Mother’s Day sermon.

The following message was given on Sunday, May 11 at St. Paul’s UCC in Eureka. Scripture used were John 10:1-10, I Peter 2:19-25, and Acts 2:42-47

Mother’s Day

Many of you may already know that, I grew up on a farm in the area. It is about 11 miles north and west of here as the crow flies. My father operated it as, according to the Haak definition of a farm, as an “Old MacDonald” farm, meaning he had and did a little of everything. He was mainly a small grain farmer, but also put up hay and silage and raised animals. Here is where the Old MacDonald term comes in. We had every sort of farm animals on our farm except goats and, well I guess as some sheep ranchers might have, there were no lamas either.

My parents raised cattle, pigs, sheep, chickens and a few ducks and geese every so often. We even had some horses, but they were not used for anything useful. We just had them. My mother loved this time of year. It was when the new crop was born, and though my father much preferred dealing with a sow and her litter, building one type of crate after another to keep the piglets safe, my mother and I loved walking through the pastures in the yard and checking out the new baby calves and lambs.

It seems there was nothing more exciting for us in the growing up years than when we got to have a bottle lamb. Those were few and far between because my parents believed that animal mothers do a better job than human children, but oh how fun it was to try to hold that bottle and not let that lamb head bump your side while you figured out what was the least sloppy way to get that milk into the lamb. They were cute and cuddly, but demanding and smelly and at the same time, and they were my favorite animal on the farm because I knew we raised them for the wool and not for slaughter. At least I believed that to be true.

My parents weren’t always sheep owners. I think the last of the sheep happened the year that my father left a small hay stack in their area one day too long. They kept eating around it and around it, and one afternoon when we returned home from a trip to town, the stack had collapsed and the flock appeared much smaller than normal. My parents dug frantically to save what they could of the sheep buried under the pile, but many either suffocated or had their necks broken, and sadly among the dead was my little black-faced pet, Lamby.

See sheep are not the smartest animal on a farm. They are easily led one way or another. They play follow the leader automatically and intensely. On the positive side of this is the fact that if the sheep get out of the pen all you have to do is find a leader and get that one going in the right direction, and the rest pretty much follow along. Pigs don’t do that. We always joked that my brother got his running ability because it was his job to chase the pigs back into their pens when he was a youngster, and I mean from about age five on.

Sheep though, go astray as easily as they are led back to their shelter. And the other part that my parents struggled with is the idea that when a sheep is sick and lays down, it is nearly impossible to get them well and back on their feet again. Of course my stories are over 40 years old, so I am sure veterinary medicine has advanced considerably since then, but I do believe sheep are still good followers, which might explain why the metaphor in scripture is always sheep.

Jesus is the Shepherd, and we are the sheep. We could chalk this symbol up to the fact that sheep were the animals most raised in Biblical times, or it might just be that we are most like sheep. I don’t have that answer today. Perhaps when I start looking into classes, I will find something to give me those sorts of answers. I have to wonder, is sheep the metaphor because we are led as easily as a flock of sheep? I have no answer now, but tuck that thought away for a bit.

John tells us that Jesus said he was the Good Shepherd, and we are his flock. We are the sheep of his charge, and he cares for us the way a shepherd takes care of his sheep. He looks for us when we are lost and he digs us out from under whatever falls on us as quickly as he finds us. We are his to watch over and nurture and protect.

It occurred to me as I was thinking about Jesus as the Shepherd and us as the sheep that a good shepherd takes care of his flock much like a good mother looks after her children. A mother is more than the person who gives birth to you. I would prefer to say that a mother is the one who gives you your life. And mothers have been doing that from the beginning of creation. A good mother also provides for a child not just in terms of food and clothing and shelter, but in terms of nurturing with love and affection and comfort, and perhaps most importantly by giving them the skills to grow up and learn to stand on their own.

I know in many ways that was the most important thing I learned from my mother was how to be myself. She did that by example far more than by telling me anything. In fact my sisters and I loved how our mother would tell us to be good wives by keeping a well-organized home, doing such things as cleaning and cooking and laundry, while she took jobs outside of the house in such jobs as: clerking and accounting at livestock barns, managing roofing and insulating crews and later owning her own business. We learned by watching not by listening.

At this point I took a bit of a side track and don’t remember it exactly, but I described how the livestock barns were not set up to be a straight walk or fancy stairs from the audience area to the area where the workers such as the auctioneer and the clerk and the person weighing the cattle sit to conduct the sale. No, they have to climb over the rails, walk through the ring full of animal droppings then finally get to their desks. My mother did this each week even the Friday before giving birth to my youngest sister on Saturday morning. We really learned by example, not by listening.

A good mother also teaches her family the Christian values that they need to get themselves through the darkest hours. And here is what I mean by saying that Jesus as a Shepherd is like a good mother. Today’s scripture lectionary also includes Psalm 23, and that is why we read it as the Call to Worship. All the things that this Psalm says about how the Lord leads us, relate to how a mother cares for a child by giving him or her comfort and protection in tough times.

Today people all over our country are celebrating Mother’s Day. I found some historical information on this holiday, and I would like to share it with you. I found this article on (national geographic.com). It was written by Brian Handwerk and Updated May 8, 2014. I don’t understand how to do links, so if you want to read the whole thing search the site with Mother’s Day and the author and you get right to it. This is what a little of the beginning says:

The holiday has more somber roots: It was founded for mourning women to remember fallen soldiers and work for peace. And when the holiday went commercial, its greatest champion, Anna Jarvis, gave everything to fight it, dying penniless and broken in a sanitarium.

It all started in the 1850s, when West Virginia women’s organizer Ann Reeves Jarvis—Anna’s mother—held Mother’s Day work clubs to improve sanitary conditions and try to lower infant mortality by fighting disease and curbing milk contamination, according to historian Katharine Antolini of West Virginia Wesleyan College. The groups also tended wounded soldiers from both sides during the U.S. Civil War from 1861 to 1865.

In the postwar years Jarvis and other women organized Mother’s Friendship Day picnics and other events as pacifist strategies to unite former foes. Julia Ward Howe, for one—best known as the composer of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”—issued a widely read “Mother’s Day Proclamation” in 1870, calling for women to take an active political role in promoting peace.

Around the same time, Jarvis had initiated a Mother’s Friendship Day for Union and Confederate loyalists across her state. But it was her daughter Anna who was most responsible for what we call Mother’s Day—and who would spend most of her later life fighting what it had become. [Meaning the commercialization of the day.] She wanted it to be “Mother’s Day,” Not “Mothers’ Day”

Anna Jarvis never had children of her own, but the 1905 death of her own mother inspired her to organize the first Mother’s Day observances in 1908.  The article goes on to say that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson officially set aside the second Sunday in May in 1914 for the holiday.

“For Jarvis it was a day where you’d go home to spend time with your mother and thank her for all that she did,” West Virginia Wesleyan’s Antolini, who wrote “Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Defense of Her Mother’s Day” as her Ph.D. dissertation, said in an interview.

“It wasn’t to celebrate all mothers. It was to celebrate the best mother you’ve ever known—your mother—as a son or a daughter.” That’s why Jarvis stressed the singular “Mother’s Day,” rather than the plural “Mothers’ Day,” Antolini explained.

Here I want to thank the author Brian H for a great and interesting article and hopefully he understands I am not trying to steal, just promote his writing.

Wow! Isn’t it interesting how some events can be basically side-swiped and turned into a completely different thing than what you plan it to be? I knew before I checked into it that Mother’s Day wasn’t a church holiday, though we observe it on a Sunday. But I never knew it was started so many years before it was officially declared a holiday, or that it was part of a movement to help our country come back together after the long and hard struggle of the Civil War. I did know, though, that it was about honoring your own mother, not mothers in general. And I hope that is what we are able to do today whether they are with us in the pews or if they have gone on ahead to be with their own mother.

Perhaps it is hard for some of us to think of Jesus the Shepherd in terms of a mother figure. Those of us with some old-fashioned or traditional values only want to think of God as the Father, yet everywhere we look in the scriptures we see the compassion and the nurturing and the caring that our culture attributes to a mother’s love. Maybe it isn’t so much what we hear as what we see in the example put before us. Now as we close today, I would like to share a little story I found recently in a book I received from one of my daughters several years ago. Though it is not Exactly what I might say to my own three daughters, it is a pretty close fit.

At this point I read a great excerpt from Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul. It was written as if a mother was talking to her three children and kept saying she loved each one best. It was a great humorous piece to take away the somber, but it was also quite true to realize that as a mother you do love each one best and each one just as dearly as you love all of them. I guess that is how God loves us. For me it was nice to have the opening to talk about God as our mother and not just our father. God is everything to us at all times. I guess that is what omnipotence is all about. Hope you enjoyed even though it is so very long.

 

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Garden Walk Garden Talk
    May 12, 2014 @ 19:27:46

    I too enjoyed this post and learned some about Mother’s Day. I never though about Mother’s Day being singular. That is an interesting fact. Too bad there are bad mothers though. The news has had a few lately. I would have liked having sheep, lambs are so darn cute.

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  2. well@bektel.com
    May 12, 2014 @ 11:01:29

    Wow, that was great and so true. I always enjoy reading your blogs and sermons…Elsie

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