Mother’s Day & Church: The Annual Conundrum

Back when I was in seminary and serving an internship in a small church in central Kentucky, the pastor let me preach on the second Sunday in May.  So I did.  I have no idea what I preached about.

Except that I didn’t preach about mothers.

Afterwards, I was sort of baffled by all the cold shoulders I was getting in that normally warm church.  And that’s when the pastor leaned in and said, “You’ve got to talk about mothers on Mother’s Day.”

So once I graduated from that seminary and began serving here in North Carolina, I pretty much followed the pastor’s advice.

While I’ve never led a service in which we a) had all the mothers stand and b) gave a bouquet to the oldest mother in the house (a tradition observed by many, many churches), I have nevertheless devoted a fair number of sermons to mothers, motherhood, and even mother & child reunions.

Yet devoting a Sunday to such a subject is fraught with difficulties and even pain if you don’t do it with sensitivity.  Why?

Well, just yesterday in our worship services we had . . . .

A woman who had tended to her mother’s death and funeral in January;

Another woman who has had years of struggle with infertility and mustered all the courage she had even to show up at church on Mother’s Day; 

Several other women I know who have relationships with their own mothers that are rocky at best and abusive at worst.

So while it’s a day for celebrating and appreciating mothers and motherhood, it’s also a time to acknowledge that for many, many people Mother’s Day is more bitter than sweet.

How did we handle it in 2013?  Showed a short, whimsical video clip as the gathering began, followed by Chris Macedo’s invitation to “give it up” in applause for our moms, and then launched into a “traditional” (for Good Shepherd) worship set:  All Because Of Jesus, Everlasting God, and You Never Let Go.

Then, just before I gave the second sermon in the Old School series on “And In Jesus Christ His Only Son Our Lord,” I mentioned the day again and let the church know that three words describe my own mom:  Freak Of Nature.  Why?  She’s 97, lives by herself in Austin, Texas, and still plays tennis.

People gasped, then laughed, then applauded.

Then it was on to the real business at hand: the truth that when it comes to following Jesus — borrowing a phrase from AA — “half measures availed us nothing.”