[note: this sermon was prepared and delivered by Chaplain Chris Haughee for worship at Chester United Methodist Church in Chester, Montana on May 8, 2016]
What a Mother Means from Intermountain on Vimeo.
It’s Mother’s Day, and I hope yours in a happy one. But, my life experience and ministry setting at Intermountain tells me that for many, the words “Happy Mother’s Day” ring hollow. This morning I hope to give you insight into how important mothers are, how Jesus interacted with a concerned mother in the midst of his ministry, and what a partnership with Intermountain’s ministry might do in terms of framing our thoughts on motherhood and parenting.
Lord, as we come to your Word this morning, enlighten our hearts to your deep, deep love for us. No matter what has gone on before this moment, and what follows, help us hold on to this truth: you love us, you care for us, and you want us to read your Word to us as if it were a love letter… a word of praise and encouragement from a proud mother, a glowing parent. No matter the example set before us in our earthly parents, or the struggle we ourselves may feel or have felt as parents… none of that changes the fact that you are a loving father, a kind and gentle mother to us. This day and always. Amen.
In PROVERBS 22:6, we are given some clear advice, advice my mother heeded: ‘Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.’
We usually think about this in terms of discipline and general child rearing, but scientific research and attachment theory, the basis for much of Intermountain’s developmental-relational approach to intervention with emotional disturbance, shows us a much broader perspective. For instance, the root of empathy that ability to distinguish between my needs and your need and then to enter into your need emotionally and care for someone outside myself, well, that all starts with the relationship between mother and child.
A mother and her baby are biologically wired to mirror one another in empathetic responses. The cycle of distress, communication of that distress, the meeting of the need, and the alleviation of distress builds the neural pathways that enable proper self-regulation of stress later in life. This “training in the way a child should go,” if you will, prepares the child for emotional and relational stability for the rest of their lives.
What happens when this wiring doesn’t take place or is done inadequately in childhood? Well, it produces many of the difficulties we see for the children we serve through Intermountain’s residential and out-patient clinical services. Remember that phrase I used “developmental-relational?” That’s Intermountain’s approach because it works… it’s built on the truth of God’s Word: if something didn’t occur relationally at a key point of development, then you are going to have to somehow recreate and reteach the lessons from that developmental stage within the context of relationship in order to heal the hurt or damage done.
That’s why you’ll see 100 pound adolescents being coddled and rocked like 10 pound babies in our intensive residential program. It’s not because Intermountain loves running through and breaking down heavy duty Lay-Z-Boy recliners! It’s because we’re going back to Proverbs 22:6… supplementing whatever mother love might have been lacking for that child in those early years as best we can to help those children manage the rest of their lives as best they can.
The maternal role is indispensable. We see it throughout scripture. For instance, in 2 TIMOTHY 1:5, Paul reminds us of the maternal influence in Timothy’s life: ‘I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois, and in your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded, now lives in you also.’
Timothy had sincere faith, and he had that faith because of his grandmother and mother. Surely a mother helps form our spirit, and if she is a godly mother, she will be the first introduction we have to our Lord. If we felt like God loved us, if we could sense that divine Other as an empathetic person willing and able to take our burdens and love us in spite of ourselves, the seeds for that trust and relationship started-as I mentioned earlier—with what we learned from our mother. Perhaps it was mom who taught you your first prayers, who echoed the Sunday morning lessons from worship to you throughout the week? I know that in my life, the Savior’s voice first sounded a great deal like my mother’s! Mothers are also great advocates their children, no matter how old their children may get. This is as true now as it was in Jesus’ day. Consider our gospel passage for today from Matthew, chapter 20.
Mrs. Zebedee was the mother of James and John, and like any mother, she wanted only the very best for her sons. Jesus told a story about a landowner, who hired some helpers, and no matter how long they worked for him, they all got paid the same wages (Matthew 20:1-16). This may have caused Mrs. Zebedee to worry about what kind of reward her sons were going to get in Heaven, so she found a time to ask Jesus about it.
In MATTHEW 20:20-23 we read, ‘Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons [James and John] came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of Him. “What is it you want?” He asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at Your right and the other at Your left in Your kingdom.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from My cup, but to sit at My right or left is not for Me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by My Father.”
Mrs. Zebedee was certain that when the Lord instituted His kingdom, her boys would have positions of responsibility and authority. After all, it’s natural to reward the best worker with the highest reward. Mrs. Zebedee was advocating for her hard working and dedicated boys! Interestingly, while Jesus did not grant her request, He did not deny it. He simply reminded her of the cost of being seated on the right or left, and then told her that only the Father knows such things. As an advocate for her boys James and John, the first thing we will see is she prayed for her sons to be… PART OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
When it comes to motivation, Mrs. Zebedee was a good mother. She wanted her children to be a part of God’s Kingdom. Motherhood requires motivation. Even when everything is stacked in your favor, motherhood is a vexing, beautiful, frustrating, exhilarating job. And, a mother’s frustration often comes from having such a strong motivation to raise her children well, to honor God, and to have a sense that they are successful and happy.
If your mother was wired like my mother, that motivation coupled with a desire for perfection often led to frustration. Certainly, my mother wasn’t the only one to get frustrated with her children… Amen? Failures in communication often led to her frustration with me; I’m sure the mothers here can think of times when communication broke down and frustration prevailed.
Maybe you’ve heard the story about the man who was watching his small children so his wife could get out of the house and relax for the day. The man’s infant daughter was lying on the couch and his son was sitting next to her. The dad went into the kitchen for a second and told his little boy to watch his sister.
He had not been gone for more than 20 seconds when he heard a thump and then the daughter started to wail. He ran back in the living room to see the daughter had rolled off the couch onto the floor and the son still sitting on the couch, just looking at her. As he picked up his daughter, he scolded his son, “I thought I told you to watch her!”
The boy replied, “I did! I watched her roll off the couch and fall on the floor!”
Well, at least he followed directions, didn’t he? Direction is an important gift that a mother can give her children. Indeed, what good have we done in teaching our children how to be successful in life if we have neglected their spiritual direction? How prepared for life are they if they do not fully embrace the author of life, our heavenly Father? I think Jesus said it best in MATTHEW 16:26: ‘What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”
I think Mrs. Zebedee carried her responsibilities well. She prayed that her sons would be a part of God’s Heavenly kingdom. I think all parents should pray the same prayer for their children – and we should do this for our children no matter what their age is. I hope that in the heart of every mother and father here this morning, there is a burden to go before the throne of God in prayer for your children – to pray they will be saved, saved from sin and its consequences, and saved for eternal life. And, if you would consider it, I ask that you would extend that paternal and maternal instinct to the children Intermountain serves… pray for them as well. I believe we have provided prayer cards for you to serve as a reminder to do just that.
Yes, as part of her maternal advocacy, Mrs. Zebedee prayed that her sons would be a part of God’s kingdom, and she prayed that they would be … INVOLVED IN THE WORK OF GOD’S KINGDOM. We must remember that we are all called and saved, not merely for our own benefit, but to be of service to the Lord. That service begins in the home. It should begin with moms and dads in prayer, and then including the children in those prayers, too. It starts with parents setting the Godly example of how to live and how to serve the Lord.
It continues when parents pray that their sons and daughters might be involved in the work of the kingdom, and then encourage them in that work! Mrs. Zebedee prayed that her children would be actively involved in the work of His kingdom. And, as parents and grandparents today, we need to walk in her footsteps. We need to follow her example in… HAVING GODLY EXPECTATIONS FOR OUR CHILDREN. Mrs. Zebedee had big expectations for her children; why can’t we? She didn’t just pray that her children would be humble doorkeepers in God’s Kingdom. She wanted them to sit on thrones, on either side of Jesus.
Too often, we have a tendency to settle for mediocrity in our lives and in the church. Too often, when coming into God’s Kingdom, we settle for aiming just about two feet inside the door… close enough to feel safe, but not far enough in that anything might be demanded of us. Maybe we are afraid we don’t have what it takes? Maybe the demands of discipleship seem too hard and left to someone more spiritual, more virtuous?
Nonsense. Totally rubbish. The work of the Kingdom is the work of relationships. If you invest in a relationship, if you pray for that relationship, if you give any time and energy to it… you are working with the basic building blocks of the Kingdom. Jesus is using you and can use you in even greater ways with just a little bit of intentionality. Don’t sell yourself short, and don’t sell these kids at Intermountain short either! They have the opportunity to be amazing Kingdom contributors. There is a lot of hurt in this world, and no one knows how to comfort the hurting like those who have been hurt themselves. Amen?
This is Mother’s Day. In EXODUS 20:12, we are given a commandment. ‘Honor you father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.’ It says to honor your mother. Together, we need to esteem motherhood, the maternal role in shaping human character, and all the potential it has to bring healing to hurting children. You might be thinking that your mother doesn’t deserve to be honored. Maybe she was not a good mother… abusive, distant, or judgmental. I won’t dismiss that possibility, and even if she was a good mother, as a member of the sinful race of man, it is a given that she failed you in some respect.
We’d do well to consider however, the commandment from God doesn’t say anything about your mother’s qualifications to be honored, it just says you are to honor her. This is a day in which we are to honor our Mothers. We do not need to put parameters on that, even if it is difficult. We can simply follow our Lord’s directions and leave the results up to God. One result might be a growing forgiveness and healing in our relationships with a mother who was not all we needed her to be. It may be that we forgive ourselves for any failings we feel in the mother-child relationship? Sometimes forgiving ourselves is the hardest part.
If you have been raised by a godly mother, or if you are a mother raising your kids in a godly way, our hats are off to you this morning, and we want you to know you are truly loved and respected. But, if you have been raised without that godly influence, if a loving hand from a godly mother was denied you and you feel that your life been difficult as a result, let me encourage you to recognize that there is another hand reaching out to you. It is God’s hand, and He is telling you that He loves you and that you can depend on Him. He is saying He will go with you – no matter where that is.
Maybe it needs to be for you like it is for many of Intermountain’s children, a journey back to where some developmental building blocks were missed, where relationship broke down. It’s daunting and scary work at times, dredging up some very strong emotion. But you can do it… you can do it with God’s help. In ISAIAH 41:10, God gives us a promise. ‘Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’
Someone has already gone through anything you may face or have faced. As a matter of fact, He went through it for you; so you would be able to live forever. And He is extending His hand out to you once again, this morning, hoping that you would just trust Him enough to take it; to trust Him enough to let Him lead you through not only the pain of your past, but also into the somewhat fearful but hope-filled days ahead.
Let’s pray to close…
(c) Chaplain Chris Haughee, 2016