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A Mother’s Heart

May 13, 2012
Sermon:  A Mother’s Heart
Text:  Luke 2:19-51


Today on this Mother’s Day, we will reflect on many Scripture passages that are reminiscent of Christmas but also important to the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  We begin with Luke 2:19:

 “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

When God made the decision to intervene in this world through the wonderful act of incarnation, He did something remarkable.  He took His only Son, completely divine, and put him into a human family, a family where he could be nurtured, where he could grow and learn.  Jesus did not just come as the Son of God.  He also came as the son of Mary and the foster-child of Joseph.

In Luke 1, beginning at Verse 28, we read that the angel Gabriel came to Mary.

28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.

Mary was greatly troubled at the angel’s words.  She was unmarried, and she had never been with a man.  She was absolutely astounded by this greeting and the news that now she was pregnant.

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

Imagine this teenage girl receiving this message.  Consider her response in Verse 38:   

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”  Then the angel left her.

By any measurement, this teenager was in for a hard time.  In her day and time, being pregnant out-of-wedlock was quite uncommon.  In fact, it was considered scandalous.  Maybe that is one of the reasons she went to live with her cousin Elizabeth.  Even there, Elizabeth told her that she was blessed among women.

Notice that Mary’s heart accepted the child that God had given to her.  I have seen this receptive heart in so many mothers – a mother who gives birth to a child and discovers that it has some sort of disability, a mother who wants to adopt a child and is told that he or she will have some problems.  A mother with a receptive heart is willing to nurture that child, helping it become all that it can be.

Jesus was a real little boy.  I know we sing “Little Lord Jesus no crying he makes,” but give me a break.  He took in milk at his mother’s breast at the same time that he took in the faith of Israel.  Surely she had to change a lot of diapers.  Maybe Joseph took a turn every now and then.  Here is a family receiving a very special child.  Though the Son of God, he was also completely human.

Mary had a pondering heart.  She thought and prayed about the changes occurring in her heart.  That pondering heart is so typical of every mother.

Let’s continue with Luke 2:21-24:

21“On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.”

22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

If you take only Verse 21, you ought to be able to see that Jesus is a real human being.  He had all the equipment of a little boy.

Mary and Joseph presented their child to God, dedicating themselves and their child.  You see in this act of dedication a mother’s devoted heart.  She wanted her child to be the Son of God that he is, but she also wanted him to grow in the faith as she knew it.

The sacrifice expected at the time of this dedication was a young lamb.  Because the couple was poor, you will notice that they sacrificed a pair of doves or two young pigeons.  Joseph was a carpenter turned mid-wife, as he tried to help Mary deliver this child.

During this time of dedication, Simeon also recognized that this child was special, that this child was the promised Messiah.  He was elated that he got to see what God had promised.

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

The angel had revealed to Mary that she was highly favored.  Elizabeth had called her blessed among women.  Notice that Simeon called Mary blessed and then said that a sword would pierce her soul. You have seen statues or pictures of Mary, her heart exposed with a sword piercing it.

Having a broken heart is part and parcel of motherhood.  Every mother that I know has had her heart broken.  My grandmother used to say, “When they are little they step on your toes.  When they are old, they step on your heart.”  A broken heart comes with the territory of being a parent.

39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.

Every mother wants to nurture her child so that they grow in grace, wisdom and strength.  Watching them grow is one of the marvelous privileges.  It is also one of the sad aspects of parenthood.  Watching the mannerisms and expressions of little children vanish as they mature hurts.  That is the reason a mother has a treasuring heart.

When Jesus was a teenager of twelve years of age, the family made a journey to Jerusalem.

41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.

How could Mary and Joseph be unaware that Jesus was not among the group?  I am sure they assumed he was with friends and family.  The people traveled in a walking community as they returned to Nazareth.  Perhaps they thought he was somewhere else in that moving crowd.  I wonder what Mary was thinking during that three-day period before she and Joseph found Jesus.

44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

One characteristic of a mother’s heart is anxiousness.

When I was seventeen, I took a trip to Africa and stayed in Rhodesia for almost two months with my aunt and uncle.  On my return trip home, I was delayed in the Sudan, in Khartoum.  There at the airport in the middle of the night an Arab clerk took my passport away from me and would not let me have it back.

An African man came on duty at the desk later that night.  I went up to him and greeted him in the Zulu language, a bit of which I had learned.

He said, “Where did you learn that?” in very good English.

I told him that the man on duty before him took my passport away and that I would like to get it back.

He said, “Certainly,” reached under the counter, and returned it to me.

When I got home, my mother asked, “Kirk, what were you doing on this particular night?”

The night she identified was the night I had been in the Sudan worried about the return of my passport.  She revealed, “I don’t know why, but I stayed up all night long praying for you.  I was so worried.”

My mother’s anxious heart caused her to pray for her son’s safety.  I have also seen this uneasiness in my wife when our children were traveling.  Every mother has an anxious heart that causes them to worry about their children.

When questioned about his whereabouts, Jesus asked his parents, “Why were you searching for me?  Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

I know this response came from the Son of God, but if any other twelve-year-old boy answered in that way, it would sound smart-alecky to me.

Scripture says in Verse 50,But they did not understand what he was saying to them.”  The Holy Family was not exempt from the wear-and-tear that the rest of us endure.  This was a very human family with a child.  Jesus was a boy, growing up in Nazareth.  You know he played on the hills around the Sea of Galilee, fell down, and skinned his knees.  You know that at times he stood at Joseph’s carpenter bench with a splinter in his hand, a blue thumbnail, or sawdust in his eye.  No wonder he could say, “Why do you worry about the sawdust in someone else’s eye when you have a 2×4 sticking out of your own eye?”  That analogy comes straight from the carpenter’s bench as does Jesus’ reference to a well-fitting ox-yoke.  He grew up in a home nurtured by earthly parents.  He is the Son of God, to be sure; but he is also the son of Mary.

Mark Twain joked that when a boy turns fourteen, he should be put in a barrel and fed through a knot hole.  When a boy turns sixteen, Twain suggested plugging up the knot hole.  It is one way to deal with adolescence.  The Scripture deals with the adolescence of Jesus with one sentence:  “He went to Nazareth and was obedient to his parents…Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and other people.”  We do not hear another word about him for the next eighteen years.  Maybe the way to deal with adolescence is by refraining from talking about it for eighteen years.  That is how the Scripture handles it.

The very end of that passage says:  “But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.”

Scrapbooking has become a popular hobby in our society as a way to preserve family history and memorabilia like photographs.  Many people also journal in their scrapbooks.  There is no greater repository for memories, however, than a mother’s heart.  A mother treasures things in her heart.  That was true of Mary.  It is true of every mother.

In Mark 3 we see Jesus as an adult beginning his ministry.  By this time Joseph had probably died, leaving Mary a widow.  Perhaps Jesus waited to begin his earthly ministry until his younger brothers were old enough to provide for Mary.  When his ministry began at age thirty, events started happening that caused concern.  The Jewish authorities were making comments about him, and the family actually thought he was mentally ill.

20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

Here we see a mother’s concerned heart.  Even after we become adults, our mothers still worry about us.  That is not news to us.  Maybe they worry even more.  I do not worry about one of my children anymore, the child who is in heaven.  I do worry about the others.  A mother’s heart always has this concern.

I remember when the Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin met with President Carter in 1978.  They signed a peace agreement, the Camp David Accord, after thirteen days of secret negotiations.  When their contract was made public, Anwar Sadat said, “My secret allies are the Israeli mothers.”  They are no different from Egyptian mothers.  All mothers want their children to live in peace, not at war.  He is absolutely right.  Mothers are concerned about their children.

Jesus asked those who were there in the house, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

I wonder how Jesus’ response made his mother feel.  Jesus was saying, “I have a family of flesh, but I have a family of faith, too.”  I am sure that Mary felt that she had been dismissed.  The truth is that a time comes when all parents get fired.

I will never forget the day we were sitting around the table celebrating my youngest sister’s thirteenth birthday.  My dad had previously witnessed a child entering the teenage years seven times.  He said to my little sister, “Kitty, today your mother and I lost every grain of sense we ever had.  Sugar, if you will just be patient with us, we will get it all back in about seven years.”  Firing parents is one of the ways that they grow.  Parents learn that letting them go, letting them find their own way, is so hard to do but so important.

Skip with me now to John 2:2-7:

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing,each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Another translation words Verse 4, “Dear woman, what have you to do with me?”  It is as if Jesus is saying, “This is not your call.  You are not in charge now.  It is up to me.”  Jesus responded to his mother’s request by turning the water to wine, just as she had suggested.  In this encounter, Mary, a mother with a knowing heart, realized the need to back off in her child’s life.  She knew the time was right for her to take a step back and let him make his own decisions.

John 19:17-18, 25:

Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).  18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother…

How do you think the scene on the Via Dolorosa made Mary feel?  How do you think she felt, seeing her own flesh and blood flattened out against the timber?  How do you think she felt, watching him die?  A mother’s heart is a grieving heart.

Michelangelo rendered a beautiful sculpture called the Pieta, which is housed in St. Peter’s Basilica.  Located in the first chapel, just to the right past the entrance, is a life-sized depiction of Mary, holding the body of her dead son.  A mother’s heart is a grieving heart.

Some years ago I was visiting in the hospital and someone asked me if I would visit a young mother who had had a child that was stillborn.  A Methodist, she said to me, “I did not have an opportunity to have my baby baptized.”  I knew how important that was to her.  I also remembered a story that I had heard years before.  The words I spoke to her were not original with me, but they were so appropriate for that occasion.

I said to her, “Yes, your baby was baptized.”

“But how?”

I said, “Your baby was baptized with your tears.”

We dedicate our children here before a congregation, but we also dedicate our children every single day.  We pray a private prayer of dedication for them every single day.  The truth is that every single one of our children has been baptized with tears.

Luke 23:50-55:

50 Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man… he asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid…55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it.

Was Mary there?  Maybe not.  It is hard for me to believe that the mother who watched her son die would not also help with his burial.  In fact, surely she was among the number of women who had come with Jesus from Galilee.  At the burial site she saw the body of her son laid to rest.  A time comes when a mother releases her child to heaven.  Of course, Mary had heard about the resurrection, but I think she was as surprised as everyone else when it actually happened.  Here she released her child to the hands of God.

In Acts 1, we read that while the disciples had been on the Mount of Olives, they had witnessed Jesus’ ascension into heaven, then arrived back at what was called the Upper Room.  The passage names those disciples, and in Verse 14 we read, “They all joined together constantly in prayer along with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus.”  It is the last reference we have in the Scriptures to Mary.  Here she was in the early faith community, worshiping.  Now she knew about the resurrection.  Maybe about fifty years old by this time, she could see why the angel Gabriel had said to her so long ago that this was a special child, not just hers but God’s.  God had placed this child in her care.

I am not among those who venerate Mary though I really admire her and certainly appreciate the kind of mother she was.  I can see that though Jesus was the Son of God, his mother shaped his life in a very real sense.  It was from her that he got his knowledge of the Scriptures.  It was from her that he got that heart of compassion for little children and for women, especially those who were widowed.  It was from her that he got his servant’s heart.  The heart of Mary helped shape the heart of Jesus.  Jesus is an example for every mother.

My own mother started the first good news club in our backyard in the summer and in our basement in the wintertime.  She taught the Bible to any children who would come from our neighborhood.  We had as many as thirty or forty children who came on Thursday afternoons.  A lot of those children accepted Christ right there in our home.  I have since then led the funeral for some of them.  I remember my mother talking with me about how she became a Christian, right before I made a decision to accept Christ as my Savior.

Our mothers do set an example, but Jesus sets the example for our mothers.  Jesus sets the example for all of us.  Look at the heart of Mary and see the impact she had on Jesus.  Look at the impact Jesus has had on the whole world.

On this day, if your mother is still with you, find a way to honor her.  On this day, if your mother has gone to heaven, do something to remember her.  I chose to wear a white rose.  On this day, if you had a mother that was not so good, make a decision to do better by whatever children are in your life.  On this day, we follow the example of Jesus.

Have you accepted Christ Jesus as your Savior?  If not, I invite you to make that decision.  Please respond to the invitation of God.

Kirk H. Neely
© May 2012

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