"M" is for the million things she gave me
“O” means only that she’s growing old
“T” is for the tears she shed to save me
“H” is for her heart of purest gold
“E” is for her eyes with love-light shining
“R” means right and right she’ll always be
Put them all together they spell MOTHER,
a word that means the world to me
“M” is for the mercy she possesses
“O” means that I owe her all I own
“T” is for her tender, sweet caresses
“H” is for her hands that made a home
“E” means ev’rything she’s done to help me
“R” means real and regular, you see
Put them all together they spell MOTHER,
a word that means the world to me.
“God made from one blood all the families of earth, the circles of nurture that raise us from birth, companions who join us to work through each stage of childhood and youth and adulthood and age.” Amen. (NCH, 427, 1)
*CALL TO WORSHIP (based on I John 4)
L: Beloved, let us love one another.
P: Love is from God.
L: Everyone who loves is born of God.
P: Everyone who loves knows God.
All: Let us worship the God of love!
The Love of God
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell
Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints' and angels' song
Let us pray...
Compassionate God, with a mother’s love you care for us. In your arms, we find peace in troubled times, and you set us in families in which to grow and learn your word. Now turn our hearts to you, that we may share your love with all of your human family. In the name of your Child, we pray, Amen.
FIRST SCRIPTURE LESSON
Micah 6:6-8 “What God asks of us”
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be; world without end. Amen, Amen!
Let us pray...
O God, whose creating and sustaining spirit is the source and the life of us all, we praise and thank you for the beauty and the promise of this season, when the earth breaks forth in bloom, and the sower goes forth to sow in faith the seeds of the future harvest. Bless and continue these mysteries and these labors, by which the world is renewed, and by which our lives go on. And grant also that the beauties of holiness, righteousness, and truth may, by your grace and power, spring up out of the dark soil of our own lives and bear their blessed and healing fruits.
As we gather on this special day of celebration and praise—Mother's Day—we are deeply thankful for all mothers, both those still with us and those now absent from us, and those homes in which they mothered us and those in which we nurture others. We are thankful also for the many people who nurture us still to grow in faith and wisdom. Be with all those who care for and raise children. Strengthen them with your grace and knowledge. We pray too for parents around the world, especially for those who are struggling to find food and security for their children. And we pray as well for youth throughout the world, especially for those who are in need of nurturers and mentors in their lives.
O God, our God: For those who mourn this day, give comfort. For those who yearn this day, give patience. For those who are sick this day, especially those ill from this COVID disease, give healing. For those who serve this day, especially our frontline medical providers, first responders, and other essential workers, give strength and courage and protection. For those who are torn apart by grief and resentment, may your restoring love bring forgiveness and reconciliation. For those nearest and dearest to this family of faith, may they sense the depth of our concern. And may all those who hunger and thirst for your presence know that living water that is ours without limit, through Jesus the Christ, in whose name we pray, Amen.
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father Who art in Heaven,
hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy Will be done,
on earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power,
and the Glory forever!
Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Praise God all creatures here below!
Praise God above you heavenly host!
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
OFFERING PRAYER OF DEDICATION
Let us pray...
Dear God, as you care for all living things, help us in the giving and receiving of our offerings to become extensions of your loving care. Use us and our gifts to minister to the deepest needs of humankind. Through Christ our Lord, we pray, Amen.
Spirit of God, Descend upon my heart
Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move;
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art;
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.
I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
No sudden rending of the veil of clay,
No angel visitant, no opening skies;
But take the dimness of my soul away.
Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear.
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh,
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.
Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling:
O let me seek Thee, and O let me find!
Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The kindling of the heaven descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame
SECOND SCRIPTURE LESSON
Matthew 20:20-28 “Salome seeks honor for James and John; greatness and service”
SERMON A Mother’s Request
Let us pray...
“O God, whose steadfast love true motherhood has blessed, who shields the infant small upon its mother’s breast: Embrace us, too, O God, our God, and hold us in your loving arms.” Amen. (NCH, 426, 1)
On this Mother’s Day, I thought we could turn our attention for at least a few minutes away from this pandemic that has so paralyzed our lives for weeks to focus instead upon a provocative little story told by Matthew and its lessons for us—a provocative little story about a mother’s request—a mother’s request that started all the trouble!
Now Mark and Luke tell the story a bit differently—they blame it on the two boys. But Matthew faults a mother. According to tradition at least, that mother is Salome, the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus. So, the two boys are Jesus’ own cousins.
Our story begins: “Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to [Jesus], with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something...‘Command that these two sons of mine may sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’”
I always used to think that James and John must have put their innocent mother up to this despicable project! Seeking undeserved honor by reserving box seats in paradise, they must have forced their dear old Mom to intercede on their behalf. After all, she was the Master’s aunt, a helper of the apostles, a woman with great political clout. And they obviously didn’t have the courage to make the selfish request for themselves. And so, I used to despise James and John for this spineless pursuit of comfortable places in the kingdom of God—and, at their own mother’s expense!
But I’ve mellowed a bit (as we all do as we grow older)! To be fairer with these “sons of thunder” (as they were called), perhaps what they sought was not complacent ease, but rather spectacular service. Maybe they wanted to burn themselves out in work for the kingdom. Maybe they wanted a task of truly outstanding size. “O Master,” they cried out in effect, “let us do something truly heroic for you—something that really deserves seats at your right and left!” “Mother,” they cried out in effect, “make Jesus listen!”
But I’ve mellowed even further (I must be growing old fast)! Perhaps it was maternal pride and that alone which motivated this mother’s request. Seeking honor for her children—one of any mother’s most natural requests—to have a doctor or a lawyer or a CPA in the family—or a priest or a minister or a rabbi in the family—to have sons that sit at the right and left of Christ himself in his kingdom. And to live long enough to tell everyone in the neighborhood about a child’s success—a mother’s request, a parent’s request! We all want that for our children and for ourselves, don’t we?
But what about when the honor is denied? What about when the request is not met? What about when the prayer—a mother’s prayer—is not answered?
This strange story becomes even stranger if we begin to place responsibility (or, if you will, blame) on this mother’s request. For Jesus himself never answers her; he never rebukes her for the sin of maternal pride. He answers instead James and John: “You do not know what you are asking.” And the answer hurts, for surely they thought they knew what they wanted. But then he adds in response to their mother’s request: “...to sit at my right hand and at my left...is for those for whom it has been prepared...” In other words, “Those box seats are taken! Those two places are reserved for others, not for you!”
And the “sons of thunder,” just like that rich young man in another gospel story, went sorrowful away. And Salome too must have been tragic-struck—her two beloved sons were not wanted by the Master! A mother’s request had been denied! What’s a mother to do in such circumstances? What a terrible story to tell on Mother’s Day!
Perhaps a mother, perhaps two sons, perhaps even we need occasionally to consider the possibility that God may not always want our service, or at least the kind of service, heroic or otherwise, that we, or our children, would care to offer. We’ve grown so accustomed to assuming that all of the calling to God’s service is on God’s side, and all of the refusing is on ours. But one of the Bible’s “great reversals” may be that God sometimes refuses the kind of heroic service that is motivated only by a mother’s or by two sons’ desire for greatness.
Maybe sometimes, God asks nothing startling from us, nothing life-giving, nothing tremendous, nothing that would deserve seats of honor—but rather only patient faithfulness in the everyday, routine acts of living—like getting up and going to work every day—or like getting the rest of the family up, cooking the meals, doing the laundry, and getting the rest of the family tucked safely into bed.
As the prophet Micah asks in our first scripture lesson this morning—what does the Lord ask of us? What does God require? “...to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God.” Hardly the equivalent of service deserving seats of honor in the kingdom!
Now that I’m older and mellower (more so every day!), my heart goes out to James and John and to all of us who would be like them. And so too, my heart goes out to their mother. It is so much easier to be a proud parent when your children are successful by the world’s standards—you know, happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise. But not all of our kids are! And yet, we still love them!
What about when we or our children are called to occupy some insignificant platform in life, or scarcely any platform at all? We sit in fifth or sixth balcony seats, instead of right or left of the star. Or our careers are stifled because we stay at home to care for aged parents. Or our routine jobs occupy most of our waking hours. Or we reach mid-life and know that we shall never be what we had hoped. Or we grow old and mellow (more so every day!), but without seeing the sunniest parts of this earth. And we rebel against the smallness of our lot. And we remember the day we offered to be heroes and were turned down. And we remember the day God himself refused our mother’s request that we might be great.
It is, I think, a hard lesson about unanswered prayer. They prayed for places of glory in Christ’s Kingdom, and Jesus answered simply, “You do not know what such glory is, or means, or entails!” “You do not know what you are asking.”
How often one of us has prayed: “O God, let me out, let me out; I cannot stand these screaming kids one more day!” Or “O God, let me out, let me out; I cannot waste my life behind this wretched desk!” Or “O God, let me out, let me out; I cannot preach one more sermon, or attend one more committee meeting, or enter one more hospital room!” And God said, “No!” and the routine went on. We knew not what we asked; and so, God saved us from ourselves, and for him, saved us for still another day of quiet, faithful service, for still another day of what we might call gospel greatness—as Jesus says, “...whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life...” And, as Micah says, “...to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walked humbly with your God.”
My friends, there may be mothers, indeed fathers too, among us this day who have sought great things for their children. There may be sons and daughters among us this day who have sought worldly success for themselves. And there may be some among us this day whose prayers for honor and glory, greatness and service have gone unanswered. But one day, God may grant such a mother’s request; and we can only hope that we shall be ready then. But until then, we are called to be patient and quietly faithful and routinely diligent, believing that only God knows best, when and how and what we—as mothers, as parents, as children, as ordinary believers—can manage of the glory of his kingdom.
Let us pray...
“We turn to you, God, with our thanks and our tears for all of the families we’ve known through the years, the intimate networks on whom we depend of parents and partners and children and friends.” Amen.
(NCH, 427, 2)
O Master, let me walk with Thee,
O Master, let me walk with Thee,
In lowly paths of service free;
Tell me Thy secret; help me bear
The strain of toil, the fret of care.
Help me the slow of heart to move
By some clear, winning word of love;
Teach me the wayward feet to stay,
And guide them in the homeward way.
Teach me Thy patience; still with Thee
In closer, dearer, company,
In work that keeps faith sweet and strong,
In trust that triumphs over wrong.
In hope that sends a shining ray
Far down the future’s broadening way,
In peace that only Thou canst give,
With Thee, O Master, let me live.
“Come, let us go with faithful souls our words of faith to raise; one family in heart are we, and one the God we praise.” Amen. (NCH, 383, 1, adapted)
GO NOW IN PEACE
Go now In peace, never be afraid.
God will go with you each hour of every day.
Go now In faith, steadfast strong and true.
Know He will guide you in all you do.
Go now In love, and show you believe.
Reach out to others so all the world can see.
God will be there watching from above.