Mary Had a Little Lamb

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Mothers Day
May 14, 2023
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: In a rearrangement of the time-honored "Mary had a little lamb" nursery rhyme, we can bring a new perspective to motherhood and mothering. The virtue is not the sole province of women, but a characteristic to be nurtured in all. Christ's embodiment of "nurturing" gives a radical new perspective to the concept of the Lamb of God and by that lamb we are led.

A nursery-rhyme shall lead us. The nursery rhyme says:

"Mary had a little lamb,

Its fleece was white as snow,

And everywhere that Mary went

The lamb was sure to go."

The imagery is so very crucial for Mother's Day, that we simply cannot ignore the leading of the spirit to expand on it. We have the image of Mary, the innocent virgin to whom the angel Gabriel came announcing her forthcoming pregnancy; we have the declaration of John the Baptist, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" We have the vulnerability of a tiny baby and the nurturing mother who must keep all these things in her heart, including the statement by Simeon (Luke 2:35), "... (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also)..."

And further we read in Isaiah 53:1-3, 7-9:

Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?

And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth."

Mothers modern and ancient can relate to the agony and the ecstasy of motherhood borne in the example of Mary. Now we must develop a perception of Mary's condition, and of Jesus' identity as the Lamb of God in order to gain an appreciation of the great legacy that lived out in the family condition.

A great legacy awaits us.

Once upon a time a man received an urgent message telling him that a relative had died and left him some valuable property. He was to contact the rabbi in his local synagogue for further details. The person was greatly excited and dropped everything he was doing in order to reach the rabbi. When the two were together the rabbi said, "The relative was Moses; the valuable property was the Jewish religious tradition."

Rabbi Harold Kushner, in his book Who Needs God, speculates that the man was sorely disappointed that the legacy was religious wisdom and not downtown real estate.

And yet, when our lives are viewed from a broad perspective, we find that downtown real estate of great temporal value is easily overbalanced by the legacy of great moral strength and stature required in the common act of mothering.

Mothering is nurturing - it is the act of entering into the intimate details of a vulnerable creature's existence and putting aside self-interest in favor of other-interest. It is offering of the life force that animates us in that special, unique way that gives meaning and substance to our existence.

But if the legacy is great, why don't we cherish it?

A retired naval seaman from Carbondale, Illinois, once reflected on his severe childhood years. His mother had been abandoned by his father, and finally had turned her children over to his grandfather to raise. The grandfather, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, was not a person of means and a very harsh disciplinarian. Now he would be looked upon as brutal; then he was simply "strict."

The retired seaman rebelled against that environment and joined the U.S. Navy, intent on being a bachelor. Later in life he married a much younger woman, and she bore him two sons. He said, "Now that we're in a family way, I can see that my education lacked three things - I was never taught how to live, how to die and how to parent."

Why is it that our much-considered educational system is structured to honor the three R's, and is hard-pressed to institutionalize L-D-P (living, dying, parenting)?

Rushworth Kidder, in the Christian Science Monitor (01/28/91), said the results led us to a generation that is "rudderless, values-free ... uncommitted to society, impervious to arguments for restraint and unwilling to participate in the community of human enterprise that creates a sustainable world."

He called attention to three important findings from differing sources:

If mothering is so important, why isn't L-D-P part of formal upbringing?

There is good news, too.

There is good news, however. We mustn't bad-mouth youth without looking at other parts of the picture. We also know-

Nearly three in five teenagers volunteer and do so to the tune of 3.9 hours a week Nearly half give money to charitable causes, about $46 each.

Teenagers give about 1.6 billion volunteer hours.

Are we talking about the same teenagers? Yes. Somehow a message of caring is getting through. How? I suspect it's because in the nurturing intimacy of parenting, the perception of caring either as it is or as it should be is a message that is connecting.

Jesus displayed great characteristics of caring. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, 2:5-8, said:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

As pastors, we can "play" with concept to make a point. In many marriage services we read scripture as a lesson for the prospective bride and groom. A challenging scripture is Ephesians 5, beginning in verse 21. With our heightened sensitivity to feminist concerns, the words seem to be inflammatory: "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church..."

The passage needs explaining, immediately!

Christ was completely committed to nurturing and loving. He was the Lamb of God who led the way in a radical new sense of other-ness. As the Philippians passage said, "he humbled himself." As Christ said to his disciples, anyone who would be first, must be last; anyone who would be lord of all must be servant of all.

And therein lies the Good News. When we can change our perspective of what is true "treasure," we can understand how the Lamb of God who had no comeliness that we should look upon him has radically changed how we should view life itself.

So, Mary had a little lamb...

Do you remember the story of Hagar, Abraham's concubine? (Genesis, 21:8ff) Hagar was sent away from Abraham with the child she had borne him, and as she wandered in the desert, her waterskin eventually became empty. In despair, she cast her child under one of the bushes, and walked a bowshot away so she wouldn't see his agonizing death. Upon hearing the anguished cry of the lad, God sent an angel to Hagar to "open her eyes." Hagar discovered a water well in her immediate vicinity, and they were saved.

The point is, the water was there all along, but it was Hagar's lack of discernment that imperiled them.

Our Lord has been with us, competing with the attractions of the world, seeking to open our eyes to a radical new perception of our life purpose. The leading of Christ can be summed up in a rearrangement of the time-honored nursery rhyme:

Mary had a little lamb,

It's fleece was white as snow;

And anywhere the little lamb leads

We must surely follow!