A Homily given to St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church
This is my first chance to speak in front of the whole church since our little Logan came into our family. I have truly been overwhelmed, in the most positive sense of the word, by the generosity of my church family. The number of meals that you all brought to us caused me to be one of the few women who actually gained weight on maternity leave. This baby will not be without diapers for a few more months and will not be without clothes for at least a year. I was so happy when we dedicated both Annie and Logan here three weeks ago because I knew that this church would be such a large part of the foundation of their faith. With all sincerity I say, “thank you.”
The other day, I was talking to my dad on the phone and telling him that since we stopped getting cable television at the apartment I have found myself watching more and more PBS shows. “PBS has really improved their programming, Dad” I said to him. His reply to me, “maybe you’re just getting older.” My mind briefly thought of arguing and then I confessed, “I’ve been listening to NPR too and watching the Dick Van Dyke show at 9:30 PM…from my bed because I’m already in bed at 9:30!” He offered no comfort, just a knowing, “Mmm hmm.”
Distraught, and yet not too embarrassed, I realized that my life had changed. I noticed this too walking around campus the other day. I was pushing a double stroller, my attire only thought out in terms of what could easily be washed and what would be comfortable, even to the sandals on my feet. I have to this point, refrained from wearing socks with my sandals, but probably on a cold day, I would be tempted. Surely, hopefully, shame will keep me from participating in that particular fashion statement.
Life has changed. I am in a new realm. My days are no longer my own. I am tired all the time, I never leave home without having to run back in at least once because I’ve forgotten something, and my dreams are now of watching a full television show and my nightmares are now about the piles of laundry turning into attacking monsters. I have a husband but I haven’t seen him in a while. Between his schoolwork and the need to often “divide and conquer” to make evenings go more smoothly, we are lucky if we can squeeze in a “hello, how are you, fine”-type conversation.
I am a mother. Life has changed.
On Thursday evenings, I have discovered a bit of an oasis. It’s called PJ’s coffee on Maple Street. It’s not my order that changes my perspective—I have to get hot chocolate because I can no longer drink caffeine after lunch, and it’s not the proximal company of the college students who I sit near—their backpacks and textbooks are a decade-old memory. But one by one, a high school student comes in, sits next to me, and starts talking about school and music and all things modern. It could be intimidating, but luckily, each one that comes in has great patience with me. They make me smile, they make me laugh, and they give me energy. Maybe it’s because they aren’t my children.
Yet, they are my children.
I am a minister to youth and to children. Life is exciting.
My first theology class in seminary focused on finding theological themes in artwork, cinema, and any number of other productions. For a long time after the class ended I couldn’t watch a TV show or movie without breaking it down theologically. I thought I saw theological themes and Christ images everywhere. It was both a curse and a blessing. I had to accept the fact that the lens through which I observed and interpreted life had changed.
Again I find myself with a new lens. Motherhood, whether I am consciously using that lens or not, has changed the way I view the world as well as the way I operate in the world. This occurs in the mundane parts of life—grocery buying, for instance—and the more moral aspects too—such as violence in commercials on television. And of course, this lens has changed the way I read scripture. I just can’t help it. Luckily, I picked the right day to preach. As I sit more and more with this role of minister to youth and children, I have found that my motherhood lens is only broadened and strengthened.
My brain reads this passage from John and knows that this is a prayer from Jesus for his disciples, but I can’t read these verses and not hear a parental tone, a loving tone, in his words. Jesus knows that he is about to die on the cross, but he isn’t thinking about himself. Much like a parent, he is thinking outside of himself, concerned about those he loves, concerned for their safety, and concerned for their everlasting relationship with God.
Read with me a few verses from chapter 17:
Verse 6: “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.”
Verse 11: “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.”
Verse 15: “…I ask you to protect them from the evil one.”
Verse 17: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
Verse 20: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.”
It’s a prayer that we would have said and will say again for our children—those we have birthed and those whom we love regardless of their biological beginnings. We pray for our children because they are part of the church and because they will be the church. We pray thanksgiving for our children because they give us a space for our love.
I pray this prayer for my children because it rings true. You pray this prayer for my children because you are the church—you are doing what the church should be doing. And that, I think, is the heart of this prayer of Jesus for his disciples and the heart of Jesus’ message for the church.
Jesus Christ, the teacher through word and illustration is doing so to his very end. Pray, he says. Be sanctified, be made holy, be set apart in and because of the truth of God’s love. Pray to God as I taught you to pray. Pray to God for each other as I pray for you to God.
When the body of Christ, the church, prays that its children become one, we are praying that we, the body of Christ, become one. And in that unity, we take part in the active miracle that is God’s love through Jesus Christ. We are active participants in the completion of the circle that goes from God to Christ to Creation. Hear that in verse 26: “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.”
What more does a mother want for her child but for that child to know that she is loved, that he is loved? What more does a mother want but for her child to know that the love of Christ resides within his or her own heart? But I have to tell you that while those are my desires for my children, I want nothing more for these youth, who are not, but who are, my children to know the very same things. And I don’t know that that desire comes solely from me being a mom or a minister; I think that the desire comes mostly from me being a member in the body of Christ. Why is that? I believe it’s because of my beginnings, my foundation in the church. Love has always been a part of the lesson. Love has always been the story. Blessed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.
And so today, I pray, for the youth and children:
Our God, creator of every hair on their heads, I pray that we have made your name known to these, your children. You have shared them with us and we are thankful for their presence. Holy Lord, protect them. Holy Lord, guide them. Holy Lord, make them one and make us one. Give them joy and be with them when they cry. Consecrate them, bless them, and keep them in your truth. Most of all, let them know that they are loved and let them feel the love of Christ that has resided in them from their beginning. Grant them the strength and the courage to pass it on.
Giver of Life, we praise your name. Amen.
Read more from Stephanie Little Coyne at her blog.