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Why 'Con Air' Should Make Us Weep
A sermon preached by the Rev. Kit Lonergan on May 12, 2013

KGL+
Sermon
Christ Church Andover
Easter 7, Year C
May 12, 2013 (Mother’s Day)

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together always be acceptable in your sight, O God our strength and our redeemer. AMEN.

If someone not from this world were to learn about the phenomenon of Mother’s Day from my email inbox, they would be confused indeed. Apparently there is a day in the calendar, approved by many, when jewelry, juicers, oil changes, scarves, hats, kitchen items, movie passes, and really, all the stuff that is regularly sold on a daily basis, holds more meaning when given to one’s parent on this particular day. My own mother, I am convinced, hated Mother’s Day. Not only did it assume a specific relationship with a specific individual, it placed even more pressure on the day itself. My sister and I would regularly snipe more at one another that day, as we were forced into appreciation and dressy clothes for a day which, I believe, my own parents would have much rather spent enjoying some time off rather than attempting to live into a Hallmark card pseudo-reality. In the past years, I have made it a practice on Mother’s Day to write to the people in my life who have ‘mothered’ me—be they related by blood or just by spirit (and regardless of gender). They are my biological, spiritual, relational mothers, all who have nurtured me over the years, and continue to do so today. And as I started writing those notes this week, I began to think more carefully about the notion of ‘mother’ and how it related at all to our lives as Christians.

This week at our Wednesday morning Eucharist, we celebrated the feast day of Julian of Norwich, a hermitess in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries in England. She is generally one of our most beloved saints, and as it turns out, the author of the first book published by a woman in England. Julian was thirty years old when she became extraordinarily ill. As she lay dying, she had a series of visions, what she called the ‘showings’ of Christ. Later on, she would write them down, and they are known as the ‘Revelations of Divine Love’. What is most notable about her work and her images of God are not how they came about, or that they were written down at the time (she was a woman after all), but that they represented a Christ and a God for whom compassion was central, and judgment secondary. She portrayed a loving Christ, one who wept with and for the sinners, rather than stand in judgment above them. This might not sound groundbreaking to anyone who has listened to any sermon given from this pulpit, but for the 15th century—this was wild.

One of her most famous revelations offered the image of Christ as Mother—along with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. More than not, we hear Christ named as the Son, as we do in scripture and in the traditions of the Church. But her rationale, indeed, her vision and understanding of Christ as out mother touches the very heart of how we imagine God’s presence among us. Julian writes about this and says:

Just as God is our Father, so God is also our Mother. 

And He showed me this truth in all things, but especially in those sweet words when He says: “It is I”.

As if to say,  I am the power and the Goodness of the Father, I am the Wisdom of the Mother, I am the Light and the Grace which is blessed love, I am the Trinity, I am the Unity, I am the supreme Goodness of all kind of things, I am the One who makes you love, I am the One who makes you desire, I am the never-ending fulfilment of all true desires. (...)

It is thus logical that God, being our Father, be also our Mother. Our Father desires, our Mother operates and our good Lord the Holy Ghost confirms; we are thus well advised to love our God through whom we have our being, to thank him reverently and to praise him for having created us and to pray fervently to our Mother, so as to obtain mercy and compassion, and to pray to our Lord, the Holy Ghost, to obtain help and grace.

For Julian, it was not a constructed notion of ‘mother’ or ‘motherhood’ (or rather, constructed to the point that we receive on an annual basis), but she saw in Christ, in God, the nurturing power of the Mother to care for the life and preservation of her children, which indeed were all children. That preservation, that continuation of the life and spirit and light which came through being created in the image of God, is just as important as the creation itself. Our lives, our beings, continue to grow in the grace of God, beyond just the creation, but that nurturance extends throughout our lives. The mothers who we are from, and whom we choose throughout our lives, are so loved because they offer just what Julian envisioned God through Christ offering to us: an ongoing relationship with being the beloved child. Our lives continue to matter and hold vast import to God, each one of us, because in all of us is imprinted and stamped the image of God.

Where we can fall into error—where I see that this beautiful meditation from Julian challenges us and bids us look closely at those warm fuzzy thoughts that the retail stories tell us to feel, but never brings us towards, is that by affirming Christ as our Mother and God as our Father, we affirm that life itself is sacred and precious. We affirm that every person is from God. And that sounds nice in theory, in sermon, in op-ed piece. But it is our challenge to live into that. It means that every person has inherent dignity and worth, regardless of where they are from, regardless of what we might term ‘the sins of the parents’, regardless of how little they matter to our society.

Our Bishops Tom and Gayle are walking with our Interim Rector Gale Davis, ten of our parishioners, and hundreds of other Episcopalians in Dorchester this morning in witness of the violence which takes away our young people, our children, Christ’s children, before their time. We have never walked this walk as a church before, and I can probably guess that only a few parishes in our diocese have walked in solidarity against violence like this before, mostly because it happens to other people. Not to us. Not where we live, in our Andovers or Sudburys, or Actons, or Plymouths and so on. It happens to other people.

But last year in September, a high school senior, a life-long member of one of our Episcopal churches in the South End of Boston, was shot early one evening as he was walking his dog with friends, across the street from his house. Jorge Fuentes had spent the last seven years as a member of the B-SAFE Program, an afterschool and summer program for underserved kids which combined field trips, safe space and continued academic study throughout the summer. I worked with B-SAFE as a teacher for one summer, and I can attest to the power of the program. Jorge had become a teen counselor there at the Dorchester branch of B-SAFE, operating out of St Mary’s Episcopal Church in Dorchester. He wanted to go into the Marines, and was already a member of the high school ROTC program at his school. But the kicker was not that a good kid was shot, not that there was violence in an unexpected place. What brought this to the light of our wider community was that no one cared.

The police did a cursory investigation. There was no mention of it in the papers except a small line in a local newspaper about an unnamed youth from Dorchester being shot. There have been no follow ups, except at the urging of the Bishop. No one has been arrested. Jorge was beloved to his family and to his community, and to the hundreds of kids he worked with every day after school, and each summer that he worked as a counselor.

To imagine that no one cares about understanding the death of your child denies all that we are taught in scripture, and in our prayer. It denies that we are each created in the image of God, that we are each beloved of God, that we each have God as a Father, Christ as our Mother, and are empowered and enlivened through the inner working of the Holy Spirit. It denies the very power of God, the original creative impulse of God, to create us in God’s image. What denies the role of motherhood, again, however you imagine it, is witnessing the life created be discarded without second thought, without witness, without outcry. There is much outcry over the beginning of life, when it starts, how it begins, when a mass of cells becomes a ‘being’, a ‘citizen’, rather than just a biological blob. But we spend much less time preserving that life as it grows; being as outraged at the denial of personhood later on. It’s easy to defend a baby. It’s much harder to defend someone who doesn’t look like us, who doesn’t live near us, and whom we often refuse to take responsibility for.

Years ago in college, my roommates and were watching the movie Con Air. It’s a terrible movie, don’t see it if you don’t have to. And I’m going to tell you the ending anyways. There is a gratuitous scene of people shooting each other for several minutes, and at the end of it, I found myself in tears. This is not a movie one cries at, but I found myself completely undone. My friends, thinking that something was really wrong, stopped the movie and asked if I was okay. The only way I could explain my tears was to say, ‘Everyone who just got shot had a mother.’

The willful taking of a life, the violence that we see on what feels like a regular basis, undoes the creative, sustaining powers given to us through God’s grace. It denies God. It denies love. Because at the end of it, there are mothers and godmothers, and spiritual mothers and teachers and aunts and uncles and neighbors and grandparents who have all in some ways mothered another being. They have felt the love which can only be expressed in the nurturance and growth of another person, be they biologically connected or not. Our community walks in Dorchester today in the affirmation that if we believe that we are created in God’s image, then it should be a priority to care for each person. Julian of Norwich continues in her meditation about God as our Mother:

“I then saw with complete certainty that God, before creating us, loved us, and His love never lessened and never will. In this love he accomplished all his works, and in this love he oriented all things to our good and in this love our life is eternal. With creation we started but the love with which he created us was in Him from the very beginning and in this love is our beginning.”

Our commitment to life for all should be wider than our celebration of Mother’s Day once a year. Dr. Don’s mission to Rwanda connected him and the rest of the Christ Church Mission Group to lives which were systematically eradicated because of their ethnic heritage. Our witness in Haiti, especially in the rebuilding of the vocational school after the earthquake, is a way of affirming not only life, but the dignity inherent in finding a vocation in building up the sustenance of the community one lives in. The students of the CFFL vocational school in Corporant are learning how to grow, sow, harvest, build and ensure that lives coming after them are sustained by the most basic of needs. The emphasis on sustainable buildings is not just a nod to the passing fads of the day, but a way to affirm that our children’s lives and those coming after them will still have this earth, their island home, in years and generations to come.

In our Eucharistic prayer for this season, we say one line together that moves me every time I hear or say it. It almost moves me to Con Air-type tears. We affirm that ‘Living among us, Jesus loved us.’ His goal wasn’t to save or to judge or to make us feel inadequate to his own holiness; but he loved us and walked with us, affirming our very being as beloved of God. My guess is that we have all had the experience of someone walking with us and loving us, not because of what we did or what we earned, but because of who we are. My guess is that each of you have walked with and by someone, loving them not for their merits, but because you were so touched by the image of God you saw reflected in them.

We limit our love. God does not. To imagine that each individual on the earth has a mother and that mother is Christ is to change our notion of the gift of life. And it should change our notion about what we are to do to preserve and nourish it. To imagine that we are all bearers of life, that we have the creative power to build up life, regardless of biology, is to radically affirm a Mother’s Day or Father’s Day which isn’t limited to gifts or breakfast in bed or a one-day celebration. It is instead inviting us to live as Jesus prayed for us—US— before he died in this morning’s Gospel of John: “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” We are irrevocably tied into the life and being of God our Father and Mother, through Jesus. We are irrevocably tied to one another as brothers and sisters because we affirm ourselves beloved of God. 

Whatever you do, whomever you celebrate, however you mark this day, I invite you to imagine widely not only the source of one’s life, but how you continue to affirm the gift of life given through God, not just in the places near and dear to you—but in the places where you are tempted to gloss over the import of God’s love for us and for all. Because God has loved us, walked with us, and ultimately gave himself for us. My guess is that under the right circumstances, you would too.

AMEN.

Last Published: June 6, 2013 9:27 PM