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Mother, Embrace Your Children

  • May 13, 2018
  • 08:00 AM

Sermon for May 13, 2018 (Sunday after Ascension / Mother’s Day, Year B)

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary

Texts:             2 Ezra (Esdras) 2:15-19,25-32; Psalm 1; John 17:6-19

Title:               Mother, Embrace Your Children

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

“I speak these things in the world,” said our Teacher in the Gospel of John, “so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves” (John 17:13).

My dear friends, it is the Sunday after the Ascension, that one Lord’s Day each year that falls between the Ascension of Christ and the Descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

On this Sunday, we are reminded of the Lord’s promise not to leave us alone, not to leave us comfortless, without guidance, without hope.

In contrast, Christ promises to be with us always – in fact, closer to us now than he ever could have been when he walked in the hills of Galilee. And in that promise we find our joy and our peace.

Today is also Mother’s Day, and as such it is a time to remember the true spiritual calling of motherhood – a calling that applies to each and every one of us, regardless of whether or not there is another human person who refers to us as “mother.”

Motherhood is a calling that embodies the very heart of God which cares and nurtures and gives birth to new lives and new souls and new possibilities all of the time.

Many of the saints throughout the centuries have seen Christ as the true embodiment of motherhood. As one who gave birth to the church as his new family, one who cares for and nurtures his flock, as one who feeds his children with his own self – with his body and blood. As one who will spare no expense and who will do whatever it takes to bring his children to a new life of freedom.

Of course, there is a biological reality to being a mother. But motherhood is about so much more than biology alone.

There was a story this week in the New York Times about a remarkable act of motherhood by a woman who had no biological children. Her name was Ms. Sylvia Bloom. Did any of you see this story?

It’s a wonderful story about one who did “not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor lingered in the way of sinners” (Psalm 1:1), but who rather lived a simple life of hard work, study, frugality, prudence, and, finally, a life of great generosity.

Ms. Bloom died in 2016 at the age of 96. When she retired from work, she was the longest-tenured staff employee at the Manhattan law firm where she worked for 67 years. Did you catch that? 67 years.

And throughout that time, she observed and watched and studied. When the lawyers she worked for made certain investments, she did the same – though quietly, and in much smaller amounts, of course, since she was earning a secretary’s salary.

In the meantime, she and her firefighter husband lived in a small rent-controlled apartment, got around town on the subway, and lived a simple life. Ms Bloom finished her college degree at night while working during the daytime to pay the bills. Her husband died years before she did, and she moved into a senior living center where she could find friends with whom she could play a good game of bridge.

When Ms Bloom’s life ended in 2016, she had amassed over $9 million dollars among her investments. And, having no heirs of her own, she left the vast majority of this wealth to go toward scholarships for needy students.

Her estate has finally been settled and the gifts have been made and so now the public is learning about her legacy.

Over $6 million from her estate has been given to the Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where it will endow the Expanded Horizons College Success Program – a program which helps disadvantaged students to prepare for and to complete their college education.

Ms Bloom’s legacy gift has been hailed as “the epitome of selflessness.” And just think about it! She could have lived in a fancy apartment. She could have worn minks and furs and diamonds. She could have traveled around the world. But, praise be to God, she made different choices – choices that allowed her to make a gift of radical generosity to young people who need a little support.

Ms Bloom had no children of her own, no biological heirs.

But what do you think? Do you think she embodied that nurturing, thoughtful, caring perspective that lies at the heart of God’s intention for motherhood?

Absolutely! You see, my friends, motherhood is a spiritual calling more than it is a biological act. I cannot ever be a mother biologically. And this is true of very many of us, regardless of our gender identity.

But all of us can embrace God’s spiritual call to motherhood – to nurture the next generation, to encourage and support, to be there for those who are coming after us.

We ALL need to be nurtured in this way, whether we can admit it or not. We need this and God intends for this nurturing care to come from the church, from the Body of Christ.

That’s what this first lesson we read today is all about. It’s a different reading, perhaps you have never seen it before. It comes from the Apocrypha and is usually known as 2 Esdras, though the prophets’s name is Ezra.

Don’t worry – as an Apocryphal book, it is not something that we take to be divinely inspired in the same way as other biblical books. But we are certainly welcome to read it for encouragement.

This text was most likely written to the early Church as a prophetic call to care and nurture one another as members of the one Body of Christ. The mother and the good nurse called out in this text are in fact the church, and it’s a beautiful call to trust in God’s promise as we nurture and care for the little ones, the vulnerable ones, in our midst.

Times before, I have shared with you my vision, my dream, my hope for Saint Mary’s to be a haven for foster children.

Join me in imagining a robust network within this Saint Mary’s community of households who open themselves up to children in the care of the state who need a safe place to be – either for a short period of time, or perhaps for longer.

And imagine those households being supported by the rest of us who share with them extra supplies and other resources needed when children are in the house.

And imagine coming each Sunday here to Saint Mary’s and being surprised by new faces of young children who have the great blessing to spend a Sunday within the nurturing, mothering care of this Christian community, and who are able to join us in learning about this God who loves them and who created them for a good purpose.

Wouldn’t that be fun? Just imagine if Saint Mary’s was known as that church community who really takes care of children – our own, for sure, and also many others who need care and nurture and support to thrive and flourish as beloved children of God in this world!

Could we be that kind of community?

Because this call is for you and for me – for all of us, O people of God! “Embrace your children until I come,” says the Lord, “and proclaim mercy over them; because my springs run over, and my grace will not fail.”

How are you going to commit yourself to care and nurture the young people in your life, the young people here at Saint Mary’s, and the other children who need care and protection and to know that they are loved and that they have eternal value in the sight of God?

Now listen, if you happen to be in the active stages of motherhood right now, well, just ignore that question! It’s meant for the rest of us, so that we can support you in your work, and help to nurture your children, and to raise up the next generation.

So for the rest of us, what are we going to do?

Perhaps you can do what Ms Bloom did down there in Manhattan, and leave a substantial endowment as an act of great generosity to help young people achieve their dreams and to reach their potential.

Or perhaps there is some other way for you to embody practice selflessness, to embody that nurturing and caring commitment that is at the heart of motherhood.

Remember: our Lord Jesus lived and died in this way of selflessness, so that we might be free to continue his work and to nurture a new generation who will embody his teachings and his message.

“Mother, embrace your children and bring them up with gladness.”

O Lord, give us grace and strength to nurture and care for one another as you do for us each and every day. Amen.

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