On certain Sundays, it seems wise to focus on the day rather than on the lectionary, and Mother’s Day is certainly one of those Sundays. Still, given the gospel lesson, it is easy to pick a text to go with the day.
Jesus said, “Greater love hath no one than this, that one lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Just a couple of weeks ago, we saw that though some people, like Jesus, James, Peter and Paul, the martyrs of the church in all ages, and soldiers of all nations, lay down their lives for their friends “all at once,” most people lay down their lives for others, little by little, here a little, there a little. Though all of us like to believe that our mother would gladly have laid down her life in order to preserve ours, the truth is, that our mothers laid down their lives for us a little at a time.
Consider these few examples from my life.
I was not an easy baby. I was born in Bethlehem, PA but returned to Winston-Salem when I was only 3 weeks old. After I was born, my mother was in bed for a year, and my grandmother was my primary caregiver. We lived with my grandmother in her house on Cotton Street in Winston-Salem, while my dad finished seminary. My earliest memories were of my grandmother. She gave her bedroom over to my mother, and we spent our nights of a sofa-bed my grandmother pulled out in the living room of her house on Cotton Street in Winston-Salem. I know it sounds funny— but I seem to remember those nights. I remember my grandmother’s warmth and her smells, she smelled like the warmth of the sun, and clean soap, and Halo shampoo. And I remember the cold of the linoleum in her living room on my bare feet when I got out of bed in the morning. Even before I started school in the fall of 1955, my grandmother built a cabin at High Rock Lake. Sometime after the cabin was built the whole family gathered at the lake for hamburgers. We didn’t know it, but we were one burger short. Everyone ate, and only at the end of the meal did my mother reveal that she had eaten her burger “all the way” with lettuce, tomato, onions, mayonnaise, mustard, and catsup, everything but the burger. Back on Cotton Street when my grandmother killed, cut up, and fried a chicken, my mother always asked for the neck. She said it was her favorite part of the chicken. It always looked small and unappetizing to me as I gnawed on a chicken leg or thigh. When I was in high school, I read a book entitled, “Black Like Me,” in which a white man chemically darkened his skin and died and curled his hair and went around the south as a black man. He told how he saw one black mother by her two children a treat, a small square of Hershey’s chocolate. She broke it in half and gave a piece to each of them. Then, unselfish-consciously, she ran her finger through the dribbles on her daughter’s chin, and then put her finger in her mouth, just for a taste. Greater love hath no one than this, that a mother lay down her meat and drink for her children.
My mother learned to drive after we moved to Winston-Salem. Dad had a 1953 Plymouth Suburban station wagon. He bought mom a 1953 Plymouth Mayflower. She wrote a short story about it entitled “The Little Blue Plymouth that Could.” That car was hers until my 16th birthday. On that day I passed my driver’s test in dad’s 1960 Volvo PV544, the one that looked like a 1948 Ford. Then I came home and laid hands on the Plymouth. I picked up a carload of my cronies and took off for Ernie Shore Field were our team, South Park, was playing for the championship of the City Recreation League. We got beat 9-2, but I had a good game, knocking in both runs. I just had to say that, as I seldom hit as well. On the way home one of the fellas was playing with a baseball in the back seat. He dropped it and it fell through the floorboard onto the road. It bounced away, down the expressway, and we did not stop to pick it up. However, I did tell mom about it, suggesting we may want to have that hole in the floor of the car welded up. She responded by insisting that dad buy me a better car. He did. Dad sold my mom’s Plymouth and bought my uncle Paul’s 1956 Chevy Bel-Air which he then gave to me. My mother did not have her own car again until after I graduated from college. Greater love hath no one than this, that a mother lay down he life and her Plymouth for her children.
Elayne could tell you better than I about all that my mother sacrificed over the years, all the while putting away money she hoped would someday be ours. She never spent lavishly on us during her lifetime, but she spent lavishly on our children when they were in college. Edyth had modest needs, but Jonathan was guided more by his wants, and my mother often met them. Of course, mom wrote checks to my children as much for Elayne and me as for the children themselves. Greater love hath no one than this, that a mother lay down he life and her money for her children.
One more story. Just before and just after my last heart attack, before we hired a nighttime sitter, Elayne and were taking turns sleeping over at mom and dads. I slept over one night. She slept over one night. Then we slept over together one night, and so it went. One morning I was feeling bad when I went into my mother’s room to wake her for breakfast. She saw the fatigue on my face and insisted that she pray for me right then with no delay. I don’t remember what she asked God to do for me, I will never forget how she started that prayer. She prayed, “Gracious God, you know that I love you, and you know that I love my son more…”. That is all I remember of her prayer–and it still looms large in my thinking. Greater love hath no one than this, that a mother lay down the last shreds of her own self-deception and pride for the sake of her children.
I realize this sermon is too much about my mother and not enough about yours. However, I do hope that you will take the time to think of all the ways that your mother laid down her life for you.
St. Paul never said a lot about his mother, but he did speak of “our mother the church.” And he worked that “our mother the church” might be for many what my mother was for me, and your mother was, or is, for you.