Call the Midwife – The Rev. Kathy Pfister – The Hill

November 5, 2017

    In my household, each member of the family seems to have staked out their own TV genre niche.

    Phil goes for mystery- thrillers, while Charles prefers crime shows.  Camille, loves, loves, loves sit-coms- so much so that she has worked her way through nearly every contemporary age-appropriate option- and has now worked her way all the way back, through the decades, to Cheers.  Compared to the Wizards of Wimberley Place-  it is a discovery for which the rest of us are most heartily grateful.

    When I was a little girl, my very favorite TV show was Little House on the Prairie- that most beloved of period dramas, that follows the joys and travails of the ever brave and earnest Engels family in the wilds of the pioneer west. I used to get to stay up an hour late on Wednesday nights just to watch it-and I cried at nearly every episode- and thus began my life-long love affair with television drama.

    Much to my family’s dismay, I have fallen in love with the new dramatic series, the BBC’s Call the Midwife. Cut from the same cloth as, Little House– the series uses the distance of time to reflect upon our ever-present human condition as well as tackle contemporary issues.

    Call the midwife is the kind of show that restores your faith in humanity. Both wholesome and gritty, every show guarantees the on-screen delivery of at least one baby- they are midwives after all- with all of the heightened drama one would expect: urgency, pain and fear, juxtaposed with fierce beauty and new born blessing- it’s a combination destined to evoke any and all types of tears.

    Set in London’s desperately poor east-end, in the mid 1950’s- the plot follows newly qualified midwife, nurse Jenny Lee.  Jenny has come to live at Nonnatus house- a small convent of Anglican nuns, (yes thye do exist) dedicated to the ministry of nursing.  She, along with the other brave and earnest midwives, set out to offer safe delivery to the many babies of the post-war, pre-birth-control Poplar district.

    Funded by the newly established National Health System- the nurses operate a small maternity clinic in a church parish hall, and visit expectant mothers in their homes.  Amid the squalor and impoverishment that they encounter, the nurses must face their own prejudices and overcome their squeamishness. Entering people’s lives as they do- the midwives come across every kind of brokenness this world has to offer.  Domestic violence, infidelity, alcohol abuse, post-partum depression, still born infants, abandoned unwed mothers, child neglect, unwanted pregnancy, and the myriad effects of lasting poverty. And yet despite the depth and pervasiveness of the struggle and heartache they encounter, the midwives remain true to their purpose: To ease suffering and bear new life into the world.

    Nurtured along by the Anglican nuns, –the nurses– who are not necessarily religious- are none the less saturated in a community with an abiding and transcendent conviction of the dignity of every human being. In this way, their understanding of who they are, and who is their neighbor-  is inverted, turned upside down.  Things are not always what they appear to be.

    And so no matter what they encounter or-who they encounter-no matter their initial reactions and perceptions- each is called, each is commissioned to respond with love. To regard every mother, every baby, every person, as one made in the image of God.

    As each nurse grows in confidence, as each nurse sees the power of love and respect to transform even the direst of circumstance- they begin to claim their authority.  They get bolder, braver in their claim of dignity for every mother and every mother’s child. And they push back against those powers that make a different claim. Broke and broken, filthy, poor, hungry, uneducated, no matter- wherever there can be love, there can be dignity, wholeness and hope.

    Not only do the midwives help bear new-life into the world, they bear witness to the blessedness of life itself– so that in every episode, in the unfolding of each story- — it is our perceptions that are inverted- – so that we too can see it- the in-breaking of that beautiful truth.

    Life is beautiful. Life is blessed. Life is gift.

    The Beatitudes, the teachings of Jesus found in our gospel lesson for today are just such an inversion.

    3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

    10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted

    7 “Blessed are the merciful,

    8 “Blessed are the pure in heart,

    9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

    At first hearing, Jesus words don’t make much sense. The people Jesus is describing as blessed, are not the people the larger religious or social structure viewed as blessed.  Indeed, in ancient times many believed misfortune to be evidence of God’s displeasure. Cursed not Blessed.

    But I don’t think Jesus is necessarily encouraging us to adopt or seek out these attributes either. We can see perhaps the moral benefit of being a peacemaker, or merciful – but it doesn’t make sense to me that Jesus would desire us to seek out mourning or persecution.

    Rather I believe, in this great inversion- Jesus is asking us to remember the One in whose image we all are made- and to reimagine the very nature of blessing. To understand anew, what it means to be greatly honored in the eyes of God, to be beautiful, blessed in the eyes of God.

    If such as these are honored in the eyes of God, blessed by God- then by extension- we too are to regard them with honor and blessing. And in regarding them as God regards them, we become agents of blessing ourselves.

    When we respect the dignity of every human being. When we treat our neighbor as though they are made in the image of God, when we insist on the truth of that- perhaps despite all evidence to the contrary- we change the story. We make possible a different ending.

    For the recipient of such truth, everything is made anew. That is to say- To understand oneself, as having been perceived in such a way as to be worthy of love and respect, to been seen as someone made in the image of God- is the most powerful transformative act possible. To be beheld in this way, it’s everything.

    Love heals, Love restores us to our own created goodness. That’s the truth that underlies every ministry of the church.  And when are able to do that for another human being- to behold them in this way–We become Midwives to the in breaking of God’s kingdom- Because, each human Life is beautiful.  is blessed. is gift. Is Beatitude.

    This morning beautiful, blessed Frankie, gift beyond measure- was baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus and made a member incorporate in the body of Christ. A community of broken and blessed souls who are dedicated to seeking and serving Christ in all persons, to recognizing the blessedness inherent in all God’s people. A community that will insist on this truth- and reflect this truth- over and over again to her, through practice and prayer, service and story, friendship and forgiveness- so that Frankie will come to behold herself as someone made in the image of God, worthy of love and respect.

    She won’t be perfect. She’ll make lots of mistakes- but having received the forgiveness of sins, she’ll come to understand that her mistakes need not define her. And the more she knows it of herself, the more she knows it of her neighbor-thus becoming an agent of blessing in communion with the God she knows and loves.  The prayer book calls this: having a “share in His eternal priesthood.”

    All of us have a share in the eternal priesthood of Christ, said another way- you might say, that we all share in God’s ever-present midwifery- the never ceasing baring of beauty and blessing into the world, even in the midst of pain, even death.

    So that even in the face of immense brokenness- the blessedness, the beauty, the gift of life remains.  It shines through the cracks- that in-breaking Kingdom of God for those with eyes to see.

    And those who see it, those who help us to see the light at the bottom of everything- we call those people Saints.  And we celebrate them this day, and we hope to be one too-

    The world we know and love is calling for the midwife. Go, remain true to your purpose. Relieve suffering, bring forth new life. Go, be earnest and brave and claim your God given authority. Bearing witness to the blessedness of life, in Jesus name. Amen.