Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mothers are Special

Mothers Are a Special People
A Mother’s Day sermon

Big Idea/ Sermon Statement
To affirm the institution of motherhood and the role of mothers as a special people in giving life, nurturing life and passing on life.

Today (11 May 2008) is a special day. It is a day to celebrate life, especially new life. Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day the church is born through the Holy Spirit. Today is also the day we celebrate Mother’s day, where we remember our mothers to give birth to us. This is really a very special day. With Easter arriving so early this year, Pentecost Sunday and Mother's Day Sunday fall on the same day.

Mother’s Day was originally called Mothering Sunday in the United Kingdom and Ireland. It is believed to have originated from the 16th century Christian practice of visiting one's mother church annually, which meant that most mothers would be reunited with their children on this day. Most historians believe that young apprentices and young women in servitude were released by their masters that weekend in order to visit their families. It must have been a day everyone looks forward to because there is no 5-day week or annual leave if you were in servitude at that time.

However in the United States, the origin, while influenced by the UK, was different. Mothers' Day was invented by a mother protesting the killing of her sons during the American Civil War. She got other mothers to protest, too, and pretty soon Congress got in the act. Finally, in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson pronounced the second Sunday in May as Mothers' Day, a day dedicated not to honouring mothers, but to honouring their wishes -- that the killing be stopped. In the USA, it is a tradition to fly the country’s flag on Mother’s Day to show solidarity to mothers’ who children had died in the war.

This aspect of Mothers' Day is too often ignored, even by the church. It should not be. It is central to the whole idea of motherhood, including the motherhood of God. It is about the giving and taking away of life. You mothers know the pain of seeing your children fighting and hurting each other. Can you imagine the pain of seeing one of your children kill another? Can you imagine seeing your children divide into opposing armies and slaughter each other?

Today’s celebration is about motherhood (of mothers and of God). It is also about children because without children there are no mothers. I wish to affirm mothers here today because
(1) They give life.
(2) They nurture life.
(3) They pass on life.

Mothers are special because…
(1) …they give life

Monica of Hippo (332 – 387) is the mother of Augustine, who wrote extensively of her virtues and his life with her in his book, Confessions. Augustine was what we will today call mother’s boy!

Monica’s parents brought her up as Christian and married her to an older, pagan man named Patricius. He was a man with a great deal of energy, but also a man given to violent tempers and adultery. Augustine reports that despite the prevalence of domestic abuse at the time, because of her obedience to him, Patricius never beat Monica. Furthermore, her mother-in-law was against her and put her into great troubles.

However, Monica attended church daily and cultivated the virtue of patience. She would say to other women who had bad marriages, "If you can master your tongue, not only do you run less risk of being beaten, but perhaps you may even, one day, make your husband better." She won the favor of her mother-in-law in a short time. Eventually, she converted Patricius to Christianity and calmed his violent nature.

Monica bore three children, among them Augustine. Augustine made her very happy with his successes as a scholar and teacher, but he also made her very ashamed with his debauchery – drinking, womanizing, and gambling. For ten years, Augustine lived with his mistress and subscribed to Manichaeism. Whenever Augustine ran, she followed him; whenever he came home, she challenged his rebellious ways. And when he wasn't with her he knew that she was praying for him, because he caught her often on her knees pleading to God for the salvation of his soul. One day she got so desperate she went to a Bishop Ambrose and wore the man out. She wanted the bishop to speak with Augustine. At last, annoyed by her persistence and moved by her tears, he answered her with a roughness mingled with kindness and compassion, "Go, go! Leave me alone. Live on as you are living. It is not possible that the son of such tears should be lost."

When her spouse Patricius died, Monica joined Augustine in Italy. There, some time later, she had the pleasure of seeing her son, at the age of 28, converted, and baptized by Bishop Ambrose.
In the summer of 386, after having read an account of the life of Saint Anthony of the Desert which greatly inspired him, Augustine underwent a profound personal crisis and decided to convert to Catholic Christianity, abandon his career in rhetoric, quit his teaching position in Milan, give up any ideas of marriage, and devote himself entirely to serving God and the practices of priesthood, which included celibacy. Key to this conversion was the voice of an unseen child he heard while in his garden in Milan telling him in a sing-song voice to tolle lege ("take up and read"). He grabbed the nearest text to him, which was Paul's Epistle to the Romans and opened it at random to 13:13-14, which read: "Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires."

Not long after, as she was preparing to return to Africa, she died at the age of 56 at the port of Ostia, telling Augustine: "There was indeed one thing for which I wished to tarry a little in this life, and that was that I might see you a Catholic Christian before I died. My God hath answered this more than abundantly, so that I see you now made his servant and spurning all earthly happiness. What more am I to do here?" All this Augustine recorded faithfully and loving in his book, Confessions.

This is a mother who not only gives physical life but also spiritual life to her son. The life of Monica and Augustine reminds me of what King Lemeul’s mother taught him as recorded in Proverbs 31: 1-9:
The sayings of King Lemuel--an oracle his mother taught him: "O my son, O son of my womb, O son of my vows, do not spend your strength on women, your vigor on those who ruin kings. "It is not for kings, O Lemuel-- not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights. Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more. "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy."

Origen’s mother
Origen Adamantius, ca. 185–ca. 254) was an early Christian scholar, theologian, and one of the most distinguished of the early fathers of the Christian Church. He was so devoted to Christ that he wanted a martyr’ death. He would try in many ways to get himself arrested by the authorities. His mother hid his clothes thus preventing him from being martyr and giving the church a first rate mind.

(2) …they nurture life

John Wesley was born in Epworth, the son of Samuel Wesley, a graduate of Oxford, and a minister of the Church of England. In 1689 Samuel married Susanna Annesley, twenty-fourth (24th) child of Dr. Samuel Annesley. Susanna herself became a mother of nineteen (19) children and John was the fifteenth child. There were two pairs of twins. Ten of the children survived to adulthood, three sons and seven daughters. Susanna educated all of her children at home. It was through her convictions that John Wesley became acquainted with daily prayer, a reliance on the Lord, and a giving of one’s self to the service of others. The Wesley children's early education was given by their parents in the Epworth rectory. Each child, including the girls, was taught to read as soon as they could walk, and talk. Susanna would make time to read, pray and talk to each one of her children every week. She was a busy person but she made time. She set aside an hour each day of the week for a particular child – Thursdays, for instance, was Jacky's (John's) day. During this hour she would inquire after “the state of their soul on its journey as well as their progress, fears, expectations, and goals in other endeavours.” Thus began lifelong habits of regular self examination. When she herself needed time alone, she would sit in the kitchen and pull her apron over her head. Seeing this, her children will not disturb her. John’s father, the Reverend Samuel Wesley, was the Anglican Rector, whose beliefs followed the church doctrine of the time.

John and Charles Wesley are the most commonly known of her children. When John was five, their home caught fire. John’s bed was in the attic and no one was able to reach him. John leaned out of the window and was able to be rescued. From that time until his death, he believed that he had been saved for a special task in life and that he should work diligently to fulfil this promise to God. He called himself a brand plucked from the fire referring to Zechariah 3:2.

Charles went onto to be a famous hymn writer, writing bout 2,500 hymns. Some of these hymns are familiar to us
"And Can It Be That I Should Gain?"
"Christ the Lord Is Risen Today"
"Hark! the Herald Angels Sing"
"Jesus, Lover of My Soul"
"Jesus, The
Name High Over All"
"Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending"
"Love Divine,
All Loves Excelling"
"O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing"
"Rejoice, the
Lord is King"
"Soldiers of Christ, Arise"
"Ye Servants of God"

Susanna Annesley Wesley was a popular speaker and Bible Study Leader. The historian J. B. Wakeley wrote, "While her husband was absent in London in 1711, attending Convocation, Mrs. Wesley adopted the practice of reading in her family, and instructing them. One of the servants told his parents and they wished to come. These told others, and they came, till the congregations amounted to forty, and increased till they were over two hundred, and the parsonage could not contain all that came."

After Susanna Wesley died on July 23, 1742, she was buried at Bunhill Fields. John Wesley conducted the services. Charles Wesley wrote the epitaph for her tombstone. Later a new stone was set up, bearing a different inscription.

In sure and steadfast hope to rise,
And claim her mansion in the skies,
A Christian here her flesh laid down,
The cross exchanging for a crown.
True daughter of affliction, she,
Inured to pain and misery,
a long night of griefs and fears,
A legal night of seventy years.
Father then revealed his Son;
Him in the broken bread made known;
knew and felt her sins forgiven,
And found the earnest of her heaven.
Meet for the fellowship above,
She heard the call, "Arise, my love!"
"I come!" her dying looks replied,
And, lamb-like as her Lord, she died

Truly, she is like ‘the wife of noble character’ in Proverbs 31:28
PR 31:28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:

John Sung’s mother, Chen Ruo Lan
John Sung was the 6th child and 4th son of Sung Xue Lien, a Methodist Pastor. John was named Zhu Eng (“God’s Grace’) at birth because he was the first child born after his mother’s conversion. He is a famous evangelist who brought the gospel and revival to Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Today, you can still meet the more senior Christians who remember his revival meetings.
“Father’s asthmatic condition took a turn for the worse during
the fall of 1909. He was choking and felt agitated because the phlegm was stuck
in his throat. A teary mother was too grief-stricken to pray for him, and she
told me, “Quickly, go and pray for your father. What is impossible with man will
be possible with God!”

I could not bear the sight of my father coughing
continuously and so I prayed, “O God, please save my father so that he can raise
me up right into adulthood!” I had barely uttered my “Amen” when I heard a loud
cough from my father as he vomited a blob of thick phlegm. At the same time, his
breathing eased. I thank God for answering my prayers and lifting Father from
the valley of death…Through this, I hope that all mothers will teach their
children how to pray right from their childhood.”
The Journal Once Lost: Extracts from the Diary of John Sung.p.9

(3) …they pass life to others
RO 16:13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.

Romans 16:13 is particularly interesting and it is one that scholars have struggled with over the centuries. Paul writes: "Give my greetings to Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine." Now this statement could be taken two ways. It could mean that Paul had two distinct women in mind--the mother of Rufus and his own personal mother. Or, he could be saying: "I salute Rufus and his mother, who is like a mother to me." If that is what he meant, and most Biblical scholars agree that that is indeed what he meant, then it raises some interesting speculation.
• When and where did Paul meet Rufus' mother?
• Did she nurse him through some serious illness?
• Did she receive him into her home for an extended stay during his missionary journeys?
• How did this woman and Paul form such a close bond that he refers to her fondly as being like his mother?

Mark tells us that Simon of Cyrene, the man who carried Jesus’ cross, had two sons: Alexander and Rufus. Was this the same Rufus to whom Paul was speaking? If that is true, his mother would be Simon of Syrene's wife. No one knows for sure who this remarkable woman was who served as a mother figure for the great Paul. Yet we know she has had a powerful effect on his life, so powerful that he called her his mother.

For some ladies, Mother’s Day is not an enjoyable day, especially if it is celebrated in church:
(a) for some, motherhood is an accident, and not always a welcome one;
(b) for some, biological motherhood isn’t possible;
(c) for some, mothers weren’t all that nice;
(d) for some, motherhood is a bondage.

Here Rufus’ mother proved to us, once and for all that you do not need to have biological offspring to be a mother. For those who do not have children also can be mothers and that is a very important ministry. This applies not only to this who do not have children but also to aunties, god-parents and grandparents. It applies equally to mother-in-laws.

Mothers are the unsung heroes of the church. Almost all mothers I have talked to feel inadequate. Some are good mothers but some have been bad mothers and they worry about how their inadequacy will affect their child. This is made worst because in church we always hear about good mothers only. Do you feel adequate to be a mother?
The poet Wilhelm Busch said “(Mutter) werden ist nitch schwer; (Mutter) sein dagegen sehr.” (To become a (mother) is not so difficult; on the other hand, be-ing a (mother) is very much so!)

Let me shared about one more mother, this one not too good.

Wang Ming Tao’s mother, Li Wen Yi
Wang Ming Tao who was born in 1900 and died in 28 July 1991 is widely recognised as an influential pastor who builds the indigenous Chinese Church based on the principles of self-propagation, self-government, and self-support. Recognised as the ‘dean of house churches’, he was in direct opposition to K.H. Ting who insisted that the church should be loyal to the state. He spent 24 years in jail for his faith. He was arrested in 1955. The next year, he was released when he signed a confession. However, he felt he had betrayed his Lord so he retracted his confession and was jailed until his release in 1979.

Wang Ming Tao was born during the Boxers were attacking Beijing. It was the time of the Boxer rebellion. Fearing for his life, Ming Tao’s father, a medical doctor with the Methodist mission, Wang De Hao committed suicide by hanging himself. Five weeks later, Ming Tao was born. Now forced to leave the Methodist compound, Wen Yi bought a house with the compensation money and rented out rooms. The tenants were a rowdy lot. His mother did not like to cook so she only made one meal a day. As a result, Ming Dao and his sister were malnourished, small and thin. He was named Wang Tie (Iron Wang). He was always bullied and get into all sort of trouble.

“Ever since I was small have had certain characteristic. No matter what issue
arose, unless I myself could see the rightness of a certain course of action, I
would not blindly follow others. On the other hand, once I had seen the
rightness of a certain course of action I would allow no obstacles to hinder me
following it. I may be weak in body but I am not weak in will.”
Thomas Harvey, Acquainted with Grief: Wang Minddao’s Stand for the Persecuted Church in China.

Li Wen Yi have had a difficult life and I do not know enough to judge her nor do I want to. What I want to say is that in spite of her bad mothering, his son turned out to be who he is. Wang Meng Dao needed that stubborn personality to stand up against K.H. Ting and the Communist government. If he had not been so stubborn, Christianity in China would have not survived by going underground as house churches. It would have been swallowed by Mao Communists. Today there are millions of Christians in China and the numbers are still growing.

I believe that there is One that stand behind all mothers, helping them to be better mothers because none one is a perfect mother. God is with all mothers and helps them with their inadequacy. No worries.

I believe being a mother is a calling, as much as a calling to be a preacher, pastor, doctor or fireman. It is a full time calling demanding persistence and stamina.
• It is not a job you can resign from.
• It is not a job you can delegate to.
• It is not a job you can retire from.

Like all callings, God will be behind you all the way.
Motherhood is any form, biological and non-biological is about giving, nurturing and passing on life. And love is the essence of this life.

This is so vital that God himself uses this metaphor to reflect his love. Though taken out of context, this verse uses the mother and child metaphorically to show God’s love for us.
ISA 49:14 But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me,
the Lord has forgotten me." ISA 49:15 "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!

soli deo gloria

Children’s Prayer for their mothers

Dear God,
Thank you for giving me a wonderful mother. Thank you for making her healthy so that she can look after me. Thank you for making her loving so that I am loved. Thank you for all her hard work looking after me, and my brothers and sisters, so that I can grow big and strong like my Daddy. Thank you for making her patient when I am naughty. Thank you for my mother when she teaches me to read the Bible and pray to you. Thank you for being a wonderful God who makes wonderful mothers. In Jesus’ Name we pray.

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