By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton

May 10, 2009

Read: John 15:1-8

Happy Mother’s Day! I found a short history of Mother’s Day that I thought you might find interesting:

The earliest Mother’s Day celebrations can be traced back to the spring celebrations of ancient Greece in honor of Rhea, the Mother of the Gods. It was a pagan celebration. As Christianity spread throughout Europe the celebration changed to honor the “Mother Church” – the spiritual power that gave them life and protected them from harm.

During the 1600’s, people in England celebrated a day called “Mothering Sunday”. Celebrated on the 4th Sunday in Lent, “Mothering Sunday” honored the mothers of England. During this time many of England’s poor worked as servants for the wealthy. On Mothering Sunday the servants would have the day off and were encouraged to return home and spend the day with their mothers. A special cake, called the mothering cake, was often brought along to provide a festive touch.

Over time the church festival blended with the Mothering Sunday celebration as people began honoring their mothers as well as the church.

In the United States, Mother’s Day was first suggested in 1872 as a day dedicated to peace by Julia Ward Howe (she also wrote the words to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”). Howe held organized Mother’s Day meetings in Boston every year.

In 1907 Ana Jarvis, from Philadelphia, began a campaign to establish a national Mother’s Day. She persuaded her mother’s church in Grafton, West Virginia to celebrate Mother’s Day on the second anniversary of her mother’s death, the second Sunday of May. By the next year Mother’s Day was also celebrated in Philadelphia.

Jarvis and her supporters began to write to ministers, businessmen, and politicians in their quest to establish a national Mother’s Day. It was successful as by 1911 Mother’s Day was celebrated in almost every state. President Woodrow Wilson, in 1914, made the official announcement proclaiming Mother’s Day a national holiday that was to be held each year on the second Sunday of May.

There you have it, the story behind our celebration of Mother’s Day.

Today we celebrate Mother’s Day, and with this day we remember the countless ways that mothers and maternal figures in our lives have shared love with us.

So with all of that in mind, what, pray tell, is our primary text for this Mother’s Day? The Gospel of John’s metaphor of God the vinegrower pruning branches on the vine.

Well, that’s interesting. I don’t know about you, but I don’t find a knife wielding mother particularly comforting. Maybe it’s just me, but I immediately started hearing the theme music from the movie Psycho. The whole concept of “pruning” is not necessarily one that we would connect with motherhood. At least not at first. But let’s think about this. Jesus says, “I am the true vine” and God is like a mother who lovingly and carefully tends the vineyard garden. She wants the vineyard to grow and be prosperous so she removes every branch from the vine that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit she prunes carefully, constructively, and surgically to make it bear more fruit.

The pruning metaphor works best if we think of God as a gardener who grieves while watching a violent storm rip through her beloved garden. Afterward, she tenderly prunes the injured plants in order to guarantee survival and to restore beauty and harmony. But we can’t confuse pruning with the crises that overtakes us. No, pruning has more to do with clearing away the debris those crises leave behind.

And there’s one particular brand of crisis that continually calls for pruning. It’s the self-imposed crisis. It’s when we mess up. It’s when we sin that we need pruned the most (Walter Wink, “Abiding, Even Under the Knife,” Christian Century, April 20, 1994).

My mother would prune me.

Now I don’t know how your mother handled discipline, but my mother was pretty good at it. Let’s just say I gave her lots of practice. My mother was very good at staying calm and with a very non-anxious voice she would cut me down to size. But that wasn’t the good part. The good part was the way my mother practiced the art of accountability. Her criticism was always to the point. The sin was clearly pointed out. But there was also affirmation of some good that I could build upon. In other words, my mother would prune me. She would acknowledge my inherent worth but help me clear away the debris in my life, the things that were unhealthy and only holding me back.

Needless to say, this was not always a painless procedure. But nothing that involves a pruning knife ever is. Yet there’s a big difference in the way a knife is handled. There’s also a big difference in the kind of knife used! My mother’s acts of pruning were more surgical scalpel than slashing machete. Which I am very grateful for.

And yet we all know what it’s like to have someone come at us with the slashing machete. Criticism is not something we deal well with to begin with. So when the criticism is not constructive, when it’s leveled with malice, when it is used to tear down instead of build up we are left bruised and bloodied. Intellectually we may know that this unconstructive criticism is without merit and should be dismissed, but that doesn’t stop it from hurting right in the gut.

If God’s tender upbuilding pruning is the model then that is what we should expect from one another and what we should extend to one another.

The other side of the coin is true as well here. When we are called upon to be critical, do we seek to prune in love, or do we go Psycho shower scene. If God’s tender upbuilding pruning is the model then that is what we should expect from one another and what we should extend to one another.

But it’s more than just an individual thing. When Jesus says, “you are the branches” that “you” is plural. Together we are a branch.

A man once planted cucumbers in his backyard. He had made sure that the ground was well prepared. He bought the best cucumber seedlings and set to work with the skill of a man who had planted cucumbers for many seasons. To his delight, soon he had cucumber vines all across his back yard. The plants were green and healthy. One day, he noticed that some of the leaves didn’t look as green as the others.

Not many days later, some of the leaves were as good as dead. He followed the vines with the dead leaves until he got back to the main plant. There at the base of the main stem he noticed that some kind of grub had almost eaten through the stem. The cucumber plant was dependent on the main stem for water and nourishment. Life giving juices flow from the main stem to the branches and enables high-quality delicious fruit to appear. It’s not possible to produce fruit without being connected to the stem. Even though the man had cultivated the ground carefully and watered daily, the cucumber vines were unable to receive that goodness and so withered and died.

Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote: We ask the leaf, “Are you complete in yourself?” And the leaf answers, “No, my life is in the branches.” We ask the branch, and the branch answers, “No, my life is in the root.” We ask the root, and it answers, “No, my life is in the trunk and the branches and the leaves. Keep the branches stripped of leaves, and I shall die!” So it is with the great tree of being. Nothing is completely and merely individual.

Once upon a time a man dropped out of church. He figured he could worship God just as well on his own. A few weeks went by and the minister came to visit. They sat in the living room by the fireplace and made small talk. Then the minister took the tongs and picked up a glowing ember and placed it to one side of the hearth. The two men watched without saying a word. In no time, it began to cool. A few minutes later, the minister picked up the dead ember with his fingers and pitched it back into the fire. Immediately, it came back to life. Without a word, the minister put on his coat and started to leave. The man walked him to the door and said, “That was one of your best sermons. I’ll see you in church this Sunday.”

Jesus said,

“I am the vine, you are the branches.
Abide in me and bear much fruit,
for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Copyright 2008-2012 Episcopal Church of the Trinity.

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