II Timothy 1:3-7, May 9, 2004 (Mother’s Day)
When I served in Lake Forest I did not always preach a mother’s day sermon. There was one woman in the parish who always let me have it when I didn’t do a mother’s day sermon. I told her once, “You know, this isn’t a liturgical event, mother’s day…it was concocted by the flower people and the Hallmark card people and the candy people to make a lot of money from guilty children who never treat their mothers like they should during the year and then try to make it up with some flowers or a card on this Sunday.” As you can imagine, my little speech didn’t help matters with her, and I could always see her sitting on the fifth row, eyeing me suspiciously, waiting on the second Sunday in May to see if I would mention the word “mother” somewhere in my sermon.
So I have weakened today, and am unabashedly going to preach a mother’s day sermon. It’s not that the woman in Lake Forest finally convinced me or beat me in submission. It’s just that my own mother, who read all my sermons, told me that she would remove me from her will if I didn’t, at least in passing, mention something about mothers. And even though she is dead, I know she is bending over the balcony of heaven, with her hand to her ear wondering if I’m going to preach on motherhood.
Actually I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this matter of being a mother, not that I qualify as an expert, but I have been married for over 50 years to a darned good mother, and I was born some 70 plus years ago to another good mother. So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the influence of mothers–and fathers–on the matter of character and faith development.
It grieves me that two out of every five children in this country do not live with their fathers. They live with single mothers. In fact, a missing father is a better predictor of criminal activity than race or poverty. Young women who grow up in disrupted families are twice as likely to become teenage mothers. Today only 51% of kids still live with both biological parents. And the growing child abuse demonstrates a strange inability to nurture, let alone tolerate, the presence of the next generation.
So my intention today is to honor our mothers, honor our families, and try to make a case for Christian family values. It is more important than we think.
I found a little piece about motherhood the other day. It brought a big smile to my face, because it talks about the big role mothers play, and what a hard job it is.
“Children, children,” says mother. “Hurry and put on your clothes. Hurry, hurry, soon the school bus will come.
“See Laurie. Laurie is combing her hair. See Bobby. Bobby is reading about Michael Jordan. See Chris. Chris is tattooing his stomach with a ball point pen. See mother’s hair stand up. What is mother saying? Those words are not in our book, are they? Run children, run.
“Mother, mother,” says Laurie, “I have lost a shoe.”
“Mother, mother,” says Bobby, “I think I am sick.
“Mother, mother,” says Chris. ‘My zipper is stuck and I have a jelly bean in my ear.
Oh, see mother run.
“I am going mad,” says mother.
“Here is Laurie’s’s shoe in the stove. Here are other pants for Chris. Here is a thermometer for Bobby, who does not look sick to me.
Now what are the children doing? Laurie is combing her hair. Bobby is playing the guitar. Chris is under the bed feeding jelly beans to the cat.
“Oh, says mother, “Hurry, hurry. It is time for the yellow school bus.” Mother is right
“See the children on the bus jump up and down, jump, jump, jump. See the pencils fly out the window. Listen to the driver of the school bus. He cannot yell as loud as the children, can he? Run, Laurie. Run Bobby. Run, Chris. See mother throw kisses. Why do Laurie, Bobby and Chris pretend they do not know mother? Goodby, goodby,” calls mother.
“How quiet it is. Here is Chris’s sweater in the boot box. Here are Bobby’s glasses under the cat. Here is Laurie’s comb in the fruit bowl. Here is crunchy, crunchy, crunch cereal all over the kitchen floor. Mother is pouring a big cup of coffee. Mother is sitting down.” Mother does not do anything. Mother just sits and smiles. Why is mother smiling?
The reality is bringing children into this world and rearing them to maturing is no easy game. I marvel at the ingenuity and tirelessness with which so many do it. Especially young mothers. Between changing, feeding burping; between cleaning, and chauffeuring and shopping, between refereeing, encouraging, and teaching, it is one of the most strenuous jobs around
But it must be done. Whether the next generation grows up to be productive and responsible will very much determine what kind of country we will inherit, what sort of politics we practice, what kind of churches we will worship in.
Of all the things we pass on to our children, the most important thing of all is moral character. And moral character comes from a vital and living faith.
I was at a dinner party in Atlanta a couple of years ago. It was hosted by one of Atlanta’s most successful developers, George Johnson. George is an active elder at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, a tither, and a millionaire many times over. He told our group: “I don’t plan to leave my kids a lot of money. I’m going to give my money to the church and the Atlanta Community Foundation. I have seen very few people who have done well by inheriting a lot of money. My wife and I started out dead broke. I think we worry far too much about our children’s inheritance, and we hurt them more than help them by giving them a lot.”
Having lived in several communities where where people inherited inordinate wealth, and seeing how poorly most people handle it, I tend to agree with George Johnson. You won’t do your kids any favors by leaving them a lot of money. If you want to do something for them, leave them the legacy of integrity and faith. This kind of legacy may not be giving your children what they think want; but it is giving them what they need.
In our New Testament reading Paul is writing to Timothy, his young protégée. Paul knows Timothy, knows his background, knows his family. He says, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and now, I am sure, lives in you.” Why was Timothy a Christian? Why did he become a leader in the church? Because of a mother who believed in Jesus and told her daughter, who then passed it off to her son.
The old hymn is wrong. It isn’t:
Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the bible tells me so.
Jesus loves me
This I know
For my mother told me so.
There are many studies around which reveal the characteristics of good mothering and fathering, which reveal what contributes to healthy families. Dr. Nick Stinnet says that strong families have six characteristics.
1. Family members express a good deal of appreciation for each other and build each other up psychologically.
2. They spend a lot of time together, and genuinely enjoy being with one another.
3. They do a lot of direct talking with one another, and are not thrown off by rumor.
4. They are deeply committed to promoting each other’s happiness and welfare.
5. They tend to be committed to a spiritual life-style. This seems to help them have a sense of purpose and helps them be more patient and forgiving with one another.
6. They draw upon the trust they have in each other to unite in coping with a crisis rather than being fragmented by it.
We need to be working and praying to make that happen in each of our homes. But, the good news is that we do not struggle alone. There is the church.
The church, the faith community where we are cared for, where we acknowledge our need for each other, and join our hands and hearts in our journey together. The church is a place where children can feels safe, where families can be strengthened and reinforced, where value are taught, and pray God, modeled by the adults who are members of the church. The most obvious moment when we model the reality of church is when a baby is baptized. I take the child from the parents, and as a minister of the church universal, I say this child belongs to us, not just the parents–but all of us, the body of Christ.
In the frontispiece of my favorite Bible there is an old, yellow, dog-eared consecration prayer. It means a lot to me. I read it several times a week, for it embodies all I aspire to as a Christian. It’s language is a little archaic as you will see, but I will explain why after I read it.
“Dear Jesus, I give myself to Thee. I giver Thee my mind to think through; I give Thee my eyes to see through; I give Thee my mouth and tongue to speak with. I give thee my hands to turn the pages of thy book and to work for thee. I give thee my feet to run errands with, and I promise thee that they shall never carry me into a place where I have to leave thee at the door. I give thee my body to be the temple of the Holy Ghost. I give thee all of my family and relatives. I give thee all my possessions. I give thee my time and talent. I give thee my reputation. I give thee all I think of, and all I do not think of…”
It is signed: “A.L. Turner, 116 East Court Street, Greenville, S.C.
A.L. Turner, Alexander Lee Turner, was my great grandfather, and this prayer was on the frontispiece of his bible. When it was given to me by my grandmother, I tore it out and put it into my own bible.
Here was a man I only knew in pictures. I never met him. But he passed his faith onto to my grandmother, Pauline Turner Wilson, who passed it on to my mother, Mildred Wilson Swicegood, who passed it on to me. And I hope, only God knows how much I hope, that this faith which means so much to me will live in my two children.
“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and now, I am sure lives in you.” Three generations and going strong.
Today we think God for all the Lois’s and Eunice’s in our own life. And we pray that all our mothers here today might serve as the same winsome example to Jesus Christ to their own children