Let me begin this morning by wishing a Happy Mother’s Day to all of our mothers who are here! In just a moment, I want to do something special for all of you. My goal this morning is to honor our mothers. To honor the commitment of those women who love their husbands, who are committed to the training of their children, and who are committed to Christ and his glory.
I understand, though, that not every woman fits the mold. There are millions of single women in this country, some of whom will stay single their entire lives. And God has a blessing for those women in that situation.
There are other women who are single mothers, and the marriage element in what I just described is painfully missing. And God has a special blessing for those women in that situation.
And there are some women who are married who cannot, or, who choose not, to have children. And God has a blessing for those women in that situation.
But this morning, we seek to honor our mothers. And while this a happy day for most, we need to realize that, for some women, Mother’s Day feels more like a day of mourning than a day of celebration. It stands as a reminder of what some have lost. Perhaps it’s a woman who lost her child through miscarriage, stillbirth, illness, or tragedy. Perhaps it’s someone who recently lost or who is estranged from his or her mother. Perhaps it’s a mother who is challenged by a rebellious child. Or perhaps, it’s an infertile woman who is pleading and praying for the gift of motherhood. Perhaps it’s a woman who had an abortion before she came to Christ. We all have different experiences that color our view of things, and so there may be some here this morning with pain and suffering that makes it difficult to celebrate.
Meredith Hodge was a woman like that. She was infertile and unable to have a child. Regarding Mother’s Day, she has written, “Infertility had darkened my heart and tempted me to despair. Anticipating [Mother’s] day in fear, internally I wished over and over: ‘Please don’t make the moms stand up. Please don’t hand out flowers to moms. Please, no one wish me a happy Mother’s Day.’”
She went on to say, “It wasn’t anger or jealousy, but my attention was more focused on my isolation and brokenness. I was grieving the loss of my longtime dream to be a mother. I felt as though all eyes were on me: the barren, childless woman in the congregation, the one who ‘wasn’t blessed.’ I assumed people were staring at me thinking, ‘I wonder what’s wrong with her and why she doesn’t have kids yet.’
“It wasn’t until I applied the gospel to my circumstance, prayed for guidance, and allowed the Spirit to take over my heart that I began to see heart transformation and change in my response to Mother’s Day.”
I think the key is Romans 12:15, where Paul said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” But I’ve learned that that’s difficult for many of us to do. And I have long held the view that we are at least better at weeping with those who weep, than we are at rejoicing with those rejoice. If someone has a death in the family, we’re there to provide comfort. If someone loses a job, we feel the pain along with them. If someone goes through a divorce, we’re eager to provide support.
But most of us find it more difficult to rejoice with those who rejoice. If you get a raise, I have trouble rejoicing because I find myself wishing that I could get a raise. If you get to spend your week-long vacation at Disney World, I have trouble rejoicing because I can’t stop thinking about my last vacation – three days spent in Pittsburgh. If your kids just made the honor roll, I have trouble rejoicing with you because I feel the embarrassment of having kids who have trouble keeping their heads above C-level.
And so, in our “everybody gets a trophy” culture, we have trouble showing honor to those to whom honor is due. And as a result, many congregations feel bad about showing honor to mothers. If they give out flowers, they give flowers to all the women so that the women who aren’t mothers won’t feel bad. But maybe they should give flowers to the men so that they won’t feel bad that the women got flowers and they didn’t. And, of course, we don’t want the kids to feel left out because all the adults got flowers and they didn’t, so make sure all the kids get flowers, too.
What if, instead, we chose to “give honor to whom honor is due” and the rest of us put into practice the principle of rejoicing with those who rejoice. And so, if today is a painful day for you for whatever reason, I hope that you can find the strength to express — without jealousy and without bitterness — love and appreciation to those who have blessed our lives and the lives of so many others through their role as a mother.
But I don’t want us to overlook the last half of Romans 12:15. And so, if today is a day of great joy for you, please remember that it may not be for everyone else. We shouldn’t downplay, stifle, or ignore their pain. There’s nothing wrong with mourning the loss of a child, or a mother, or an empty womb. So, for those who hurting today, may we all seek to provide the comfort that is needed.
No matter which side of motherhood you’re on, Romans 12:15 is applicable for you. Because when we are able to see our circumstances in view of what God has done for us, we are able to join together with one another through our joy and our sorrow, through our rejoicing and our weeping.
As Sam Crabtree recently wrote in a blog, “Mother’s Day is not primarily about being a mother and receiving honor, but thanking God for the mother he gave you, and giving honor.”
So, with that in mind, I’d like to ask some of our young people to help out. We do have a gift we would like to give to those of you who are mothers, so if you are a mother, would you please raise your hand.
PASS OUT FLOWERS
In my remaining thoughts, I don’t want so much to honor our mothers as much I want us to learn from them. Because, as that video made clear, good mothers tend to have very one beautiful attribute that is an essential element in our Christian walk, and that one attribute is LOVE.
Maureen Hawkins once wrote:
Before you were conceived I wanted you
Before you were born I loved you
Before you were here an hour I would die for you
This is the miracle of love.
And it’s certainly true that a distinguishing characteristic of motherhood is love. But that’s also a distinguishing characteristic of all Christians. As we saw in our Bible class Wednesday night, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35).
But, as you know, love is one of those words that’s been used in so many different ways that it’s become an almost meaningless expression. We love sports, we love pizza, we love sleeping late in the morning. The love we’re talking about, though, is an agape love – a devoted love, a committed love, a love that shows itself by the things that it does.
I heard about a kindergartener who was asked to define love and he responded by giving the teacher a big hug and he said, “That’s the way we define love at my house.” And that’s why motherhood is such a beautiful model for Christian love – because mothers translate love into action every day.
That’s Paul’s point in I Thessalonians 2, where he wrote, “We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” (I Thessalonians 2:7-8)
Paul says, “When we were there in Thessalonica, we loved you like a mother loves her children.” And I want to suggest to you this morning that that’s the way that all of us should show love to one another. So, I want to look at several different qualities of the love that mothers have, and see how each of them applies to our Christianity.
I would suggest to you first all that…..
I. A Mother’s Love is SACRIFICIAL
I heard about a teacher who asked his math class: “Suppose your mother baked a pie and there were six of you — your mother, your father and four children. What percentage of the pie would you get?”
One little boy raised his hand and he said, “One-fifth.”
The teacher said, “I’m afraid you don’t know your fractions. Remember, there are six of you.”
The boy said, “I know that, but you don’t know my mother. She would say she didn’t want any pie so we could have more.”
The willingness of a mother to sacrifice for her children is one of the greatest qualities of a mother’s love. In the animal world, the tenacity of a mother protecting her young at any cost is legendary. A mother bear will fight a full-grown male bear twice her size to protect her cubs. Mother antelopes have been known to turn and face lions who were after their young. The first rule of survival in the wilderness is never, ever come between a mother and her babies.
That motherly instinct is raised to the level of sacrificial love in human mothers. I think of Moses’ mother who was willing to risk her life in order to carry out her plan to save her son. And then she was willing to become a servant for the opportunity to be with her son.
Let me tell you what a mother’s love is like. Some of you may remember the 1973 baseball season. It was an exciting year for baseball fans because Hank Aaron was closing in on Babe Ruth’s record of 714 career home runs. By the end of 1973, Hank Aaron had hit 713 home runs, one short of the record.
Aaron made the statement that his only fear was that he wouldn’t live long enough to play in the 1974 season. Understand that this was over 40 years ago. An African-American player was about to topple the great Babe Ruth — and there were a lot of people in this country who didn’t like it. Aaron got a lot of mail that year — more than 900,000 letters. Most of them were fan letters, but about 100,000 of them were hate letters, some containing death threats.
But, in April 1974, the new season began. Hank Aaron hit one home run in an away game to tie the record. Then the Braves came home to Atlanta for their home opener. It was a night game against the Dodgers and it was a complete sellout.
In the fourth inning, Hank Aaron stepped up to the plate, swung and the ball was gone. Home run. Babe Ruth’s record was shattered. The ballpark went crazy. As Aaron crossed home plate, the dugout emptied as the Braves streamed onto the field to surround him, cheering and whooping it up.
But in the middle of all those ballplayers around Hank Aaron was a short, 68-year-old black woman. She grabbed hold of Aaron and wouldn’t let go of him. He turned and said to her, “Mom! What are you doing here?” She said, “’Baby, if they’re gonna get you (thinking of the death threats Aaron had received), if they’re gonna get you, they’ve gotta get me first!”
Folks, that’s the kind of love that only a mother could have for her child.
And if we’re ever going to have the kind of love for each other as Christians that we ought to have, then we have got to learn this lesson of sacrificial love. Because, after all, that’s the kind of love that Jesus showed for us. Paul wrote in Ephesians 5, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25).
And that’s the kind of love that we’re commanded to have toward each other. Listen to these words of John: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18)
A sacrificial love is a love willing to do whatever needs to be done to take care of a brother or sister’s need. It means putting others first in our lives. As Paul put it in Philippians 2:4, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Sacrificial love seeks the good of others, even when that means giving up what may rightfully be yours. Let me give you an example of this. I am of the opinion that one of the inalienable rights of humankind is the right to sleep uninterrupted through the night. But what happens when a child cries in the middle of the night because he’s sick or afraid or maybe even just cranky? What happens is that one of the parents – and it’s usually Mom — gives up her right to sleep because of her love for the child. Why would you do something like that? And don’t tell me it’s because you’re afraid of Social Services – no, no, it’s because of love, a love that is willing to sacrifice.
But so often, we don’t demonstrate that kind of love toward one another. It’s so easy for us to insist on getting our own way, to act out of selfish motives.
But sacrificial love means, among other things, that we’re willing to give in, we’re willing to let others have their way. It tells me that unity is more important than my opinion. It tells me that I should constantly be on the lookout for what others need, so that I can provide it.
One lesson we can learn from mothers is the lesson of sacrificial love.
II. A Mother’s Love is UNCONDITIONAL
One of the big differences between the love that our mothers have for us and the love that others may have for us is that we don’t have to earn our mother’s love. Our mothers love us unconditionally, with no strings attached. It doesn’t matter whether you’re president of the United States or a member of the mob, your mother will love you. And even if she is bitterly disappointed in us, our mother still loves us. A mother’s love will never give up on us.
Jack Exum tells a story about a young girl who ran off to the big city to seek her fortune. As happens to too many runaways, she ended up as a prostitute, selling herself to support a drug habit. But as she entered a bar where she often found her “customers,” she saw a picture on a table propped up by a salt-shaker. The picture was that of her mother, and written in ink on the bottom were the words, “I love you, please come home.” Her mother had distributed hundreds of those pictures across the red-light district of that city because of her love for her daughter
And it’s so true — a mother loves regardless of failures; she has learned that true love is not earned but given! Listen to these beautiful words of I Corinthians 13:7: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Love is always “always”; it’s unconditional.
And that’s the kind of love that God has shown to us. Paul says that, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). We can never earn God’s love. He loves us in spite of ourselves.
Think of it this way – God cannot love you any more than He does right now. But the flip side is just as reassuring – God cannot love you any less than He does right now. It’s is an absolutely unconditional love.
And it’s important that we learn to practice an unconditional love toward each other. That means that I need to learn to love you even though you may hurt me or disappoint me. What happens when someone disagrees with us or offends us in some way? Do we simply write them off and break the lines of fellowship? What happens when someone sins, and therefore disappoints us; do we pull back from them? If we practice unconditional love, we’ll continue to love them.
I love the story of the husband who finally decided to ask his boss for a raise in salary. It was Friday and he told his wife that morning what he was about to do. All day long the man felt nervous and apprehensive. Late in the afternoon, he summoned the courage to approach his boss. And, to his delight, his boss agreed to give him a raise.
When the husband got home, he found a beautiful table set with their very best china. Candles were lit and the aroma of a delicious meal filled the room. He assumed that someone from the office had tipped his wife off, but they hadn’t, so he told her the good news. They hugged and kissed, and then sat down to a wonderful dinner. Next to his plate, the husband found a beautiful note which read: “Congratulations, darling! I knew you’d get the raise! These things will tell you how much I love you.”
But there’s more! When his wife went into the kitchen to get dessert, the man noticed a second card had fallen from her pocket. He picked it up off the floor and he read these words: “Don’t worry about not getting the raise! You deserve it anyway! These things will tell you how much I love you!”
That’s such a beautiful story of total acceptance! Unconditional love! This woman’s love for her husband was not dependent upon his success at work. In fact, just the opposite. If he were to fail there, he would be all the more accepted at home. She stood beside him no matter what, believing in him, loving him. Agape love cannot be conditional. It’s not, “I love because of this” or “I love you unless this happens.” Agape love says, “I love you regardless.”
That’s a characteristic of a mother’s love that we all need to develop in our Christian lives.
III. A Mother’s Love is EXPECTANT
Because, you see, even though a mother’s love is unconditional, it also has expectations. No one expects more out of a child than his mother does. She may have great dreams for his or her future success. You may have heard about the Jewish mother who had twins and as she was pushing them in a stroller down the street, she would introduce them to everyone who passed by – “This is my son, the doctor, and this is my son, the lawyer.” But that’s what a mother does, she has expectations for her children.
Even more importantly, a mother expects her children to do what is right. In fact, she may sometimes say, “My child would never do that…” And even if that child has done something wrong, his mother still has a hard time believing it because she always expects him to do the right thing.
Mothers have a way of showing their children their expectations. Sometimes it’s through discipline. Solomon said, “The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” (Proverbs 29:15). Sometimes that discipline is a patient and calm instruction. Other times, it is a sudden and thundering voice that Bill Cosby used to say is enough to de-calcify the whole body. Mothers have an unconditional love, but it is a love that also has expectations.
And, as Christians, we all need to expect more out of each other. In fact, a sure sign that we don’t love each other the way we ought to is that we don’t show our expectation. Sometimes we will watch as someone drifts away from God, and we don’t say anything. And I understand, the thought of confronting and exhorting someone can be a frightening thing, but that’s what agape love does.
There is an Amish proverb that says, “There is a vast difference between putting your nose in other people’s business and putting your heart in other people’s problems.” Love demands that we put our hearts into people’s lives.
Because Christianity is not a religion of the individual; it is a religion of community, of shared lives. Others around us need to know that we expect them to grow in Christ. And we all need to take comfort in the fact that family will encourage us to live the way we ought to live. Expectant love means that I will confront you when that’s necessary and it also means that I will accept it from you when you have the need to confront me.
So, there is much that we can learn from a mother’s love. Our love for each other needs to be more like that of a mother. It needs to be a sacrificial love, an unconditional love, but an expectant love.
But, as much as your mother loves you, there’s only so much she can do for you. Someone has written a piece called “Reflections of a Mother”, and in it, says such things as:
I gave you life, but cannot live it for you.
I can teach you things, but I cannot make you learn.
I can take you to church, but I cannot make you believe.
I can teach you right from wrong, but I cannot always decide for you.
I can love you as a child, but I cannot place you in God’s family.
I can pray for you, but I cannot make you walk with God.
I can teach you about Jesus, but I cannot make Jesus your Lord.
And it’s true. As much as your mother may love you, she can’t follow God for you. And that’s true of our love for one another here this morning. As much as we may love one another, we can’t obey the gospel for one another. That’s something we’ve all got to do as individuals.