Thursday, May 12, 2016
A Holy Home
Preached on Mothers' Day, Sunday May 8, 2016 with Holy Communion
Scripture readings: Proverbs 31:10-31; John 19:25-27
A mother and her young son walked into an ice cream parlor. The boys made his order, then the clerk turned to the mother, “And you, ma’am, what would you like today?” And she said, “Nothing today, thank you, I’m on a diet.”
The son groaned when he heard this. “Aw mom, you’re not going to help me eat mine again, are you?” (Reader’s Dig., July ’94, p. 120)
The last chapter of Proverbs asks the question, “A wife of noble character who can find?” It goes on to describe a woman who can do the work of ten men, and who makes her family rich, and gets her husband on the city council that met at the city gate.
In our translation she has what is called a noble character. The King James translation says she has virtue, which means she has a powerful goodness. It means courage.
This word is a warrior word. The Lord used the word to describe Gideon, one of the judges of Israel, when the Lord first gave Gideon his calling. “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor.” (Judges 6:12) There the translation is “valor”. That’s this wife and mother.
So here is an example of an amazing woman. The most amazing thing about her is that no one seems to be afraid of her, unless her husband was afraid to admit it.
The lines here begin to describe a wife, but they end up describing a mother, and her husband, and her children, and the whole atmosphere of their home. Proverbs is about wisdom, and this is a home where wisdom lives.
I wonder: what would it be like to grow up in a home like this? What would children learn in this home?
Children in the home where wisdom lives will learn that when God’s love lives in a person’s heart, that love is whole-hearted. That kind of love isn’t on duty sometimes, and off duty other times. Verse twelve says this: “She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.”
It tells us that a wife, or a husband, should want to be helpful, and never hurtful. This is important because, sometimes, we like to be a little bit hurtful. Maybe we want to go beyond teasing to a lower level. A husband or wife might be good in every way except that they reserve to themselves the right to an occasional meanness.
Sarcasm is a good example of this. Evans Family men are proud of their talent for sarcasm, but my cousin Don, who is a better Christian that I am, has really devoted himself to detoxifying himself of the Evans gift of sarcasm. He knows it’s dangerous, and I am trying, with difficulty, to learn from his example.
Children learn about whole-hearted love from their parents, and how their parents relate to others. If the children are to grow up to be wives and husbands who really care about their spouses and their children, who are really capable of giving whole-hearted respect to others, giving a love that is on duty all the time, they need to see this in their mothers and fathers.
Proverbs has a lot to say about the wisdom of loving work. That is; it is a wise thing to learn to love work. Here is a woman who does that.
In my first church, there were a few families who were always doing something: not just doing their own things but doing those things together as well. In one of these families there was a boy named Glen. Glen liked school. He got good grades and went out for sports. He was a good athlete even though he had asthma, and he went on to be a high school coach in the Midwest. He was in band. He was a good scout, and got his God and Country Award. He came to worship, and Sunday school, and he was in two youth groups: the one I led, and another one too.
Once I overheard one of his friends talking to Glen, asking him why his parents made him do all those things. Glen was surprised, and he said, “I like doing those things!” Glen had learned from his parents to love work. He had learned from his parents’ example, and his parents were always there supporting him.
Maybe I should add that I tried to make my youth group fun. We played together as well and learned together. For Glen, a lot of his work was play for him.
I think that the work I like best is the work I think is fun, and I can make some of my work into play. I also have trouble playing unless I work hard at it.
What’s great about the mother in Proverbs is not that she was always working. She wasn’t always working, because she also had time to sit and think about the future and laugh about it. (Proverbs 31:25) She had time to notice when other people were hurting and when they were in need, and she took time to help them. (Proverbs 31:20)
She wasn’t always working because she had time to look around her and to see opportunities. The children in her family would grow up learning to see what they could do, instead of brooding over what they couldn’t do, and why they couldn’t do it.
In her care for others, remember how the saying goes. “She opens her arms to the poor and she extends her hands to the needy.” (31:20)
There is something physical about true caring. You can use your hand to put something in another person’s hand. But this woman opened her arms. She probably held out her hand to hold someone by the hand. You open your arms to make others welcome, even embarrassingly welcome. Children learn to be comfortable making other people welcome from their parents.
My parents weren’t really huggers and so opening my arms doesn’t come easy to me. My mom’s mother (my Baci, babcia, my Polish grandma) was a great hugger (at least for her grandchildren). She normally embarrassed me by doing this. But I was always just as thankful for her hugs as I was embarrassed by them.
The mother in Proverbs loved giving just as much as she loved working, and building, or earning. She knew how to make giving into loving.
The Scottish author, George MacDonald, wrote about his parents’ thriftiness, but he was especially proud of the way his mother was just as concerned to teach her children how to give and how to save. The children of the mother in Proverbs would learn to love to give. They would love to bring others in, and make them welcome. They would love to open their arms to others.
There was a mother who gave her daughter two dollars on Sunday morning, one for the offering, and the other for ice cream after church. While the girl was walking to Sunday school, a big gust of wind caught hold of one of the dollars and blew it away. She tried to chase it down, but she couldn’t catch it, and so she shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well, there goes the church’s dollar.” She wasn’t opening her arms.
In Proverbs it says, “When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.” ( 31:21) None of the commentaries understand this. At least they think that the Hebrew word “scarlet” is there because a copyist misspelled a similar word that means “double”: that her family’s clothes were double thickness in the winter.
I don’t care what the commentaries say here. I think those people had enough sense to know that scarlet would keep people from going missing in the snow (what little they had). And it wasn’t that long ago when people thought that red flannel would keep you warm in the winter and white flannel would be cool in the summer. So winter underwear was red; maybe not in the Bible times, but in our grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ time.
The children in the home of the Proverbs mother would grow up knowing the importance of looking out for the well-being of others. In a loving home, everyone cares about the safety and the whereabouts of each other. They grow up knowing that they are their brother’s, and their sister’s, and their neighbor’s keepers.
Then it says, “Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.” (31:23) There would be an open area inside the city gates, sometimes with benches built into the walls, where the most respected citizens acted as the town council and made plans for the community.
If there was a disagreement in the town, or a case, or a crime, that needed to have a trial, people would go to the gate, and get the advice, or the decision, or go to court and judgement under the direction of the elders at the gate. The good wife in Proverbs made her husband look so good that he got asked to join that council.
Their children would grow up in a home where they were taught to make others look good. We read that the husband was extravagant in his praise of his wife, and that was his loving way of making her look good, even to herself, if she ever doubted it.
We see that their children learned the lesson. They were praise givers too. “Her children arise and call her blessed.” (31:28)
In verse twenty-six we are told that “faithful instruction is on her tongue.” The King James translation says, “in her tongue is the law of kindness.” Are our tongues ruled by the law of kindness? Older teachers in the school notice a decline in kindness among many young people. Kindness is learned at home. At the center of every home, God wants someone there who can teach us to be kind and faithful.
Kindness and faithfulness are an essential part of life as God wants life to be, in our home family, in our church family, and even in our national family. Kindness and faithfulness should be our law.
Here was a wife of noble character, a mother of courageous character: and what about the father? Let’s have everyone be noble. Why should anyone be let off the hook? Why should anyone miss out on the good stuff? Otherwise children will grow up thinking that nobility is optional: that nobility is for some people, but not for them.
God wants us all to grow up to be noble: to be able to live with a courageous goodness; to have integrity and goodness that don’t pop like a bubble when things get hot; a goodness that is aggressive, that changes the world around us. This nobility, which God wants us to have, is mostly learned in a family, but the church is called to be God’s family, and so the church is a family where we learn to be noble.
The truth is that we learn this from Jesus who labored to do the impossible for us. Jesus is our savior, but he is also our brother. In a sense Jesus is our mother too, since his cross and his resurrection give birth to the new life that comes from him. The pains of the cross were the pains of Jesus giving birth to us.
The mother in the last chapter of Proverbs, who does the work of ten, is sort of an impossible standard, but she also points us to a holy ambition, she is a mother who makes us want to do noble things.
Jesus gives us a holy ambition to do noble things, like an older brother, or a loving mother or father.
Jesus also gives us his grace, his faithful, powerful love, to help us do it. On the cross, he shows us this nobility, this thinking of others, and it gives us a holy ambition to do likewise. Jesus, on the cross, gives us a radical, unconditional love.
The author David Hansen writes, “…the soul can be awakened and made stronger through the miracle of love, and the spirit can be harnessed and disciplined through the miracle of confrontation.”
The Lord’s Supper is a meal in God’s family where we are confronted by the noble love of God. The love and the discipline of the cross become real; something is offered here to us to make us stronger. Here is something to make us noble: more noble as parents, and more noble as children in the family of God, and in the work of Jesus.