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


Delivered 5/14/06
Text: Proverbs 31:10-31 (II Timothy 1:1-5)
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

Happy Mother's Day. I have a poem:

M is for the mink coat that you want, dear;
O is for the opal ring you crave;
T is for the tiny car you'd love, sweet;
H is for the hat that makes you rave;
E is for the earrings you'd admire, love;
R is for the rug on which you'd tread.
Put them all together they spell BANKRUPT
So I'm giving you this handkerchief instead!(1)
Mother's Day...always special...because mothers somehow seem to be always special....worth going into bankruptcy for, despite the poet's protest. I think it was Charles Dickens who wrote that if the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children, then the virtues of the mothers must be equally handed on. True.

So saying, this is a difficult day for some. It is difficult for some who have lost their mothers, especially if relatively recently. It is certainly difficult for mothers who have lost children. It is difficult for women who, for one reason or another, have no children of their own. One of my colleagues is a single pastor who says the only reason she is in church today is because she is the pastor; otherwise she would never be here - too painful. For all those reasons, plus the nagging suspicion that all the hoopla is nothing more than a conspiracy between Hallmark Cards and the world's jewelers, candy makers and florists to make a buck, some preachers avoid any Mothers Day references at all.

So saying, even with all the negatives that are possible in the commemoration, we forge ahead. Mothers Day enjoys (or suffers, depending upon your point of view) the highest volume of telephone calls of any day of the year. Feel free to call Mom and wish her the best of her day and, as Jay Leno noted the other night, while you are at it, say Hello to President Bush who just might be listening in.

Mothers Day is traditionally one that has pretty decent church attendance, trailing only Christmas and Easter in numbers. You might remember the name Robert Fulghum - he wrote several best-sellers a few years back, the most notable, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.(2) Fulghum had a checkered career before making his name as an author including a stint as a Unitarian Universalist minister. In one of his books he remembers that his congregation had clear expectations as to what would happen on this day. One woman said, "I am bringing my mother to church on Mothers Day, Reverend, and you can talk about anything you want. But it had better include mother and it had better be good."(3) Ok.

Mothers are surely worth a day of celebration. Think of the effect that godly mothers have had on some of the greatest people of history. John Quincy Adams said, "All that I am, my mother made me." Abraham Lincoln declared, "All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother." Julia Ward Howe, when she was ninety-one years of age said, "We talk of forty-horsepower; if we had forty MOTHERpower, it would be the most wonderful force in the world."

They say that man is mighty,
He governs land and sea;
He wields a mighty scepter
On lower powers than he.

But mightier power and stronger
Man from his throne has hurled,
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.(4)

Thank God for Mom! And especially if she is anything like the incredible lady in our lesson from Proverbs. What a woman! Those of you who are Bible scholars know that, in the original, what we read is an acrostic poem - each of the twenty-two verses begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet (which has 22 letters). Perhaps the writer was making it easier to memorize, or perhaps the message is this is the picture of a lady who has it all together, the A-to-Z woman.

No doubt. To paraphrase the words of Proverbs without exaggeration, she is a wonderful wife, makes clothes for her family that would be fit for a king, does the shopping, gets up before the crack of dawn to cook and clean, handles real estate, does the gardening, stays up half the night balancing the family accounts, does charity work, runs the equivalent of a clothing store with both retail and wholesale divisions, has a positive view of the future, is noted for her intelligence and kind disposition, teaches her children, a wise counselor to her neighbors, and is dutifully religious. No wonder "her children arise and call her blessed" and her husband praises her! When dad is quoted as saying, "Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all," most of us would say NO KIDDING!

Of course, the perfect woman IS awfully hard to come by. When the lesson begins with "A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies," there is an implied affirmation that someone this incredible is literally a rare gem indeed.

In her own inimitable style, the late Erma Bombeck told of one of them.(5) She did everything right - kept a perfect home, kept her husband happy. Always had an inspirational book on the coffee table. And answered the door pregnant when the priest came by. Erma said one day she asked her how she managed and her friend responded, "I emulate the Blessed Virgin Mary."

Erma replied, "Gee, Marge, it's a little late for that."

She said, "Very well, I'll tell you the truth. Every evening when the children are bathed and tucked into their clean little beds, and the lunches are lined up and labeled and packed in the refrigerator, and the little shoes are racked up, and I've heard all of the prayers of the children, I fall down on my knees and say, `Thank you, God... for not letting me kill one of them today.'"

How is a mother to manage these days? One wag says that a mother's "role is to deliver children - obstetrically once, and by car forever after." Being a mother is a demanding task. A woman was calling on her friend whose children were playing around her. The caller said, evidently with no thought to the meaning of her words, "Oh, I would give my life to have two such children." To which the mother replied softly, "That is exactly what it costs."

The truth, of course, is that some are not willing to pay that price. Their children are not seen as a blessing, just a burden. The sad thing is that if youngsters are not considered a blessing, they surely will not be treated like one. One of the worst scandals this nation sees is the nauseating spectacle of child abuse...little children being routinely tortured by those whom God has entrusted with their care: beaten with baseball bats, burned with cigarettes, fingers bitten off, denied food and water, drowned in bathtubs. The sights are horrible.

Fortunately, millions of mothers do a wonderful job raising their children and make a profound contribution, not only to the lives of their own families, but to us all. Someone has said, "The woman who creates and sustains a home, and under whose hands children grow up to be strong and pure men and women is a creator second only to God."

Is there some magical formula to doing the job right, to being a successful wife and mother like the one we read about in Proverbs? The wise writer gives the answer right near the end of the lesson. After giving that long list of this lady's rather incredible accomplishments, we find one short phrase to explain the secret of her success: she "fears the Lord." Her priorities are straight. She does not neglect God.

Thank God for moms who realize the importance of life's spiritual dimension and share that with their families, just as Lois and Eunice shared with young Timothy - they study the scriptures; they teach their youngsters what they themselves have learned; they try to lead lives that will show Christ living in them; and they witness to the power of that faith as they work to see those little ones who are their own flesh and blood come to the moment of commitment. Thank God for moms like that.

"The gospel, first proclaimed by Jesus, comes through witnesses: preachers, teachers, parents, friends. It is reported that the theologian Karl Barth was once asked by a skeptical professor from East Germany, "How is it that such a learned, civilized, intelligent man like yourself can believe in something like the resurrection?" To which Barth is said to have replied, "Because, my friend, my mother told me."(6)

It was a Rally Day program at the church and a little girl was to recite the scripture she had memorized for the occasion. When she got in front of the crowd, the sight of hundreds of eyes peering at her caused her to forget her memory work. Every line that she had so carefully rehearsed faded from her mind and she stood there unable to utter a single word. In the front row, her mother was almost as frantic as the little girl. The mother gestured, moved her lips, trying to form the words for the girl, but it did no good. Finally, the mother, in desperation, whispered the opening phrase of the memorized Scripture: "I am the light of the world."

Immediately the child's face lit up and a smile appeared on it as she said with supreme confidence: "My mother is the light of the world!" Of course, everybody smiled and some laughed out loud. Then they soberly reflected that the girl, in some ways, was not far from wrong. For the mother is the light of the child's world.(7)

Someone has written a paraphrase of the 13th chapter of I Corinthians from the perspective of a mother:
If I live in a house of spotless beauty with everything in its place, but have not love, I am a housekeeper - not a homemaker. If I have time for waxing, polishing, and decorative achievements, but have not love, my children learn cleanliness - not godliness. Love leaves the dust in search of a child's laugh. Love smiles at the tiny fingerprints on a newly cleaned window. Love wipes away the tears before it wipes up the spilled milk. Love picks up the child before it picks up the toys. Love is present through the trials. Love reprimands, reproves, and is responsive. Love crawls with the baby, walks with the toddler, runs with the child, then stands aside to let the youth walk into adulthood. Love is the key that opens salvation's message to a child's heart. Before I became a mother I took glory in my house of perfection. Now I glory in God's perfection of my child. As a mother, there is much I must teach my child, but the greatest of all is love.(8)
Good stuff. Thank God for moms like that...who love their families and take wonderful care of them, and who have their priorities straight. A minister paid tribute to his own mother on Mothers' Day. He said, "She practices what I preach."

On Mother's Day one year the children said, "Mom, you are not to lift a finger today." They were going to do all the cooking. So they got out three pots, two frying pans, a double boiler, three mixing bowls, a chopping board, six measuring spoons, eight serving dishes...and Mom was delighted. She said it was the best Jello she had ever tasted.

Mother's day...a very special day...and one on which to say "Thanks, Mom, for all you have meant to me." But a day on which we can also say, "Thanks be to God...for a mom who has her priorities straight, who fears the Lord. As the writer of Proverbs has it, "let her works bring her praise."


1. Author Unknown

2. NY : Villard Books, 1988

3. Quoted by John Buchanan, "God's Extended Family," The Christian Century, 5/16/06, p. 3

4. William Ross Wallace

5. Quoted in Carl Samra, The Healing Power of Humor, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985)

6. Thomas G. Long, Hebrews, Interpretation Commentary Series, (Louisville : Westminster/John Knox Press, 1997), p. 30

7. James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited, (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 381

8. Author Unknown

The Presbyterian Pulpit Sermon Library

Mail Boxclick and send us mail