With permission to use this personal sermon, I’ve changed names to protect privacy.
I don’t remember exactly when this occurred, but my best guess is six years ago. It was definitely in June (or maybe in May). I know the time of year this because it was a graduation party. Another church member, Juanita, and I went as guests of the graduate, Mark, who’d just received his Master’s in Public Policy,
Except for Juanita and Mark, I didn’t know any of those gathered for the celebration (not always the easiest thing for this introvert!). We met Mark’s grandparents and chatted with then over dinner. Boy were they proud of their grandson that day!
Eventually Mark wanted us to meet his mother. She was in the living groom, seated in the middle of the sofa. I don’t remember who or how many people were around her. All I remember is that she looked serene or even regal as she sat there. AND she wasn’t interested in meeting me. Maybe Juanita , but certainly not me! This was my first encounter with Mary.
Why? Why would the mother of someone who’d become a friend have such a negative reaction to me?
Well, we need to back up a bit. Juanita and I were board members at the local nonprofit where Mark worked. That’s how we knew him.
Mark had also been talking to me about matters of faith. He told me once that as a child he’d felt the Call to become a priest. But as a young man, he instead spent some time in a futile effort to prove to himself that God does not exist.
Why? Why would someone who felt that Call to ministry turn his back, or at least attempt to turn his back, on God?
The answer to this question is, also ironically enough, the answer to the question as to why Mark’s mother rejected me at our first meeting. You see, the church had hurt Mark deeply. Just as the church, through the years, even centuries, has hurt countless people deeply. How? By rejecting him because he is gay. By telling him and others that they are condemned solely because of who they are.
Tragically, many Christian churches continue to do this. Mary knew of this rejection. She also knew that I was a pastor. Thus, I posed danger to her son. I represented those who could reject him…those who could harm him. This by the way is something I’ve experienced with others as well. I remember being a new neighbor at a neighborhood gathering. I was introduced to other neighbors as, “This is Nancy, she’s a pastor, but she’s nice.” There’s a lot of history in that “but.” As pastor, I represent what, for some, has been a place of deep hurt and rejection. Mary had no desire that day to know me.
From today’s epistle:
“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor. 4:16).
Here the apostle Paul is writing about the resiliency of what is within…not because of, or through, our own efforts but through the love of God. It is a beautiful and comforting idea. But sometimes that inner nature is undergoing a battle that cannot be seen from the outside. We see that this week in the tragic suicides that are in the news.
Sometimes, what is within and given to us by God is distorted and destroyed by others. If you hear the words that condemn you in the name of God, words like, “God hates f—,” then it becomes difficult to hear anything else.
Mary, as the loving and caring mother that she was, feared for her son. She feared his responding to God’s call on his life, not because she feared God, but because she feared people who claimed to speak for God.
Eventually though, she began coming to Our Redeemer. She was very helpful when we were trying to get a Spanish language worship service going. We used to have lunch after the service. She would tell stories. She would tease. She would laugh. I loved her sense of humor and her laugh.
When she contemplated joining Our Redeemer, she shared her concerns with me. Would the Lutheran Church truly be a place that would love and care for her son? Would he be hurt? Rejected? We talked about these things. She decided to join, just in time to vote! So, she was one of the members who voted that day in August a few years ago to make us a Reconciling in Christ congregation. This in Lutheran speak means that we are fully and explicitly welcoming and affirming to our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. The vote was nearly unanimous.
A little over a week ago, Mary departed this world. She had been hospitalized for 14 days. I am so thankful that I was able to see her the day before she left us.
More from today’s epistle:
“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but a what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2 Cor 4:17-5:1)
These earthly tents that we have, our bodies, don’t last forever. They fail us. We fail them. We get frustrated with them. We sometimes abuse them. Some of these earthly tents last longer than others. Sometimes we wonder about life. About why some people leave us so early. And why some don’t. The one thing that we can all know is that we too will depart this world. The death of a loved one is always painful. And death is also a reminder that each day we have is a gift.
Living each day as that gift means living with the hope that is within us. Living each day as that gift means living in such a way that we are fierce protectors of those we love. Mary taught this by the way she lived with love for all her sons. For this I am thankful. I am also hopeful, because living as fierce protectors of those we love is our Call from Jesus. May we respond to that Call from Jesus to love and protect our neighbor as fiercely.