Mother’s Day, 2004

 

Today is a special day, a day set aside by act of Congress as a holiday, a holiday to celebrate and honor mothers.  I’ve heard it said that this is the second busiest time of year for companies like Hallmark.  After all, everyone has a mom so that means there’s a lot of people out there who need to send her a card on Mother’s Day.  But it wasn’t the card makers who petitioned Congress for this special day and, surprisingly, it wasn’t the woman who started the effort to recognize the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day who petitioned Congress, either.

 

That woman was Mrs. Anna Reese Jarvis who lived in a small home in Grafton, West Virginia.  I had the privilege some years back of seeing that house standing by the road.  I was home visiting my mom on Mother’s Day and we took a little side trip to visit that part of the Mountain State.  But even though President Wilson made Mother’s Day official in 1914, Anna’s efforts began long before then and with something in mind that is completely different from what we know today.

 

Anna Reese Jarvis was a teacher and church member who wanted to improve the living conditions in her town and called on mothers join her in what she called a Mothers’ Work Day Club.  That was in 1858, just a few years before war split the nation and her state.  It was the war that increased the scope of her vision and the number of Work Day Clubs to include the entire nation.  Anna and those who followed her now advocated for better sanitary conditions on both sides of the conflict.  That emphasis was well placed.  More soldiers, significantly more soldiers, died as a result of disease than in all the battles fought.  That includes Gettysburg, that includes Fredericksburg.  All the battles ever fought. 

 

After the war, Anna changed the focus of the Clubs to encourage and establish peace, not the political peace that exists between nations but the more difficult peace and, perhaps, more lasting peace – the peace that comes from a reconciliation between those who were on opposite sides of the war.

 

I mentioned Anna was a church member and she was.  We know from her daughter that she taught Sunday School because it was in one of the classes in 1876 that her daughter, also named Anna, heard her pray these words: “I hope that someone, sometime will found a memorial mothers day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life.  She is entitled to it.”  Her prayer came at the conclusion of a class she had taught and her lesson that day was “Mothers of the Bible.”

 

So it seems fitting and appropriate, then, on this day that was born of her desire, to follow her lesson’s topic and look a few of the many Mothers of the Bible.

 

Where best to begin than at the beginning, with the first mother, Eve.

 

Genesis 2:21-23   21 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place.  22 Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.  23 And Adam said: "This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man."

 

Eve, created from Adam, created by God, joined her husband in the Garden of Eden.  As I think about our lives today, I see many blessings heaped upon us, blessings that Anna Jarvis would have appreciated.  We have electricity and devices that use it – light bulbs, refrigerators, clothes washers, and for those who don’t use natural gas, dryers and stoves.  We have hot and cold running water.  We have indoor plumbing - all things that Anna Jarvis would have marveled at.  But given the opportunity to trade places with us today or with Eve and live in the Garden, I believe Anna Jarvis would take the Eden in a heartbeat.  I know I would.  Everything was there.  The food was fresh, with no chemicals that may or may not provide a benefit.  The water was clear and pure, far beyond the best you can buy at the stores today.  There was work in the Garden, but there is a difference between doing something you enjoy and doing something because someone else says you have to.  It seems unfair to call them both by the same name.  There was something else in the Garden that we don’t have today and that we can’t enjoy today.  God walked there, God walked there in all his beauty and holiness and purity, and Eve could see Him, Eve could talk with Him just as easily as you can talk to your neighbor.

 

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Matthew 5:8  Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.  And because Eve had that personal, that tangible relationship with her Creator, I believe Eve had one thing in the Garden of Eden that, to me, is worth more than anything I have ever had or ever could have in this life.  Eve had a pure heart.  What a marvelous thing – a pure heart, a heart free from jealousy, from envy, from strife.  Eve had a heart that was satisfied, no, she had a heart that delighted in all that she was given.

 

But we know all too well that Eve’s life did not remain filled with these blessings.

 

Genesis 3:1  Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?"

 

Eve had something that none of us desire, none of us want, none of us hope for.  Eve had the attention of the enemy of God.  She had caught the eye of the one who was determined to overthrow all the good things she had been given, to ruin all the blessings she had received, to destroy all the that she held dear, including the pure heart that let her see God.

 

We know what happened.  Eve believed Satan and ate of the fruit of the tree.  But I have come to believe that Eve has been criticized far too harshly because of her fall.  It’s easy to be Monday-morning quarterbacks and say how we would have won the game if only I had been there.  In this case, no, things would not have been different.  We can all too easily blame Eve for some undefined weakness in character, some flaw in what was otherwise a perfect creation.  That’s not the case.  That’s not the case for two reasons.

 

The first reason is because of who tempted her.  I turn again to Jesus’ words to help give us an idea of our enemy’s strength.  It was near the end of His earthly ministry, the cross was just a few hours away, when he spoke to Peter in Luke 22, verse 31:

 

31 And the Lord said, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.

 

The same one who tempted Eve in the Garden now wanted one of Jesus’ closest disciples.  And how much effort would it take Satan to destroy Simon Peter?  What is involved in sifting wheat?  Fred Wight describes the process in his book, “Manners and Customs of Bible Lands.”

 

“When the winnowing process is over, then comes the sifting of the grain.  The wheat or barley will still be more or less mixed with certain amounts of chaff, little stones, and perhaps some tares.  Sifting is therefore necessary before the grain can be ground into meal.  This is the task of the women.  The sifter seats herself on the floor, and shakes the sieve which contains the grain, until the chaff beings to appear on the top, and this is blown away by lung power.  The stones are removed as are also the tares.”

 

Now when he says “This is the task of the women.” I don’t think he’s making a sexist or snide remark.  I believe he’s underscoring the point that sifting grain does not take great physical strength.  What’s involved in sifting grain?  You put some grain on a sieve, jostle the sieve and upon occasion, give a gentle blow to get the chaff out.  That’s all the energy that’s required and, by implication, that’s all the energy Satan would need to ruin the life and testimony of the man who obeyed Jesus, stepped out of the boat and began to walk to Him on the sea.  No, Eve was not flawed.  Eve was not weak.  Eve was not to blame.  And now we get to the second reason.

 

Satan wanted Peter.  Satan wanted to take this man who had been throwing fishing nets and rowing boats for years and, in spite of his physical strength, Satan wanted to show him and all around him just how weak he really was.  But he didn’t.  Satan couldn’t for one simple reason.  Again, the reason is in Jesus’ words:

 

Luke 22:31-32  31 And the Lord said, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.  32 "But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren."

 

Satan had desires for Peter, but Jesus had plans for him that excluded Satan’s will.  “I have prayed for you, that you should not fail …  Does that mean Jesus didn’t step in for Eve, that Jesus played favorites between the two?  No, not at all.  Because just as the God who created Peter had plans for him, the same God had plans for Eve.  The only difference was that God’s plan for Peter excluded giving Satan what he wanted.  God’s plan for Eve didn’t.  Satan succeeded in tempting Eve and causing her and her husband to fall, but what Satan came to realize was that his short-term success would result in his long-term destruction.  In Genesis 3, verse fifteen we read,

 

15 And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel."

 

The great reformer, Martin Luther, expounded on this passage in his hymn, “A Might Fortress.”:

 

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing; Were not the right man on our side, the man of God’s own choosing; dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He; Lord Sabaoth, His name, From age to age the same, And He must will the battle.

 

Now, Luther doesn’t say, “He must win the battle” out of need or because it is necessary for Him to do so.  That would imply the outcome of the great strife is unknown.  It isn’t  The outcome is sure and certain.  He must win the battle because there is no other possible result.  When you drop a pencil, it must fall.  When the sun rises in the morning, it must get light and as the battle between Christ Jesus and His enemies is over, it must be Christ Jesus who has crushed the head of Satan and who alone is victorious.  This is why Eve fell to Satan’s temptation – God had foreordained it so that He might bring salvation to all who would believe and so destroy the works of evil and rebellion against Him.

 

Eve, the mother of us all, was not weak.  Eve was not flawed.  Eve was used of God to bring about the destruction of His enemies.

 

There was another mother whom God used to destroy His enemies, though she became a mother after the battle.  Her name was Rahab and she lived in what was probably the closest thing to Eden in her day – the city of Jericho.  Jericho was a walled city, well protected by the latest the modern technology of the day could provide.  Jericho had a reputation for being secure.  Behind its walls, no one could be lost no matter how large the army against it.  But Rahab heard of a force mightier than any army that had marched.  Rahab heard of the people of Israel who were coming to the land where she lived.  Rahab had heard of the people of Israel and she had heard of the God who led them, the God who divided the waters of the Red Sea so the people could cross it and not get wet, the God who closed up the waters over the chariots of Pharaoh and destroyed the strongest military force of the day, the God who led His people to victory in battle against the kings who lived just across the river from her home.  She heard of this God and, when she had the opportunity, she turned against the people around her and served Him with all she had.  We read in Joshua, chapter 2, verses one to six:

 

Now Joshua the son of Nun sent out two men from Acacia Grove to spy secretly, saying, "Go, view the land, especially Jericho." So they went, and came to the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there.  2 And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, "Behold, men have come here tonight from the children of Israel to search out the country."  3 So the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, "Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to search out all the country."  4 Then the woman took the two men and hid them. So she said, "Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from.  5 "And it happened as the gate was being shut, when it was dark, that the men went out. Where the men went I do not know; pursue them quickly, for you may overtake them."  6 (But she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order on the roof.)

 

Rahab turned for her security from the best that man could offer to the hope offered in man’s Creator, verses twelve to fourteen:

 

12 "Now therefore, I beg you, swear to me by the LORD, since I have shown you kindness, that you also will show kindness to my father's house, and give me a true token, and spare my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death."  14 So the men answered her, "Our lives for yours, if none of you tell this business of ours. And it shall be, when the LORD has given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with you."

 

We know the rest of the story.  The Israelites came, led by their God.  The walls of city fell down and the victory was the Lord’s.  In Hebrews 11:31 we read “By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.” And it is in Matthew 1:5 that her name turns up again, but this time her name is included in a genealogy:

 

5 Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse,  6 and Jesse begot David the king.

 

Because of her faith, Rahab was given her life and she was given much more – she was the great grandmother of one described as being “a man after God’s own heart,” David the king.

 

And in this brief geneaology from Matthew we are reminded of two more women of faith, both mothers who played a significant role in God’s history of redemption – Ruth, who was explicity mentioned, and Naomi, her mother in law, who wasn’t mentioned at all.

 

Ruth’s story begins with Naomi and with Naomi’s willingness to follow her husband as he tried to lead his family out of famine and hardship.  What had seemed to be a life of possibilities turned out not to be the case.  Naomi’s husband died in a strange land and then her two sons also died, leaving her with her two dauther in laws.  It was then that she heard the famine had ended at home, that the reason her family had left was gone.  So we read in Ruth chapter 1, verses seven to nine:

 

7 Therefore she went out from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah.  8 And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go, return each to her mother's house. The LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.  9 "The LORD grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband." Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.

 

Naomi prayed for each of them, she called on the Lord who had given her the blessings she enjoyed, the same Lord who had taken those blessings from her.  We are told that, though both were told to return, one did not.  In verses sixteen and seventeen:

 

16 But Ruth said: "Entreat me not to leave you, Or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God.  17 Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. The LORD do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me."

 

Naomi called on the Lord, the Lord she knew from times of blessing and hardship and Ruth also called on the Lord, not because her people were called by His name, not because she had been brought up in a family that worshipped him, but because the Lord was the one to whom Naomi cried to and so that was the God to whom Ruth would call upon as a witness to her affection for her mother-in-law.  And so Ruth returned with Naomi.  Continuing in verse 19:

 

Now the two of them went until they came to Bethlehem. And it happened, when they had come to Bethlehem, that all the city was excited because of them; and the women said, "Is this Naomi?"  But she said to them, "Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.  21 "I went out full, and the LORD has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?"

 

In her words, I do not sense that she has become bitter against God.  Rather, she sees her life as it is, just as Job did when he said, in Job 2:10, “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?"  The Scriptures go on to say, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” And as Job did not sin, I don’t believe Naomi did either.

 

When Naomi decided to leave Moab, she told both her daughters in law to remain in the hope that they would find husbands among their people, for without a husband in that day, there was no hope for more than a daily life of poverty and with no children there was no hope to be cared for in old age.  Naomi knew this and, even though she had Ruth to help her, she looked not to her own needs to Ruth’s future.  When Ruth returned from gleaning in the fields, Naomi learned it was from the fields of her husband’s kinsman.  Naomi, who credited the Lord with afflicting her, now saw the hand of the Lord at work to bless her, and not just her but the woman who was more beloved to her than a daughter.  What Ruth did not know about the customs and traditions of the land, Naomi provided and taught her, trusting in God for His providence.  And Naomi was not disappointed.  We read from Ruth 4, verses 13 to 17:

 

13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife; and when he went in to her, the LORD gave her conception, and she bore a son.  14 Then the women said to Naomi, "Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a close relative; and may his name be famous in Israel!  15 "And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him."  16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her bosom, and became a nurse to him.  17 Also the neighbor women gave him a name, saying, "There is a son born to Naomi." And they called his name Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.

 

Naomi trusted in the Lord in times of ease and in times of hardship and through it all, the Lord was with her.  Rahab trusted in the Lord, having heard of Him from others and having learned of His power and might.  Eve trusted in the Lord, whom she saw face to face and with whom she walked, and though banished from the Garden, she knew she was not banished from His sight for when she gave birth to her son, her words were, I have acquired a man from the LORD.”

 

God does not forsake those who call on His name, he does not abandon those who trust in Him.  For these three mothers, their circumstances changed so radically over the course of their lives that, if you were to have told them before any of it happened, they would have laughed and thought you were mad.

 

But life does bring changes, sometimes those changes make us sad, sometimes those changes bring more joy than we could believe exist.  The prophet Nahum wrote:  7 The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble; And He knows those who trust in Him.”

 

I urge you today, trust in the Lord as these mothers did.  Trust in Him and in the day of trouble he will be your stronghold and in the day of blessing He will be your joy.

 

Prepared for Sunday, May 9, 2004

56 - Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah

73 - God Moves in a Mysterious Way

411 - Trusting Jesus

340 - He Hideth My Soul

447 - Trust and Obey