“Battling Dragons” by Rosanna McFadden
Good morning! Happy Mother’s Day! It’s been great to finally have a beautiful weekend with sunshine and blue skies, and the hope that spring might actually come for real. It’s also wonderful to see extended families here from out of the area to celebrate this special day. It’s a day for flowers and families and going out to brunch. So what is a red dragon with seven heads and ten horns doing in the middle of our worship service and our celebration of mothers? First of all, don’t blame Jean Barton, our worship leader. She was just reading the text which the pastor requested. You might have figured out for yourself that this is not a traditional Mother’s Day text. I mentioned last week that I’ll be preaching from the book of Revelation through May 22. But if you are particularly astute and pay attention to the cycle of the lectionary, you’ll know that this is not even one of the lectionary texts for the third Sunday after Easter. So if you’re thinking, What’s up with the dragon, anyway? You are probably not alone. Here’s what I can tell you — stick with me for 15 minutes or so, and maybe it will make more sense. Or not. There’s always brunch to look forward to.
The fact is, Mother’s Day has always been a source of friction for me — at least in Sunday worship. I’m good with cards and presents, and doing things to recognize my own mother, and the sweet things my children have done for me. Being a grandmother is awesome. I have nothing against motherhood in general, or in my specific case. But I feel like Mother’s Day can get kind if gooey and sentimental and whitewash over the fact that our relationships with our parents — especially the dynamics between mothers and daughters — can be complicated and sometimes painful. Childhood interactions can be stuff we drag into our adult interactions with our parents and children. The Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about negotiating those dynamics: Honor your father and your mother doesn’t provide a lot of detail.
What I appreciate about this text is a different perspective on motherhood, parenthood, or the character and perseverance it takes for anyone to bring something new into a hostile environment. Bringing new things into being has never been an easy task: the labor of giving birth to baby humans is a metaphor which helps us understand this. The dragons which are out there in our world today may be different than the dragons which John saw in his vision of the end of time, but I think they come from the same place — and that place may not always be separate from us. This passage talks not only about the evil which surrounds us; it also tells us about the God who protects us.
My understanding of this text–and we hear a lot more about this dragon later in chapter 12 and in 13–has been influenced by artwork, a poem and reflection by Jan L. Richardson. The image of the woman clothed with the sun with the moon at her feet is copyrighted, but I want to share Richardson’s poem and words about it from In Wisdom’s Path: Discovering the Sacred in Every Season.
[Art, reflection, and poem are from “Advent: The Cave of the Heart” in the book In Wisdom’s Path: Discovering the Sacred in Every Season © Jan L. Richardson.]
Sun Woman Speaks
When it was all over
they asked me for a charm
for banishing dragons.
look them in the eye
and call them by name.
It makes them mad as hell,
but they can’t abide
of their name.
“I always return to her, to the terror of her birthing and the force of her loving. This sun-garbed woman, in labor as a dragon waits to devour her child, reminds me that the cave of the heart is not a place of escape. It is a place to wrestle with those personal dragons that emerge only when we slow down, a place to struggle with those parts of ourselves we hesitate to confront and which we sometimes stifle with too much work or too much play or too many possessions or with substances that dull the ache we cannot name. This struggle is integral to preparing for the labor; it is part of the labor itself. Hiding from myself won’t sustain me through the travail, and being merely nice won’t give me strength for the birthing, and my silence won’t protect what I bring forth from that which seeks to destroy it.”
It has never been easy to bring forth new things. When we bring forth new things for God and God’s kingdom, we are bound to meet resistance: from the evil in the world — whether you imagine this as a dragon or Satan or something less embodied; as well as the evil within ourselves — our fear and our insecurity and our unwillingness to confront it and name it. In order to work for God’s kingdom, we need to have resolve, courage, and most importantly we need to have God on our side. The Sun Woman has some serious mojo: she is clothed with the sun, has the moon at her feet, and is crowned with stars: but she is not invincible. As soon as her male child was born, he was snatched away and taken to God’s throne in order to keep him safe, and the woman fled to the wilderness and a place prepared by God so that she could be cared for.
Revelation has all this crazy imagery — some people love it and some people just think it’s weird — but as I said last week, if we can look past the special effects, there are some wonderful messages. First and foremost is that Christ wins — or more accurately, Christ has already won. Christ, and Christ alone is worthy of our allegiance and our worship. Anyone in labor trying to bring forth something new in the face of adversity has probably asked themselves “Is this worth it?” The resounding answer is Yes. It is. It is worth it because Christ is worthy. Being part of the work of Christ in the midst of forces which want to destroy Christ is not about being nice; it isn’t about being meek and silent. Battling dragons is about being honest: being honest about who we are and being confident about who Christ is: the firstborn from the dead, the ruler of time and eternity, our Savior and the Savior of the world. Battling dragons is about being fierce, and having the courage to look them in the eye and call them by name. We have this courage because we already know what the outcome of this fight is going to be. Who wins? Christ wins.
If you were fortunate, you had a mother, father, grandparents, someone who introduced you to Jesus Christ. Maybe they took you to church, or read the Bible or Bible stories with you at home. I know many of you have done this with your own children or grandchildren. Christianity is a courageous thing to pass on to children and grandchildren, because society around us is less and less interested in the teachings and the behavior and the example of Jesus Christ. Whoever and however you heard about Christ, you had to make some choices for yourself: what is important to you? Where are you going to give your time and your money, and especially, where are you going to give your allegiance? Who are you going to worship?
This is a day when we celebrate — and rightly so — the beauty of the earth and the joy of human love: brother, sister, parent, child. But Revelation reminds us that there is more to love than warm, happy feelings. Love means being fierce enough to fight for what matters to us; love means entrusting the things we love the most into the care and protection of God. For all the beauty of the earth, it never stops changing: there are new situations, new challenges, and new dragons to be met all the time. Part of our work in shaping this world to look more like the kingdom of God is to be giving birth to new things: new ideas, new ministries, new ways of being faithful to God and to Christ. It may mean staring down some dragons: poverty, injustice, racism, apathy, indifference. The only way we can be faithful in a world which changes is to rely on the faithfulness of God: God who is brings forth new things but whose faithfulness is always with us. When you encounter dragons — big ferocious ones or sneaky little ones — remember that God will never leave us. Christ encountered the dragon of humiliation and death; Christ took on humiliation and death for our sake. We celebrate that Christ defeated death. Death is dead; we are saved; Christ has won.
Blessings to you for this day as we walk in the promise of the risen Christ and our faithful God. Amen.