So I am preaching this Mother’s Day, and I find myself deeply relying on my Candler education as I prepare for this sermon. By the time you read this, I hopefully will have crafted a sermon that has toed the line between celebrating all the wonderful mothers in the world and yet recognizes that this can be a painful day for some. One of the best things my Candler education offered was awareness of two things: 1) those on the margin with whom Jesus spent a lot of time, and 2) critical re-readings of the Bible.
In my job as Minister of Community Building at Centenary United Methodist Church, I minister with many folks who may have difficulty with Mother’s Day. Many of them come from one parent (most often mom) homes, and their mothers have done the best they can, but between working multiple jobs – to make ends meet while trying to pay the stack of bills that never will seem to go down – these mothers are stressed to the max. Some of the folks I’m in ministry with in my community have been abused by their mothers. Others are mothers who have abused their own children. Within the context of my 11 o’clock congregation, we’ve recently had one woman lose a child shortly after childbirth, another who had a miscarriage, and still others who have tried fertility treatments for years with no luck. Some folks have children who have run away, others have children who are addicted to substances, and others will have children who will spend this Mother’s day behind bars. And then still further, we have couples who have decided not to have children for many good reasons. These persons or some representation of all of these types and more, will come to service this Sunday. When I rise to preach, all of them will be in my mind. I was well-taught to think about the whole congregation, not just the ones part of whatever “normal” might look like.
When I go to my text on the creation of humanity (Genesis 1:26-31) I will remember this lesson. Fraught with misinterpretation, I will have to use all of my Candler tools to help save this text from where we most often find it at churches. Instead of deciding whether it’s history or myth, and making a judgment call on my Christianity either way, we will approach it as a proclamation narrative of a creator who created us on purpose, whose work in creation we continue whether we are mothers or not. Instead of focusing on the sin and fall, we will look at the “very good” imago dei and explore for a minute together in our community of faith what that might look like and what it might call us to do.
Because I want this to come out right, in a way that allows people to really hear what God has revealed in the text of this ancient sacred story in our lives today, I will rely on the many things I learned about preaching and worship planning, weaving the sung salute to God with the prayed petition of God’s people and the spoken sermon. I work closely with a worship team at Centenary to make sure the songs, prayers, and litanies reflect the context and content of the sermon. This idea of nurture from the imago dei is important. We need to get this right.
Then on Monday, I will go back to the Monday-Thursday job I have of figuring out how to find echoes of God’s Eden in our world – to be part of the restoration of the world to God’s shalom for mothers, fathers, and children the world over. Part of that work will be pastoral care for those who have had difficulties with their mothers. Part of the work will be the joy of visiting a newborn baby in the hospital or the anticipation of life at a congregant’s baby shower.
We could just say Happy Mother’s Day on Sunday. But because of God’s work in my life, I will have to say so much more.
Stacey is Minister of Community Building at Centenary United Methodist Church in Macon, GA and a 2010 MDiv graduate of Candler School of Theology. You can read more about Stacey’s work at Centenary in the most recent Candler Connection.