2 Tim 1:1-7
Mother's Day Sermon
Rev. Kit B. Billings
May 9, 2004
First of all, I want to thank Paul for sharing his special and meaningful remarks in worship this morning…it's a joy to share the pulpit with you and to enjoy your heartfelt words, given you by the Holy Spirit.
This morning I also want to reflect with you for a bit upon two other special gifts we get from the many wonderful moms there are in the world. These are two spiritual gifts which delve into the symbolism of good mothers, which are: 1st) that one of life's most inspiring and ancient of all spiritual images—the image of a new baby growing and developing within the womb of her mother—reveals to us the power and wonder of new spiritual life, which only the Lord can make happen within us. I'm referring to those new heavenly feelings and thoughts God gives us when we cooperate with Him in spiritual regeneration. And 2nd) that good mothers help us better understand and appreciate what the organized Church is in our lives. For as the Bible and our teachings bring out, the Lord's Church is our SPIRITUAL MOTHER.
So, let's reflect together about the universal symbolism of new, human life growing within a pregnant mother, and also about how mothers in general correspond to the Church.
While it is true that there are mothers who run with the Dark Side, like Jezebel and Herodias (who was the mother of Salome', who had John the Baptist beheaded), most mothers do very well with their mothering. We see this expressed by the two mothers Paul refers to in our New Testament lesson this morning in II Timothy, Lois and Eunice. Clearly, Timothy came from very good spiritual stock. We do not know much about these two special women, but it appears that they made a great impression upon Paul from Tarsus. I discovered another fascinating passage in Paul's letters this week that makes reference to another very special mother—a woman who was like a second mother unto Paul. In Romans 16:13 we read Paul saying to the early Roman Christian community: “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother—a mother to me also.” Scholars theorize that Rufus' mother must have supported and nurtured Paul during his difficult and trying times as an evangelist in a very, very harsh world. There were many women in the early Christian Church that Paul admired and made mention of, by the way, some of whom were clearly wonderful mothers and grandmothers.
Mother's Day may be a day of sentimentality to some, but it is sentimentality often well deserved, and something I am honored to be able to speak with you about today as well.
There is a great deal about good mothers we can appreciate and thank God for today. My desire with you this morning is to lift up two other special gifts mothers give us by means of what they represent, what they symbolize, you might say. As Swedenborg reminds us, there are truly beautiful, feminine and motherly aspects of the Divine, in that God is our Creator, the One who conceives us out of His Love while regenerating us as to our will and understanding. The Divine is our Former, who forms us gradually into His likeness, given that we enter life already in God's image. Through the journey of life and regeneration, we are “born again,” as Christ put it…regenerated. And one of the simplest, yet infinitely powerful, images God gives us to understand and grasp the greatness of what's going on within you as the Lord regenerates you is that of pregnant moms. Every time you see a wonderfully pregnant mother, each time you gaze upon a piece of art depicting a mother filling up with new, growing human life inside of her, in a real sense you are looking at yourself.
What do I mean by this exactly?
I mean that pregnancy corresponds to the new conceptions of love and wisdom that the Lord inspires inside your own inward being. And a baby being born into our world represents that new life beginning to function in your daily life, changing things in a new and positive way.
I'm sure you've felt the feeling of MARVELING at the growth and development of a gestating fetus when a mommy's tummy is starting “to show.” It's truly miraculous to even think about it, isn't it? New life, forming, growing, coming to life! Well, the awe and wonder of witnessing and even putting your hand upon a pregnant mother's tummy is more than a chance to marvel at the truly wondrous way in which the Lord brings new human beings into our world—such things teach us about the equally exciting and beautiful blessing of how God transforms us (YOU AND ME) further and further into His likeness! As you apply yourself to the usefulness of love each day, the Lord is able to conceive new, tender affections…and also new thoughts…of what is good and true in life, which eventually are born into your own mind as truly human feelings, or truly human ways of thinking.
For example, I recall talking with a recent wedding client who's started feeling magnetically drawn to want to watch Robins and other birds, just as her mother used to when she was a child. One can marvel at the great beauty there is in a precious creature in nature, like Robins, Finches, Cardinals. Or then there's the even more awesome example of new spiritual life being conceived within a person when he first begins to grasp the truth that we each are inheritors of the salvation of love and joy that God provides from Himself. Ben Hooper is one of billions of people who one day experienced such a revelation being conceived within his mind. Ben recounts:
My mother wasn't married when I was born, so I had a pretty hard time. When I started to school, my classmates had a name for me, and it wasn't a very nice name. I used to go off by myself at recess and lunchtime because the things they said to me cut me so deep. What was worse was going to town on Saturday afternoons and feeling like every eye was burning a hole through me, wondering just who my father was.
"When I was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to our church. I would always go in late and slip out early. But one day the preacher said the benediction so fast I got caught and to walk out with the crowd. I could feel every eye in the church on me. Just about the time I got to the door I felt a big hand on my shoulder. I looked up and the preacher was looking right at me. `Who are you, son? Whose boy are you?' he asked. I felt this big weight coming down on me. It was like a big black cloud. Even the preacher was putting me down. But as he looked down at me, studying my face, he began to smile a big smile of recognition. `Wait a minute!' he said. `I know who you are. I see the family resemblance now. You are a child of God.'
With that he slapped me across the rump and said, `Boy, you've got a great inheritance. Go and claim it.'
New life. New thoughts. New perceptions! God's Word does not shy away from making great use of these warm and inspiring images of moms who give us each natural life out of their own bodies. In Psalm 22:9-10 we read, “Yet You brought me out of the womb; You made me trust in You even at my mother's breast. From birth I was cast upon You; from my mother's womb you have been my God.”
Our theology helps us reflect upon the beautiful inner meaning of these natural images. Being born from our mother's womb represents the reality that throughout life God is making sure to guide us and transform us by means of the goodness of love. Feeding us from our mother's milk symbolizes the good, nourishing spiritual truth God enjoys feeding us with, by means of the Church on earth.
As we think about the joyous aspect of the symbolism of a gestating baby inside a mother's womb, let us not, however, overlook the other side of birth which always accompanies the joys. I'm referring of course to LABOR—the eventual hard work it can sometimes take to bring a new affection or thought into our daily lives. At some point, it can be painful to bring a new spiritual quality into everyday life, due to the weight and responsibility it carries, such as when an addict has had that new revelation of her alcoholism.
My final thought for you this Mother's Day is that good mothers on earth, who deserve our deepest and sweetest praise for their hard work and great devotion, also represent or picture for us one of the greatest blessings we can enjoy throughout life-----the CHURCH.
Loving mothers represent the Church, in part because the church is ultimately designed to love us unconditionally. Notice how the Lord's Church on earth is always welcoming, of both the stranger and the veteran. In churches throughout the world we can experience the Lord's loving Spirit, even after we've sinned in some big way. However, just as there are more than a few bad moms out there in our world, there are things that happen in some churches that are the opposite of loving and nurturing. In these cases the organized Church is not corresponding to a good mother.
The Church, when functioning well, is very passionate about honoring, guiding and helping people to learn about spiritual truth. This is something Swedenborg's writings bring out quite beautifully. Just as our natural mothers may care so much about feeding us every day, giving us good food and drink to sustain us, and helping their children to learn that which will help them grow, so the Lord's kingdom on earth, His good and healthy churches (made up of countless serving human beings), cares deeply about feeding us with quality spiritual love and truths our spiritual bodies need to live and grow in this world.
The Lord's Church on earth exists in many forms, not just one. And when it is functioning well within God's marvelous design it is a place (an organization of spiritually growing people) where we feel accepted, loved, well educated and cared for. The Church is meant to be a place for us to find spiritual nourishment, including the kinds of truths that not only make good sense to us but also that help us form and enjoy our lives in ways that bring greater happiness and meaning. And this is why the Lord's Church on earth inspires some of the deepest and most moving affections we can encounter. It feels great to be fed a wonderful and nutritious meal, doesn't it? It feels even more wonderful to be fed spiritual love and wisdom, which sustains us in heart, mind and soul! I tell you, there have so many times in my adult life when I've been nearly buckled down to my knees because of how truly vital and useful our church has been in my own spiritual walk with the Lord. Like a great Spiritual Mother, the church has always been there for me, helping me, teaching me, forming me. And for this I owe her my life, many times over.
We salute you, every mother here today. We thank you for your tenacious love and your willingness to care for your children in so many ways. We thank you for how you help us to understand our own spiritual rebirth process, involving countless new affections and thoughts being conceived, grown and then born within us. And we thank you for helping us to better understand and appreciate our church, and how she receives God so wonderfully and helps us find love and acceptance, and a place we can call “home.”
By means of all of our good mothers, we discover You, dear Lord, as we journey onward toward discovering Your heavenly home beyond this one. Mother us, O God, that we may nurture and guide and teach others, according to Your will.