May 8, 2005 - Mother's Day
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Reading

Luke 2:41-51
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

Acts 1:6-14
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

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Sermon: Pull Out All the Stops for Mom

I hope you enjoyed the opening hymn this morning – Once in Royal David’s City. I know it’s mostly a Christmas Hymn, but when you go to the Bible to speak about mothers, Mary does sort of stand out and it’s hard to talk about Mary being a mother without talking about the stories of her giving birth to Jesus. She is in the Gospel story from beginning to end – even in the story of the church in Jerusalem, where she is described as meeting with the apostles and others who constantly devoted themselves to prayer.

The second hymn is also one that mentions mothers, and one that allows an organist to shake the rafters. I told Linda my sermon title was “Pull out all the stops for Mom” and asked her which hymn allowed her to do just that on the pipe organ. But then I noticed she put in an anthem entitled “Blessed Quietness.” Maybe that’s what Mom really wants.

The Bible is actually rather quiet on the subject of Mary, and doesn’t tell us a great deal about the years when Jesus was growing up and Mary was exerting her greatest influence on his life. We do have the one story we read this morning which tells at least this much –
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.
We can more or less infer from this and a few other clues that Mary and Joseph instructed Jesus in the scriptures, they were regular about going to the synagogue on the Sabbath, that they followed the observances and rituals of the holidays and seasons. But there is very little detail we have about all these things.

We do get a few wonderful details about Mary’s interior life just before Jesus is born. These reveal an essential way in which her motherhood is spiritual as well as physical, and no detail is more central or revealing than her response to the announcement by the angel Gabriel that she is to bear a child – let me read that portion from the Gospel of Luke:
Luke 1:30-38 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus….” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. …” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” -That consent of Mary to God’s will is what has led some to call her the mother not just of Jesus but of all graces, because without that consent there could be no incarnation, no salvation. Her spiritual openness becomes the bridge between life and death, between hopelessness and salvation. It also is a foreshadowing of the words and offering of Christ when he falls on his knees before God in the garden of Gethsemane and prays, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”

In that moment Jesus is truly his mother’s child.

This morning we sang: “Jesus is our childhood’s pattern; day by day like us he grew.” But who set the pattern for Jesus in his childhood and who brings us to come to know the love of God and the story of the Gospel? We don’t know everything Mary did to set an example for Jesus, but we can tell he was blessed by growing up in a household where God was a welcome guest. God surely blesses every child whose mother gives a good example of faith – it’s hard to find an equal substitute. That was the point of a warmhearted story included with the prayer list sent out last week – let me read it to you:
There were four clergy who were discussing the merits of the various translations of the Bible. One liked the King James Version best because of its simple beautiful English. Another liked the American Revised Version best because it is more literal and comes nearer the original Hebrew and Greek. Still another liked Moffatt's translation best because of its up to date vocabulary. The fourth minister was silent. When asked to express his opinion, he replied, "I like my mother's translation best." The other three expressed surprise. They did not know that his mother had translated the Bible. "Yes, she did," he replied. She translated it into life, and it was the most convincing translation I ever saw."
- Douglas L. Murray Sr.

I can’t say how explicit the teaching of religion was for Mary or even for that minister as a child, and I don’t know how explicit it needs to be. My mother grew up in an Amish/Mennonite family saturated with religion, and it was more a source of conflict than of comfort. In raising her two sons I would say she was rather guarded about the role religion would play in the home.

But in a broader sense religion is simply a traditional way we put together and pass on a number of essential ingredients to a healthy life – and those ingredients are faith, hope, love, and insight.

Faith, hope, love, and insight can be tricky things to make your own. It is not simply a matter of having someone give them to you or even achieving them on your own. They come through experience, but if we are to draw all the riches of grace from experience it means we must be open to both the sweetness and the suffering that experience brings. That stance of openness is something our mothers (and fathers) influence greatly.

Nothing exemplifies more that mix of suffering and sweetness than being a parent and even the physical and emotional reality of childbirth. Both Jesus and Paul speak to this point. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says to the disciples: “When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

And Paul writes to the Romans: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

In other words, if you want to understand what God is doing in the world look to Mom – she suffered for the sake of your life, but her suffering became a joy. Not that her anxious moments were ended at your birth – because there would still be many times you would cause her fear and hurt – but to quote the writer Honore' de Balzac, "The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.”

Or as the bible says after Jesus little misadventure staying behind in Jerusalem: His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

Today is a day to pull out all the stops for Mom – to say thanks, to gain insight into the ways we have been blessed by her in all her human glory and frailty – to raise a prayer to God on her behalf,
Who from our mother’s arms,
has blessed us on our way,
with countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.

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