May 13th, 2018 - A Mother's Day Sermon

The Power of Her Love
Luke 8:1-3
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

Can I be honest with you? Of all the sermons I prepare in a year, my Mother’s Day sermon is one of my most difficult. Now don’t misunderstand me. It’s not that I have a problem with mothers or Mother’s Day. To the contrary, I have the deepest love, honor and respect for my mother as well as the mother of my children. So my problem is not with mothers or Mother’s Day. My problem comes when I address Mother’s Day to a diverse congregation in worship.

You see, Mother’s Day is both a day of joy and a day of pain. For many, Mother’s Day is a joyous occasion, but for some, Mother’s Day is a struggle because it brings with it considerable pain.

Some suffer with the pain of motherhood that never happened. I know a little of that pain because my own daughter went through numerous failed pregnancies before she was finally able to have a child, and I can still remember how hard it was to face Mother’s Day right after her third miscarriage.

Some of you mothers have even lost a child, and this day has to be so hard for you. Still others of you come to this day with immense grief because the mother you loved so dearly has recently passed away, and this day only reminds you of your grief and pain.

Yes, for many, Mother’s Day is a happy day, but for some, Mother’s Day is a day of pain. So you see the dilemma I face as I prepare for this day?

What can I say on Mother’s Day that will be helpful to all of us? What can I say that will celebrate God’s gift of motherhood while, at the same time, being sensitive to those of you who struggle.?

In my quest for the appropriate Mother’s Day sermon I decided to investigate the beginning of Mother’s Day. As I did some research, I discovered that the original Mother’s Day can be traced to Anna Reeves Jarvis of Grafton, West Virginia. Let me tell you her story.

Around 1850 Anna Reeves Jarvis became concerned about the many poor, sick children who lived in her community. In an effort to help, she organized a chain of clubs called “Mother’s Work Day Clubs.” While their husbands were at work, these mothers met to conduct ministry to the community’s most deprived children. They provided medicine for the poor, inspected milk for children, provided nursing care for the sick and shelters for children with tuberculosis.

When the Civil War broke out, Jarvis called together the leaders of her clubs and asked them to make a pledge that friendship and good will would not be a casualty of the war. In a remarkable display of courage and compassion these women nursed both Union and Confederate soldiers.

After the war, Anna Reeves Jarvis led the cause in peacemaking. The wounds and animosity between family members who had fought on either side were deep and harsh. To combat the hate and prejudice, Anna Reeves Jarvis organized “Mother’s Friendship Days” to bring together families across the Mason-Dixon Line. There was no more ardent peacemaker than Anna Reeves Jarvis.

Jarvis died in 1905. Two years after her death, Anna’s daughter wanted to do something to ensure that her mother’s ministry would continue, so she organized the first Mother’s Day, calling upon the citizens of Grafton, West Virginia to remember her mother’s work and to continue her mother’s ministry.

Eventually, Grafton proclaimed June 2nd as “Mother’s Day.” And the stated theme of the day was this: “though the world may be divided by war and conflict, the women of the world have the power to bring the world together into one loving family.”

Listen again to the original Mother’s Day theme. “Though the world may be divided by war and conflict, the women of the world have the power to bring the world together into one loving family.” That’s what the first Mother’s Day was all about and I think that’s a pretty good theme for us today!

Today, I want to honor you women who still embody the same spirit and the same power as did Anna Reeves Jarvis - the spirit of compassion, peace and love. Yes, you women have the power to change the world with that love; for that is the true spirit of Mother’s Day.

As I think about the power of women, I’m drawn back to the role of women in Jesus’ ministry. In Jesus’ day, the social structures of that chauvinistic society treated women as property and often oppressed women who ventured to rise to leadership. But in the middle of that male-dominated society we discover that Jesus affords women a different role. Instead of repressing women, Jesus brings women to the forefront of his ministry.

Listen again to today’s text: Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him AND also some women. . . Mary, called Magdalene . . . Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

As we hear the story of the gospel, all of us know about the men who were significant in the ministry of Jesus but, in this passage Luke reminds us that women, “many women,” played a significant role in Jesus’ ministry.

Now, keep in mind, Luke’s admission of women into his list was no mere passing remark. In Luke’s day, women were rarely mentioned in written documents, but in today’s text, Luke went out of his way to be sure women were mentioned by name. While men most often got the credit, Luke wanted to be sure his readers understood that women made a real difference in Jesus’ ministry.

Throughout the New Testament, we see, time and time again, where the women made the difference.
While the men jockeyed for roles of leadership and control, it was the women who gave sacrificially to meet the needs of the Savior.

While the men boasted and bragged about who was the greatest, it was the women who sat at Jesus’ feet, honoring his greatness with attention and tears.

While the men most often talked about bravely defending Jesus, it was the women who stood beside him at his trial, who walked with him as he carried his cross, and who stayed with him during his agonizing death.

While the men went into hiding when Jesus died, it was the women who lovingly prepared his body for burial.

Is it any wonder that Jesus first proclaimed his resurrection – not to a group of men - but to women? I guess Jesus knew that the women would faithfully proclaim this miraculous event while the men hid out in a secret room debating the event’s authenticity!

But you and I don’t have to go to the writings of Luke to realize the significance of women in the gospel, do we? All we’ve got to do is look at our own church and we quickly realize that, if it wasn’t for women, our church would be in pitiful shape.

Now I realize that, within our own denomination, there has been no shortage of controversy about the role of women in the church. And to be perfectly honest, I get angry at the way Southern Baptists denigrate and minimalize godly women who have accepted God’s call to be leaders in His church. But despite all the controversy, the undeniable truth is this: If it wasn’t for the faithful work and witness of women, most Baptist churches would be in pretty sad shape. Women make a difference, a real difference in our churches and a real difference the work of the gospel throughout the world.

About 14 years ago I was part of a mission team that worked in Rehovec, Kosovo. That’s where I met Eliza. In fact, our team spent the night in Eliza’s small four-room house.

Eliza was the pastor of the only Christian church within 50 miles of Rehovec. Like most Albanians, she grew up as a Muslim, but in 1998, when war broke out in Kosovo, she had an experience that changed her life.

During the war, Serbian rebels drove many Albanians out of their homes. Eventually these Albanians fled to refugee camps in Macedonia where they lived in tents and ate meager meals provided to them by groups like the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

One night, while she was in the camp, Eliza had a dream. She dreamed of a man who came and called her to make peace between the Albanians and the Serbs. She did not recognize the man in her dream but she sensed he was someone sent from God.

That next day she began telling her dream throughout the camp, asking if anyone knew what it meant or if anyone could tell her who the man in her dream was. Eventually, someone suggested she talk to one of our CBF missionaries who was there helping with refugee relief. When he heard her dream, he told her that the man who had called her to be a peacemaker was Jesus Christ and that he had a special mission for her. So on that day, Eliza asked Jesus into her life and accepted the call to serve him.

After the war, Eliza went back home to Rehovec and told her husband about her experience. Being a Muslim, he was dubious and unwilling to convert to Christianity, but he told her he would not prohibit her from practicing her newfound faith.

As the weeks went on, her husband saw the change Jesus had brought to Eliza’s life. Eventually, he offered Eliza a piece of land on which she could build a Christian Church and she built the first Christian Church in this Muslim-dominated area.

As I prepared for today’s sermon I checked on the Rehovec Church and discovered, to my surprise, that today, there is not just one Christian church in Rehovec. There are 10. In a city where Muslims dominate and where hatred of Orthodox Serbs is still very strong, this one woman, Eliza, continues to lead Christian believers who are dedicated to bringing peace in the name of Jesus Christ.

This one woman made a difference, a difference that will ultimately make a difference in her country and a difference in our world.

I suspect Eliza doesn’t know that today is Mother’s Day in America, but somebody ought to tell her. Somebody ought to tell her because Mother’s Day was created to recognize women like her, women like Eliza and Anna Reeves Jarvis, women like many of you, whose faithful life and service has made a difference in our lives, a difference in our churches and a difference in our world.

So in the spirit of Anna Reeves Jarvis and in the spirit of Jesus Christ, I wish to ALL of you women a Happy Mother’s Day, not because of your biology but because of your faithful service to Jesus Christ. For Mother’s Day is not just a day to remember our mothers, but a day to remember the difference godly women make through the power of their love.