinary, very breakable; We are just the very stuff God uses to do some extraordinary, beautiful, and fine things, through the presence of Christ at work in us, the presence of Christ at work through us. Our limitations don’t limit God. That’s great news!
Hanoch McCarty is a newly single parent who struggles to be both parents to his two young children. One very long day after coming home he … helped his daughter with her homework, oohed over his son’s Lego creation, cooked dinner, and washed the dishes. Then he got both of the kids washed, “accompanied by shrieks of delight, crazy running around, laughing and throwing things.” When the kids were (more or less) settled in bed, he rubbed their backs, sang them a song, and stayed until they fell off to sleep. He always tried to put on a happy face for the kids. Finally, he went to the dining room table, and sat down for the first time since he had come home. “Then it all crowded in on me: the fatigue, the weight of the responsibility, the worry about the bills,”….the endless details of running a house without a partner to share it all with. “And loneliness. I felt as though I were at the bottom of a great sea of loneliness…. I sat there silently sobbing. Just then a pair of little arms went around my middle and a little face peered up at me. I was embarrassed. ‘I’m sorry Ethan, I didn’t know you were still awake. I didn’t mean to cry. I’m sorry. I’m just a little sad tonight.’” “It’s okay, Daddy. It’s okay to cry, you’re just a person.” He crept into my lap and we hugged and talked for a while. (A 4th Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul, p. 125.)
It’s OK to be just a person, just an ordinary clay pot, run-of-the mill Tupperware, because the power of God works through us, even in our vulnerability. Where do you need to hear that? Sometimes tender young arms remind us. Sometimes one person standing up to say “black lives matter,” reminds us. Sometimes Harvey Milk saying “Hope will never be silent.” reminds us. What reminds you that the Spirit has something to do through you, even in your imperfection?
We get into trouble when we forget one part of Paul’s message or the other. Sometimes, we act or think we’re indestructible, or at least nearly perfect. We don’t want to admit that we have a lot in common with clay pots. When that arrogance infects individuals, communities, institutions or governments it always leads to destruction -- of relationships, of peoples, of ourselves.
Then there are the times when all we can see are the cracks in the Tupperware, our fallibility. We can describe each of our failings -- in detail. Those are the times that we forget the treasure we hold. These imperfect lives are the earth stuff the Spirit uses to create healing acts of kindness and transforming acts of courage.
We hold a treasure in fragile pots, but the treasure is not fragile. The pots get cracked, but the power perseveres. The extraordinary power of God moves through us, the power that lights up the darkness. How can you let the cracks in your life shine with that illuminating power? How can you use your life to be a lamp of kindness and courage? Your life will never be the same. Your life will never be the same. No matter what kind of life you’ve lived, no matter what kind of cracks you carry, don’t lose heart. You may be afflicted in every way, but don’t let your spirit be crushed! You may be perplexed, but don’t despair! You may be struck down, but your spirit cannot be destroyed! Remember, you hold the most precious treasure, the power of God, shining even through your broken or cracked places. That’s better protection than any protective gear, for whatever life throws at you, on Mother’s Day or any day. Amen.