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Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
There is a saying that at every child’s birth, a mother is born. For others, the saying is equally true, when a child is placed into committed arms, a loving woman becomes a mother. For some the gift of motherhood is instinctive, for others it’s a labored task. Mothers touch the lives of their children in innumerable ways: as nurturer, comforter, discipliner, playmate, peacemaker, teacher, caregiver, encourager, character developer, listener, dream launcher, and gate-keeper of the faith. And along the way, countless teaching moments occur.
Whether a child is born to you or placed in your arms at birth, you know that you are a real mother when:
You count the number of sprinkles on each kid’s cupcake to make sure they are equal.
You hide in the bathroom to be alone.
You master the art of placing food on a plate without anything touching.
You hire a baby sitter because you haven’t been out with your husband in ages, then you spend half the night talking about and checking on the kids.
You hope ketchup is a vegetable because it’s the only one your child eats.
You fast-forward through the scene when the hunter shoots Bambi’s mother.
You obsess when your child clings to you upon parting during his first month at school, then you obsess when he skips in without looking back.
You hear your mother’s voice coming out of your mouth when you say, “Not in your good clothes.”
You stop criticizing the way your mother raised you.
You read that the average-five-year old asks 437 questions a day and you feel proud that your kid is “above average.” And as a mother, you know that for everyone one of those 437 questions, there is a potential teaching moment.
In spite of the occasional lapses, when my mother died seven years ago, she could still recall the Saturday evening rituals s of my childhood. Oh yes, she could be confused. I travelled back and forth between Europe and Minnesota so often that she wondered whether I was preaching in a church full time. I tried to sympathize with her and said, “Yes, my congregation has been wondering the same thing.” But she remembered the Saturday ritual- filling the Sunday offering envelope, taking the weekly bath and polishing shoes, and then watching Saturday Night at the Movies. It was in these teaching moments, that my mother taught me three of life’s most important lessons. And that’s what I would like to share with you this Mother’s Day. 1) Give generously, 2) live nobly and, 3) wait patiently for the ending.
Let me begin with the first lesson to give generously. My mother was a very thrifty woman. She was a product of the Depression. Banks were not to be trusted. She knew the value of money. Our family had no check book until I was off to college. Instead, every month, my mother went around paying in cash the bills for the telephone, gas, electricity and utilities. And every Saturday night, she would carefully count out the dollar bills that would go into the offering envelope, and the change that would go into the Sunday School envelopes. It was her weekly act of stewardship and giving generously- even before the new burdens of the week and challenges were before her. For my mother stewardship was more than money, or time and talents. For my mother, stewardship was everything you did with your life after you said the words, “I believe.”
A study came out a few days ago about the monetary value of all the services that mothers provide. According to the Waltham, Massachusetts-based compensation experts Salary.com. A full-time stay-at-home mother would earn $118,905 a year if paid for all her work for 96.5 hours a week. Yes, mothers would be so expensive that hardly any family could afford them. Frankly, some teenagers might prefer it that way. To reach the projected pay figures, the survey calculated the earning power of the 10 jobs respondents said most closely comprise a mother’s role — housekeeper, day-care teacher, cook, computer operator, laundry machine operator, janitor, facilities manager, van driver, chief executive and psychologist.
Well,if in her last years, my mother could have followed the study, she would have ceased her reading, creased the newspaper and huffed. It would be the same sort of disgust she often demonstrated when she spoke of the young mothers at church who were too busy to join a Women’s Circle or the Ladies Aid. She believed some things in life were extremely important, but simply had no tangible value. You must do them because they need to be done. The same was true of motherhood. There are certain things as a mother that you must do where you will not receive compensation or remuneration, but they simply must be done. And the same was true for the Christian faith. For my mother, it was a matter of stewardship. It was everything you do with your life, all the decisions and choices – everything to do with your life after you say the words, “I believe.” My friends, what teaching moments are you using to show your family how to live generously, and to accept that some of life’s work will not receive any compensation in return? Give generously of your love, of your time of your wealth. Your value will not change- but you will be more valuable to others.
Secondly, my mother used the weekly bath and the polishing of shoes as a teaching moment for noble living. Certainly, one bath a week and a new layer of wax on old shoes didn’t make you a better person, but these were important, symbolic gestures. My mother wasn’t a life long Lutheran. Her father was a skeptical western Pennsylvanian who moved to Minnesota and made the mistake of marrying the daughter of a Norwegian Lutheran immigrant. He was a free thinker who had little room for the church. He refused to let his children be baptized until they were 18 years of age. So, my mother was baptized, confirmed, received her first communion, and became a card carrying member of the Daughters of the Reformation, all on the same day. In her mind, the Saturday evening ritual of a bath and polishing shoes was a preparation for the noble life that we are called to live. She believed that something about the Christian life should look and smell different.
As I look out from the pulpit, I see so many noble lives today. Such grand lives. Such great lives. Such selfless lives. You have chosen to live life differently and nobly for others. You have chosen to be scented with the sweetness of God’s love and mercy and to share that love with others. You have put the needs of others before your own; the needs of your mother who has Alzheimer’s; the needs of your son who was been left medically handicapped after a car accident years ago; the needs of your ailing father. I have seen noble lives lived for those who are unknown as well. I have seen noble lives offered for the needs of the homeless families; of people in need around the world. I have seen many noble lives seated before me today because you have discovered the secret of life and the heart of God. The old Saturday evening ritual of a bath and polishing shoes was a more than a gesture- it was an act of preparation to become an active servant of a loving God. My friends, what teaching moment are you using to show your family that the Christian life is different than all other – that it is a call to noble living? It is a life that is cleansed, refreshed and sweet smelling.
Finally, when every thing else was done it was time for Saturday Night at the Movies. It was in watching the movie together that I learned to wait patiently for the ending. Mind you, I rarely made it to the end of the movie, but I went to bed trusting that my mother would tell me the end of the story in the morning. Oddly, more often than not, it was the books that were read to me that have sustained me more than the movies. There was one story that has haunted me for years. “My Mother is the Most Beautiful Woman in the World.” It was a Russian fairytale of a lost child searching for his peasant mother who he describes as the most beautiful woman in the world. As the lost boy searches, he challenges everyone to see the beauty of his mother in a different way. Of course, I knew the ending, but that didn’t matter. I could hear the story over and over again.
Growing up in a small town in the early sixties- there weren’t a lot of choices on the television. It was a safe bet that the Saturday evening fare was family friendly, but not always fitting fare for youngsters. A new generation of movies and books have since taken their place. Yes, the old books have been replaced by, “Mother, Would You Love Me?” and the classic tale, “Are you My Mother?” Daily showers and skateboard shoes have taken the place of the old routines. Mothers and fathers need to be more selective if they wish to teach their children that a good ending is worth the wait.
Of course, there is another good ending worth the wait. It is the story of faith in Jesus Christ which transforms all our lives. It is the story of a good shepherd who leads his flock to green pastures, the cool water, through the valley of death to the gates of heaven. It is story especially dear to those with failing loved ones. This is portrayed in anonymous poem to a failing mother.
I see you now… smaller, more fragile, balancing yourself when you walk, the wind at your back, unkind to the wisp of strength that still clings to your fervent spirit.
You walk ahead of me, striving to maintain your dignity. I trail behind, unbeknownst to you, watching, guarding, lest you might find a need for me.
I watch you, little by little, slipping away from me, edging closer to your own idea of Heaven, that grander piece of Paradise that holds the promise of better things to come.
And there, I see intermittent flashes…of the blue eyes that captured untold hearts, that tempestuous hair that fell flirtingly across your cheek when you laughed, the Dresden complexion that glowed with youthful expectation at the mere prospect of Life, and I remember you, the way you once were, the way you will always be to me. Yes, I remember beauty…
My mother was the most beautiful woman in the world- and using the simple teaching moments of the Saturday evening routine of filling offering envelopes, the Saturday bath and polishing shoes, and Saturday Night at the Movies, she taught me three of life’s most important lessons. To give generously, to live nobly, and to wait patiently for the story’s ending. My friends, what are the teaching moments that you are using to show your loved ones how to live? Amen.