This is not going to be a breezy, cheerful Mother’s Day sermon, but I pray that I can reach your hearts and enlighten your minds and inspire you to LOVE each other more fully. I pray that I might honor All Mothers’ Children today. Two of our readings this morning reminded us of one simple thing that God asks us to do… to LOVE. In the Epistle reading we heard “…we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.” In the Gospel reading, we heard these words spoken by Jesus Christ, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love… This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” It sounds simple and straightforward. Yet sadly, today we live in a society that, for way too many, is far from loving. We live in a society that is too often fearful, and fear is the opposite of love.
This morning, St. Mark’s joins congregations throughout the Diocese of Washington in common witness, prayer and contemplation in support of mothers who fear that our brown and black sons may become victims of gang violence, black-on-black hate, white-on-black hate, police brutality, racial, social, or criminal injustice. I stand before you as the mother of three black sons, to give you personal testimony that this fear is not imaginary. Many of you know my sons, Charles, David and Gregory. Some of you know them as the men they have become. Some of you even remember them as children, active in church life here at St. Marks, participating in the Journey to Adulthood program, going on their pilgrimages and returning here to share with us their stories about finding God in the world. Some of you even knew them as Boy Scouts or as student athletes, or you recall each of them graduating from Paint Branch High School and going off to college. So, you might be thinking, “the Smith boys are not like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown or Freddie Gray. They aren’t like “those guys.” Well, in this regard, you are wrong. They are exactly the same in a very real way that they cannot change, cannot hide, and cannot escape from. My sons are black men. And, yes, believe me when I tell you that my fear is VERY REAL fear. Two of my sons are still in “the kill zone,” between the ages of 15 and 30. Black men in this age group are 21 times as likely as their white peers to be killed by police, according to police report data filed with the FBI for the years 2010 to 2012, the three most recent years for which FBI numbers are available.
And so, I CAN’T REST because I fear that if one of my sons is pulled over by a police officer for speeding or having a headlight out — or perhaps even for driving slowly through a nice neighborhood looking for a friend’s house, maybe even one of your homes. The police officer might only see a black man, see a “menace” or perceive a risk that doesn’t exist. The officer may not see a child of God, won’t ask him if he is a Christian or ask where he went to church; the officer will will not ask whether his purpose that day is a loving one. Years ago, in Boston, Massachusetts, a young black mother arrived by ambulance at Boston Children’s Hospital with a black child in her arms. The child was having seizures and hemorrhaging internally. Instead of receiving this patient with only loving concern and professional discipline, doctors and nurses received their patient with skepticism. Instead of making it a priority to treat and heal this child, they invested much of their time and energy on pursuing the father — a black man who at the time, was still in the “kill zone” age group. Social workers were called. Law enforcement was alerted. Child Protective Services initiated an investigation. The next day, the young mother held the lifeless child in her arms as nurses removed tubes and unplugged machines. She was too stunned to weep. The father was busy looking for an attorney, too angry and too scared to weep. An autopsy would soon reveal that the child had been born with a congenital heart defect that caused severely elevated blood pressures, which led to an aortic rupture, cerebral hemorrhaging, and ultimately death. I can guess what you’re wondering, and no, the child’s blood pressure had never been taken. And, yes, had the abnormal blood pressure been detected in time, the defect could have been surgically repaired, saving the child’s life. Was this death by racial injustice? Of course, that isn’t what the death certificate says, and certainly there WERE medical problems. Yet, it was weeks before the criminal investigation was closed. Clearly, LOVE did not prevail.
What does LOVE mean? The Bible tells us in 1st Corinthians, Chapter 13, that “Love is patient. Love is kind,” and also that “It does not dishonor others,” and “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” How can we truly love our neighbors? How can we love those who are different — people we may not understand? For most of us, this will be a journey to love, and the only transport heading that way is FAITH. We must have faith, lean on faith, pray for the strength to rise up and begin again when we stumble. And, we will stumble, because it is human to have weak moments when we aren’t loving, say or do things that hurt, or when we’re not very lovable ourselves. Surrender to God’s will. Draw on FAITH in GOD for the strength to rise up and move forward. As we move towards a loving society, WE CAN and WE MUST learn how to surrender to God’s will.
What will a loving society look like? I think it’s one where people have the PATIENCE to listen to the frustrations, needs and concerns of others, and the KINDNESS to act compassionately towards each other. It will be a loving society when we learn to PROTECT the weak and the needy, to TRUST our neighbors, to HOPE, and pray, and work for the redemption of all sin and for triumph over injustice. That will be a society where LOVE ALWAYS PERSEVERES. Is this even possible? Yes, I think it is, by FAITH. Remember the LOVE God had for us when he sent his only son to us, to teach us how to love and to show us the way to God, who dwells in us as we are in him. Remember the self-sacrificing LOVE that Jesus Christ had for all of us, and most of all, remember that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. Why are we using Mother’s Day to sound a call for justice and a journey to LOVE? Well, it’s a tradition for mothers to stand up for their children. Yesterday, a “Million Moms March” was held in Washington, DC, sponsored by Mothers for Justice United, and the Coalition for Justice. Mothers whose children have been killed by injustice have stood together for generations. A “Mothers Day” was first observed in the United States when in 1872, a coalition of mothers led by Julia Ward Howe called for an end to war and the laying down of arms. It wasn’t until 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson officially set aside the second Sunday in May for a national observance of Mother’s Day. But many people remembered that Julia Howe struck a chord in her 1870s proclamation, when she wrote, “Arise then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or tears, say firmly – our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.” I would add to this, a prayer that society shall not strip from our children all that we have been able to teach them of LOVE.
I was that young black mother in Boston years ago, and your Senior Warden was the young black father. He had an exclusive prep school education, an undergraduate degree, he belonged to a distinguished fraternity, and was a law student at the time. He was and is, a Christian. He wasn’t seen through loving eyes, he was seen as a young black man and a violent threat to some racist Bostonians, and that WAS an injustice. No, I STILL CAN’T REST. Psalm 106:3 reminds us, “Blessed are those who maintain justice, who always do what is right.” Bishop Mariann Budde, in her call to churches throughout our Diocese for common witness on Mothers’s Day, paraphrased the words of Civil Rights activist Ella Baker, and said “until the killing of black and brown mothers’ sons becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of white mothers’ sons, we who follow Jesus cannot rest.” I CAN’T REST. YOU CAN’T REST. St. Marks, WE CAN’T REST, until #AllMothersChildren are loved equally. Not until #AllLivesMatter equally and the risk to some is no greater than the risk to everybody. Not until we succeed in LOVING each other as we LOVE ourselves.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, AMEN.