Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Mother of All-- (1 Timothy 1:3-7)

I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and self-discipline.

I’ve got a question for you this morning. And, no lying – we’re in church! All right – how many you woke up early last Friday morning to watch live coverage of the royal wedding? How many of you found yourselves watching as much coverage of the wedding as you could throughout the day on Friday and on through the weekend?

I watched coverage of the wedding all week leading up to the big day, I watched on Friday, and I watched throughout much of last weekend – not because I’m obsessed with the UK’s Royal family, but because Ashley and I are all about stealing any useful idea we come across and making it better.

If you watched the coverage for any length of time, one of the consistent threads that emerged were the ways William and Kate were trying to honor the memory of William’s mother, Princess Diana, through the planning and events of the day. There were numerous comparisons between the prince’s mother and his bride and how the new princess might handle her royal role. There was the huge engagement ring that belonged to Princess Diana, and one of the hymns that was sung at her funeral was sung at the wedding. Clearly, Prince William wanted to make sure his mother wasn’t left out of the day’s events.

This struck a chord with me, as we are trying to figure out ways to honor my mother’s memory and legacy in our own wedding planning.

As people of faith, how do we celebrate the gifts and legacy mothers have left us? Take out your sermon notes as we celebrate the stories of mothers and what they mean to us. May we pray.

Mother’s Day was first celebrated in 1907 in a Methodist Church in West Virginia. The day caught on, and the second Sunday in May was set aside to honor all mothers.

Some churches do really goofy things for Mother’s Day – like asking all the mothers to stand, and then awarding roses to the oldest, the youngest, or the one with the most children. Instead of roses, I always had a suggestion for a practical gift for the mother with the most children—ask me about it later.

On facebook this week, several of you shared what your moms mean to you.

Tam Thompson said, “My mother taught me to responsible, independent and to keep my word. She told me I could do anything and I believed her. I owe my strength to my mother. She never stopped telling me how wonderful I was. She was cool and we could talk about anything. She was the rock in our family; a woman of amazing faith. When I grow up, I want to be just like Mick.

Christine Wyman said, “My mom is much stronger than she'll admit. She's always there with a smile and hug, ready to help no matter what. She worked hard and always had time for family and friends. Together with my dad they raised three wonderful girls and have 6 beautiful grandchildren to dote on. She's been there for me despite her health struggles and I'm very blessed to have her for a mom.”

Carrie Davis said, “My mom is the strongest person I know and the kindest! Sometimes I can be a little challenging as a daughter.....she has always stuck by me and not once ever given up on me. She to me is exactly the kind of mother I’m striving to be!!!”

At the same time, we also must recognize that Mother’s Day can be a very difficult day for some folks. That is some of the inherent conflict Mother’s Day presents – for many people, today is a day of mixed emotions or perhaps even great sadness. There are strained relationships between some mothers and children. Some people are mourning loss. Some women are unable to be mothers, or have chosen not to be mothers, or are prevented by certain complex circumstances from being able to be mothers.

And so, we are not singling out mothers today because we don’t want to add insult to injury to those for whom today is already a difficult day. Not only that, but as the church, our task is to proclaim the Gospel. The Christian Gospel tells us the good news that all of us – each and every single one of us – belong to a great big family that is bigger than any individual family – we are brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers all wrapped up together. We are part of a faith that has room for lots of mothers and fathers who have passed their faith to us.

In the African tradition, it is common to speak of the “mothers” of the church – women who are nurturers, who are wise, who are compassionate – women from whose hearts the love of God is showered on all God’s children, whether or not those women have children of their own. We would do well to learn from that tradition.

And so, on Mother’s Day, we honor women, all women, everywhere, who have made this sort of investment in the lives of others. We honor all women, whether they are married or not, have children or not, who have touched our hearts and made us who we are because of what they’ve placed within us. Insofar as they have influenced us, they are our mothers, and we honor them.

The Bible is full of the stories of people who shared the faith. What intrigues me about the Bible is how countercultural it is sometimes, because throughout the Bible, written in a time and culture where men ruled and women were regarded as little more than property, we find, intermingled with the stories of men, awe-inspiring stories of incredible women of faith.

And when you think about it, that makes sense. If you were to ask me about my family of origin, and I only told you about my Dad or my Dad’s family, I would be missing about 50% of the DNA that makes me me. Because I am not only the son of Rusty and his family and all that entails, I am also the son of Julie and her family and all that entails. I am a child of my father, but I am also a child of my mother.

Anybody have an idea how many women are mentioned in the Bible? No cheating, put your I-phones away! 188 women are mentioned by name through the Old and New Testaments, and the stories of countless other women whose names we don’t know are also told. The Bible shows us women operating in somewhat expected roles, nurturing roles, hospitality roles, mothering roles. But, the Bible also gives us stories of women leading armies into battle, women serving as judges over the people. I love the story of Jael – you can find her story in the book of Judges. She led the Israelites to victory over the Canaanites after being invited to “entertain” the captain of the Canaanite army in his tent. While he was sleeping, she killed him by driving a tent peg through the side of his head. I love the Bible! You can’t make this stuff up!

The early church was full of women leaders. Even St. Paul, who is often taken out of context to sound like he was against women in church leadership. Yet, in his letters, he frequently addresses the leaders of the various churches by name, and women are always named in these lists. Women like Lydia, a successful, wealthy business owner who was basically bankrolling Paul’s entire operation. There are women like Phoebe, who had a position similar to what we would call a pastor today. From the very beginning, Scripture embraces the leadership of women.

All these women are mothers of our faith. Their lives are woven into the tapestry that is the Christian faith; their stories are our stories, the contributions they have made continue to shape us, and we are who we are because of their witness. They are our spiritual mothers; we are grateful for their faith.

In today’s Scripture, Paul is writing to his young friend and protégé, Timothy, and Paul is grateful to God as he remembers Timothy in his prayers. Paul is reminded of Timothy’s sincere faith, which first lived in Timothy’s grandmother, and then in his mother, and now, Paul is sure, resides in Timothy.

Is there a more beautiful and lasting tribute to mothers than this sentiment? Every Christian mother’s strongest desire for her children is to see them grow into the Faith. You see, at any given time, Christianity is only one generation away from extinction. If we don’t share the faith with younger generations, then the church will die a slow, natural, painful death. The church is never more than a generation away from extinction – the faith must constantly be shared with each generation.

But, before you can share faith, before you can talk with another person about something so intimate as spirituality, as their walk with God, you have to get to know someone. Before you have the right to ask people deep probing questions about the faith, and before you have earned the right to share your faith with them, you have to build relationships.

When I was an associate pastor in Boone, one of my responsibilities was nurturing the faith of the college students who came to our congregation during their time at ASU. One of the most critical components of that ministry was our adopt-a-student program, in which interested students were paired with willing families from the congregation. I’m not going to lie to you – not every match was a winner. We had families who didn’t really hold up their end of things, and we had students who never returned the emails or calls from their host families trying to take them out to dinner.

However, in the situations that worked out, the students and their hosts built relationships, shared the faith, and became like family. Next month, I am doing a wedding for two of my former college students; I met with her a couple months ago as we were going over details for the service, and I asked her if she was still in touch with her adoptive mom from the adopt-a-student program. Not only is she in touch, her adoptive mom is being seated with the grandmothers at the wedding, receiving a very prominent spot in the day’s events. Faith was shared across generational lines.

Generations are meant to mingle. In every church that is healthy, generations cross-pollinate. The wisdom of the elders is shared with the whippersnappers, the vitality and energy of youth is shared with the old folks. And as that happens, the faith is shared across the generations.

One thing I want to see happen here is that we form intentional groups where people can build relationships and share the faith. Sunday School is one such group, but it is not the only one. I envision all sorts of groups – Bible studies, supper clubs, prayer groups, community service groups and other focal groups – groups that gather in homes and coffee shops, groups that gather on Sunday mornings and at all times throughout the week – I envision those groups being the place where sincere, faithful Christians gather to share the faith.

In fact, if you’re interested in being part of one of those groups, jot your name and phone number down on a prayer request slip and hand it to me on your way out of church today. If you’re interested in being a group leader or co-leader, in hosting a group in your home, indicate that. Don’t worry if you don’t feel your qualified or don’t have enough to offer or something like that – all I am looking for are willing and open hearts. We’ll find you the resources you need. You know if God’s nudging your heart right now, so go ahead and do something about it – jot your name and phone number down, and tell me what sort of group you want to get involved in.

On Mother’s Day, we honor those who have invested in us and made us who we are today. It is a day of mixed emotions for many people. This day, for the last two years, has been a hard day for me. I miss my mom terribly, but at the same time, I honor her legacy and am grateful for the faithful woman of God she was, and the ways she continues to influence me. And, I am also grateful for the many other women in my life who have been like moms to me. If your mom is still alive and you’re grateful for something she’s instilled in you, sometime today, tell your mom what you appreciate about her. It will be the best Mother’s Day gift you could get her.

OK – that’s not homework – that’s just fundamental to being a decent human being. Now, here’s a homework assignment for all the Christians in the room.

Everyone here should be looking for a mentor, and everyone here should be looking for a protégé. Find a person who emulates the kind of person you want to be when you grow up in Christ, and build a relationship with them so that the faith that is within them might grow in you. But then, whatever faith is springing up within you, pass that along to someone else. Everyone here can be a mentor to someone else. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, how long you’ve been a Christian, what you think you do or do not have to pass along to someone else – everyone here can be mentored by someone else, and everyone here can be a mentor to someone else.

We are part of a family – a great big family that is bigger than your family or my family. We are part of a family with lots of moms and dads, we all have much to learn from each other and much to teach each other. So get out there and share the faith – build relationships first, and then share the faith with each other. You never know what you might learn, and how your life will be better because of it. When it all comes down to it – that’s the whole point – to grow in God’s love, and to rejoice in the blessing we are all meant to be to each other.

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