The text of the Mother’s Day sermon, largely as preached this morning at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York, is below. The sermon audio is available at this link. Among other sermons that are relevant for further reading on this topic are The Surprising Bride of Christ from my first Sunday at MacAlpine one year and one week ago and The Worthy Mother from last year on Mother’s Day. As always, the text with a strike-through is there for organizational purposes but is only said aloud later. Hopefully these sermons will lead you to an even greater appreciation for your true mothers, especially for you to encourage one woman who was a true mother to you. Next Sunday is Pentecost and we will explore Acts 2.
You remember how the expert in God’s law tested Jesus. Luke tells us that this expert summed up the law correctly as “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). And so the expert asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”(Luke 10:29). And Jesus responded with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus’ answer is that your neighbors are not limited to the people who live next door—your neighbor is someone who is not like you and even someone that those like you all despise. Well the law also says, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” And so with the expert of the law we might ask, “And who is my mother?” First of all, this commandment does not only apply to children, but to adults as well. Indeed, honoring your father and your mother includes taking care of them in their old age and the failing health that comes with that old age. Moreover, your father and mother are not limited to just your biological or adoptive parents. The Reformers taught that this commandment speaks to our relationships with those over us including leaders in government and in the church, those who are on the same level as us in one way or another, and those who are under our protection and leadership. Thus when we ask the question – “And who is my father, and who is my mother?” – we can justly say all of our elders as well as all of those in leadership over us in some other way. In other words, the commandment addresses how we as members of the human family are meant to relate with one another. The Reformers were right to do this, of course, but there is yet another way to answer the question, “And who is my mother?” It might be even more shocking than to think of Donald Trump as your father. Indeed, Jesus redefines our families in the Gospel of Matthew and in the first letter of Paul to Timothy. Hear the word of God:
1 Timothy 5:1-2
- Jesus makes the shocking statement that He has come to set a daughter against her mother!
- Jesus is doing something more here than simply redefining His relationship with His mother Mary. John 19:26-27 says, “When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” Jesus said these things while dying on the cross. But whatever was happening there in the Gospel of John, Jesus is saying something different in these passages in the Gospel of Matthew. Indeed, Jesus sounds a lot more like we would expect Him to sound in the Gospel of John. We may expect Jesus to show concern for His mother and to make provisions for her care while she watched her firstborn son being crucified. But in the Matthew 12, Jesus sounds rude toward His mother. Yet that passage is not the only surprising thing that Jesus says about relationships with mothers in the Gospel of Matthew.
- Jesus makes the shocking statement that He has come to set a daughter against her mother! Jesus says that He came to tear families apart. He doesn’t sound very much like your typical conservative “family values” political candidate. He doesn’t preach slogans like, “The family that prays together, stays together.” No, He says, “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” Jesus knows that He is divisive. The Gospel is intentionally divisive. Apart from Jesus, there is no good news. This Gospel is offensive. It is offensive to Jews, Muslims, atheists, and to people who think they are good people. Thus we shouldn’t be surprised that when a daughter begins to follow Jesus, her unbelieving Jewish mother may threaten to disown her unless she recants. This is somewhat difficult for us to fully appreciate because of huge disparity of this way of thinking with our American culture, but this still happens today. For example, in Muslim communities it is common for parents to disown a child who has surrendered to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That child’s family then becomes his enemies. The parents may not even be regulars at the mosque, but their children are forbidden to go to church. So when you ask someone who is from such a community to follow Jesus, you are asking them to give up everything. In extreme cases, the family might even persecute even unto death their own child who converted to Christianity. They take seriously the quip, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it.” It is in just such a context that Jesus promises, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 10:39). In our culture, this sometimes takes a more subtle form. We often talk about peer pressure with regard to the bad influence that others can have on us, but parental pressure can be much more powerful. Just ask someone who grew up in a family of atheists and now follows Jesus Christ how it has changed their relationship with their parents. Or ask someone whose parents are Roman Catholic why they are still members of the Roman Catholic church even though they have been attending a Presbyterian Church for decades. Parental pressure is powerful. And today we even need to recognize the pressure of children on their parents. Take, for example, how a parent sometimes sides with their kid (even an adult child) when the Law and Gospel should lead them in a different direction. (Recall the old saying, “Blood is thicker than water,” meaning that family is more important than friends.) But when you become the bride of Jesus Christ, you love Jesus more than your parents or your children just as a wife is supposed to love her husband more than her parents and more than her own kids. Jesus said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Indeed, Jesus sets a daughter against her mother. Not exactly what you might expect to hear Jesus say on Mother’s Day. (But Jesus doesn’t stop there, He goes further. Not only did Jesus come to set a daughter against her mother, but…)
- Jesus makes the shocking claim that the woman who raised you might no longer be your mother!
- He does this by asking, “Who is my mother?” and then answering His own question in a surprising way by stretching out His hand to His disciples and saying, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matt 12:50). His biological mother and his brothers were waiting outside to speak to Him. But Jesus used this to teach His disciples that He was putting together a new family – the church. For Jesus not only tears apart families to save some of those family members, but He is putting together a new family. So if you think of the saying, “Blood is thicker than water” or family is more important than friends then remember we are family. And in this new family, the daughters are not set against their mothers and the daughters-in-law are not set against their mothers-in-law. Instead, the mothers are discipling their daughters and the mothers-in-law (or better yet, mothers-in-the-gospel) are discipling their daughters-in-law (or daughters-in-the-gospel). For they are all following Jesus Christ.
- Paul told Timothy to encourage an older man as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters. Think of it this way, God is our Father, Jesus is our eldest brother, and we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. But anyone who grew up in or who has a large family can tell you that the older brothers and sisters help take care of the younger brothers and sisters. So the older brothers are like fathers and the older sisters are like mothers. And this is exactly what takes place in the church. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ but the older men are like fathers to the younger men and women and the older women are like mothers to the younger men and women. By older I mean more mature in Christ. After all, you can encourage an elderly man who is a new convert like a father but that elderly man who is a new Christian may actually look to someone much younger than he for wisdom. So this Mother’s Day I want you to think about those people who have been like mothers to you in faith. These are women that you have looked up to for guidance and direction, women who set an example of a living faith that you want to imitate, women who do the will of our Heavenly Father. I want everyone to take a moment to think of at least one sister in Christ who was like a mother to you. It may be that the mother who comes to mind is your biological or adoptive mother. It may be that the mother who comes to mind is a woman who took an interest in teaching you when you were a child. But whomever you are thinking about, you have honored your mothers in faith by coming to worship the Lord this day. I will often end funeral messages with something like, “There is nothing that would bring more honor to the memory of [and that person’s name] and nothing that would bring more glory to God than you place your trust in Jesus Christ.” If that mother in faith has already gone to be with the Lord and you trust in Jesus Christ, then you have brought great honor to her memory. But if she is still among us, let me encourage you to encourage that mother in faith by telling her how much of a difference she has made and is making in your life and may she be encouraged because you are trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation from sin and death. We started out by asking, “Who is my mother?” Hopefully now you realize that you are blessed with many mothers in this new family we call the church. Thanks be to our God and Father. Amen.