Preached: May 9, 2010
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The sermon today is based on the account in 2 Kings 4:8-37.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
She kept house in Shunem in northern Israel in the territory of Issachar. It certainly did not rank in fame with nearby Jezreel or Samaria, Jericho or Jerusalem. But she was happy there among her own people. Her husband owned fields. He made a good living. She had good home.
A holy man, a prophet, would often pass through town. This was a godless age. Generations ago many people from the north had given up going to the temple at Jerusalem to worship the Lord, the God of Israel. They worshiped instead at the golden calves at Bethel and Dan, which King Jeroboam had set up. More recently the wayward king, Ahab, and his wife Jezebel had introduced Baal worship with all its perversions. Imagine going to a prostitute and calling that worship! And although Ahab had been killed in battle, his evil legacy lingered.
But this prophet had walked in the footsteps of Elijah, that great holy man who had stood up to the prophets of Baal and had called down fire from heaven. This prophet had seen Elijah taken up to heaven in a whirlwind as the chariot of fire and horses of fire separated them. What could she do for him?
She could feed him, give him a good meal for the day as he passed through town. But then another idea as well came to here. “She said to her husband, 'I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God. Let's make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him. Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us'” (2 Kings 4:9, 10 NIV). And that's what she did.
That prophet, whose name was Elisha, appreciated her generosity and thoughtfulness. How could he thank her? Was there any favor he could do for here? Could he speak to the king or the commander of the army on her behalf? No, she was content with her life in Shunem among her own people.
But then Gehazi, Elisha's servant, observes, “She has no son and her husband is old” (2 King 4:14 NIV). She had not known the joys of motherhood. That precious gift from God! Elisha says to Gehazi, “'Call her.' So he called her, and she stood in the doorway. 'About this time next year,' Elisha said, 'you will hold a son in your arms'” (2 Kings 4:16 NIV)
It was so wonderful she dare not believe it. “'No, my Lord,' she objected. 'Don't mislead your servant, O man of God!'” (2 Kings 4:16 NIV). But a year later she had a son, just as God's prophet had said.
Motherhood. What a blessing from God, both for the Shunammite woman and for mothers today! The Almighty, by a mere word of his omnipotent will, could call new people into existence. Think of it. He called the entire world into existence out of nothing (Genesis 1:1-25). Our first parents had no mothers. He formed Adam from the dust of the ground and made Eve from Adam's rib (Genesis 2:7, 22). But now to carry out this divine work, he chooses to use mothers. From the conception of that new person through his or her growth in the womb onward to birth, God uses mothers to create new life. What a wonder!
But have we lost the wonder of God's gift of motherhood? We live in an age whose the drum beat for women's rights drowns out the beautiful melody of motherhood. “Of all the rights of women, the greatest is to be a mother” Lin Yutang, a 20th century Chinese writer, said. And although we may quibble with that word 'rights' since it clouds that motherhood is a gift from God, yet his words make us think. How often doesn't motherhood take second, third, fourth or some other place down the line? Is it only on a day like today, Mother's Day, that people at least pay lip service to it? How highly do we value motherhood? The Shunammite woman has a lesson for us.
How easy it is to speak highly of motherhood out of one side of our mouth but our priorities, choices, and actions betray us! Who's rated more highly? A woman advancing her career, especially if she's shattering glass ceilings, or a mother changing diapers at home all day long? And don't forget, that many of these attitudes are reaction because men at times have used motherhood as a way to keep women under their thumb. That too is a horrible abuse of the wonders of motherhood, no matter how flowery the rhetoric .
In addition the whole thought of motherhood as a gift from God is trampled when couples figure they can pick and choose when or if they have children on their own personal timetables. Although there may be times when birth control is necessary, how often are those decisions based on self-centered considerations instead? We so easily forget what the Scriptures say: “Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him” (Psalm 127:3 NIV). Dare we turn down what the Lord wants to bless us with, thinking we know better how to direct our life? And on the other hand, if God withholds the gift of children, there is a time that Christian wisdom stops pursuing the medical options (some of which Christian morality doesn't even pursue in the first place) and simply says, “Motherhood is a gift from God for him to give or not to give as he knows best.” The Shunammite woman has a lesson for us.
The cross of Christ brings forgiveness for our sins against motherhood. See Jesus take care of his mother, entrusting her care to John, even as he hangs their weighed down with all the sins of the world. He gave motherhood its proper place. His righteous record counts for you. With you conscience washed cleaned by his forgiving blood, give thanks to God for the wonder of motherhood. Give thanks to God for the blessings that he has funneled to you through your mother. Give thanks to God not only with your words but also with the life choices and decisions regarding motherhood and children.
Motherhood and its joys are certainly a divine blessing from God! Who but a mother can know the joy of that new life growing within her, feeling the baby's movements inside her? Who but a mother experiences the fullness of that deep affection, that mother's love, for her own dear child? Who but mother can truly know the joys of motherhood?
But along with the joys come the heartaches and the sorrows. That woman from Shunem came to know those as well. Her son grew and went out to the fields one day to visit his dad. “My head! My head!” (2 Kings 4:19 NIV) he calls out. The father has a servant carry him to his mother. “The boy sat in her lap until noon, and then he died” (2 Kings 4:20 NIV).
Losing your child, especially young in life, tears the mother's heart. That bond of affection that once brought such joy becomes the depths of grief. Even late in life the sadness hangs heavy. A shut-in in her nineties had lost several children when they reached retirement age. Even then it weighed heavy on her as she told me that a mother shouldn't outlive her children. Where can a mother turn?
The Shunammite woman saddled her donkey and hurried to the man of God, Elisha. In bitter distress she falls in front of him grasping at his feet. “Did I ask you for a son, my lord? . . . Didn't I tell you, 'Don't raise my hopes'?” (2 Kings 4:28 NIV).
He sends his servant, Gehazi, to race on ahead to lay his staff on the boy's face. But the child's mother says to Elisha, “As surely as the Lord lives, I will not leave you” (2 Kings 4:30 NIV). So he too goes.
When Elisha arrives, there is the boy lying dead on the couch. He goes in and prays to the Lord. Then he gets on the bed and lays on the boy. The body starts growing warm. Elisha gets up, walks back and forth, and then lays on the boy again. The boy sneezes seven times and opens his eyes. Elisha calls for Gehazi to call for the woman. “Take your son” (2 Kings 4:36 NIV), he says to her.
A mother's heart is broken many times as her child grows. If not by the cold grasp of death, then by the worries and tears she shares with her children. She feels what they feel. Their lose is hers. Their grief, their sadness, their mistakes, their troubles -- her heart bears them all. Where can a mother turn?
Like that mother from Shunem, your strength is in the Lord. No matter what the crisis, he is greater. Even death let's go at his command. For he has risen from the grave. He has conquered death. He lives. Cast all your cares on Jesus for he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). And that certainly includes your cares for your children.
The crises of motherhood are heavy and the journey may be long. We are only told of this woman from Shunem and a widow of Nain who received their sons back from the dead in short order. (Maybe you could count Mary the mother of Jesus as well.) But though your God may not work this same miracle, he works another for you, the miracle of strengthening. He strengthens you through those days and years of lose. He strengthens you through his promises of his mercy and compassion. He strengthens you through the testimony of his love for you given with his body and blood in his holy Supper. He strengthens you, no matter how deeply your mother's heart is broken. Even if no other person on earth may understand, he does. For he is your God and Savior. He is your Strength and Salvation.
Walk with the Lord in his word, even as you have trained your children to walk in his word. And though he leads you through the fog and the storm, he will not forsake you. But the sky will clear and the everlasting day will dawn, and we, his faithful followers, will be with our Lord forever.
So this Mother's Day do not forget the Lord's blessings on this Shunammite woman and on mothers today. What a gift motherhood is! Cherish and appreciate what a wonder it is how God uses mothers to bring new life into this world. Rejoice in the joys the Lord gives through motherhood and find in his promises the strength no matter what the crisis. He will not fail you. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.