By Rev. Chris Jorgensen
May 10, 2020
Video of whole service: https://www.facebook.com/185862493481/videos/662243684596793/
Scripture: Luke 2:41-52
My Saturday morning routine consists of the following: getting up sometime between 7 and 8, making coffee, and plopping down on my couch by 9 AM to watch “The Pioneer Woman” cooking show. Why don’t you give me an emoji if you know “The Pioneer Woman”? How about a “Like” sign, heart, huggy face if you love her. I guess you can use the cry or angry face if you don’t love her.
The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, tapes her show from her ranch in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. And before our present pandemic (which I recently heard called “the Beforetimes” so I am going to start using it) … in the Beforetimes, the show was highly produced. They cut from one camera view to another and used a fancy timer countdown graphic to show how long the casserole has been in the oven. They would pan to her perfectly staged immaculately clean home, inserting scenes of her kids and husband working on the ranch between the cooking segments. It was slick. Each episode was seamless and perfect. Ree was perfect. House was perfect. Kids were perfect.
That was the Beforetimes.
Now, in what we shall call “the Coronatimes,” the show is very different. Ree no longer has professional Food Network folks coming to her house to make the show. So her kids who are home from college and in high school are her new videographers. Things are clearly not perfect in the Coronatimes.
For example, in “Staying Home: Episode Two,” the following things happened. First, Ree wasn’t able to open a carton of cream and had to ask one of her kids to assist her with it. She dropped a can of tomatoes, and it went rolling across the floor. But my very favorite part was when she accidentally started a wooden spoon on fire. No worries. The ranch did not burn down. This past week, Ree admitted to not even getting dressed up to the point of wearing jeans for six whole weeks. Jeans, according to one of her daughters, are now called “hard pants.”
The Pioneer Woman TV show is now a hot mess. And I love it. I have never enjoyed watching it more. It’s an imperfect, beautiful mess.
I’m not sure about you, but my life, in the Coronatimes, is also something of a hot mess. It’s become essentially impossible to reach anything close to perfection. I feel like my parenting is messy, my wife-ing is messy, my daughtering is messy, my pastoring is messy, my friending is messy. I mean, I’m doing my best – but I am re-learning how to be all of these things with new restrictions and challenges. Things keep changing. I can’t be perfect right now. I know: that was also true in the Beforetimes. But in the Coronatimes, perfection seems like even less of an option.
That’s why today’s scripture spoke to me so much this week. I love what a mess this scripture is. I mean, Jesus and Joseph and Mary are not in an unusual time. They are going to Jerusalem for the Passover festival, something they would have done every year. In other words, they should know what they are doing by now. But this year turns into a mess. They lose 12-year-old Jesus. They forget him in Jerusalem…and don’t notice for a whole day that he wasn’t in the caravan back to Nazareth. That, my friends, is what I would call a “parenting FAIL.”
So they go back to Jerusalem, and they can’t find him for three days. Three days! When they finally do find him, there’s this horribly awkward conversation in the temple. Mary is all in a kerfuffle. She’s like, “Jesus! Where have you been? We’ve been looking all over for you.” And Jesus is all pre-teen cool. “Didn’t you know I’d be in my Father’s house?” Eyeroll. Okay the eyeroll is just my interpretation, but I’ve met know-it-all 12-year-olds. I know how this goes down.
I’m also imagining the people and the rabbis all around are disconcerted by this exchange as well. Have you ever been a witness to a family fight? It’s just awkward. Maybe even Jesus knows it wasn’t his best moment because the scripture makes is sound like he changes his tone. It says, “Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.”
So they have this kerfuffle, this time of anxiety, this imperfect moment. But they learn from it and move on. Then the scripture says this, “His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” Even after this hard interaction, Mary responds by treasuring, by being in awe, by delighting, in this child of hers.
The other time Luke describes Mary in this way is right after Jesus’ birth. In that messy scene, baby lying in a manger, no proper cradle to be seen, the shepherds came. They told Mary what God had told them: that Mary’s baby was the Messiah, the Savior… and Mary saw it. She treasured it in her heart. Mary saw the truth of divinity – of God’s perfection in Jesus – right there in the messy situation.
Mary was a wonderful mother. She treasured and delighted in her child. But even Mary was not perfect like God is perfect.
When we imagine God as Mother or Father, we are at risk of making the mistake of projecting human limitations on God. That’s the danger of using parental imagery for God. It’s a danger in two directions. First, it’s a danger to think that God has the same limitations that human parents have. That if we had a neglectful father or mother, that God could be similarly neglectful. God is not! Even the very best parent gives us only a glimpse of the loving care that God pours out on us. God is not just a Father or Mother. God is the Perfect Father. God is the Perfect Mother. God is Our Perfect Parent.
The other danger in this image is projecting the image of perfection onto us poor humans. We are NOT God. Therefore, we are not perfect. We are not perfect mothers. We are not perfect fathers. We are not perfect children. We are not perfect. God is.
And that’s okay. God can handle our imperfections. I would even suggest that God delights in our imperfections. God delights when God sees us struggling and growing. God wants to know us as who we really are, and God wants to empower us to be the very best version of ourselves. So when we make mistakes, when we fall short, God is fully present – not to judge us with wrath like a human parent who has lost their temper…but to love us into wholeness, like the Perfectly Loving Parent that God is.
Our parents (or one who is like a parent) – even in their very best moments – give us just a glimpse of God’s love. When they show us grace, it is just a glimpse of God’s grace. When they encourage us, it is just a glimpse of God who is infinitely rooting for us and supporting us. When they show us tenderness in our frailty and messiness, it’s just a glimpse. It’s just a fraction of God’s tenderness with our mistakes, a tenderness that moves us: to treat others with tenderness when they fall short…and to offer that same tenderness to ourselves, especially during these Coronatimes.
Julian of Norwich, a 14th-century mystic who I’ve talked about before, had a deep understanding of the Perfectly Loving nature of God, of Jesus. She wrote in her meditations, these visions of God she experienced, about “our true Mother Jesus.” To Julian, our Mother Jesus is always more than even our human mothers can possibly be.
Julian writes, “Our true Mother Jesus alone bears us for joy and endless life…To the property of motherhood belong nature, love, wisdom, and knowledge, and this is God. For though it may be that our bodily bringing to birth is only little, humble and simple in comparison with our spiritual birth, still it is he who does it…And in our spiritual bringing to birth he uses more tenderness without any comparison, in protecting us…And from this sweet and gentle operation he will neither cease nor desist, until all his beloved children are born and brought to birth.”
Life is a mess. We are a beautiful mess. And Mother Jesus is right here in it with us: beholding all of our shortcomings…and tenderly insisting on our redemption, through the mighty power of God’s love.
Thanks be to God.