Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17
Well, today is Mother’s Day, and no doubt you’ve seen the cards thanking mothers for all the sacrifices they’ve made, for their boundless love, for the hugs and kisses they’ve shared, for all the work they’ve done for their families. You’ve probably seen the commercials on TV and heard them on the radio - “This Mother’s Day, show her you care, buy her...” whatever they’re selling - jewelry, a camera, a drill from Home Depot (that’s my favourite) - the list is endless. And of course, you’ve noticed the flowers and balloons in the store, covered with hearts, saying Happy Mother’s Day.
Even the church takes part in this celebration of mothers, even though it wasn’t started as a Christian holiday. Churches proclaim mothers to be God’s angels and saints - the epitome of selflessness, the very role model of self-sacrifice. Luther himself called motherhood the highest vocation and calling for women - a proclamation that was revolutionary because until that time, motherhood was often seen as a punishment for Eve’s transgression in the garden of Eden and nowhere near as valued as any of the actual vocations that men fulfilled. In the church, Mother’s Day has been a time to talk about the holiness of all mothers - of Mary, Jesus’ mother, who bravely answered God’s call to carry the Saviour in her womb and then to give him up to die, of Sarah, the wife of Abraham and the mother of Isaac, who carried Isaac in her old age and fulfilled God’s promise of making Abraham the father of generations of the covenant. We hear about Leah and Rachel, about Hannah who wept in the Temple for a child, about the two mothers in Solomon’s court - one who couldn’t handle the loss of her baby and the other who would rather give hers up than watch it die. We hear Jesus’ words for today, words that God has given us, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I loved you,” and it seems a natural step to connect this to mothers. Who else but a mother could love this way? A mother’s love is the closest we get to God’s love for us.
I’ll tell you a secret about mothers and Mother’s Day, though. And maybe this changes the longer you’ve been a mother, and maybe not all mothers feel this way, but this is my experience. Mother’s Day, as lovely as it is to get cards and flowers and a break from cooking and to hear about other mothers in the Bible, also makes mothers feel a little bit... guilty. Or inadequate. Or maybe a bit ashamed. You see, mothers never feel that we’re doing as good a job as others seem to think we are. Mothers tend to walk around with this pervasive sense of guilt that we are not the mothers we wish we were. We hear about how wonderful mothers are, and we hear God’s commandment to love our children as God loves us, and we know that we don’t. The most common feeling that mothers share is guilt - over things done and left undone.
- We were too hard on our children and they’ve rebelled against us.
- We were too soft on our children and they’ve come to think they’re entitled to everything.
- We didn’t protect our children and they were hurt by someone or something.
- We were overprotective of our children and they don’t know how to handle the world.
- We didn’t give them enough independence and now they can’t handle real responsibility.
- We tried to make them independent and now they can’t form close relationships with anyone.
- We treated them in ways they didn’t deserve.
- We didn’t treat them the way they did deserve.
- We didn’t spend enough time with our children. We didn’t spend enough time for ourselves. We didn’t give them enough. We gave them too much. We didn’t do enough of this. We did too much of that. The list goes on, and so does the guilt.
Working mothers, stay-at-home mothers, student mothers, single mothers, married mothers - we come to this day with mixed feelings because we know that we have never been able to love and mother our children the way we wish we could: perfectly, as Jesus loves us, as God commands us. All mothers, no matter how well-intentioned (and, truthfully, there are some mothers who have not been well-intentioned), no matter how many sacrifices we have made (and there are always sacrifices), know that we fall short of what we and God expect of us, and on Mother’s Day, this feeling lurks persistently at the back of our minds. We are never always and fully the mothers the cards say we are. We all have had our periods of anger, and impatience, and annoyance, and negligence. We have all fallen short of the perfect love God commands from us.
Well, today is Mother’s Day, and so I say specifically to those of you who are mothers, “As a called and ordained minister of the Church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins.” Now, we may smile a bit, but I am serious. Mothers do not hear very often that we are forgiven for falling short as mothers. And so I proclaim to you mothers that the forgiveness that is granted to all Christians through Christ is also granted to you. To you mothers specifically. You are forgiven for all of the mistakes you have made as mothers. You are forgiven for the things as mothers that you have done and left undone. You are forgiven for not loving your children as yourselves. You are forgiven for being too strict and for not being strict enough. You are forgiven for not protecting your children from harm and for being overprotective. You are forgiven for not giving them enough and for giving them too much. God forgives you.
God forgives you and God loves you. Even more than we find ways to forgive and love our own children, despite their failings and mistakes, despite the hurt they have caused us, God forgives and loves us, despite our failings and mistakes and the hurt we have caused. It isn’t that God doesn’t see the ways we have failed - it is that God has seen them, and God, who loves our children even more than we do, forgives us and loves us, too, because we are also God’s children.
I have one last good word that I want to share with you today. As mothers, we always hope that our children will not be hurt by the mistakes we have made. We hope that our children will be able to move past the ways in which our mothering has held them back. The last good word that I want to share with you is that God makes this happen. We heard last week, and this week, that God makes the branches bear more fruit, and causes fruit to grow that will last. God gives mothers the responsibility of watering and feeding and caring for the seeds that we have been given, and more often than not, we don’t get it right. Mothers are human. But God works through and beyond our own efforts, or lack thereof, and loves them in ways that we can’t, sending the Holy Spirit where we have fallen short, and being more committed to them than we possibly could. As mothers, this is our salvation - that God takes better care of our children than we do, and that despite our mistakes, despite our inability to live up to the Hallmark cards’ description of us and despite our failure to love our children as God loves us, God loves our children, God loves us, and God forgives us. Thanks be to God. Happy Mother’s Day. Amen.