As I'm not preaching today, I'm reposting a sermon for Mother's Day preached on May 8, 2011. I invite you to read and contemplate the role of the mother as well as the feminine images for God that are present in Scripture.
9 They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck. (NIV, 2011)
Today is Mother's Day, which celebrates a very special relationship between mother and child, and by extension - children and parents. Mother's Day, along with Father's Day, celebrates the importance of family, and it's a good thing to celebrate these relationships. But we should also remember that Jesus had a broader vision of family than do most of us. Do you remember what he said when his mother came looking for him? He pointed to his disciples and said:
"Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." (Matthew 12:49-50).
As we take to heart this word about family, we can then listen to the wisdom we find in Proverbs, which calls on us to listen to our parents and follow their instructions so that life might be good. It's a message that's also present in the commandment to "Honor your Father and Mother." Of course, if children - whatever their ages -- actually listened to their mothers, that would make for a very happy Mother's Day!
1. The Dangerous Ideal
Although we're not all mothers, we all have mothers: Biological and adoptive, room moms and dorm moms, good mothers and not so good mothers. There are happy moms and sad ones, stay-at-home moms and working moms; moms by choice and moms by accident.
If you want to know how to be the ideal mother (and wife), then read Proverbs 31.
10 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.12 She brings him good, not harm,all the days of her life.13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.14 She is like the merchant ships,bringing her food from afar.15 She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants.16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.17 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.18 She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.19 In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:29 “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.31 Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate. (NIV, 2011)
This chapter can offer a liberating word for women, after all, the writer affirms their industriousness and intelligence. But, the downside of this chapter is that it seems to suggest that you have to be Superwoman to be a good mother and wife. The ideal woman is one who works and works night and day making sure the house is run well, the poor are tended to, and her husband has the freedom to sit at the city gates and talk politics with the other city leaders. As you listen to these words, you quickly realize that this is an unattainable ideal. If you tried to attain to this standard, you would end up exhausted. And yet, despite the unattainable nature of this ideal, this ode to the ideal woman, reminds us that mothers play an important role in the life both of the family and beyond the family. If we take to heart this message, then both mothers and fathers hear a call to be loving guides to their children, who provide instruction from the heart.
2. A Child Listens for the Mother's Voice
In speaking of the blessings that come from listening to the voice of our parents, the writers of Proverbs describe a relationship that mirrors the one that Jesus speaks of when he talks about the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. That is, even as the sheep hear and follow the Master's voice, so the child hears and follows the mother's voice. Jesus says that the sheep know the shepherd's voice because the shepherd spends time with the sheep. This is what we call bonding, and if you watch a mother and a baby together, you'll see how that bond is built from the very beginning of a baby's life!
Parents build relationships with their children by attending Scout meetings, band concerts, swim meets, football games, and helping with homework - when they can. Sometimes it involves going to the hospital and parent-teacher conferences. Parents read stories to their children and maybe even engage in tickle fights. They eat together and go to museums and zoos. Kids don't always show it, but deep down most of them are grateful for this relationship.
I will confess that I didn't always heed my mother's voice, but I always knew she was there for me. Because she took the time to build a relationship with me when I was very young, I have always known that I could count on her being there when I was in need.
3. A Mother Stands and Protects Her Children.
Good parents, like good shepherds, don't run away when danger strikes. That is, they don't abandon their lambs to the wolves. No, when danger is present, they stand firm, even at the cost of their own lives.
Parents seem to have this deeply planted innate concern for the welfare of their children. It's not just human parents. It's also true of the animal kingdom. That's why you had better not ever approach a bear cub playing alone. It's very likely that an extremely protective mother is standing close by, ready to jump in and defend her cub. So don't tempt fate by getting too close! This attribute is so innate to mothers, human or not, that we find it incomprehensible when we hear about a mother killing or abandoning her children. It's just not natural. Now, I will admit, sometimes mothers can be a bit overprotective, but you have to understand where they're coming from!
4. Mothers as Models of God's Presence
As we contemplate the relationship of mothers and their children, it's appropriate to also consider the feminine images of God that are present in Scripture. We're used to addressing God as Father and imagining God in masculine terms. We address God as Father when we pray the Lord's Prayer and when we sing the Gloria Patri, which describes God in Trinitarian terms as God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But these aren't the only ways we can address God.
If we listen closely to the Scriptures, we find numerous examples of God described in feminine and even motherly terms. For instance, in Deuteronomy we read about the "God who gave you birth" (Deut. 32:18), and in Isaiah, Israel describes God as the one who bore Israel from birth and carried Israel from the womb (Is. 46:3). Hosea speaks of God's relationship with Israel in especially motherlike ways, saying: "I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them" (Hos. 11:4). In Isaiah 66 we read: "As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you . . . " (Isa. 66:13). Then there is that passage in Luke where Jesus describes himself as a mother hen desiring to gather up her chicks (Luke 13:34). Then there's Holy Wisdom, which is understood as describing God in feminine terms, while the Hebrew word for Spirit - ruach - is a feminine noun. God is also described as a mother eagle and a mother bear and as a woman seeking after a lost coin. Each of these images and ideas remind us that if we think of God solely in masculine terms then we've missed part of the biblical understanding of God.
So, as we celebrate Mother's Day, if you've not already done so, perhaps this is a good time to expand your vision of God's nature, so that we might truly understand how humanity expresses the image of God as both male and female (Gen. 1:27). And as we do this, let us give thanks for God's gift of mothers and then think about the qualities that are present in our mothers, which reflect the nature of God.
While we're doing this remembering and celebrating, we might want to remember that Mother's Day can be a difficult day for many. It might be a day of grief for those who remember a beloved mother who has died. It might also be a time of remembering a child who has died. Then there are the women who have found it impossible to bear a child. We need to keep them in our hearts and honor their grief.
If we can do this, then we can also give thanks for the love and grace that God expresses to us in and through our mothers. We can also remember that God comes to us not only as Father, but also as Mother. This is the vision laid out for us in the words of a hymn written by Ruth Duck.
Womb of Life, and Source of Being, home of every restless heart,in your arms the worlds awakened; you have loved us from the start.We your children, gather 'round you at the table you prepare.Sharing stories, tears and laughter, we are nurtured by your care.(Chalice Hymnal, #14).
May we honor our mothers and receive from God, God's nurturing care so that we might find rest for our restless heart.
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church
3rd Sunday of Easter
May 8, 2011