Mother Knows Best (A sermon on John 2:1-12 for Ginter Park Baptist Church on February 9, 2014. The first in a series on Mary, Beyond Christmas.)

Mary SereneToday, we take a break from following the assigned lectionary readings for the day and begin a three week sermon series focused on Mary, the mother of Jesus.  We’ve most recently seen Mary in Advent and it has now been months since we packed her serene-faced image back into a box, alongside the other cast of characters found “away in a manger.”  Not unlike the forgotten recesses of our attic space, other than at Christmas, Mary is often forgotten in the recesses of our minds.  In a patterned fashion, once a year we bring her out of her box, put her on display, and then we pack her away again.  And, the way that she is displayed is thoroughly predictable.  Young and fresh-faced in long flowing clothes.  She is soft looking even when shaped in porcelain or wood.  Her expression is sweetly serene and her posture is one of meek submission as she “ponders all things in her heart.”  But, isn’t she more than that?

We think we know her but like all people that we narrowly define by one event, one action, one time in their life time, we have imprisoned her in the form of a caricature.

          What about you?  Have you been boxed in and imprisoned by one moment in your life?  A time where people judge your character by one mistake you made, or a time of great success that you can never live up to again?  Or maybe you feel that your best years are behind you, and like Mary after Jesus’ birth, you still have a life to live.

Mary has more to teach us than the Christmas story presents.

The glimpses of Mary in the gospels show us that she is a disciple of Jesus.  She was with him and the disciples at the beginning, at this wedding in Cana and at the end, at the cross.  Other than Peter and John, we know more about her than we do about the rest of the disciples.  Her other son, James, became the leaders of the Jerusalem Church.  She was faithfully praying with the disciples and awaiting the Holy Spirit after Jesus ascended into heaven.  But all those facts are essentially ignored by most Christians.  Or maybe they are simply overshadowed by the Christmas Mary.

I wonder, what gets overshadowed in your life?

What do others not see in you because they see you primarily in one role, or phase in your life – mother, son, senior citizen, toddler, teenager?  Or maybe something in your past continues to define you?  A mistake, an affair, an addiction, a divorce?  Or maybe a moment of great success even, or a career that is now past?

I wonder, what do you overshadow in your own life?  What do you not see in yourself because you only see your life through the lens of one role, one moment, one career…one something?  Are you a Mary stuck in the manger scene?  It can be tempting to think so and it can be so easy to let ourselves get stuck.  But, no, you are more than that, as Mary was more than just a vessel of Christ’s birth.

In this scene set at the wedding at Cana, we see a week-long celebration attended by Jesus, his friends, and his mother.  Weddings rarely go off without a hitch, or at least a glitch, and this one was in trouble because the party was still going strong but there was no more wine left.  “They have no wine, Mary tells Jesus.  He responds, “Mom, that isn’t our problem.  And anyways, it isn’t my time yet.”  She doesn’t respond to him but turns to the servants telling them to obey whatever he tells them.  She assumes he’s going to do something about the situation even though he objects.  And even though he says it isn’t his time to intervene, he does.

There is something about this that seems like a familiar conversation.  It makes me curious whether this is a pattern of how they related to one another.  Had there been other times when Jesus, as the oldest son, had dutifully helped his mother out?  When the dishes had piled up in the sink and time had run out to clean up before the company arrived, when arguments between his brothers erupted at the dinner table over who’d get the last crescent roll, and that time when his little brother James had split his chin open on the backyard swing set…had Mary given Jesus that pleading and knowing look as she mentioned how wonderful it would be if someone had the power to help?

When she points out that there is no wine, she asks nothing of him outright.  But his response makes clear that her words contain an implied request.  The implication reveals her expectation that he can and should do something about it.  I wonder if, as she was surrounded by the celebration of this wedding, where her 30-something year old single son was hanging out with his friends, if she might have had a smidge of frustration that her son wasn’t getting on with living the life she expected of him.  After all, why was she not celebrating his wedding instead of some other mother’s son?  But she comes to him for help for the family and what does he say? “Mom, it’s not our business.  And besides, it’s not my time yet.”

Not his time yet.  Not his time yet!  Mary’s probably thinking, “WHEN was it going to be his time?”

Carol Lakey Hess writes that, “Just as the mother of Jesus saw her son as one who could –and should – meet need, so do many followers of Jesus.  We see a world in need, and we believe in one who claimed to bring abundant life to those in need.  In a world where for so many there is no clean water – let alone fine wine – where is the extravagance of God?  In a world where children play in bomb craters the size of 30-gallon wine jugs, why the divine reluctance?  In a world where desperate mothers must say to their small children, ‘We have no food,” why has the hour not yet come?  No matter how we rationalize divine activity, we still want to tug at Jesus’ sleeve and say: “they have no wine.”

          There are so many different boxes we can become stuck in and imprisoned by.  For some, we get stuck in some repeating conversations from our childhood.  Too often there is fear and shame as our companions in that box.  Parental expectations, of which we never fully achieved.  Conversations about weight, or school, or comparisons to siblings or peers.

As Jesus said, “no mom, it’s not my time yet”, he was pushing his way out of the box.  The old conversation is changing.  Jesus declares a new role.  This is not our business, he says.  This is not my hour, he says.  Yet, the story plays out as if it were an old conversation.  Mary prods Jesus to take action and he does it.

Mary is not the one trying to get unstuck from her starring role as Madonna and child. Jesus is.

What do you think Mary’s face looked like when she saw that Jesus had turned water into wine?  Did she have a soft smile of pride?  Was it a slight raised eyebrow of “I told you so?”  Or was it the smug face of “Not your time, huh?”  Or something else entirely?

In that moment when he didn’t just do what she asked of him, Jesus pushed back against her expectations and the pushed back against the old pattern of conversation.  Jesus’ declaration to be un-stuck forces Mary to evaluate her ‘stuckness’.  His decision to claim that it was not his time – even thought he went ahead and did it anyway – defines a new moment in their relationship as mother and son.  Though the old conversation played out, a new conversation had begun.  Sometimes when we are trying to get unstuck from old rules or moments or the past, we are not always successful.  But even attempts to evolve, develop, and grow – when they fail – change us for the future.

Or sometimes it takes someone else to get us unstuck from old roles or moments.  Sometimes we are the ones holding onto a past that is no longer.

If Jesus could call Mary our of old roles and days past, maybe he can do that for us as well.  God has something for you in every phase, role, career, period, and moment of your life.

Listen, beloved ones, for the voices of those trying to get you to fully embrace the present by getting unstuck from the past.  For none of us can be defined by one moment, one mistake, one success, or one anything.  The life of a disciple is one of transformational journey.  Thanks be to God who calls us out of our stuck places, our overshadowed places, our boxes.  Thanks be to God who has something for us in every phrase, role, career, period, and moment of our life.  Amen.

Just for fun!

Just for fun!

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Church happens in Community Cafe

While on vacation recently in Chicago, Mark and I set out in search of a quick bite of breakfast.  We saw the familiar sign for Panera but instead of their normal “Panera Bread” sign, there was a “Panera Cares” sign.  Two steps in the door, I figured out what that was all about when a friendly employee greeted us with a smile and welcome to this “non-profit community cafe.” They call it a cafe of “shared responsibility.” Here’s how it works-you go and order just like you would at any other Panera but then the register calculates a “suggested donation level;” those with the means to do so, donate the suggested amount (or even more if able); those with a real need, may donate their fair share; and those without any means are encouraged to donate time volunteering in the cafe.  You leave your contribution in a donation bin, you’re on your own honor, and they trust that you’ll do the right thing and share in the responsibility of making sure all receive the bread they need.

After chatting with Bob, the cafe’s manager, I learned that this cafe had only been open a few days and is only the fourth to be opened by Panera nationwide.  Their statement of purpose reads, “We exist to feed each and every person who walks through our doors with dignity regardless of their means.”  Two of the other three cafes have become profitable: which means that they can live into their non-profit vision of feeding all those who come through their doors regardless of ability to pay as well as use the surplus income above their operating expense to invest back into the community through job training and life-skill training opportunities.

As I sat eating my bagel I read their big banners that said, “We are a cafe of shared responsibility” and “We offer bread to all – those who can afford it, those who need a hand up, & everyone in between.” And I thought to myself, this sounds like church – shared responsibility for one another as the family of God, offering bread to all with dignity and care.  It all sounds downright spiritual doesn’t it?  Panera has it right with this venture and I wish them success upon success.  They’ve not only won some loyalty for their business from me but they’ve also challenged me.  Sometimes we get into patterns of faith and church that are just “business as usual.”  Sometimes, we need to be reminded of the sacredness of community, reminded to share, and reminded to be generous in the giving and in receiving of bread.  For, God has so generously created us, shared with us, and gives to us.  I wasn’t expected to enter holy ground when I walked through the doors of Panera Cares but I most certainly did.


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There is more, sisters…

There is more, sisters….

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Pentecost Prayer of Confession

      (Based on readings from Acts 2 & I Corinthians 12)       

Holy God who pours out Spirit on us like fire and wind, we confess we do not always celebrate the gift of the Spirit.

Like those who called the crowd drunken, sometimes we mock the Spirit, belittle those moved by the Spirit, and in trying to make sense of mystery get it all wrong.

Like those in the church at Corinth, sometimes we worry about how our gifts of the Spirit stack up against the gifts of others, we forego the common good by focusing on     ourselves,       and we behave like a disjointed body.

Forgive us for limiting the Spirit, as we understand it only through our experiences.  Help us find grace in those times we feel distant from the power of the Spirit.  Help us find humility in the moments we are caught up in the movement of the Spirit.

Open our eyes to see ourselves as we truly are and to see our brothers and sisters as you do so that we might live as community knit together by the Spirit.  Amen.

 Assurance of Pardon

            If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  (I John 1:9)

Friends believe the Good News of the Gospel!  In Jesus Christ we are forgiven!

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Lingering Mother’s Day Reflections

You must learn one thing

The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds

except the one to which you belong.

-David Whyte

After reading this quote contained within a poignant passage from Traveling with Pomegranates one question continues to echo within me:  What world is it to which I belong?  Ann wrote that she always assumed her “world to which she belonged” would be different than that of her mother.  While I too have always known that I don’t belong in the same world as my own mother, increasingly I am aware of the deeply rooted – subtle even – ways that I have always assumed mine would be the same as my mother.

I found the relationships between Sue, Sue’s mother, and Sue’s daughter Ann fascinating.  Their stories of discovery, independence, authenticity, and connectedness was beautiful.  Sue tells this story of how the hardest part about being her mother’s daughter is the Easter rabbit cookie tin.  For her, the cookie cutter her mother annually laboriously created personalized cookies with was iconic of the life her mother led – one devoted to hearth, to making and tending home, one consumed with nurturing.  In her eyes her mother was one who was content to dwell – to simply be.  While instead, Sue wanted to be out in the world doing things.  I can relate to Sue.

On the heels of Mother’s Day and as I’ve read the final pages of Pomegranates, I find myself quite reflective about mothering – in every sense of the word.  My mother is so fantastically good at being a mother.  It is really quite beautiful.  When I read Sue’s words about her mother they sound as if she could be talking about my mother too – “Her deepest impulse was to nurture, to simply dwell; it had nothing to do with ambition and achievement in the world.”  While I deeply value that world of my mother’s, when I try it on it doesn’t fit.

As the realization grows that “my world” will be completely unique to me (and my comfort with that realization likewise grows), I loosen the bonds and give up other worlds in order to move freely in my own.  And yet, I find myself struggling against all those other worlds I am not choosing to call my own.  It seems my natural leaning is to devalue those other worlds in order to value my own.  Or, I speak unkindly about myself, my world, my choices, in order to value other worlds…my mother’s world.

And so I’m left pondering these questions…

How is it that I might be hospitable to my mother and to all those women of differing worlds? How might I shift from the place where I feel I must only assign value to one world and look with criticism upon others?  Certainly I (and we, too) are capable of that kind of hospitality to our sisters, mothers, and daughters.

How might I welcome their wisdom and unique identity? How can I cultivate a listening ear that receives others as they are and not as some flattened out one-dimensional version I create.  Rather, how can I really see others and all the beauty and integrity they possess.

How might I be an advocate of freedom for others but also within my most distinct self, the sacred center of the world wholly mine?  In other words, how might I loosen the chains of bondage – those chains of cultural expectation, historical values, ghosts of family-of-origin, and the ever harsh self-critic?  How might I allow, encourage even, myself and others to live into lives fully our own?

My sons have been voicing their discontent that I must leave them to work or to go on trips out of town.  (I especially love how they call any trip I go simply a “vacation.”)  They naturally bring up guilt as I speak harshly to myself about how I’m a disappointment to myself, my mother, the universe by not living more adeptly in the world that I have boxed my mother into.  In better moments I breathe and take the time to talk to them about how lovely and wondrous it is to do work that brings joy, fulfillment, and meaning into my life.  I tell them that I don’t have to do any of it but that I choose to because it is good for my soul.  And then I speak words that I truly hope come to be, “My greatest hope for you boys is that you discover the work and life-roles that brings you such joy and meaning.  And, that you are brave enough to do it all.”

**The featured art piece is titled Our Mother, Mary II and was created by my friend, Angela Yarber.  You can view it, and other pieces of her amazing work, at

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Prayer on the occasion of Bin Laden’s death

God of All Ages, in these days filled with war, hunger, and devastation

we ask for your comfort and wisdom.

Forgive us for the ways we have become blinded by our own need for violence-

the ways we justify our appetite for death with your Word

the ways we create polarity by our own convictions

the ways we demand unanimity between even our own thoughts and feelings.

As we breathe a sigh of relief, help us also to breathe your grace.

For, the Way we are called to follow is in the footsteps of the Prince of Peace.

Inspire us to mercy –

mercy for ourselves as we show compassion to ourselves,

mercy for our neighbor as we offer hospitality to their reactions,

mercy for our enemies as we hope for justice and pray for reconciliation.

O great Creator God, breathe your life-breath across this time we are living.

Move in, around, and amongst us.


**I am happy for you to adapt, use, and circulate this prayer in meaningful ways.  All I ask is that you let me know!

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A smile says it all

A full day later, I still find myself recovering from the activity of yesterday.  I’m still munching on the goodness of the day.  It began with stumbling out of bed, hurrying out of the house, spilling the coffee I so needed all down my coat, and arriving to make pancakes for our homeless guests only to find that in my sleepy stupor I’d forgotten my griddle and a key ingredient.  And then my co-cook breezed in radiating her usual positivity.  She pulled out her griddle and a carton of eggs and passed them to me with a smile.  With a deep breath sleepiness faded and the spirit filled me with gratitude for the joy of flipping pancakes and filling bellies.

Then on to preparations for worship shuffling chairs, changing candles, and the instant gratification of making a dirty floor clean with the help of our new “Progressive” vacuum.  And, worship itself with my eldest son laying his head in my lap and sharing a gleaming- eyed smile at the preacher’s funny story.

But the high point of the day – the real glowing break through of the sometimes sneaky spirit – was bowling with the 3rd-5th grade boys.  Confidently we began with no bumpers guarding the gutters.  Matthew, no matter what he tried, got only gutter-balls.  He’d turn back to us after yet another failed attempt with the most heartbroken expression.  I tried words of encouragement and taking him into an adjacent lane to practice the elusive underhand roll.  I tried sabotaging my own game by just being silly – trying to get a low score so that I could show that I didn’t need points to be having fun – but every granny- shot somehow resulted in strikes and spares.  And then, we put up the bumpers.  He marched to the line, he did his characteristic swing forward-back-forward-back-forward and plopped the ball down but the ball stayed its course straight down the middle and the pins went flying.  (He didn’t even need the bumpers!)  I didn’t see how many went down though because all I could see was the sheer joy on Matthew’s face.  The smile of victory and the radiance of when patience pays off!

From such a fun and playful highpoint, it was back to worship at our first Hard to Be Merry Christmas Service.  With great intentionality and care we had planned not knowing who would come.  A small group gathered for a time of reading scripture, praying, singing, lighting candles, sharing our truths, and sharing the hope and peace of Christ.  In the midst of grief, in broken relationship, in the changes of life transitions, and all those burdens that weigh heavy on us, we found strength in community.  I was overwhelmed once again by the gift it is to walk alongside these beloved ones on their life journeys.

I left the house in darkness to start my day and returned again in darkness at the day’s end.  But the day was filled with anything but darkness; there was light all around as the spirit showed herself.  What a gift indeed!

When was the last time you smiled with such unguarded joy as Matthew did while knocking down those bowling pins?

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