Exodus 20: 12
Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
Since 1886 the Statue of Liberty has towered above Bedloe’s Island at the entrance to New York Harbor. Standing over 150 feet tall, this American monument is recognized around the world as an enduring symbol of the freedoms we enjoy. The French sculptor Frederic Bartholdi devoted twenty years of his life to building the statue. When Bartholdi began his search for a model whose form and features would embody what he hoped to reproduce as “Liberty,” he received much contradictory counsel. After examining all the possibilities, Bartholdi chose (according to some accounts)...his own mother.
What an honor to be viewed as the face of freedom for over 130 years! What an honor to be the symbol of opportunity for millions who have passed by on ships as they journeyed to a new world! But above all, what an honor to be held in such high regard as to be memorialized in such a meaningful way by one’s own child!
It would be impossible for us to match the grand scale of Frederic Bartholdi, but today we honor our mothers in our own unique ways. For Christians, Mother’s Day is also a day of thanksgiving because we recognize the source of this great blessing. God himself established the family and gives women the ability to become mothers. God gives women the wisdom and gentleness and patience to be good mothers. And the Lord spoke about the relationships between parents and children long before Hallmark was printing its first Mother’s Day cards.
On this Mother’s Day, we are not just celebrating a national holiday. We are here to thank and praise God for the gift of God-fearing mothers. And our gratitude will show itself as we seek to put into practice the timeless words of the Fourth Commandment (altered slightly to fit the occasion): HONOR YOUR MOTHER because she is God’s chosen representative and because she is God’s channel of blessing.
There is a Jewish proverb that says: “God could not be everywhere, and so he made mothers.” Theologically speaking, that statement is incorrect. God is omnipresent. God is able to be everywhere at the same time because he is God. But if the words were changed slightly, they would reinforce an important Biblical truth: “God may be everywhere, but in this world he chooses to work through his representatives.”
God is represented on earth by many different types of authority figures: elected officials, police officers, pastors and teachers, and fathers. But today we focus our attention on mothers. Not everyone here today is a mother, but every one of us has a mother. And in the fourth commandment God makes it clear that we are to honor them. So how do we do that? How do we honor our mothers? Do we buy them flowers? Do we take them out to dinner? Do we volunteer to clear the table? Do we tell them how much we love them?
Allow Martin Luther to shed some light on the question. In his Large Catechism he wrote: “To honor is a much higher thing than to love, for honor includes not only love but also respect, humility, and awe.” Honor connects words with actions, and actions with attitudes. “Honoring” our mothers means showing love and respect for them in what we think and say and do.
This sounds simple enough, but the very fact that we have to have a special day on the calendar called Mother’s Day means that honoring our mothers isn’t a given. Something interferes with that perfect parent-child relationship. Something pits sons and daughters against fathers and mothers. That something is sin.
The cycle of sin began with our first parents Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Since then generation after generation of sinful parents has produced sinful children. Because we are born in sin, we are by nature hostile to God. Because we are by nature God’s enemies, we also rebel against the people he has placed over us. Instead of honoring God’s representatives, we dishonor them. Instead of giving our mothers the love and respect God demands, we take advantage of them and take them for granted.
There is only one way to break that cycle of sin. There is only one person who is able to break that cycle of sin, Jesus. In his earthly relationships, including his relationship with his own mother, Jesus demonstrates that he is both a perfect son and a perfect Savior. Jesus’ mother may be the most famous mother of all time. Mary was faithful and devout, but she wasn’t perfect. She showed her lack of understanding when she found Jesus in the temple and demanded: “Son, why have you treated us like this” (Luke 2:48)? She impatiently pressed Jesus to do something when the wine ran out at a wedding in Cana. Because Mary was a sinful human being like you and me, she needed her son to be her Savior. And he was.
As a child, Jesus was obedient to his parents. As the sinless Son of God, Jesus obeyed his heavenly Father’s will. Even when he was dying on the cross, Jesus made sure that his mother would be cared for after his departure, one more example our Savior’s perfect obedience of all the commandments, including the fourth commandment, on our behalf.
But the most important thing Jesus ever did for his mother and for all was something he didn’t do. When he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, he didn’t take matters into his own hands. When he was arrested, he didn’t call down legions of angels to come to his defense. When he was taunted by his enemies on Golgotha, he didn’t come down from the cross. Jesus willingly gave up his life to pay for the sins of the world, the sins of sons and daughters and fathers and mothers. He willingly gave up his life for you, to take away all of your sins. And because he did, heaven is yours.
Because we have the forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ blood, because we have the hope of eternal life, we have a new lease on this life. We look at the world differently. We look at our relationships differently. We look at God’s representatives differently. When we view them through the eyes of faith, our mothers are channels through whom God gives us many blessings.
When God established the family, he also created a special bond between mother and child. Isaiah picked up on this intimate relationship and used it to illustrate the Lord’s relationship with his people. “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” (49:15)! Mothers are God’s models of compassion. So if you were to imagine a picture frame in your mind with the title “The Compassionate Mother” on a plaque at the bottom, what would your picture look like? Maybe it would be a mom putting a bandage on a freshly scraped knee. Perhaps it would be a mother holding a sick child in the middle of the night.
Whatever your picture might look like, God is in the background. God works through mothers to take care of us. Depending on the situation, they are our doctors, our chauffeurs, our referees, our cooks and our counselors. They take the time to listen. They put others before themselves. But far more important than wiping tears or wiping noses is the spiritual role mothers play in the lives of their children. A mother lays the bedrock of faith when she brings her child to the baptismal font. A mother builds a solid foundation when she teaches her children the simple songs of faith that will never be forgotten. A mother constructs strong and sturdy walls of faith when she shares Bible stories before bedtime. A mother equips her children for lives of faith when she leads them by word and example, when she leads them to church and Sunday school.
If you are a mother, you might be feeling a little bit overwhelmed right now because God has given you some serious responsibilities. You are supposed to be a role model for the family. You are supposed to care for your family, both body and soul. To the mother who is trying her hardest to be in three places at once, to the mother who is at the end of her rope, to the mother who is weighed down by a load of guilt because she feels like a failure, to all the Christian moms in this world who are just plain tired, Jesus says: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Jesus says to all of us: “Give me your fears and insecurities, your failures and frustrations, your guilt and sin. Give them all to me. I will give you forgiveness. I will give you the wisdom to make wise decisions. I will give you the strength to meet every new challenge. I will give you the patience to serve one another in love.” When we stop relying on ourselves, the burden is lifted from our shoulders. When we put our trust in God and his promises, there is nothing we cannot do. When Christian love motivates Christian mothers, they will be blessed and they will be a blessing to others.
Mother’s Day is more than a day we set aside to say and do nice things for our moms. We are here today to thank and praise the Lord for the gift of God-fearing Christian mothers. Honor your mother because she is God’s chosen representative. Honor your mother because she is God’s channel of blessing. Amen.