Sermon by The Rev. Matt Kennedy
Mother’s Day 2007
The Church of the Good Shepherd
I was born when men weren’t permitted in the delivery room. But now it’s standard for dads to be there the whole time. I remember, before Emma was born, how much I dreaded the idea of the delivery room. And still, we’re on our 4th kid, I’m not the kind of guy who wants to video-tape the event. I wish a doctor would come along and say, “Mr. Kennedy, its time for you to go smoke cigars with your friends and watch TV in the waiting room” because it takes a lot of pain and suffering to bring a baby into the world. Anne has a tough time of it too. Rowan was born in July of last year and we were planning to use whatever drugs were necessary during the delivery. But by the third baby, things go faster than they do the first time around and there’s a much smaller window to get an epidural if you want one. The nurse missed the window. I remember how horrified I was that Anne was going to have to give birth naturally, but she was calm. Her face was set. She was ready to do what needed to be done. And she did. I almost didn’t make it. She was fine.
Now that I’ve been through it a few times, I can see that it’s a good thing to be there. Men need to see what women go through to bring babies into the world. We can talk a big talk about how much we sweat to provide and protect, and we do, but while we’re sticking out our chests we can overlook what a mother does and what a mother goes through during pregnancy, birth, and throughout the process of raising kids. We don’t really have to deal with things until the baby comes out and even then, well, I don’t think my dad changed a diaper in his life. But even before the suffering of birth, a mom has already carried her baby in her body for 9 months and then for at least the first year or years, she’s the primary caretaker and there’s a bond that is formed in this period that we, as men, can observe but never really understand. And that bond continues throughout the life of the child even to adulthood. The mother in some sense always bears her children. It’s not just a one time event.
In the Update this week I mentioned the way Anne responds a lot differently to Rowan crying than I do. Sometimes at night we let him cry it out so that he’ll learn to soothe himself, they say to do this at about 6 months, but often I have to hold Anne back. It’s easy for me to ignore the crying and go back to sleep. Anne can’t do that. Her mom and mine can’t either. When we have the grandparents over, both grandpas sleep right through the screams but the grandmas are up and in the nursery sometimes before Anne can get there. I read this week that Cornell funded a study of male and female responses to crying babies. Women, they found, mothers or not, responded almost immediately to a crying infant and with far more demonstrable concern than the males. Men were uniformly slower. Some didn’t even respond at all and pretended not to hear.
I don’t want to draw any grand conclusions from this study or from my own observations. There are mothers who are less nurturing and fathers who are more so, but I think in general we can say that there’s something unique about the love of a mother for her children and I think that uniqueness has a purpose. God designed the human family, bringing male and female together in an intimate way and created the reproductive system in such a way that a human mom has a 9 month period with a little baby in her womb and then afterwards, before there was formula, babies needed years of direct nourishment from their mom before making on their own. God did this for a reason. He could have done it another way but he didn’t.
In fact, I heard an evolutionary biologist argue against the existence of God on the grounds that the way we human beings reproduce and raise our young is utterly inefficient; all of this time and effort and energy wasted on nurturing babies could be used in finding food and this inefficiency calls into question the “intelligence” of the design. The argument assumes that God is like an engineer interested in efficiency and mechanics. But the bible reveals a Personal God who loves his creatures and is concerned with making his love manifest. God went out of his way to design family relationships and he specifically designed mothers to be the physical or bodily bearer and nurturer of children and made it so that this bearing would create a bond that everyone would notice because we all have moms. When we see things like this in nature, as Christians we should always ask. Why is it there? We believe in an intelligent Creator. These things are not accidents. There’s a reason for mother-child relationships. And turning to scripture we find the answer.
The bible is full of mother imagery when it describes the love God has for his people. Take this passage from Isaiah.
“But Zion said, ‘the Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.’ 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! See I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me…” (Isaiah 49:15-16)
The care and nurture and concern that that God has for you and for me, in whatever circumstance, is like that of a nursing mother for her child. You may feel alone and abandoned by God, but that feeling never reflects the truth. He could no more forget you than a mother can forget her child.
The bible also uses mother-love to describe the way God comforts. When you’re hurt or afraid or worried, the bible says to cry out to God just as you once cried out to your mother. And God promises in Isaiah 66:13 “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.”
When the kids get hurt they don’t run to me. My response to Aedan is “man up.” Stop crying. He goes to Anne. When I was a kid and got a bruised knee or bloody nose, I went to my mom. She’d pick me up and hug me and make things better. As I grew and went through getting dumped by girlfriends or failing in sports or losing friends my mom was there to comfort me. It’s still that way. I’ll tell her about something that’s bothering me and two weeks later I’ll find out that she’s been fretting over and praying for me. That’s what moms do. They fret over you. They hover over you. They can’t help it. Your mom loved you before you were born. She loved you and nurtured you from the moment you were conceived. Nothing can separate you from her love.
There’s nothing that you can do, nowhere you can go, no amount of disappointment or sin or rebellion or sadness or despair or pain or suffering can ever separate you from the love of your mother and in that way your mom is a living picture of Christ. Listen to Paul in Romans chapter 8:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?..No…neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
When Jesus comes to Jerusalem and stands looking over the city full people who will reject him and kill him, he says:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” (Luke 13:34)
Jesus longs to gather us together as a mother hen does her chicks.
When adult children rebel and wreck their lives with drugs or alcohol or immorality, the mothers I know long to gather them up and bring them home. That longing is not weak or wimpy. It’s based on, reflects, and flows out of the longing that Jesus has for believers, his children, who fall away and reject him and sin against him. It’s a sacrificial longing, forged in the delivery room and steely enough to bear to the cross.
Mothers were created and formed to reflect or make manifest God’s love for his children. For mothers and for women in general, your capacity to bear and nurture children makes you a living picture of Christ’s sacrificial love to your kids and to the world. The question to ask yourself daily is: Am I a true picture of Christ’s love or a distorted one?
The most common way women can distort the image of Christ’s love not through any failure to love but by manifesting that love in a harmful way. Mother-love is powerful. Sometimes women confuse love with indulgence, fail to establish boundaries, and let children get away with anything and everything. Love without boundaries isn’t love. Kids need rules and boundaries. They need discipline. Children without discipline learn no one has authority over them. They get an attitude they carry with them throughout life and this attitude does them great harm. They lose jobs, friends, and often lack self-control. Children need loving discipline. This is one reason God set mothers within the context of families headed by fathers and when it comes to discipline, moms generally need to listen to dads in the same way that dads need to listen to moms when it comes to nurture and love. Love without discipline spoils. Discipline without love hardens. Mothers need fathers and fathers need mothers. Children need both.
Father’s there’s a real challenge here for you. It’s easy for kids to manipulate and disrespect their mom because she always wants to see the best. They know that. When they get away with it, Christ’s love reflected in the mother, comes off as cheap or weak. That’s not her fault. It’s yours. She has the mother bond and can be blinded by it. That’s one reason you’re there. There should be zero tolerance for disrespect or manipulation. And that means not only enforcing respect for mom but modeling it. If your kids, especially your sons, see you mistreating, manipulating, disrespecting their mom, don’t be surprised when they do the same. If you honor your wife and show her love and respect and give no tolerance for anyone doing otherwise, they’ll follow your example.
The 5th commandment still stands. Honor your mother and your father. Today especially we honor moms and in doing so we bring glory and honor to God who has given moms to the world in order to show us what his love is like....
Here is the link to this week's Update