When meeting with six young pastors, I asked, “What text have you chosen for your Mother’s Day sermon?” No one had an answer. The common response was, “That’s a hard sermon for me to preach; I’ve not found my sermon yet.”
Another time while in Kentucky, I asked two veteran pastors the same question. We were having dinner together, and bear in mind it was Wednesday night before Mother’s Day. Both of them shook their heads and said, “I don’t have my sermon for Mother’s Day. That’s a hard one for me to do.”
Why is it so difficult for pastors of all ages to preach Mother’s Day sermons? My hunch is it has nothing to do with faulty relationships with their mothers. It has more to do with two realities: a) They do not want to go all sentimental and just preach a “how wonderful is motherhood” sermon, and yet are not clear what to do; and b) They are mostly men. My granddaughter was the one who reminded me of this.
I was pushing my 8-year-old granddaughter Abby in the swing in her front yard, our favorite place. She and her twin Erin had been learning about childbirth from their mother. Abby was not liking what she was learning. “I’m not going to have children, Grandpa,” she said. “It hurts too bad.”
My first thought was to say, “If your mother felt that way, you would not be here. And if your great-grandmothers felt that way, none of us would be here.” But what I said was, “You’re right. It does hurt. But the pain goes away, and you’re left with this beautiful child, and you decide that it was worth it.”
The child looked me square in the eyes and said, “You’re a man. What do you know?”
After picking myself up off the grass, I laughingly admitted she was exactly right—all I know on this subject is what I’ve been taught. Let us admit the obvious here: This is one experience where we men are on the outside looking in. We men are out of our league trying to assess what mothers go through and the challenges they face.
So we will cut these pastors some slack and pray for them, that the Father will give them the sermons He wants them to preach. In the meantime, I have some ideas for the rest of us.
What I’m Preaching On
My sermon for a Mother’s Day morning at FBC of Kenner concerned the conflicting currents flowing through even the best mothers, the tension even Christian mothers contend with. Think of Mary, the mother of Jesus in Luke 1 and 2:
- Bearing the Son of God in her womb: What a privilege. Enduring the suspicion and rumors of family and neighbors: What a burden.
- Bringing forth this special child in the City of David; having to do so in a stable a long way from home.
- Blessed by Simeon and Anna in the Temple; hearing of God’s great role for this Child, and then learning that a sword will pierce her own heart.
- Visited by the Magi with special gifts; hearing of murderous Herod’s intentions; the midnight escape to Egypt.
Poor Mom. She has to depend on other people to help look after her children, and sometimes finds them undependable. (You can hear Mary and Joseph interrogating others on the journey to Jerusalem: “What do you mean, He’s not with you? I was counting on you to look after Him!”) Every parent has to have others they can count on—extended family members, school teachers, pastors, Sunday School teachers, choir and mission leaders, coaches, etc. Sometimes we find they let us down. (The church is such an important resource for parents. It’s so crucial that we select the best and finest to work with our children.)
Poor Mom. She finds it hard to accept that her Son is growing up with a mind of His own and His own sense of how the Father is leading Him. So, when she rebukes Him for “treating us this way,” Jesus informs her the temple should have been the first place she looked, that He had work to do. Literally, He answers: “Did you not know that I must be about the things of my Father?” Interesting that Mary says “Your father and I have been looking for you,” and Jesus speaks of a different Father. (Mothers sometimes find it difficult to begin to relinquish control as the child matures; and yet if the child is to become a responsible adult, this must happen. Watch a nature program and see the mother lion run off her adolescent son, then watch the eagle push the fledglings out of the nest when the time has come for them to leave it.)
Poor Mom. So much to consider. “Mary treasured all these things up in her heart.” She was so torn between the privilege of parenting the Savior and the burden of the daily responsibilities of her role. Every parent knows the tension. (Interesting, too, the assumption Mary and Joseph made that Jesus was among them when He wasn’t. One wonders how many church members these days are assuming that because they go to church or were raised by Christian parents that Jesus is automatically with them. They need to take stock and make sure.)
Some Thoughts From Ruth Bell Graham
Here are more Mother’s Day sermon ideas from Ruth Bell Graham in her wonderful book, Prodigals and Those Who Love Them.
Monica, mother of Augustine, prayed for years that her brilliant but undisciplined son would be saved. When she sought the counsel of her priest, he listened as she poured out her heart of love and her intercession for this prodigal. At the conclusion, the priest said, “Go on! Leave me alone. Live as you are living. It is not possible that the son of such tears should be lost.” (I think when a mother’s prayers arrive in Heaven, they go to the head of the line. When Hannah gave birth to her baby, she was so thrilled that God had heard her prayers, she named the child Samuel—literally, in the Hebrew, it means: “Heard of God.” His very name proclaimed that God had heard his mother’s prayers!)
You know the Augustine story. Monica prayed that he would not go to Rome, which was then such a wicked place. But he slipped away and went anyway…and came to Christ there.
Some poetry from Ruth Bell Graham (same book):
“Lord, in This Frenzied Puttering”
Lord, in this frenzied puttering
about the house, see more!
The dusting, straightening, muttering,
are but the poor efforts of a heavy heart
to help time pass.
Praying on my knees I get uptight;
For hearts and lives are not the only things
that need to be put right.
And, while I clean, please, if tears should fall,
they’re settling the dust—that’s all.
Lord, I will straighten all I can
and You take over what we mothers cannot do.
Another poem, with the title: “Listen, Lord”
Listen, Lord, a mother’s praying
low and quiet; listen, please.
Listen what her tears are saying,
See her heart upon its knees;
lift the load from her bowed shoulders
till she sees and understands,
You, who hold the worlds together,
hold her problems in your hands.
Luther Little was a Mississippian who pastored in Charlotte, NC, in the 1920s and 1930s. I’ve read his books; he was so well worth knowing. In his autobiography, he tells about his mother, who never had the opportunity to hear him preach.
When Luther announced to his family of God’s call into the ministry, only his mother was pleased. His father and brothers harassed him mercilessly about it, accusing him of seeking a softer life than what they would experience on the farm. The day Luther was scheduled to preach his first sermon, his mother became ill and was unable to accompany the family to church. She brought her young son near and said, “Son, you go on and preach. I’ll stay behind and pray for you. When you get back, you can tell me all about it.”
A little more from Ruth Bell Graham. She is so wonderful.
This is her take on the story of the homecoming of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15.
“Joe Came Home Tonight”
Joe came home tonight. He’d been gone quite awhile—and missed.
Funny how his absence was felt more than Charlie’s hanging ’round.
His dad stayed near that window day and night, looking—
listening for a call that never came.
Joe never missed his dad like that.
He was too busy having fun—then pigs—his own troubles—himself.
And all the time his dad was missing Joe.
Then tonight Joe came home.
First we knew the old man shouted and banged the door
and took off down the road.
We saw them meet.
A proud old man and a bum.
I couldn’t believe Joe could get that dirty
and his dad be so glad to get him back.
Charlie? You know Charlie—faithful but complaining.
Well, he was faithful to his complaining tonight.
The rest of us? Boy! It’s great.
P.S. I hope Joe didn’t get a round-trip ticket.
P.P.S. He did. Where are you, Joe?
One more from Ruth Bell Graham:
“Had I Been Joseph’s Mother”With such prayers importunate
Had I been Joseph’s mother I’d have prayed
protection from his brothers.
“God, keep him safe. He is so young,
so different from the others.”
Mercifully, she never knew
there would be slavery and prison, too.
Had I been Moses’ mother I’d have wept
to keep my little son:
praying she might forget the babe
drawn from the water of the Nile.
Had I not kept him for her nursing him the while,
was he not mine?—and she but Pharaoh’s daughter?
Had I been Daniel’s mother I should have pled
“Give Victory!—this Babylonian horde
godless and cruel—Don’t let him be a captive—
better dead, Almighty Lord.”
Had I been Mary, Oh, had I been she,
I would have cried as never mother cried,
“Anything, O God, anything...
my finite wisdom would assail
Infinite Wisdom. God, how fortunate
Infinite Wisdom should prevail.
Okay, Pastor. See if any of this helps.
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