Mother’s Day 2023
May 14, 2023 – at Church of Peace, Rock Island, IL
by Michael Swartz
This week there is an article on the BBC website about the photo of earth taken from space c1968, and how it has changed our culture and societal awareness. I call it “the big blue marble.” It reminds us, graphically, that we are all in this together. It could be called “Mother Earth.”
So one May Sunday, Lu Bauck, a lifelong member of the Church of Peace, then a very senior member, commented: “I don’t know about all this business about Mother’s Day, I’m not a mother.” Or something like that. She was saying out loud what I am sure many people had been thinking over the years. This day can be alienating and insensitive. “Well, Lou, we all had mothers,” I replied. But in my heart I agreed with her to a degree. In my youth the day had been marked with carnations, red for those with mothers who were living, and white for those with mothers who had died. Children would be given little poems to memorize for recitation. I remember one, I think it was assigned to my sister:
Mother, what a sweeter word, in our country’s air be heard.
Mother lisped by babies small, mother through the years they call.
Mother, mother what a joy that fills the heart of girl and boy,
And well is known the love outpoured and what makes mothers so adored.
In every home, both young and old, mothers have a heart of gold.
In the car, on long trips, my sister and I would repeat the poem over the years, with changing emphasis. “Mo-ther!” in a calling tone. “Mo-ther” in exasperation.
In retrospect the holiday of my childhood could seem a little maudlin. We went to a Fundamentalist church that emphasized, “getting saved,” and going to heaven, and mother’s day could become a day for bullying sinners. (At that time Mother’s Day was second only in attendance to Easter, and a lot of men, mostly absent the rest of he year were there in the pew.)
In particular I remember one song, “Tell Mother I’ll be there”: It was a narrative about a person who had grieved his mother, been a wayward youth and had promised his mother on her death bed that he would repent so he could spend eternity in heaven with his saintly mother. The refrain was:”
Tell mother I’ll be there, in answer to her prayer;
This message, blessed Savior, to her bear!
Tell mother I’ll be there, Heav’n’s joys with her to share;
Yes, tell my darling mother I’ll be there.
This seemed to me, even at the time, as manipulative.
The United Methodist Church, at about the same time as the photo form space, sought to contextualize this Second Sunday in May as “The Festival of the Christian Home.” The idea seemed to be to broaden the emphasis and make it more inclusive. The Prayer of the Day, while from a 1978 Lutheran book of worship, has this theme:
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, you set the solitary in families. We commend to your care all the homes where your people live. Keep them we pray, free from bitterness, from the thirst for personal victory, and from pride in self. Fill them with faith, virtue, knowledge, moderation, patience and godliness. Knit together in enduring affection those who have become one in marriage. Let children and parents have full respect for one another; and light the fire of kindliness among us all, that we may show affection for each other.
This is the direction I have gone in marking the Holiday over the years. This recognizes that some people are single, and that not all women are able to be mothers, even if they want to be. And that some choose not to have children. And that families come in many shapes and sizes. And some families are fraught relationships. But every one of us is a member of one or more families.
And at the same time, since the later 1960s, churches have become more aware of the Christian Church Calendar, and we are still in Easter, and one hesitates to upstage the resurrection of Jesus Christ with our American social calendar.
So if this sermon was from earlier in my career my strategy would be to choose some thought from the Gospel, and then weave it into a sermon about family relationships. Today the theme would be words from Jesus Christ, from John 14:
“I will not leave you orphaned;”
The truth is that we are all part of God’s greater family because Jesus claims us as kin. And thus we are sisters and brothers, fathers, mothers and children, through Christ Jesus. And this is true, and a good idea. And these days families are more diverse than ever – and God loves all families.
I call this sort of sermon “drawing for an inside straight.”
Which brings me back to Lu Bauck. Lu died in August 2011. Lucille Baumann was born on Oct. 18, 1912 in Rock Island, a daughter of John and Agnes Sisco Baumann. She married Milton C. Bauck on May 28, 1932 at the Church of Peace. He died May 29, 1990. She was 98 years old. She was a widow for 21 years and she had no children and few living relatives.
The community and her church were her family.
She was a character and we knew her, we knew her story, and we loved her.
Lu was a deacon of the church. Part of that role includes visiting those in hospitals and nursing homes. She was good about doing that; and it was a natural fit because she liked visiting with people. She was social. Lu also did not suffer fools gladly. When she was still driving, she called Rosewood over in East Moline, to inquire if one of our church members, Lloyd Nelson, was there, because she wanted to visit him. He had been going back and forth to the hospital. The clerk on the phone, with some sort of HIPPA caution was not willing to tell Lu whether he was there or not. “I am an 89 year old woman and you are telling me that I’ve got to drive over from Rock Island to find out if he is there or not?” The clerk said simply, “He is here.” I thought of her as part of our visitation SWAT team. “I pray to God I have church friends like that if I am aged and in a nursing home,” was my analysis. “I want folks like Lu on my team.”
Lu continued to serve her church when she was a resident of Friendship Manor and did not drive anymore. She telephoned communion servers to make sure we had a full team. She considered giving that up, but instead her church friends convinced her that they could be her back up if she needed help. My guess is that communion servers knew what she wanted when she phoned them up.
Lu had distinctive phone skills. She would call the church and if I answered and said, “Church of Peace,” her response was “Who is this?” “This is Michael Swartz, Lu.” “Oh, Michael…”
Lu brought out great kindness in people. Despite being direct and sometimes gruff she was also personable and good company. One of the humorous elements of this was that she picked helpers who were 20 – 25 years or so younger when she was in her seventies. But these folks aged right along too. Among those were Marilyn Frost and Bob Murphy – and I know there were others who pitched in to help. Lu could be direct in asking for what she needed, and that is actually a positive quality. She made us all feel like her adult children. And we knew that she did not have anyone else. It was relatively simple.
Lu was part of the texture of the Church of Peace. She was affiliated with the church for 98 years. She was a person of faith who saw in death the gate to life with God and those she loved who had gone before. She said, “I want to be with Milt.”
When we talk about the “family of the church” it is not just a theological concept, it is a reality. We were Lu’s village. Jesus’ promise is “I will not leave you orphaned.”
As we were cleaning up after the funeral luncheon I said to our parish nurse, Mary Oelschlaeger, “You know, the Church of Peace really came through for Lu.” Mary replied, “Yes, I think we did.”
And today we fulfill a final duty of adult children on Mothers Day, we honor and remember her, tell a story of her her love, her faith and her faithfulness.
Thanks be to God.
Amen and amen.