The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 5/12/02
Text: John 17:6-19 (Acts 1:15-17, 21-26)
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

Happy Mothers those of you to whom that applies.

Did you happen to see this week's Newsweek and the feature on Barbara Bush?(1) It starts out, "Mother's Day is coming, and if you know what's good for you the Hallmark card is already in the mail. That is, unless your mother is Barbara Bush. The First Family has an unusual way of celebrating the hallowed American holiday. They put their heads down and hope it passes with as little fanfare as possible...'Did they tell you I'm not big on Mother's Day?' the First Mom asks tartly. 'It's a big ripoff, you know that.'" Hmm.

A bit of Mothers Day humor here. Some definitions that are floating around the Internet:(2)
  • AIRPLANE: What Mom impersonates to get a 1-year-old to eat strained beets.
  • ALIEN: What Mom would suspect had invaded her house if she spotted a child-sized creature cleaning up after itself.
  • APPLE: Nutritious lunchtime dessert which children will trade for cupcakes.
  • BABY: 1. Dad, when he gets a cold. 2. Mom's youngest child, even if he's 42.
  • BECAUSE: Mom's reason for having kids do things which cannot be explained logically.
  • CAR POOL: Complicated system of transportation where Mom always winds up going the furthest with the biggest bunch of kids who have had the most sugar.
  • CHINA: Legendary nation reportedly populated by children who love leftover vegetables.
  • COOK: 1. Act of preparing food for consumption. 2. Mom's other name.
  • COUCH POTATO: What Mom finds under the sofa cushions after the kids eat dinner.
The ABC's are enough for now (there is a whole long list). Happy Mothers Day.

As you scholars know, the Mother's Day we observe on the second Sunday in May has its origins with Anna Jarvis. Never a mother herself, Anna spent most of her adult life caring for her mother in Grafton, West Virginia. Her concern was for mothers who needed care and whose adult children were neglecting them. Out of this interest, in 1905 Anna Jarvis started a campaign for an annual religious celebration honor mothers. In 1914 Congress passed a resolution providing that the second Sunday in May be designated as Mother's Day, and President Woodrow Wilson issued a Mother's Day Proclamation.

Anna Jarvis envisioned Mother's Day as a time of recommitment to honoring and caring for mothers, especially mothers who were no longer able to care for themselves. But she was dismayed to see the way the holiday was celebrated, much as Barbara Bush feels now. Anna lived to see Mother's Day become the victim of commercialism, when honoring mothers was reduced to giving flowers, cards and gifts. Anna Jarvis died in 1948, disappointed and disillusioned that her work had been so trivialized.(3)

Mothers Day need not be trivialized. It can and should be more than a "Hallmark Holiday." For that matter, I will propose the slightly heretical idea that it should not be relegated to a celebration of those who have given birth. As the awful news reports from our nation's dumpsters and high school rest rooms occasionally 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 we Presbyterians baptize children, the congregation promises to help the parents raise them:
Do you, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, promise to guide and nurture these children by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging them to know and follow Christ and to be faithful members of his church?

We do.(4)
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 lent themselves to this view of mothering...or, more correctly, parenting. The passage from the 1st chapter of Acts describes the process for selecting a successor to Judas. The apostles held a congregational meeting and received the report from the nominating committee, which had been given specific direction as to who would qualify as a "Witness with us to the resurrection." They produced two names: Justus and Matthias. Then, after prayer, they rolled the dice, or drew straws, or flipped a coin, or pulled a name out of a hat (whatever "casting lots" meant - and we do not know for sure, other than the fact that, in the ancient world this was a time-honored way of determining God's will). The winner: Matthias (of whom we never hear again). The loser: Justus (also, of whom we never hear again). The apostles believed that God had chosen Matthias for this important role, so he was selected for the work. They thus believed that God had NOT chosen Justus, so... The point is that God CHOOSES whom God CHOOSES. Just as everyone is not chosen to be an apostle, everyone is not chosen for certain other roles...mother, for example. I could be distressed that God did not choose me for that role (and if I were, most of you would rightly think that I was looney), or I can examine my circumstances and see what it is that God HAS chosen me for...and then get on with it.

For what it is worth, we can note that Jesus was not chosen to be a mother either. But there is something about this prayer we read in our lesson from John's gospel that sounds mighty like a mom. The scene is the Upper Room. He had spent this night prior to his arrest encouraging the twelve. He had washed their feet giving a lesson in humility.(5) He had shared a bit about the future: "In my Father's house are many dwelling places...I go to prepare a place for you."(6) He talked of their connectedness - "I am the vine, you are the branches."(7) There was that instruction to "love one another."(8) It was going to take that mutual support to withstand the trials and tribulation to come. Needless to say, they could not envision what their master was describing, but Jesus knew. There would be tough times ahead, and he would not be there physically with them to insure their safety. They would be on their own.

Mothers know that feeling. Fathers too. There is the first day of kindergarten (or pre-school, these days). Again it happens when that drivers license is newly in hand. Once more, I will feel it this summer when I unload the car with all my college freshman needs to stock her new dorm room. Then, there is that walk down the aisle as sons and daughters begin life with someone new.

Jesus' prayer is that of a parent letting go of a child. Listen to some of the words again, and try to hear them as if Jesus were a mom.

Jesus says, "I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world." Mom says, "I have tried to teach them properly." Jesus says, "They were yours; you gave them to me..." Mom says, "Yes, I know that my children belong to God, not me, but I know that they have been ENTRUSTED to me for a proper upbringing." Jesus says, "They know that everything you have given me comes from you;" Mom says, "They have learned their lessons well."

Jesus says, "I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours." Mom says, "Yes, I could pray some general prayer, but this is very specific and it is for my kids, the ones whose welfare you entrusted to ME." Jesus says, "I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them..." Mom says, "Lord, I am not going to be there to protect them, so YOU please be there to protect them. Jesus says, "So that they may be one as we are one." Mom says, "And never let them forget that they are family!"

Jesus says, "I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them." Mom says, "let them be happy."

Jesus says, "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world..." Mom says, "I'm not asking for any special magical treatment for them." Jesus says, "...protect them from the evil one." Mom says, "the drugs, the booze, the sex, and yes, the greed, the pride, the selfishness, ALL the ways that evil can invade and ruin a life...Oh God, help my babies."

Jesus says, "They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth." Mom says, "I never raised them to the standards with which the world is comfortable; I raised them by YOUR standards. Help them to stay DIFFERENT based on the sure and certain knowledge that what they learned long ago is true."

Jesus says, "As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world." Mom says, "There was a time I left the nest; now it is their turn. Take care of them."

Jesus sounds just like a mom, doesn't he? Yes, there is some pain in Jesus' prayer, the pain of having to let go, having to leave his disciples. There is no guarantee that his "kids" will turn out right, just as there is none for ours. We cannot do it all for our children. At some time they need to make their own decisions, their own mistakes. A good parent knows when to leave them and let them go. Jesus knew. No guarantees, no proof, but prayers for safety and guidance.

If Jesus were a mom... Farfetched? Not really. And right now, he is doing a very maternal thing - Jesus is praying for you. The Bible says so.(9) Did your mom pray for you? Do you pray for your kids? Your kids in your extended family, the church? I hope so. Good moms are like that - they never, ever entirely let go. Just like Jesus. And that is good news indeed. Happy Mothers Day.


1. Martha Brant & Weston Kosova, "The Queen Mother," Newsweek, 5/13/02, pp. 34-37

2. Margarette Brandenburg, via Ecunet, "Sermonshop 1997 05 11," #103, 5/7/97

3. To Celebrate: Reshaping Holidays & Rites of Passage, (Alternatives, P.O. Box 429, Ellenwood, Georgia 30049), pp. 116-117

4. The Sacrament of Baptism, Book of Common Worship (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993)

5. John 13:1-17

6. John 14:2

7. John 15: 1-11

8. John 13:34; 15:12, 17

9. Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25

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