One of the major themes of life I have been exploring more and more this past year, is the simple truth that things are far more complicated than they usually seem on the surface. This is mostly because people are far more complicated than they appear on the surface. People are a complex system of emotions and experiences which shape who they are and how they see the world. As an example, today is Mother’s Day. Now you would think a day honoring mothers would be fairly straightforward and simple. Buy some flowers, go out to brunch, and you have played your part. But it is not so simple. For people are not simple and mothers, especially, are not simple. What about those who longed to be mothers and could not, who feel a sense of lack or a defect of some sort, and it is only highlighted by such a day? Or what about those others who do not feel pride in what they have done as mothers, those who see only their failures, their shortcomings. Such a day as this serves only to focus on their failures, to relive painful memories. Then there are those who mourn the loss of their own mother. So, today is not a day of joy but heartache and sadness. All of a sudden, the simplicity of Mother’s Day is not so simple.
Even the history of Mother’s Day is complex. After the death of her mother in 1905, a woman named Anna Jarvis conceived of Mother’s Day as a day to honor the sacrifices women make for their children. A few years later she had managed to get some financial backing from a department store in Philadelphia and in May held the first Mother’s Day service at a Methodist church in West Virginia. She then resolved to see the holiday added to the National Calendar and organized a massive letter writing campaign to newspapers and politicians to achieve this goal. And she was successful. In 1914 Woodrow Wilson officially added it to the National Calendar. But it is complicated, for it only took six years until Jarvis became disgusted with the commercialization of the day. She openly urged people to stop buying flowers, cards, and candies. In fact, by the time of her death in 1948, Jarvis had disowned the holiday altogether, and even actively lobbied the government to have it removed from American calendars.
Crazy right? What had started out as a simple and beautiful idea becomes so complex and twisted. I mean, think of our celebration this year. We celebrate Mother’s Day the same week we all learned from a leaked Supreme Court argument that the infamous Roe v. Wade ruling might be overturned. Therefore, even as we celebrate Mother’s Day and the sacrifices women make for their children, we have people chanting for the right for women to kill their unborn children. Everyone is quick to get entrenched on their sides, to demonize those who do not see it their way. There is more than enough hatred and vitriol to go around. And what most of us long for, what I think we all would cherish more than anything else, is a clear voice to lead us through the complicated and sinful twisting of our age. We long for someone with real authority, real insight, to tell us plainly. Tell us what is good, right, and salutary. We long for some assurance and confidence as we make our way through this life.
We, of course, have such a voice. We have a clear proclamation which comes from the living Word of God in human flesh. The difficulty is we do not always enjoy what that voice says about us. After all, the world tells us we should just be true to ourselves, we should believe in ourselves, you be you and do not let anyone tell you there is anything wrong with that. Well, let me tell you, just being myself, being my own determiner of right and wrong is a freeing experience. It may be somewhat delusional, but it can be fun for a while. After all, it is a joy to be my own god. But eventually, locked within my own head, things are going to spin out of control. Our complex emotions and experiences tend to twist our dreams into nightmares. Humanity has yet to be able to create a utopia out of their dreams. So, eventually we all know we need a clear Word from the outside. We long for that authority, even if it says things we may not like to hear.
This longing is nothing new. In John 10 we find our Lord walking in the Temple around the time of the Feast of Dedication. It is a time when the people of God thought again of their past struggles and were grasping for some assurance that they were not going to face the same tragedy in the future. If Jesus were truly the Son of God, if He were the long-awaited Messiah, then He could lead them, guide them going forward. And they plead with Him saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Tell us plainly. If what we are doing is wrong, if it is sinful and twisted, tell us plainly. Tell us plainly even if the words condemn, even if it highlights how far we have fallen from the grace of God. Tell us plainly.
Jesus says He has told them. He has made known His identity, but they do not believe Him. They are not part of His fold, so they do not hear His voice. They do not follow. They are stuck, locked within their own heads and hearts. They are faithful only to themselves. They are their own gods and that is their curse. But this is not so with you. You have heard His voice. You have received His Word. He has told you plainly and what He says shocks you awake from the illusions of your own autonomy. For He plainly declares to you the will of the Father. He plainly shows the way of righteousness, a perfect life, perfect in love, perfect in sacrifice for others. He plainly declares you are a sinner. You have sinned in your thoughts, your words, and your deeds. Sin entangles all you do. And no amount of work on your part, no extra diligent effort can clean up your own soul.
Jesus tells you plainly, salvation rests in His hands alone. Eternal life is a gift which comes only through His work. And even as He reveals to you your sin, when He plainly tells you you have fallen short of the glory of God, He then plainly declares salvation in His own name. He says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” So, to you, sinner that you are, He has washed you in the waters of Holy Baptism. There He declares that all He has is yours. All His righteousness and perfection are placed upon you. And all that is yours, all the sin and failure, He takes as His own and buries it in the tomb.
And now you live in the plain Word of Christ. It is the Word of hope, life, and salvation. It is not a Word complicated with a to-do list you need to accomplish before it applies to you. It is not a Word which is undone or easily snatched away by errant wondering. It is a powerful and sure thing. It is a Word that connects the eternal things of God into your life here and now. Just as the Word of the Law declares you are a sinner, that you cannot by your own reason or strength save yourself, so, the Word of promise declares you are, this day, forgiven of all those sins. You are covered in the blood of the Lamb. You are secure in the hands of God, and no one can snatch you out of His hands.
And Jesus continues to tell you plainly. Into your complex and confusing lives, into an age that is twisted and unsure His clear voice never ceases to call His sheep. He never ceases to tend His flock. To all the children who are reminded of their failure to honor their mothers, those who have selfishly judged the sacrifices made on their behalf, your Lord tells you plainly, “You are forgiven. There is healing and hope for you.” To the mothers who feel the weight of failure on this day, for those who cannot help but tear up in an honest reflection of their ability to be the picturesque mom they wanted to be, our Lord tells you plainly this day, “You are loved. You are forgiven.” And you are given rest in His arms. To those who have had abortions and those of you who have encouraged other fearful and panicked women to do the same, His plain and clear voice never wavers, “You are forgiven.”
I know it sounds too good to be true, it sounds too easy, too simple. But we wanted it plainly, and here it is. Outside of Christ there is no hope, no eternal life, just the wolves which will tear us apart from within. But in Christ, there is a Good Shepherd who protects, loves, and forgives His wayward sheep.