Being Held By Those Who Love Us
Sunday, May 11, was Mother’s Day. As each person entered worship they were invited to choose a stuffed animal from several large bins of toys, and to carry it with them into worship. During the children’s message, while holding onto their animals, the children talked about what is feels like to be held by someone who loves them. They talked about when we might want to be held (when we are sad, hurt, sick, lonely) and who holds us (mom, dad, family). Having read the 23rd Psalm, we talked briefly about how shepherds care for sheep when they are young, and especially when they are hurt or sick. We then imagined what it would feel like to be held by Jesus, the good shepherd, when we really need it. After the children went to church school, I continued this line of thought, saying something like …
Many of you know that I have a regular process as I journey toward the sermon each week. It begins on Monday morning as I walk my song to school, and then walk to the church. I come in through the door in the cloak room out there (indicating the narthex) and then open the front doors of the sanctuary so that our building is open and inviting. I then come into the pulpit where I read the scripture for the coming week. I pray about it. And I pray for you. I hope to leave with at least one clear image that will shape my thoughts for the week.
Last MONDAY as I was on my way to the church I saw a little girl clutching a teddy bear, a classic brown teddy bear tightly under her arm, while with her other are she held on to here mom. I don’t think she was one of our nursery school children. But when my son got home from school singing a new song which will be part of the school musical, “I love my teddy bear,” I knew I had my image. What does it feel like to hold those we love? What does it feel like to be held by those who love us? When might we really need that?
He and I together collected the stuffed animals you are holding now.
On TUESDAY I was hanging out with some parents after school while our children played on the playground. There is a new girl in the group, a kindergartner who is bigger than most of the second grade boys in my son’s crowd. All the outside not the playground like to wave to the kids in the after school program, which meets inside. Well this little girl was doing so, and placed her hands on the windowsill just as one of the indoor kids pushed the window shut, smashing her finger. We she shrieked. And cried. And was inconsolable. I looked at her fingers, and her her squeeze none, but she was inconsolable. I took her to the water foundation and ran her fingers under cold water. But she was inconsolable. I then took her by the hand and went in search of her mother, who swept her up and offered her one of those magic kisses. And she was calmed.
When I returned to the other parents, one of them said “sometimes you just need your mom.” And I said, “I think you just titled my sermon for Sunday.” Sometimes we do just need our mom, or our dad, or our spouse or whoever it is who loves us and can hold us.
I have said many times that we don’t believe in a magic god who always makes everything better. Magic kisses don’t make everything better either – they don’t heal our wounds. But they do make all the difference, don’t they. They let us know that someone cares, and is with us, and is for us. “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”
I have been reading a biography of the 19th century abolitionist and Presbyterian preacher, Henry Ward Beecher [The Most Famous man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher by Debby Applegate. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize]. On WEDNESDAY I came upon the following passage.
Henry’s first memory was of his mother’s called, consoling arms. He was trying to crawl down the steep center staircase by himself, when all at once the “sudden sense of being alone frightened me, and I gave one shriek,” he remembered; “and then the echo of my voice scared worse, and I gave another shriek that was more emphatic,” and [his mother] rushed in from the kitchen, scooping him up. He couldn’t remember how her face looked at that moment, but he would never forget the feeling of relief and comfort as she pressed him against her soft, warm bosom.
And lest we think only mothers can do this, a few pages later we find:
Even in old age, Henry remembered the rush of joy and relief he felt when, “unable to sleep and crying down the dark stairs where pain and fear strove with each other, I went into my father’s room, and he put his hand upon my head, and with tones of great kindness and love said, ‘you have got the toothache, my dear boy! Come get in with me and cuddle down by my side,’ – how that filled meet with affection, and such gladness that I forgot the toothache! “It was,” he said, like the “rest of God.”
On THURSDAY I was searching for a news story on youtube, and when I finally found it I had first to watch a commercial. Perhaps you have seen it too. The commercial was for laundry detergent, and began with a mother tucking her young daughter into the bed. There were not stuffed animals (like we are holding now) but we are surely meant to imagine the snuggle warmth and good smell of the freshly laundered blanket as her mother sings her daughter to sleep with a lullaby. IN the next scene we see the same room, only now it is the fully grown daughter who is tucking in here mother, presumable with the same snuggly warm blanket, and singing to her the same lullaby. Each generation holding the other.
This led me to spend a good bit of FRIDAY thinking about those I have visited in the hospital and the persons I have had the privilege to hold as they died. I remember a particular member of this congregation who I half lay beside and held as she passed away.
At this point I realized that these stories did not so much add up to a sermon as they served as an invitation to share. If I could find these stories everywhere, everyday, without really looking for them, then surely you experience them too, and can share them. Which is what I would like to do with the next ten minutes in worship. I would like you to turn to those around you and share what it feels like to be held by those who love you, and who you love that you are able to hold.