Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Holy Spirit or Your Mama?

When it comes to choosing a sermon topic, timing can be everything.

In past years I have preached a series of sermons on the family on the Sundays from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day. One year I put together a series on “The Experience of Grief in the Christian Family.” I talked about grieving the loss of such things as stability, life, innocence, values, and youth.

I scheduled the sermon on “When We Grieve the Loss of Life” for Mother’s Day. Sometime later, a lady in our church told me that she had been greatly pained by my addressing of that topic on that day. She had recently lost her mother under very tragic circumstances. She felt that I had unnecessarily torn the scab off of her wound while it was still newly formed. I told her that while I regretted any pain she had felt, I still hoped that the sermon had been helpful to her and others. After all, we all have experienced the death of loved ones and we need for the preacher to bring the good news to bear on our hurts.

Still, it would have been a simple thing to rearrange my schedule and to preach that particular sermon on a Sunday other than Mother’s Day. I was probably less sensitive than I should have been.

This year, though, I am sensitive to another scheduling problem.

In recent years I have begun to pay much more attention to the Christian calendar and I have tried to lead the churches that I have pastored to do so as well. I believe that is very important. Following the Christian calendar is helpful in discipleship because it helps us to order our lives according to the life of Christ and the experiences of the Church.

On the Christian calendar, Pentecost Sunday falls 49 days after Easter Sunday. Since Easter moves around on the calendar, so does Pentecost. When we have an early Easter we also have an early Pentecost. This year Pentecost Sunday falls on the second Sunday in May.

That’s also Mother’s Day in the United States.

Now, I love mothers. My mother was a mother. My wife is a mother. Mothers are cool. They deserve all the honor that they can get.

What’s on my mind is the problem that this confluence of commemorations poses for preaching. Should I preach about the Holy Spirit or about mothers?

Let’s face it—while there is some Christian background to the development of the Mother’s Day observance, it is in America for the most part a cultural celebration that may do more for greeting card companies, florists, and restaurants than for anyone else. Nonetheless, the Church needs to undergird the family and to encourage the mothers in our midst. Lord knows that our families need undergirding and our mothers need encouraging!

Still, should not the Church sometimes insist that first things come first and that for the Church, as important as mothers are, the Holy Spirit is more important? Should we not insist on celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit, who, after all, is God in our midst empowering us to do the work of ministry and providing us with essential strength and nurture? Is not the Church given its “supernatural” and indeed its Christian character by the presence of the Holy Spirit? Do we not bear important witness when we say to the world that, even if it is Mother’s Day, we are Pentecostal people?

So, this Sunday I am going to preach a sermon entitled “One Spirit, One Body” that is based on Numbers 11:24-30 and 1 Corinthians 12:3-13. It will be a Pentecost sermon.

We will, though, have special recognition of our mothers and offer prayers of support for them. (For some good suggestions on how to incorporate a Mother’s Day observance into Pentecost Sunday, go here.)

On the other hand, maybe I shouldn’t fret about this too much. The next time that Pentecost will fall on Mother’s Day will be in 2035!


The Beast said...


Mike Ruffin said...


Aren't you supposed to be studying?

The Beast said...

oh yeah.

Anonymous said...

About Mother's Day, I DO love the fact that at The Hill, women who are not mothers but who have mothered in one way or another are recognized. It really means a lot to those of us who feel insignificant on that day because we have not given birth and it also allows us to recognize and credit those women in our church family who are not our mothers but who have played a big part in our lives. I don't always agree with you, but I do credit you for this. Thanks for making me feel like I matter on Mother's Day.

Mike Ruffin said...


You are certainly welcome.

Morris said...


I know someone else who preached a sermon on loss on Mothers Day a couple of years ago ... and had a member of the congregation with a similar response as you did. You're in good company.

First things do come first and Mothers Day IS a cultural thing rather than a spiritual one, although the idea of motherhood is blessed by God.

May your tribe increase.

Mike Ruffin said...


I chose to reject your last comment and I want you to know why.

While you state no concern in it of which I am not aware, this is not the forum in which you and I should discuss the state of the church.

I need to ask you to do two things.

First, please identify yourself. My words on this blog are said in public; when I comment on others' blogs I use my name. If we are going to engage in this kind of conversation I simply must know who you are. If you don't want to put your name on your comments here, please email me or call me or come see me.

Second, while I accept your criticisms in the loving spirit in which I suspect (I can't know that since I don't know who you are) they are intended, I would also appreciate your input into some positive ways forward. Again, we need to have that conversation face to face. Anonymous comments on a blog are not the way forward.

Thank you,

Mike Ruffin