In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Before commencing with the sermon I first would like to wish every mother here a most blessed Mother’s Day. Given the fast pace of modern life it is a blessing indeed just to be able to stop, to take note, and to be thankful for everything our mothers have done for us. For the times they held our hand when we were learning to walk, for when they bandaged us up after we had slain a fire breathing dragon or two in the schoolyard during recess, for when they looked deeply into our souls and gave us those words of wisdom nobody else could or would ever tell us. Apart from Our Lord on the Cross, there is perhaps no greater symbol of selfless love than when a good mother cradles her child. Sadly, in our fallen world not all mothers are good; but those who are remind us all that there is no more powerful force in the world than quiet, fragile, intimate love. Mothers remind us that a life resplendent in love and joy is a life of many small moments. They show us in so many ways that love is fidelity, persistence, hopefulness, charitable with time, liberal in giving, never ever giving up on those in our charge even when they have given up on themselves. Our mother is our advocate, and if we are so fortunate as to have a mother who lives to an advanced age, then likely we shall become her advocate. And what a gift that is! To love as we have been loved. To hold as we have been held. And when they have died, to remember their lives with us as they had hoped and had struggled for ours.
Anna Jarvis, the Methodist Episcopalian social activist who started the drive to make Mother’s Day into a national holiday, promoted the white carnation as a symbol for the day. She wrote that, “its whiteness is to symbolize the truth, purity, and charity of mother love; it’s fragrance, her memory and her prayers. The carnation does not drop its petals, but hugs them to its heart as it dies; and so, too, mothers hold their children to their hearts, their mother love never dying.” Miss Jarvis later lamented the crass commercialization of the holiday that she had championed. She focused much of her ire on the floral and greeting card industries. She wrote, “the printed card means nothing except that you were too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to mother, and then eat most of it yourself!” In 1943, while suffering from advanced age, Miss Jarvis started a petition drive to rescind the holiday. She was committed then to a sanitarium in part to stop that drive, and people from the floral and greeting card industries paid the bills to keep her in there. Miss Jarvis’s life reminds us that in this fallen world the axiom all too often holds true that “no good deed goes unpunished.”
And yet, notwithstanding how this world invariably perverts what had been pure, or confuses what had been clear, we Christians have been given the grace by which we may sweep aside that clutter and get back to what is good and true. With the gift of the Holy Spirit indwelling in us, engrafting our minds, our hearts, and our souls onto Our Lord’s, we may look up to Our Father God like when a helpless child looks up at his mother. We may ask Him for help, just as we had taken our mother’s opened and outstretched hand when we first had tried to walk upright beside her. We may ask Him for consolation, just as we had rolled up our pant’s leg to reveal our wounded knee to our mother. We may ask Him for wisdom, just as we had listened and taken to heart the sage advice our mother had given us. We may ask. Indeed, God wants us to ask; and like a good mother always wants her child to reach out to her, no matter the need or the occasion, so God always wants us to want Him. Whatever we ask, no matter how many times, we are never a burden to Him. Moreover, like the good and loving mother, Our Father God will respond to us when asked. He will take the hand reaching up to Him. He will bandage the knee. He will look into our souls and give us the wisdom we need to press forward. How and when He responds, and the answer He provides, may not be what we had expected or for which we had hoped. His ways are not our ways. Nevertheless, the answer will be absolute. It will be true. It will be what we need; and the more we leave behind the Old Adam, and take on the new life of Christ Jesus, it will be what we want.
Today is Rogation Sunday. From the Latin word “rogare,” to ask, Rogation days are set aside for the faithful to ask God to turn away His wrath at our sin and to protect us from natural and spiritual calamity. Traditionally, the faithful would undertake a procession around the perimeter of a farm, or a parish, or a township while asking God through hymns and prayers to protect the area within. There is the beating of the bounds; a procession of parishioners, led by the priest, the churchwarden, and the choirboys, which involved swatting landmarks with branches so as to maintain the shared mental memory of the parish boundaries. While beating the bounds, the parishioners recite Psalms 103 and 104, which recall God’s power over His creation and merciful receptiveness to our pleas. These rogation processions served as much a civil as a religious purpose, for before the widespread acceptance of modern day surveying annual ceremonies like the beating of the bounds served the purpose of demarcating real property lines. The civil township boundaries were also the parish family boundaries. To be a citizen was to be among the faithful. Now, we do not have the same idea in the United States on account of the disestablishment of religion, but the deeper insight remains. God is not just the God of your spiritual life, like that can be compartmentalized somehow from the rest of who you are. Rather, He is the God of your whole life. To be alive in Christ Jesus means to be fully alive in Him in every aspect of who you are – not just who you are when you are here on Sundays, or who you are in your innermost thoughts and feelings, but who you are whenever you are toiling at work, or driving on the interstate, or meeting with your friends for a drink, or sitting upon a jury, or casting your vote. You are always your mother’s little child, no matter what you may be thinking or doing at any given time, and so likewise you are always God’s, and He is always yours. This is a comfort, for we know that we can always turn to Him for help no matter the occasion. At the same time, we know that we cannot hide anything from Him, either. Like our mothers He can see right into us. There are no secrets that can be kept from the light of His truth and righteousness. He is always responsive to us, precisely because He knows us better than we know ourselves. Like our mothers He knows the medicine we shall need even before we have rolled up our pant’s leg to reveal the cut on our knee.
So then why must we ask Him? If He knows already what we need, then why must we lift up our eyes to Him? Christ Jesus provides the answer in today’s Gospel when He says, “At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: for the Father Himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.” When we ask something of our mother, we are not only asking to get something from her, a helping hand, a medicine and a kiss for our wound, perhaps a word of wisdom. Just in virtue of asking something of her, we are affirming to her and to ourselves that indeed she is our mother. The request is really a reaffirmation of the relationship. The same is true with God. He wants us to ask Him, because He wants us to know that He is Our Father, and we are His sons and His daughters. We shall worship God, and so in that sense we shall never be as familiar with Him as we are with our own mothers. Nevertheless, in virtue of what Christ Jesus has done for us and of our faith in Him, we shall worship God in holiness and in righteousness, which is to say that we shall take on the likeness of Our Father. This is a mystery, which ultimately defies our understanding, but it is the truth, our all encompassing reality. To be with God is to be totally His, as He is totally ours, for true love is never transitory, conditional, nor partial. Like when our mothers cradle us in their arms, when we are with God there is the fullness of life with Him in that eternity. For this we can offer nothing, but our praise and our thanksgiving, so let us endeavor to do just that with every fiber of our being. Let us love as we are so loved.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.