Wednesday, 13 May 2015 00:00

"Mother Mary", May 10, 2015

“Mother Mary”
Luke 2:25-35
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
May 10, 2015
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

Mary’s story

You’ve heard my story before.  You know about my annunciation, my magnificat.  All those wonderful Christmas carols about me.  But that was so thirty three years ago. I said then what I believed that My soul Magnified God and that God had looked with favor on this lowly handmaiden.  It’s so exciting when you are a new mother.  The possibilities are out there.  And even though there are some things set in stone, like race and gender and economics, there is a whole lot that is unknown.  And that is the stuff of dreams and visions.

But here I am now thirty years older.  I have seen my eldest tortured and killed. You can’t imagine what that does to you.  Well, maybe you can.  It cuts you to the core.  Wise Simeon said it at his dedication—maybe it was a premonition that he had: “this child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword shall pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

I was so proud of him.  He did so much good.  But I feared for him too.

When the sword pierced Jesus’ side, it was like my side was pierced too.  I knew it was coming and so did he, but that didn’t make it easier.

Now, I am comforted by his resurrection.  But it’s not the same.  I’d trade it for him in the flesh again. I’d trade it for some bit of wisdom that I could pass on to him to keep him safe. Can’t we have a do-over? The problem with being an old woman is that we know things that we wished we had known then. If I were to have a new-born today, I wouldn’t do things the same way.  And it’s not just because my body doesn’t bend the way it used to. It’s that I want to impart my wisdom to him—wisdom I didn’t have when I was younger.  Joseph and the others told me that he has received plenty of wisdom from me. But I always wanted to give him more. Probably more than I could give him, but that’s part of it, too.  There is never enough time to impart everything, never enough time to redeem ourselves from our blunders. And we always think there will be.

But I know also that a child must become whom he is to become.  I can exercise influence by establishing a home based on love, acceptance and support. I will give him security and stability, because that’s what he needs.  I kept telling Joseph, it’s not about you and me, it’s about them.  Root him in courage.  Grace will sustain him.

But now he doesn’t need me any more.  And I’m finding that I need him.  My how our roles reverse as we age.  Where’s my courage? Maybe that’s what his resurrection was about, the God-bestowed grace to carry on even when the world has crashed down. I can’t do it alone.  So I’m glad that you are here.  Come to think about it, Jesus said as much when he was alive.  When two or three are gathered, I am among you. I wonder where he got that idea. Oh yeah, I remember saying it to him. Maybe what sustains me is that he lived and died the way I raised him. What a blessing and a burden. I’ll always grieve on Mother’s Day.  But I’ll also give thanks for the gift of my children. They remind me of who I am and who I long to be.

The Sermon

Mary.  We love her. She’s always beatific in artists’ renderings.  She is the core of many people’s faith. And here we celebrate her one more time.  On Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day might not have felt the best to her.  The birth of her firstborn was covered in scandal.  She had to leave home, give birth in a barn, scorned by her in-law’s, and then flee to Egypt because the occupying army decided to do a little ethnic cleansing.  And then when she finally did get to return home, was she welcomed?  Or did she carry the stain of her earlier ostracism? As her child grew and came into his own adulthood, he said some awful things.  Well they were not awful things in the scheme of things, but they were the kind of things that hurt his mother.

At one point, he was told to pipe down because his mother was around.  He said, “Who is my mother, who are my brothers and sisters? Anyone who does the will of God is my mother and brother and sister. I can imagine that feeling like the steel of a knife piercing Mary’s soul.

This is not to mention the fact that everything he did seemed to put him in increasing danger. A mother never ceases to worry about their child.

Maybe Simeon was right.  “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword shall pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

And then to watch her own flesh be killed in such a gruesome way, it’s more than anyone ought to bear.  Mary bore a heavy load. If we could take their pain away or take it on so they won’t have to, we would.

And so it is that we enter this mother’s day with Mary on the mind.  

I’ve got my own mother on my mind today.  She’s no Mary.  I mean, who is? Our family is far from holy. But she has had her share of struggles raising us. She’s seen us through cancer, mental illness, marriage, divorce, children, grandchildren, scrapes with the law, a certain disdain for the rules, travel to war zones, and so much more that bears not mentioning. Each trial, that pierces one of us, pierces her, too.  She gave us a gift at Christmas this past year, a set of memories that she has been compiling, lest they disappear with her.  This is a little bit of what she wrote about her own mother.


Life was not easy for Mom, though she had a peaceful way about her. She was even- tempered and nothing seemed to shake her.

Edith Mae Kurtz was born in Guntur, India, the child of an American Baptist Missionary.  She was the middle child with 3 older brothers: Herman, Lloyd, Larry and 2 younger sisters: Eleanor and Doris.  The mission schools were not of the educational quality that her folks wanted and all her siblings were sent home to the states to live with other relatives to get their education.  It must have been difficult to have a family and grow up without knowing them.  The boys were sent first, then the girls.

Mom was nine when she and her sisters traveled by ship to England and then on to America.  It was a very long journey full of unknowns.  She spent her primary educational years in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Her parents stayed in India in the mission field.

She attended Denison University for college so she could be close to her sisters who lived in the Baptist Home in Granville.  She spent her vacations and holidays with them at the home.  She met Daniel Phillips King, (who was also a MK) at Denison and married him in the chapel after graduation.  No family was there to wish them well.  How sad that must have felt to both of them.

Dad went on to law school at Harvard and she became a teacher in a private girls’ school in Boston, teaching French to be near him.  He transferred to Western Reserve law school and they started a family, living on Noble Road in Cleveland.  Having a family and being together was very important to both of them since neither one of them had that growing up.

Dad was in the Army Reserves and was called to duty when WWII came about.  Dad was stationed in Texas and Mom traveled alone by train with four little children to be with him (Barbara was 12, Janice 9, Danny, 6, I was 3.)  It took three days by train to reach our destination and we had to switch trains several times.  The trains were carrying mostly troops and there were no facilities for females.  The dining car ran out of food after we had waited a long time in line.  I remember eating raisins for dinner that night.  I can only imagine the amount of fortitude Mom had to have had to travel under those circumstances.

In Texas we moved from base to base as Dad was transferred.  The schools in Texas were not up to standards and Mom took us back to Cleveland by train only to return again so we could all be together.  When the war was over, the paperwork in the army had not caught up with that news.  Dad drove the family back to Cleveland before he was shipped overseas to the Philippines.  Mom was devastated about this separation but could do nothing to change the circumstances.

Mom discovered that we could not move into our house on Corydon road and we had nowhere to live.  A friend of hers from college offered our family a summer shack in Chagrin Falls as temporary lodging until we could move back into Corydon.  It was late summer and seemed an ideal solution.  We kids loved it with the woods to play in and the Chagrin River just beyond the shack.  This was a primitive summer place with no heat, no electricity, no inside water, no phone.  It must have been difficult and lonely for Mom.  She cooked over a pot belly wood stove.  She bathed us in a metal tub in the middle of the living room.

As the fall weather became cooler we needed warmer clothing.  The shipping crates with all our belongings were stacked to the ceiling in the garage at Corydon Rd.  There were 3 days to pack up everything from Texas and that packing had no order.  Someone was able to open the crates and get warmer clothing, blankets and school clothes.

Barbara, now 15, was able to get a special driving permit and so was able to drive us all to Cleveland Hts. Schools in September.  Barb at Heights High, Jan in Roxboro Junior High, Danny and I at Fairfax Elemntary.  Can you imagine sending your 4 kids to school all day in the care of a 15 year old without any way of communicating in case of an emergency?  I guess she had no choice but a strong faith in God for his protection.

When at last Dad got home and we returned to live on Corydon Rd. my folks struggled to make ends meet and raise four children.  Mom knitted or sewed all our clothes: sweaters, socks, skirts, dresses, mittens, hats, even coats. She made braided rugs with leftover fabrics.  She did home canning to preserve fruits and vegetables of all kinds. She was a good cook, although no dish was exceptional.  She made bread each week but rarely any cookies, cakes or pies.  She was conservative and frugal and “Made do” without ever a complaint.

She stayed by each one of us as we grew up, married and had families of our own.  We gave her 16 grandchildren to dote over and her Grandma Book was always handy with the latest photos.

I admired her courage, stamina, thrift, steadfastness, and faith.  I hope I have followed her lead.

Many of us parents wish we could have a parenting do-over. There are things that we did that we wished we hadn’t. Hindsight is always 20-20. And there are things that we wish we had done. We want to raise our children to be brave and fearless and kind and gentle and daring and safe all at the same time.

Lynn, you get a second chance at motherhood.  You raised a son a generation ago.  You were a different person then.  You have gone through much hell and high water.  And you have learned through those things. What do you want to do this time that you didn’t do last time?  What wisdom do you want to impart, now that you have perspective?  And just because you have done this before doesn’t mean that it will be easy.  When we get stressed, we tend go back to what is comfortable and familiar.
I know you will integrate what you have learned and Logan will be the better for it.  And I know also that it takes a village to raise your child and anyone else’s.  Rely on your village.  They will help keep you sane.  Because parenting can be crazy-making.

Mother’s Day is not an easy day for some people. I bet it wasn’t easy for Mary.  But I bet her community helped her get through it.

Let me close this Mother’s Day sermon with a prayer for all those who approach Mother’s Day with excitement, gratitude, ambivalence and even pain.  Let us remember that Mother Mary might well have experienced all of this and more.

From an online open letter to pastors from a non-mother by Amy Young

To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you
To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you
To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you
To those who experienced loss through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away—we mourn with you
To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.
To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you
To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you
To those who have disappointment, heart ache, and distance with your children – we sit with you
To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you
To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience
To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst
To those who are single and long to be married and mothering your own children – we mourn that life has not turned out the way you longed for it to be
To those who step-parent – we walk with you on these complex paths
To those who envisioned lavishing love on grandchildren -yet that dream is not to be, we grieve with you
To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you
To those who placed children up for adoption — we commend you for your selflessness and remember how you hold that child in your heart
And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising –we anticipate with you
This Mother’s Day, we walk with you. Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst. We remember you.