Today over the length and breath of our nation, people gather in their churches to honor mothers on this their national day of recognition. Our spiritual mother, the Church, the Body and bride of Christ, too, joins us in honoring and recognizing mothers, true Christian loving mothers who neglect no part of their children's upbringing, particularly that which concerns the Christian life here and for eternity.
No matter what her other virtues - a generous nature, a gift for hospitality, beauty, intelligence, culinary expertise, an excellent wife to her husband or mother to her children, a community leader nothing makes a woman more extraordinary than her faith response to God's first shown love. This is true in times of God's revelation to us in Scripture and it still applies today.
Today we pause to see how many women of the Bible still offer extraordinary lessons for mothers today. Not every woman is an unwavering example of Godly virtue. In fact, most of them have significant flaws. But they all are distinguished by their faith, or in a few cases, by their lack of it. Most of them are mothers in giving birth. A few are mothers by behavior. How many of them waited long years for our heavenly Father to grant them children. Some reared and provided example for children of great faith; others were disappointed. Some great mothers are even unnamed, but certainly recognized for their virtue. But all of them can teach us something valuable about what makes a woman - particularly a mother - truly extraordinary.
Today we take a journey with our mothers to see and consider the blessings available from their example as we grow in our own faith and in how we are able to nurture the Spirit of God in our own families, in our community and in our parish faith family community.
Lets take a moment to consider the "other woman," Hagar, an Egyptian. After many childless years, Sarah resorted to the custom of the day by which a barren wife could get a child through one of her maid servants (Genesis 16: 2). Abraham disregarded God's response to his earlier attempts to appoint an heir (Genesis 15: 2 - 5) and sinfully yielded to Sarah's insistence. After conceiving Ishmael, Hagar regarded Sarah with contempt and consequently, Sarah treated her so badly that Hagar ran away. During this time on the run Hagar was given an extraordinary gift, a message from the Angel of the Lord, who is often identified as the pre-incarnate Christ. Hagar recognized that in seeing this angel, she had encountered God (Genesis 16: 13). Others who had similar
experiences came to the same conclusion (Genesis 22: 11 -18; 31: 11 -13; Exodus 3: 2 - 5; Numbers 22: 22 - 35; Judges 6: 11- 23; 13: 2 - 5; 1 Kings 19. 5 - 7).
"Now the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur; and he said 'Hagar, Sarai's maid, where have you come from and where are you going?"' She said, "I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress, Sarai" "The angel of the Lord said, `Return to your mistress and submit yourself to their authority." Then the angel of the Lord said, `I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, that they be too many to count. Behold you are with child, and you shall bear a son and you shall call his name Ishmael. Because the Lord has heard your affliction ... To the Lord who spoke to her she gave a name, saying, `You are the God who sees' she meant, `Have I really seen God and remained alive after my vision?' So Hagar bore Abram a son and Abram named his son whom Hagar bore, Ishmael" Genesis 16: 7 16.
In this encounter, the angel makes it clear to Hagar that rebelling against Sara is not the solution to her troubles (v. 9). Instead, she is to return to Abraham's encampment and trust that our heavenly Father will take care of her. The angel promises Hagar that she will be the mother of innumerable descendants, people whom we today know as Arabs. Recognizing the angel as God's messenger, Hagar ascribes a new name to him, You are the God who sees everything" She is astonished at being the object of God's gracious attention. The theophany and revelation also leads her to call him "The One Who Lives and Sees Me" (v. 14).
Hagar obeys God by returning to Sarah and Abraham and Abraham gives their son Ishmael every opportunity to live in God's blessing. Sure enough, Isaac is born the next year to Sarah and Abraham and Ishmael loses hope of being Abraham's heir. When Ishmael is about seventeen years old, Sarah casts him and his mother into the wilderness. As their water is used up and it seems certain they would die, Hagar again receives a miraculous visitation.
"The angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven and said to her, `What ails you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the young man and hold him with your hand, for I will make him a great nation." Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the container with water and gave the young man a drink. So God was with the young man and he grew and lived in the wilderness and became an archer. He lived in the Wilderness of Paran and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt" Genesis 21: 17 - 21.
No doubt Ishmael was raised as part of a Godly household, but he failed to establish a Godly legacy in his own personal and particular family line. Despite her two encounters with heavenly visitors, despite that fact our heavenly Father encounters her, despite the personal and direct attention shown her, nothing in God's revelation to us in Scripture suggests that Hagar nurtured her son's faith in God. Although worldly judgment in the person of Sarah weighed heavily against her, our heavenly Father goes to great length to affirm and assure her and the young man of heavenly support and blessing. Hagar chooses to listen to the louder voice of criticism by worldly standards and she muffles the affirming echo from heaven. The fact that Hagar found an Egyptian wife for Ishmael suggests she herself rejected the Lord who sustained her and promises great blessings for her son. Perhaps she thought that God would bless Isaac more than Ishmael, so that Ishmael then would have no reason to put God first in earthly life.
The consequence is that millions of descendants of Isaac and Ishmael still despise each other today, four thousand years after their mothers parted in anger, after their mothers ignored the love of our heavenly Father and instead established a firm and unchanging foundation of vitriol in the world.
Hagar's example offers this warning to mothers: Your faith - or lack of it - will affect many generations to come, not simply or just your own children and grandchildren. Do not permit your anger with people of God keep you from raising children of God.
Our Mothers' Day wish and prayer today is that like Hagar, may you be blessed with extraordinary encounters with our heavenly Father. But unlike Hagar, may you be a mothers who choose the value of faith no matter what adversities arise and may your children inherit this Godly legacy. May you never give up on God's promise to you and your family. May your children grow up in full assurance of their place in your heart, in your home and in their potential as faithful stewards of God's holy will. A very holy, blessed and loving Mothers' Day celebration to all today!