On this Mother’s Day morning, I’d venture to guess that most of us, at some point in time, have either seen or written or received an “acrostic” poem to celebrate today’s occasion. You know the kind of poem where you spell out a word vertically and then write horizontal lines that correspond with the first letter in each row.
Mother’s Day is a classic day for acrostic poems. Kind of like this one…
“M is for the millions of things she gave me.
O is for the way she always opened her arms when I needed a hug.
T is for the tears she shed whenever she rescued me.
H is for her heart made out of purest gold.
E is for her eyes always bright and shining.
R is for right and right she always was.”
Put all those letters together and they spell “Mother.”
As I look out over the sanctuary, I know there are lots of wonderful moms here this morning. Some of you are moms in traditional families. Some of you are moms in special circumstances. Some of you are single moms. Some of you are step moms and step in moms. All of you deserve to be honored today. You deserved breakfast in bed. If that didn’t happen, maybe you want to go home and hold out for lunch in bed. Flowers, jewelry, chocolate, putting your feet up for the rest of today while someone tends to your every need. I’m all for it.
Still, if the truth be told, “M” is also for the mixed feelings I have about Mother’s Day. Because no human mom could possibly be as perfect as the mother portrayed in the acrostic poem. It’s simply not possible. So I wonder sometimes whether Mother’s Day is a day when we tell our mothers who they really are or we tell them as family members and as a society who we wish they were in some idealized, picture perfect world.
Happy Mother’s Day to the mom who keeps the perfect home. Happy Mother’s Day to the mom who sets the perfect table and cooks the perfect meal. Happy Mother’s Day to the mom who is raising perfect children. Talk about an unrealistic picture…
Noted preacher Alyce McKenzie describes the Mother’s Day card she bought for her mom a few years ago. On the outside of the card there is an old woman with a hairnet on her head, wearing a bathrobe and slippers, with a cigarette dangling out of her mouth. Underneath the old woman it says “Hours of excruciating labor. Millions of dirty diapers. Countless sleepless nights.”
And when you open up the card it says on the inside, “And you get a card…yeah, that sounds fair.” A more accurate picture, perhaps…
A few years ago, the weekday morning show Good Morning, America asked viewers to list their top three television moms of the past few decades. In first place at the end of the voting? Claire Huxtable of The Cosby Show. While the glow of that sitcom has dimmed recently in the wake of Bill Cosby’s troubling legal issues, there was a time when Claire Huxtable showed up every week on tv dressed impeccably. She was a highly successful career woman who raised six children and kept her home spotless. And the way I remember it, she laughed at nearly every one of her husband’s jokes.
Coming in second place? Marian Cunningham from the show Happy Days. Since we’re going back to my childhood era, Marian is a little harder for me to recall. But in my mind I picture her keeping track of Richie and Joanie and Potsie and Ralph and the Fonz, most of the time with an apron tied around her waist. And constantly wearing a smile on her face.
Finally, in third place, the more contemporary Marge Simpson. Yes, the one married to Homer. But you have to give it to Marge on account of her patience alone.
I was a bit surprised June Cleaver didn’t make the list. Maybe the show Leave It To Beaver is going back too far. In any case, in the same way as the acrostic poem, I’m not sure how any mother lives up to those model television mothers. Yes “m” is for mixed feelings.
“M” is also for the many people Mother’s Day leaves out. Moms aren’t the only ones trying to live up to high expectations. There are some men doing the same thing. Single dads, for example. Even youth and children are expected to perform to high standards by teachers and parents and coaches and peers. What about a day for you?
Not to mention the fact that “m” is for the many women Mother’s Day leaves out. Women who are not mothers, either by chance or by choice. And “m” is for the many people who might like to send their mother something today as a memento of days gone by. But that something would definitely not be flowers or a card or jewelry…
This morning’s Scripture lesson from Proverbs is known by its subtitle in our pew Bibles. “Ode to a Capable Wife.” And it sounds an awful lot like an Ancient Near Eastern version of a Hallmark Mother’s Day card. While I’ve never read this passage on a Sunday morning, I have read it a few times at funerals over the years. Just enough to know that in my experience, this is the kind of Bible lesson you either really love or you really dislike. Not much gray area in between.
For those who love these words from Proverbs, they describe a wife and mother who has long since been put on a pedestal on her way to sainthood. For people who have trouble with these words from Proverbs, they are nothing more than a guilt trip waiting to happen.
Bible scholars who have studied this passage in recent years, however, have reached a new conclusion. This morning’s passage is not about a human woman. Instead, it describes a divine woman. The poem is actually written about God’s Spirit, who is sometimes revealed in Scripture in the female form and referred to by the name “Wisdom.”
Wisdom shows up a number of times earlier in the Book of Proverbs. Wisdom calls to those who are young and foolish and encourages them to walk in God’s pathways. Wisdom describes herself as God’s joyful helper in the creation of the flora and fauna. Wisdom builds a household made out of seven pillars and invites passersby to come and feast at her table. This morning’s Scripture lesson is not about some multi-tasking earthly mom. Instead, picture in your mind the wisdom of God, portrayed throughout the Book of Proverbs as a wise prophetess.
Wisdom is the one who invites us with open arms into her household. And Wisdom provides us with all the things mentioned in this morning’s thirty-first chapter…food, clothing, light, shelter, guidance. Wisdom is the epitome of God’s divine nourishment and nurture. A perfect Scriptural complement, if you will, to the God who is our shepherd in the familiar and beloved Psalm 23. A God who nourishes us and protects us when we are vulnerable and weak and imperfect…
In the end, “M” is not really for the million and one things you have to do today or should have done yesterday or need to do tomorrow in order to be the perfect Hallmark mother. Rather “m” is for the many things God’s Wisdom offers us in order to help us fulfill the difficult roles each of us plays in our lives.
Moreover, on this Mother’s Day in 2016, Wisdom invites us into her embrace. Where we can be fed and taught and sheltered and clothed. Where you and I can be mothered in the very best sense of the word.
In the name of Wisdom then, I extend to you who are women among us this morning an open invitation.
Come, you who have serious doubts about whether you can handle what lies ahead of you. Come, you who seethe with resentment and anger towards the parents who raised you. Or the parents who failed to raise you. Come, you who are lonely on this day when families come together.
Come, you who are overburdened and trying to do the work of more than one person. Come, you who feel trapped in an unhealthy relationship and cannot figure a way out. Come, you who have thoughts no “good mother” would ever have.
Come, you who are snared in the grip of addictions that damage your relationships and your personhood…addictions to substances and emotions and longstanding habits and patterns. Come, you know you can no longer do this all by yourself.
Come you who are hoping to be mothers. Come you who are expecting mothers and new mothers. Come you who can’t think of anything you’ve done in your lifetime better than being a mother.
And come, you who simply want to rest in the loving arms of God.
Today is not just a day for recognizing human mothers. It’s also a day when we lift up and honor and celebrate the motherhood of God. The God who calls each of us by name as God’s children. The God of Wisdom who holds us in God’s divine and tender embrace, now and always. Amen.