Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Pink Rose

The sermon, “The Pink Rose,” was originally preached by Jeanne Stevenson Moessner at a Service for Wholeness in Birmingham, Alabama, May, 1997. The service was jointly sponsored by Edgewood Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) and Resolve, a national network of support for women and men dealing with infertility and loss. The sermon was later published in the Easter 1998 edition of Journal for Preachers. Rev. Dr. Stevenson Moessner taught courses in pastoral care at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary for a number of years. She is a friend, mentor, and colleague… and I am grateful for her gifts! Last year our church's worship service on Mother's Day was fashioned around the thematic of "The Pink Rose" and, with Jeanne's permission, I preached an adaptation of her original sermon.

“The Pink Rose”

The Pink Rose:
An adaptation of a sermon by Jeanne Stevenson Moessner


Next to Jeanne’s childhood home there stood a stone archway. Red roses grew there. They always seemed to appear there just before Mother’s Day. Like a May ritual, her father would cut a handful of the wild red roses, and she and her brothers would wear them to church on Mother’s Day—the red roses a sign that their mother was living. Remarkable, in retrospect, was that Jeanne’s father and mother also wore red roses for so many years. Her grandmothers lived into their nineties.

It is in honor of all the mothers who are living that I place this red rose in the vase.

In the South, where Jeanne was raised, it is a custom on Mother’s Day to wear a red rose if your mother is still living.

And it is in honor of all the mothers who are no longer among us that I place a white rose in the vase.

For, again, in the South, it is customary to wear a white rose on Mother’s Day for the mothers who have died and “passed over.”

Yet, there are other losses to be remembered. Mother’s Day can be especially painful for women and men who wanted to become parents and could not. Sing, O Barren One written by Mary Calloway traces the theme of barren women in the Old and New Testaments. These were all women who wanted to have children and could not. You may recall them.

Sarah in Genesis 11; Rebecca in Genesis 25; Rachel in Genesis 30; Leah in Genesis 29; the wife of Manoah in Judges 13; Hannah in First Samuel, Elizabeth in the Gospel according to Luke; and Zion in Isaiah 54: “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in travail!” This last passage is the one from which the book took its title, Sing, O Barren One. The biblical material focuses on barren women rather than barren men. The barrenness motif or theme functioned to show that the gift of life came from God alone. Barrenness was seen as a curse and humiliation. Fruitfulness was seen as a reward for obedience.

In each of the biblical examples of the barren women, a son was given. Sarah bore Isaac; Rebecca gave birth to Jacob and Esau; Rachel to Joseph and Benjamin; and Leah bore Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, and six others. The wife of Manoah gave birth to Samson; Hannah to Samuel; Zion to the sons of Jerusalem; and Elizabeth to John the Baptist. In each of the cases of barrenness, there is a fruitfulness—the gift of life.

But where does a woman who has not been given this gift of life in children connect on Mother’s Day? Where do the modern-day barren women connect with scripture? The only barren women in scripture other than priestesses are Tamar in Second Samuel and Jepthah’s daughter in Judges 11. Tamar was raped by her brother and lived the rest of her life “a desolate woman.” Jepthah’s daughter, a virgin, was killed by her father as a result of his foolish vow. These are the childless women of scripture. Not a lot of comfort there.

If the red rose represents living mothers, and the white rose mothers who have died, what symbol do we have on Mother’s Day for the women who never bore, for the women still dealing with infertility, for the women waiting for a child to be placed through adoption, for the women whose dreams to get married and raise a family did not materialize? What symbol do we have for mothers who have lost children through miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS, accident, injury, or illness?

Jeanne Stevenson Moessner tells the story of attending a women’s luncheon where she talked with a woman, a woman she had never met. Within ten minutes, the woman told Jeanne she had lost a daughter nine years earlier…

She was killed in an automobile accident by a young man who crossed the median and hit her car. He was on drugs. Her life, just on the threshold of adulthood and great promise, ended.

There is always a vase of roses on the altar of her hometown church on the Sunday in May nearest the date of her death. That’s often on Mother’s Day. Each year, her parents have added one more rose.

It is for her mother and others like her that I add to the vase the pink rose.
For all the mothers—and for those who want to be mothers—the pink rose.

For those who are foster mothers, and stepmothers, the pink rose.

For birth mothers who placed their children for adoption. And adoptive mothers who received the gift of life through this placement. For those of you facing empty nests at home; for those dealing with children who are emotionally lost to you; for those whose mothers were emotionally disconnected… the pink rose.

On Mother’s Day, the pink rose can also symbolize the “mothers of the church,” a term used in the African-American tradition for the women who hold the church together through nurturing, caring, mentoring. I remember when, as a seminary student, I preached at my home church in Orange City, my mother and my grandmother in the congregation. I remember looking into the eyes of women who had taught me, encouraged me, called me on the carpet. And I remember, now, the strong women of faith who taught me in seminary: Jeanne, who wrote the original version of this sermon (and, for that matter, effectively wrote most of this adaptation); Elizabeth, who introduced me to Hebrew and new understandings of the Old Testament; Marsha, who taught me to preach; and other women—now colleagues—who encouraged me to express compassion, to be myself, and to be honest with myself. I think, too, of the strong women of faith in our own congregation…

For women who are spiritual models and mentors, I place the pink rose in the vase.

Such a wide variety of experiences! What do we do with all of these experiences and feelings on Mother’s Day? May I suggest that we bring our flowers—red, white, pink—to the altar of a God who carries, feeds, protects, heals, guides, disciplines, comforts, washes, and clothes us as children.

Many biblical passages portray God as doing these for us.

Giving birth…
Listen to Me…
You who have been borne by Me from birth
And have been carried from the womb…. (Isa. 46:3-4)

As a child who is comforted by its mother,
so I will comfort you. (Isa. 66:13)

I will pour clean water over you and scrub you clean.
I'll give you a new heart
and put a new spirit in you. (Ezekiel 36:25)

Look, look, God has moved into the neighborhood. God will wipe every tear…. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more. (Rev. 21:4)

Suffering and long-suffering… caring for difficult children…
The more I called them,
the more they went from me;
Yet it was I who taught these children to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those
who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them. (Hosea 11:1-4)

How can we re-image God so that we can connect in ways that our more genuine to our experience? In ways which ring true?

“After my surgery,” said a woman dealing with breast cancer, “I could not image God as a male. I (needed) to image God as Mother Hen. (Because) it is only God as mother hen who would know what it is like to lose a wing.”

She was referring, of course, to the scripture passages in the gospels of Matthew and Luke in which Jesus spoke of his desire to gather the children of Jerusalem as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. In a similar way, parents who have lost a child, most often want and need visits from those who have experienced the same. And they need a God who knows what it was like to lose a child.

We can also re-image God as adoptive parent. God is often imaged as birth parent, the One who creates us and even gives us a “second birth”—most familiar is John 3:16. But there are actually more passages in the New Testament that speak of our adoption into the family of faith through Jesus Christ as Firstborn. The book of Ephesians in particular presents God as adoptive parent. God has destined us for adoption as children with an inheritance. God also knows the empty pain of childlessness when someone rejects the gracious invitation to come into the adoptive family.

Various theologians write about the woundedness of God, the vulnerability of God to pain. God lost a son at the place of crucifixion.

The roses mean something different to each of us, based on our experiences. The pink rose, in particular, carries a meaning unique to each of our own experiences.

So in a way, the pink rose is for all us. It would take an all-knowing, all-seeing, vulnerable, and loving God to fully understand the pink rose signifies to each one of us.

And that’s exactly what Psalm 139 says… Our God is a God who formed our inward parts, knit us together in our mother’s womb, and saw our unformed substance. It is from such a God that healing will one day come, a healing that extends beyond childhood, before birth, to the very womb. This healing is to be found somehow in the very womb of God.

Yes, it is an all-knowing, all-seeing, vulnerable, and loving God who is sufficient to embrace what we bring today—the red roses, the white roses, the pink roses—especially the pink roses. This rich and varied bouquet of very real human experiences is an our offering of our inmost selves to God— May this bouquet be held close to the very heart of God.


1 comment:

Kim said...

Hi Randy. Thanks for stopping by my Mother' Day post and introducing me to your sermon. What an encouragement that must have been to so many women in all stages of their lives! God bless you and your children as you walk through many more "memory days."