Mothering the Lord

A Mother's Day Sermon
by the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Kelowna, British Columbia, April 11, 1997


Isaiah 9:1-7 To us a child is born
Mark 3:20-21, 31-35 Jesus' mother

Jesus said, "Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother" (Mark 3:35)

Mother of God?

Catholics have a prayer that starts, "Holy Mary, mother of God." This always puzzled me. How could God, the source of all creation, have a mother? Mary was the mother of Jesus. Yet he never calls her his mother. Listen to this exchange from the gospel of John:

On the third day, a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine."
Jesus replied, "Woman, what do I have to do with you? My hour has not come yet." (John 2:1-4)

I hope it wasn't Mother's Day when he said that!

Mary was not offended. She turned to the servants and said "Do

whatever he tells you." Jesus was not just being provocative. He was teaching us about his relationship with Mary. He wanted us to know that Mary was no longer a mother to him as we usually understand motherhood.

Jesus' Mother and Brothers

Jesus did not recognize Mary as his mother in our New Testament reading either. The story takes place at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, right after he had chosen his twelve disciples. When his family heard about the crowds that were gathering around him, they thought he was out of his mind! They went to the house where Jesus and his disciples were, but the crowd was so big they couldn't get in. When he heard they were there looking for him he said:

"Who are my mother and my brothers?" Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."

This must have been hard for Mary to accept. Yet she did accept it. She stayed with him through his ministry and became one of his followers. When Jesus was on the cross, she was there with the apostle John. Jesus saw them and said to her, "Woman, here is your son." And he said to John, "Here is your mother." After this John took her into his own house (John 19:25-27). Though Jesus did not recognize her as his mother, he cared deeply for her, providing for her even during his dying hours.

Mary was one of the three women who went to the Jesus' tomb to anoint his body with spices. With Mary Magdalene and Salome, she saw the angel announce Jesus' resurrection. Surely from this experience Mary knew who Jesus really was: Christ the Lord.

After the resurrection, the Gospels no longer call Mary the mother of Jesus. They refer to her as the mother of James and Joses, two of Jesus' brothers. Mary and Jesus' brothers belonged to the early Christian community. Two of the brothers--James and Jude--wrote letters that are now included in the New Testament. Each one begins by acknowledging Jesus as Lord.

Unto Us a Child is Born

The Bible shows that Mary is no longer the mother of the Lord in any literal way. But there is a way that not only Mary, but all of us, can be a mother to the Lord.

Each year at Christmas we celebrate the Lord's birth. When Jesus was born as a baby, he needed loving care just as every other baby does. Like other babies, he spent nine months in his mother's womb. After he was born, Mary nursed him, cared for him, and raised him until he was able to live on his own.

In the same way, the Lord does not come into our lives fully grown. He starts as a little baby--a tender beginning of Christian faith and life--needing to be loved, fed, and cared for. Gradually, with our care, he grows into a powerful, loving presence, guiding us in what is good and right every day. As we read in Isaiah:

To us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Mothering the Lord in Children

Mother's day reminds us of another way of mothering the Lord. Babies are born with no knowledge of the Lord. His presence in their lives has to be developed through both teaching and example--especially the teaching and example of their mother and father.

In school, children learn academic and practical subjects. Only at home and at church do they learn about God and religion. Only at home and at church do they get the knowledge and guidance they need to become Christians. Because of this, I am especially happy that the Cambridge church has plans to start a Sunday School next fall.

How do we mother the Lord in our children? One way is to be open about our own faith, and answer religious questions as they come up. Children are curious about God, the Bible, and the spiritual world. They really want to know! We mother the Lord in them by feeding their desire to know about him.

A few weeks ago at supper, my four year old daughter Heidi asked, "Where is heaven?" What a good question! I had to think for a minute. I imagined her eyes glazing over as I explained the difference between physical matter and spiritual substance. That wouldn't do! Taking my cue from the Lord, I told her that heaven isn't just a place we go after we die; it is what happens when people who love each other live together. It is heaven because everyone cares for each other and tries to make each other happy.

Mothering the Lord in Ourselves

Sometimes children ask questions we can't answer. Of course, it's okay to say "I don't know." But what if "I don't know" is the only answer they ever get to their religious questions? Pretty soon they will stop asking. They may figure that if we don't know anything about religion, it must not be that important. But it is the most important thing there is! What good is it if our children gain the whole world and lose their own soul?

If we want to mother the Lord in our children and grandchildren, we have to mother the Lord in ourselves. If the Lord is still a baby in us, he needs our care to grow to full adulthood. A mature faith expressed in our lives is the strongest basis for mothering the Lord in others.

How do we mother the Lord in ourselves? The first step is to learn about him. If we are presented with spiritual questions we can't answer, if we run up against issues in our own lives that we don't understand, it is time to learn more about the Lord. A few minutes each day reading the Bible and other books about our church's teachings will provide a rich source of knowledge that can nourish the infant Lord in us. Our church is also available to provide the spiritual nourishment we need.

But learning by itself is not enough. As we learn about the Lord, we need to put our new spiritual knowledge into practice. Children are especially quick to notice when our actions don't match our words. Every mother and father knows only too well how it feels when our children use our very own words to point out something we have done wrong. I can still hear Heidi's voice saying, "That's not a very nice thing to say, Papa."

The Lord Full-grown in Us

As we mother the Lord in ourselves, his presence in our lives will grow. Spiritual issues that used to stump us will start making a little more sense as we open ourselves to the Lord's teaching. Even more important, our sense of God's love working in us and through us will grow stronger and stronger. We may continue in the same daily routine, but our care and concern for the people around us will grow. Whether we are caring for our children, working at our job, or taking part in family and social activities, we will find new happiness in serving others.

Just as Jesus grew from Mary's son into her Lord and God, the infant Lord we have mothered inside ourselves will grow up and become our Lord and God. The roles will be reversed; God will mother us.

Of course, God always was our mother and our father. We just didn't realize it. He comes to us gently, like a baby. He lets us mother him in ourselves and in others until we can see him and relate to him as he really is--as our heavenly father and our spiritual mother. 

Painting entitled "This Little Piggy" is ©Tom Sierak 
and used with his permission by Moon And Back Graphics to construct this set

Music: Words of Love
© 1999 Bruce DeBoer

Floating Duck Script by: