The Text Says:
Mother’s Day has become an important day on the Church Calendar. We rightly celebrate those who sacrificed to bring us into the world. Instead of the traditional two-rose vase, our church has three roses. The red rose is for all living mothers, still around to bless us. The white rose is for those mothers who are no longer with us, but whose influence is still powerfully felt. We add a pink rose. This is so no woman will need to dread Mother’s Day because she is not a biological mother. There are many good women who are unable to bear children. That need not be a stigma. Adoptive Moms and others who mothered young people into the Christian faith; who taught us to pray and the revere the scriptures. There are so many contributions by mothers past or present, and in any other way to nurture God’s children. Happy Mother’s Day!
The Preacher Says:
Maybe ya’ll have heard the latest hit from Political Correctness absurdity: “master bedroom.” “Owner’s Suite” is much less offensive, sexist, racist. Before long Mother’s Day may be next, as the institution of marriage is in a state of flux. But without a doubt Proverbs 31 was written for RI moms: V. 21 “She’s not afraid of snow, and all her children are dressed in red!”
Tony Campolo once told me he was preaching on this text to a youth group, and began with Vs. 10: “Who can find a virtuous woman, her price is far above rubies?” And before he could finish, some wise guy yelled, “What’s Ruby’s price?” (He’s coming in Sept for our 375th anniversary celebration. Tony will tickle your funnie bones.) But motherhood is no joke.
Just as there’s no one biblical view of marriage, neither is there one biblical view of motherhood. No simple set of instructions on how to be a mom. St. Paul had some specific rules about how fathers should relate to their sons. But he doesn’t mention their mothers. However there are several biblical-but-not-sentimental case studies. The scriptures are too realistic for sugar-coated idealism. They hide neither the successes nor failures of those who brought us into the world. Some succeeded wonderfully, and others failed miserably. Something can be learned from each on this 99th Mother’s Day.
One of the earliest biblical Moms is Rebecca. She and Isaac had twin boys. Her story in the Book of Genesis can be defined as “deception:” the age-old no-no of showing favorites between her kids. For some reason she just cottoned-to Jacob more than Esau. While that is natural, it need not be detrimental. Like when she plotted against her blind husband so her fave could gain the advantage of the birthright that rightfully belonged to the elder son. This unfairness contributed long afterwards to Jacob’s dishonesty. He learned it from his Mamma. Her scheming was formative and ensures that those who play loose with the truth can expect more of the same from their kids.
Another Mother is Jochebed, the mother of Moses, who was “resourceful.” When she gave birth to her son, she was a slave down in Egypt. As the Hebrew nation grew too large, Pharaoh passed a cruel law: all the newborn were to be destroyed. Jochebed evaded detection by hiding her son in a floating bassinette among the bullrushes of the Nile. So when baby Moses was discovered by Pharaoh’s own daughter, she was so impressed at his mother’s ingenuity, that instead of whacking him, she adopted him! We see where Moses got the imagination to one day become the Deliverer of the people of God. What a great leader he grew up to be! Gave to the world the ten commandments and ethical living. Is it any surprise that one of them says “Obey thy father and mother?” Moses was blessed to have a mother with creative resourcefulness. She found a way, under horrible circumstances, to give her son an opportunity. It’s an inspiring example to all mothers.
By contrast, there is Herodias, an infamous mother, who lived during the time of Jesus. She had a checkered marital career, divorcing her husband Philip, to marry his brother Herod Antipas, who was Tetrarch of Galilee. She did it because something was in it for her. When John the Baptist exposed her infidelity, she wanted his head on a platter! And got it, by manipulating the king into a promise when her daughter Salome performed what later came to be called the “dance of the 7 veils.” Herodias used her daughter to get what she wanted. This time her treachery took the life of a good man. Jesus said of him, “there was none greater than John.” Hers is an extreme example, but it still shows up in today’s mothers.
Because it’s so easy to confuse our love for a child with absorbing the child, where they become an extension of her own personality. I’ve had street people come in holding up their babies, while asking for a handaout. It’s Herodias deja vu: to live out our desires through someone else. Herodias represents the domineering, my way or no way mothers, who not only warp their kids but do great harm to others. Check out that raving Chechnyan mother Zubeidat’s influence on her sons: “I don’t care if my son is dead!” Or somebody else’s 8 year old son.
And then there’s Mother Hannah, among the famous Moms in all the Bible. Her son Samuel, became one of Israel’s greatest prophets. The word to describe Hannah fits most Moms: “dedication.” She was barren and wanted to conceive so badly she made a pact with God: If he would give her a son, she would regard him as a hallowed gift from heaven and raise him in the temple. The realization that our children don’t belong to us, but come through us, from God, is the beginning of wisdom. Baptists don’t baptize infants but we do have infant and parental dedications at the church, because of the inspiration from Mother Hannah. Dedication to good parenting is the one thing guaranteed to make the world better.
The next Mother is not mentioned by name in the Bible. She’s known only in relation to her two sons: James and John, who were disciples of the Lord. This woman was overly “ambitious.” Her singular appearance was to hit-up on Jesus to reserve a place of honor for her boys in the coming kingdom of God. She couldn’t help herself: typical Jewish Mamma. She wants only the best for her boys! She could just envision James on the left hand and John on the right hand in glory! (And her next to them?) Pushing her sons on somebody else betrayed her driving expectation that characterized her method of mothering. “My sons will be better than everybody else’s!” And I will be viewed as exceptional because of their standing.
Is it any wonder that their nicknames were the “sons of thunder?” As again, a mother’s aggressive arranging is transferred to her kids. How unfair to endow a child with an unrealistic sense of superiority! God help the child who can’t live up to irrational expectations! It’s demoralizing to anyone to never be able to please the most important person in your life. Or live up to the grandiose hopes laid upon you by a “prestige-conscious” Mamma. It takes a delicate balance, because we all want our kids to do well. We properly take delight in who our children are and enable them to strive to better themselves — but not in order to out-do somebody else’s kids. Too much ambition for our offspring can be debilitating. Ask those Samaritans that the “sons of thunder” tried to get Jesus to nuke!
I recently watched a re-run of the classic Tom Hanks film, “Forrest Gump.” Sally Field played the role of a great Mom. Opposite of Mrs. Zebedee; incredibly patient, who kept her frustrations in tow. It paid off in molding a beautifully, simple, well-lived son, by teaching him how to love somebody.
There’s one other unnamed mother who epitomizes motherhood at its best. It’s a story about how to settle an unusual dispute: two women, fighting over the same baby! One was the real mother, the other one was a fake. These ladies shared a house together and each of them had children about the same age. One of the mothers accidentally rolled-over on her son and woke up the next morning to find him dead. So while the other mother slept, she swapped the dead baby with the live one and at sun-up all hell broke loose! “This is my baby! No it’s mine!” The conflict couldn’t be resolved so they came before King Solomon. And the first thing he did was to call for a sword! Why does he want a sword? Lord have mercy! He’s gonna slice-the-kid-in-two and give half to each mother! I think he was just kidding, because at this staggering suggestion, the real mother reacted in horror and sacrificed her motherhood to save the life of her baby. The pretender gave herself away by agreeing to the proposal. That’s how Solomon determined the true mother and awarded her with the rightful custody of her child.
This incident not only displayed the wisdom of Solomon but it also reflects on what makes a good mother: to sacrifice her own desires for the welfare of her children. The best word to describe this biblical mother is “sacrifice.” That’s why we have Mother’s Day. Just as every mother suffers physically in birthing a baby, even more so, raising a child from womb to tomb involves so many costly acts of self-giving. It’s impossible to number them all. What St. Paul wrote applies to good parenting: one who “believes all things, bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
There’s one other thing I would point out that comes from having a Mom and living with a good one for over 50 years: Motherhood is an open-ended challenge. I think it’s understandable to look upon our kid’s behavior as a reflection on ourselves. To some extent that may be true. But in the end they are free to determine the way they will live. Giving birth just sets the stage for what’s to come. The rest depends on what they do with it. Thankfully, most do good things. But some aren’t above doing awful things. Having a baby won’t automatically turn a woman into a saint! Some women rise to great heights; others give in to their lower temptations. Motherhood is ultimately determined by what each woman and her child makes of it. The decisive factor is not physical but spiritual.
In one of the non-canonical apocryphal books, there’s a mythical tale about a religious man who was jealous of Jesus’ reputation, because Jesus’ innate goodness made his own religion appear to be lacking. So he decided to bring Jesus down a notch by humiliating him in public. He devised a plot: To trick Jesus by holding a baby bird, asking whether it was dead or alive. If Jesus said “dead,” the man would open his hands and say wrong, “He’s alive.” If Jesus said “alive,” he would squeeze the life out of it and say wrong, “It’s dead.” Either way Jesus was bound to be discredited. Confident of his ruse, he approached Jesus and said: “I have this baby bird in my hands. Is it dead or alive?” After a long pause, Jesus bent over and wrote something in the dirt: “The answer is … in your hands.”
That is the most profound biblical insight into motherhood. No specific instruction; but many examples, that teach us: motherhood is what each mother chooses to make it. So what kind of mothers will you be?” The answer is … in your hands.
Providence Prayers: Mother’s Day May 12, 2013
Here in this house of prayer, where we become a part of something bigger than we are, Lord God, accept our gratitude for all the ways we are blessed. While the headlines beat us down, may this place revive our spirits in a world that kills the things it loves and hates. For meaningful worship, good music that lifts us, and the scriptures, inspiring us with the hope that tomorrow will be better than today, we give Thee thanks.
Because we can learn to pray only by praying, we bring before Thee now, our prayers, unfinished as they always are. But ever thankful for this family of faith, that keeps us from resigning ourselves to that which ought to be resisted. For those who grace our lives by giving us to see the interim character of the little systems in which we take such pride. May this hour remind us of the big picture. For this historic congregation and those within it who translate the wisdom of the past into guidelines for the future. And those in the present who translate their faith in Christ into nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and service seen only by Thee.
Out of Thy infinite love our Father, minister to us according to our several needs. We pray for our families. Give us mastery over our moodiness and petulance; the ability to smile, even on the worst of days; the stamina to persevere when the prize eludes our grasp; the courage to resume life alone, after parting from a companion of many years; the faith to believe that you are, even when it doesn’t look like it; the grace to admit our mistakes and the humility to accept forgiveness. While we need each other to lift us out of ourselves, remind us that what holds us together keeps others away. For all of our false starts and broken promises grant us the faith to see Thee as Thou art, so that we may praise Thee as we ought. Through Christ our Lord.