The Presbyterian Pulpit

A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 5/11/14
Text: Psalm 23; John 10:1-10
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It is said that by the time a youngster reaches age 18, the mother has had to handle some 18,000 hours of child-generated housework, work that would not have been necessary had there been no child. Being a mother is a hard job. Someone has noted that unless a mother deliberately sets aside a little time for regular relaxation, she will not be able to efficiently care for her family. Therefore, the recommendation is that moms should plan to relax a minimum of one hour and a half every fifteen years.(1)

As I say, Happy Mothers Day!

Mother's Day became an official national holiday in the United States in 1914, making Mother's Day this year the 100th official observance. "Mothering Sunday" dates back to the 16th century and is a considered a precursor to the modern Mother's Day. It was observed on the fourth Sunday of Lent in Europe when people returned to their “mother church” and it evolved to include secular observances honoring mothers. This custom declined in popularity in the 1930's.

Actually, the first call for a Mother’s Day in this country came in the 1870's as an effort to rally women to work for peace in the world. Julia Ward Howe - writer, lecturer, social reformer and author of the "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" - initiated the idea. After her experience tending the wounded in the War Between the States, she started a crusade to institute such an event. The last Mother’s Day of that kind was June 1, 1912 where the printed invitation noted that "this a time for women and children to come together; to...speak, sing and pray for 'those things that make for peace.'” Thirty years before, in establishing the observance, she had cried out,

We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”(2)

A West Virginia lady, Anna Jarvis, is considered the founder of the Mother's Day we celebrate these days when she sought in 1908 to honor her mother, who had died three years prior and who had organized "Mothers’ Friendship Day” in 1868 to promote reconciliation following the end of the Civil War. President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation making Mother's Day a national holiday in 1914, but senators on both sides of the aisle were not overly impressed by the idea at first. New Hampshire Senator Jacob Gallinger, a Republican, found the idea of limiting the celebration of his mother to just one day insulting. Senator Henry Moore Teller of Colorado, a Democrat, felt even more strongly, saying it was "absolutely absurd," "puerile," and "trifling." Charming. Washington hasn’t changed very much, has it?

By the way, Anna Jarvis was not a life-long supporter of the holiday she had championed because she disliked the commercialization that surrounded it. Around 1920 she starting urging people to stop buying flowers and cards for their mothers. Jarvis was even arrested protesting Mother's Day and said that she regretted creating the holiday. She eventually tried to have Mother's Day abolished.

The FTD folks (Florist Telegraph Delivery) offered Jarvis a commission on the sales of Mother’s Day carnations if she would resume her support of Mother's Day, but she was not about to placated and was insulted by the offer. No matter. People spend $1.9 billion annually on flowers for Mother's Day and 69% of all gifts given are flowers. Thirteen percent of moms buy themselves flowers for the occasion.

According to Hallmark, 133 million cards are exchanged annually making it the third-largest card-sending holiday in the U.S. Hallmark holiday, indeed. It is the busiest day of the year in American restaurants as families give mom a “day off” from the kitchen. But then phone calls increase up to 37% on Mother's Day, showing that not everything about the holiday is commercial, particularly now that with cell phones (and many land-line phone companies too), we don’t pay extra for long distance.

Today, there are approximately 2 billion mothers in the world. We have four babies born each and every second.

By the way, if you have ever wrestled with writing Mother’s Day (apostrophe “s”) or Mothers’ Day (“s” apostrophe, indicating ALL mothers, apostrophe “s” (singular) is in fact the proper name of the holiday. Jarvis wanted it to be a holiday to honor each individual's mother, your mother, not all mothers.(3)

Happy Mother’s Day.

I wish it were for everyone. In an old issue of The Christian Century one writer says she is not planning to be in church today. Too painful. She says,

Friends who have buried their mothers or who struggle to come to terms with their childlessness are making the same choice...Imagine how the rituals are received by the couple that has buried a child or experienced a miscarriage or a stillbirth; the single person who longs for a spouse and children; the woman who has undergone an abortion or placed a child for adoption; the child who has buried a mother or who is witnessing a mother’s illness; the mother who is alienated from her children or the child estranged from his or her mother; the stepmother who has not yet found her place in the family or the mother not awarded parental custody. Mother’s Day rituals accentuate the sense of loss.(4)

We hear her pain. In fact, I would propose the slightly heretical idea that this day should not be relegated to a celebration of those who have given birth. As the awful news reports from our nation’s dumpsters attests, the ability to breed does not necessarily qualify someone to be a mother. On the other hand, some of the finest mothering I have ever seen has come from people - both male and female - who have never had children of their own. They provided encouragement to the dejected, fortitude to the faint-hearted, applause for accomplishment, and whenever needed, a shoulder to cry on. You see, when United Methodists celebrate the sacrament of baptism, the congregation promises to help the parents raise those kids:

The pastor asks, “Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include this child now before you in your care?”

The congregations responds, “With God's help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround this child with a community of love and forgiveness, that she may grow in her trust of God,

and be found faithful in her service to others. We will pray for her, that she may be a true disciple who walks in the way that leads to life.”(5)

The moms to which I refer - of both genders - take that promise seriously. It is their contribution that deserves grateful recognition on this or any Mothers Day.

I was intrigued to see the way our texts lend themselves to this view of mothering...or, more correctly, parenting. It may be Mother’s Day on the civil calendar, but this fourth Sunday of Easter is always Good Shepherd Sunday on the church calendar. You heard the lessons: Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd” - that is the Psalm selection every year. The Gospel lesson each year comes from John, chapter 10, where Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.”

To be honest, we in twenty-first century America do not know a great deal about shepherding. We might better understand our texts if we rewrote them and changed the shepherd references to mother or father. Try this.

The Lord is my mother who has always tried to make sure I do not want for anything I really need. She makes me lie down in a soft, clean bed; she leads me to a calming lifestyle. She restores my very being with her love and care. She leads me in right paths because that is what a mother does. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for Mom is there for me; her rolling pin and mixing bowl comfort me just by thinking about them. She prepares a table for me even under difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances; she straightens my hair when it gets mussed; my cup of blessings overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, because I know that I will always have a home with Mother.

Or, how about this for the gospel lesson:

I tell you the truth, anyone who does not enter the house by the front door but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the door is family. Dad opens the door and the kids hear his voice. He calls his own children by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the children follow him because they know him. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers and they have been taught not to talk to strangers...Listen, kids, in a very real way, I am the doorkeeper for the family, and I will do everything I possibly can to keep anything that can harm you away from you. If I let someone in, they are OK. There are bad people out there, and I am here to protect you, because, more than you can imagine, I want a good life for you, and as much goodness in that life as you can possibly handle.”

Good shepherd...Good Dad...Good Mom. There is an awful lot of similarity between them.

In my files, I have something from a colleague called “I'm Just a Mother?”(6)

A few months ago, when I was picking up the children at school, another mother I knew well rushed up to me. Emily was fuming with indignation.

"Do you know what you and I are?" she demanded. Before I could answer and I didn't really have one handy - she blurted out the reason for her question. It seemed she had just returned from renewing her driver's license at the County Clerk's office. Asked by the woman recorder to state her "occupation," Emily had hesitated, uncertain how to classify herself.

"What I mean is," explained the recorder, "Do you have a job, or are you just a ......?"

"Of course I have a job," snapped Emily. "I'm a mother."

"We don't list 'mother' as an occupation...'housewife' covers it," said the recorder emphatically.

I forgot all about her story until one day I found myself in the same situation, this time at our own Town Hall. The Clerk was obviously a career woman, poised, efficient, and possessed of a high-sounding title, like Official Interrogator or Town Registrar. "And what is your occupation?" she probed.

What made me say it, I do not know. The words simply popped out. "I'm...a Research Associate in the field of Child Development and Human Relations."

The clerk paused, ball-point pen frozen in mid-air, and looked up as though she had not heard right. I repeated the title slowly, emphasizing the most significant words. Then I stared with wonder as my pompous pronouncement was written in bold, black ink on the official questionnaire.

"Might I ask," said the clerk with new interest, "just what you do in your field?"

Coolly, without any trace of fluster in my voice, I heard myself reply, "I have a continuing program of research (what mother doesn't) in the laboratory and in the field (normally I would have said indoors and out). I'm working for my Masters (the whole darned family) and already have four credits (all daughters). Of course, the job is one of the most demanding in the humanities (any mother care to disagree?) and I often work 14 hours a day (24 is more like it). But the job is more challenging than most run-of-the-mill careers and the rewards are in satisfaction rather than just money."

There was an increasing note of respect in the clerk's voice as she completed the form, stood up, and personally ushered me to the door. As I drove into our driveway buoyed up by my glamorous new career, I was greeted by my lab assistants---ages 13, 7, and 3. And upstairs, I could hear our new experimental model (six months) in the child-development program, testing out a new vocal pattern.

I felt triumphant. I had scored a beat on bureaucracy. And I had gone down on the official records as someone more distinguished and indispensable to humankind than "just another..."

I suspect the Good Shepherd would say AMEN to that. After all, as the title of this indicates, he is the ultimate paradigm for the role, the divine mom who is always, always, ALWAYS there for us. And that is good news indeed.

A Middle School science teacher was about to begin a unit on magnets and magnetism and to introduce it, he offered his students a puzzle. It read, "My name has six letters beginning with ‘M’ and I pick things up. What am I?" Half the kids in the class wrote "MOTHER!"(7)

            Happy Mothers Day.


1. Dan Greenburg

2. From material created by Women's Action for Nuckear Disarmament Education Fund

3. Shannon Younger, Ten Facts about Mother's Day,"

4. Mary T. Stimming, "Crucifixion Amnesia," The Christian Century, 5/7/97, P. 436

5. "The Baptismal Covenant I," The United Methodist Hymnal, United Methodist Publishing House, (Nashville:1989), p. 35

6. Mark T. English, via PresbyNet, "Bottom Drawer," #4332, 5/9/01

7. Pastor's Professional Research Service

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