Adapted from a sermon preached for Mother’s Day 2009.
Today is Mother’s Day, a day we all are called to honor our moms. And even if your mother is no longer living, you can honor her memory. Later today I plan to call my mom and thank her for all she did for me when I was growing up.
My mother taught me so many Godly virtues throughout my childhood that have stayed with me even to this day. I can’t imagine where I’d be without her. She taught me to pray. I can still hear her saying, “You better pray that comes out of the carpet!” She instilled a sense of imagination in me, “Don’t do that again or else….” “Or else what?” She taught me how to anticipate, “Just you wait until your father comes home….” She taught me how to count…at least to three (“1, 2, 3!”). She taught me repentance, “Don’t you ever do that again….” And she taught me self-control, “Don’t touch anything…” and then she’d often combine self-control with imagination, “or else....”
Our world tries to tell women, ‘Do something important with your life.’ God says, ‘What’s important is sitting at the supper table staring at you.’
But seriously, I love my mom, and motherhood is a great and Godly vocation. In fact, in the Large Catechism Martin Luther explains the Fourth Commandment (“Honor your father and your mother”) with these words, “God has given this walk of life, fatherhood and motherhood, a special position of honor, higher than that of any walk of life under it ... he distinguishes father and mother above all other persons on earth, and places them next to himself” (LC, para. 105; Kolb-Wengert ed.,400-1).
In God’s eyes, motherhood is higher than any walk of life. Let that sink in. Motherhood is higher than any walk of life. Our world tries to tell women, “Do something important with your life.” God says, “What’s important is sitting at the supper table staring at you.”
You see, in God’s eyes there is no vocation higher than parent. Think about it. Is the vocation of teacher higher than parent? Why does the vocation of teacher exist? To assist parents in teaching their children. The vocation of teacher serves the vocation of parent. What about the vocation of doctor? Well, who does a doctor serve? Families. The vocation of doctor may pay more than parent, but it exists to serve parents and families.
What about important positions like governor, secretary of state, speaker of the house, or even president? Are they more important than parent? Well, what is the purpose of government? To commend those who do right and punish those who do wrong (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:14). In other words, governments exist to protect and defend families—to pass policies that enable mothers and fathers to be mothers and fathers. Government exists to serve the vocation of parent.
There is no vocation higher than parent. And even folks who aren’t parents or who have raised their children and now have an empty nest, they aren’t somehow devalued; they have the great opportunity to help families through tangible works of service—whether that be their kids and grandkids or whether it be friends.
It’s not that the people who serve in the vocation of parent are somehow more important than the people who don’t: people are people—equal creations and, if they confess Christ, they are equally redeemed.
It’s not that the people who serve in the vocation of parent are somehow more important than the people who don’t: people are people—equal creations and, if they confess Christ, they are equally redeemed. What the Scriptures teach is that the vocation of parent is more important than any other vocation and that the proper ordering of vocations places fatherhood and motherhood on top.
But we live in an upside down world. Our world tells women, “Motherhood is a hindrance. Children are a drag. They’ll hold you back. If you want to do something important with your life and if you want nice stuff, you have to limit those things.” So what do they offer women? Deliverance from the “burden” of children. How? Through the legal opportunity and social expectation to exercise “a woman’s right” and “choose” fewer children, not this child, no children right now, or no children ever.
We need to hear truth: children are not an interruption of a parent’s lifework; they are a parent’s lifework. Every other vocation, in which a parent might serve, exists to serve the vocation of parent. As important as other vocations are—and they are very important, and God calls men and women to serve in a sundry assortment of them—we can’t mislead men and women into thinking, “This vocation over here is what’s really important or that occupation over there needs me or this calling is what really matters.” Motherhood and fatherhood matter more than any other.
And God calls us to honor mothers and fathers. Listen to Martin Luther again on the Fourth Commandment, “it is a much higher thing to honor than to love. Honor includes not only love, but also deference, humility, and modesty directed (so to speak) toward a majesty concealed within them” (LC, para. 106; Kolb-Wengert ed., 400-1).
Did you catch that? ‘A majesty concealed within them’! The vocation of mother is adorned with resplendent majesty, but it’s concealed, hidden from eyes unredeemed by Christ.
Did you catch that? “A majesty concealed within them”! The vocation of mother is adorned with resplendent majesty, but it’s concealed, hidden from eyes unredeemed by Christ. Unredeemed eyes don’t see motherhood’s honored position next to God Himself. That’s why they’re always saying, “Pursue this. Chase after that. Here’s what really matters.” That’s why they keep pushing unfamily planning; they don’t see the majesty of motherhood. They think a thousand different professions and positions and careers are more esteemed than motherhood.
And don’t mishear me, I’m not saying women shouldn’t work outside the home; I’m saying the greatest vocation isn’t found somewhere out there, it’s found in the hungry eyes of an infant, the inquisitive stare of a child, the hopeful gaze of a youth, the confident stride of a teenager, and the independence of a young man or woman stepping beyond the bounds of home for the first time. Motherhood matters more than any vocation out there. Just consider the words of one theologian (Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty, quoted in First Comes Love, a journal of www.onemoresoul.com):
The Most Important Person on earth is a mother: She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral – a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body.
The angels have not been blessed with such a grace. They cannot share in God’s creative miracle to bring new saints to heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creature; God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation….What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother?
And consider the question of the great thinker and writer G. K. Chesterton, “How can it be a large career to tell other people's children about the Rule of Three [referring to a kind of mathematical problem], and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.” (G. K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World). Consider the hats a mother wears: chef; dietician; nurse; philosopher; cosmologist; mathematician; physician; lawyer; judge; spiritual director; moral compass; teacher of discernment, aesthetics, manners, temperance, and modesty; life coach; personal manager; home organizer; chauffeur; referee; head janitor; imager of the church; and, example of faithfulness and respect to her husband. In short, a mother is a shaper of souls for time and for eternity. Her calling, along with fatherhood, is the greatest and highest vocation on earth.
As the Church of God it’s time we rightly extolled the vocation of motherhood and it’s time we finally saw the resplendent majesty concealed therein. There is no greater vocation on earth, for it is God’s chosen means to bring children into this world and, likewise through parents, to bring children into Christ’s kingdom of forgiveness through Holy Baptism. Happy Mother’s Day. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Pastor Jonathan Conner of Zion Lutheran Church in Manning, Iowa, is a former board member for the Hausvater Project.