I have never in my life as a priest preached a sermon about mothers on Mother’s Day. But I decided that today I would preach that first sermon—because without the honored institution of motherhood, none of us would be here.
There are reasons, however, for not preaching on the topic of mothers—and here they are:
- For some, motherhood is an accident, and not always a welcomed one;
- For some, biological motherhood isn’t possible;
- For some, mother’s weren’t all that nice;
- And lastly, for some, motherhood under the best of circumstances is still less than a bed of roses and a primrose path.
I don’t remember all the details, but when we got to New Carlisle, Indiana and opened the suitcases, out popped the stuffed animals. Chris had worked—packing and unpacking until she got in the clothes and the diapers…plus the stuffed animals. And, of course, she was right! Our kids needed those stuffed animals. I had been approaching it very logically and intelligently. But Chris understood the needs of our children, and met them. I led with my head. She led with her heart. She’s a mother, and that’s what mothers do.
Today is Mother’s Day and we celebrate all those innumerable times when we were rescued by the heart of a mother. Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers present here this morning.
If you’ve been in the Episcopal Church very long, you know that every sermon has three points. But, alas, Mother’s Day is so rich that I’m afraid to tell you that I have four points today.
The first is the motherhood of all human mothers, especially our own and those among us. The second is the special motherhood of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The third is the motherhood of God. And the fourth is the social application and desire of motherhood, which is peace.
What does motherhood mean? First, it means sharing in the creative power of God. Conceiving, carrying, and giving birth to a human being is as close as any person can come to the act of creation. That’s just the beginning of motherhood. And it is far from the end. Being a mother is also nurturing, sacrificing, loving and ultimately letting go. Sometimes being willing to let go is the only way to hold on to a child. And in this way, too, mothers reflect the nature, the actions and the being of God.
The second point to be celebrated today is the special motherhood of Mary. The Magnificat says, “All generations shall call me blessed.” Why was Mary blessed—because she was honored with the special privilege of being the mother of Jesus. She was given a great gift. God chose her because he knew she would do the nurturing, the sacrificing, the loving and the letting go. We honor Mary because she knew all this would be difficult—she knew the suspicion and shame her pregnancy would bring upon her. Being an unwed mother wasn’t easy then, just as it isn’t easy now. Yet she said ‘yes’ to God. And we honor her for the birth that began in a Bethlehem cave.
The third point of this sermon is the motherhood of God. We have said that mothers, including Mary, share in the creative actions of God. And we have recognized the nurturing, sacrificing, loving acts of mothers in the reflecting of the nature of God. Mothers: be assured, you are made every bit in God’s image and perhaps even more so than us who mirror only the fatherhood of God. God is love, our gospel says, and you mothers are the highest created implementation of that love.
And, finally, it is on Mother’s Day that we reflect on the social application of motherhood—and that is peace. Mother’s Day, contrary to popular wisdom, was not invented by the Florists’ Association; or by the telephone company. Mother’s Day was invented by a mother who was protesting the killing of soldiers in World War I. She got other mothers to protest, too, and finally President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May as Mothers Day, a day dedicated not to honoring mothers, but to honoring their wishes—and the wish was that the killing happening in that horrible war be stopped.
This aspect of Mother’s Day is too often ignored, but it shouldn’t be. It is central to the whole idea of motherhood, including the motherhood of God. It is mothers who know the pain of seeing children fighting and hurting one another. Can you imagine the pain of seeing children killing each other? Can you imagine seeing your children divide into opposing armies and slaughter each other? That’s what war is to God.
It’s not enough to set aside a day to honor our mothers. We must also devote ourselves to ridding our social institutions of the violence and killing which have caused so many mothers so much pain and grief. We must strive for a world which reflects the nurturing, the sacrificing and the loving of mothers. For then we will also reflect the nurturing, the sacrificing, and the loving of God, the mother of us all.
I want to close with a story. This story is true and comes to us from a nurse who worked in a cancer ward. This is a story of a mother who sacrificed everything for her family. And this is how the nurse remembers her story:
“I remember the day she was admitted to the hospital. As I reviewed her admission papers, I was surprised to see that she was 32 and being admitted for chemotherapy to treat breast cancer that had been diagnosed two week earlier. I entered the room and introduced myself. Rebekah, her eyes sparkling with love, introduced me to her husband, Warren, and to Ruthie, age 6 and Hannah, age 4. In her arms wiggled her third daughter, Molly, age 2.
While I filled out forms, Rebekah, directed the unpacking of her suitcase—a comforter made by her grandmother, a family portrait for the bedside table.
Then I said, “I need to place a needle in your arm to give you the chemotherapy.”
“I’ll do anything to get well for my husband and girls. I can handle throwing up, losing my hair and being tired, but I’m absolutely terrified of needles. Her eyes brimmed with tears.
“You can cry, but please don’t move….on the count of three…”
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” Rebekah said loudly as the needle slid smoothly into the vein.” When I had finished Rebekah said, “What is your favorite Bible verse?”
“John 11:35,” I answered. “Jesus wept.”
Rebekah said, “Oh that’s a bad verse.”
“Not for me”, I said. It brings me comfort, knowing that Jesus is sad when bad things happen to people. It tells me a human side of him that I need to know when I care for sick people.
For the next 18 months, I saw Rebekah on a regular basis to receive chemotherapy and radiation. An X-ray showed the cancer had spread. How could I support her in this new challenge?
I entered Rebekah’s room. She said “I’m making tapes for my daughters, to know what I feel, think, and advise on important occasions. I don’t want them to forget me.
I looked over her list—first day of school, becoming 16, first date, first kiss, and so on. She let me listen to the tapes--they were moving and filled with advice, encouragement and love. And she continued each day to add to her words on tape as she grew weaker and weaker. Near the end of her tape was an explanation to her girls that she was going to live with God and help God get a home ready for them when they were very old.
Near the end of her life she asked me to set up the tape recorder. “This is my most important tape.” She said, “Ruthie, Hannah and Molly, some day your daddy will bring a new mommy home. I want you to make her feel very special, and how proud you will make me feel if you are kind, patient and encouraging to her as she learns to take care of each of you. Help her set the table. Bring her dandelions to put in the special vase—and most important, hug her often. Please do not be sad. Jesus knows how sad you are and he knows you will be happy again. I love you so much, Hannah, Ruthie and Molly. Big hugs.”
Rebekah died two days later.
I mailed that last tape to their dad four years later when Warren and the girls prepared to welcome their new wife and mother into the family.
Since time began, there have been maybe six billion mothers. This was the story of just one of them. The hardest part probably was letting go. Every story of motherhood is different. Each one is precious. Each of you has your own story.
Mothers, we honor you this day and every day. We thank you and we thank God for giving you to us and for endowing then with the spirit of giving, caring, nurturing, loving, and (when necessary) letting go.