“THE PERFECT MOTHER”
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles, UCC
May 8, 2022
8 Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute.
9 Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.
10 A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. 11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. 12 She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. 13 She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. 14 She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away. 15 She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls. 16 She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. 17 She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong. 18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. 19 She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. 20 She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy. 21 She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson. 22 She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple. 23 Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes. 25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. 26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 27 She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children rise up and call her happy ; her husband too, and he praises her: 29 “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” 30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. 31 Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.
So this morning I want to talk about “The Perfect Mother.” When I told someone
this, she quickly commented, “there is no such thing.” I said, “thanks for summing
up my sermon in one sentence.” There! All done, shall we all go eat lunch? Happy
Mothers’ Day everyone!
No wait, I better not do that. I know some of you will think I deserve a raise
if we do that, but the rest of you will think, “He only works one day a week for all
that money and this is what we get for it? Let’s declare the pulpit vacant and start a
search right away.” So before lunch, let me wander through this Scripture that, to
me, describes the “perfect mother,” and allow me some vagrant thoughts before I get
to that punchline I have already given away.
So just to be sure you know that even though mothers may not be perfect, they
do have some incredible wisdom. My mother, God rest her soul, taught me many
things, on different topics, such as:
Religion: “You’d better pray that will come out of the carpet.”
Weather: “This room of yours looks as if a tornado went through it.”
Gift - giving: “You are going to get it when we get home!”
Compassion: “When that lawn mower cuts off your toes, don't come running to me.”
And, every mother taught us about “justice”: “One day you’ll have kids, and I hope
they turn out just like you”.
Now to be fair, many mothers have learned certain things from loving their
children too. One mother shared some of what she learned from her 5-year-old son
that she shares with us:
You probably DO NOT want to know what that odor is.
The fire department in Austin, Texas has a 5-minute response time.
When you hear the toilet flush and the words 'uh oh’, it’s already too late.
The spin cycle on the washing machine does not make earthworms dizzy.
It will, however, make cats dizzy.
Cats throw up twice their body weight when dizzy.
Love is a great teacher, but the lessons don’t always come in holy moments.
I never preach a Mothers’ Day sermon without realizing it is a difficult day for
some. It can be difficult for those remembering mothers who were deeply flawed.
Some mothers may have felt they were so far from perfect that the topic is painful.
So let me begin with the fallacy of “perfect.” We all know that none of us is perfect,
and that no mother is or can be perfect, nor should anyone strive to be perfect. Some
would say the ending of this passage is more fitting than striving for perfection:
“many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Perhaps excellence
is a better goal than perfection. So let’s discuss excellence, instead of getting caught
up in perfection. And let me talk about it for all of our benefit, not just for anyone
who is a mother.
What is interesting, before we get to the difference between excellence and
perfection is the beginning of this chapter. I have to confess that, in all the times I
have read Proverbs 31 at a funeral for a great Christian woman, I don’t remember
ever reading the first few verses. I find them quite interesting. The chapter starts
with the musings or the advice of a mother to her son the king. It urges him not to
get involved with women [ my Jewish friend said this is the ultimate irony of the
“Jewish Mother syndrome,” she wants you to worship her but all other women are
dangerous]. It cautions him not to let wine or strong drink cause him to “make
decrees” that he can’t remember. You can add your own punchline on that one.
But the really interesting part to me is that King Lemuel’s mother advised him
to, “ 8 Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute.” And
to, “ 9 Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Too bad
that advice doesn’t seem to be much appreciated by those in power today, or by
many everyday people who claim to be Christian. Too many Christians are claiming
their rights are being infringed on instead of it is simply a matter of sharing equal
rights. Too many who call themselves Christian have forgotten what the Source of
our religion taught, which included helping those who are hungry, homeless,
imprisoned, sick, and in need. I don’t want to sound too judgmental, but it seems to
me a lot of Christians have a lot of growing to do in this area to achieve
What strikes me is the balance this passage represents between being “family
first” and being outwardly focused. It is easy to think that as a parent our
responsibility is to be “all about” the family and inwardly focused. But that may
lead to a kind of near-sightedness that becomes destructive of a greater good. I have
always been so struck by parents who help their children look out at the world and to
see ways they can make it better, in big and small ways. And that begins with
having an attitude that is at the center of our Christian value of “loving others as
[Christ] has loved us.”
I was saddened but not surprised by the illustration of this in a Facebook
group for UCC clergy. Rev. Cathy Jurgens, pastor of a UCC church in Sedalia,
Missouri posted that she preached on “loving your neighbor. You remember, that
came from Jesus, the “Source of our religion?” She said the next night at their
church Council, “a member declared that he had heard about that love campaign
coming from “that guy” at the national church and he wouldn’t be told who he has to
love. And for extra emphasis he said he would never have lunch with a black
person.” My heart went out to Rev. Jurgens and her comment. She said, “I really
don’t know how to keep doing this.” Another pastor added, “I’ve been there and
wondered the same thing….” Yet another one said, “With everything I’ve
experienced these past few weeks, I can’t even pretend to be surprised!” If that
doesn’t sadden you I don’t know why it wouldn’t. I’m wondering not about
excellence, just about basic Christian values?
Another Pastor asked the rhetorical question of that “Christian” who declared
no one would tell him who to love: asking, “So, since Jesus is the one who told us to
love one another, will you be turning in your baptismal certificate on your way out
the door?” There are clearly too many claiming to be Christians who not only are
not striving for excellence, they are holding on to old prejudices, hatreds, and false
theology that is really political beliefs too often supported by preachers using their
pulpits for partisan politics. Perhaps even more sad to me as a parent as well as a
pastor is that this is probably one of the main reasons our children and grandchildren
are turning their backs on the Christian Church in droves. They aren’t buying a
“Fake Christianity” that doesn’t love people who are of a different race, who
experience sexuality differently, whose value system accepts those who welcome
diversity rather than condemn it.
So this Mothers’ Day, as we talk about the “Perfect Mother,” I am struck by
the way the writer of Proverbs describes the “blessed woman and wife” in those
verses we read. They describe someone who is hard-working, has good priorities,
and is seen as a blessing to others. I still go back to those first verses where the
King’s mother urges him to:
8 Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute.” And to,
“ 9 Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
When Jesus said to love others as he has loved us the examples he gave were quite
specific. He healed the sick and hurting, he befriended people of other races and
religions and genders, he demanded that those who used their power to gain selfish
riches turn away from those values, and he bent down to serve others rather than
demand that others serve him. In his love for us he challenges us to grow from
demanding the world to revolve around us to loving others, even if our cultural
prejudices and racial hatreds make us want to refuse to sit at lunch with them
because they are different from us.
So while there may not be such a thing as a “perfect mother,” any more than
there is a Sasquatch or a real E.T., my hope is that more and more of us will strive
for excellence by seeking to grow in love. Let us look at where we are challenged to
love others and work on that area. I want to strive to be more understanding of the
fears and misunderstandings of those who, in my opinion, claim to speak for God
with words of hatred and prejudice and political partisanship disguised as theology.
I want to find a way to encourage those who fail to speak up for the poor, the needy,
the one who is an outsider because of race, religion, gender, nationality or economic
status or disability in hopes that Christ’s love can change them.
So to all you mothers out there, may you have as near as perfect a Mothers’
Day as possible. May your expectations for those whose lives you touch, whether
they are your children or not, be as high as King Lemuel’s mother’s were for him.
And may God’s perfect love for you bless you more each day. AMEN.