Please note that due to a recording issue, the audio of this message skips near the middle and a short section is left out.
This morning is Mother’s Day, a day when we honour the influence and example of love and sacrifice that encompasses the highest ideals of motherhood. This is a time when the major changes and challenges in the family have seriously affected the celebration of Mother’s Day. It’s a tradition that’s under attack and while we gather here today a small war has been waged in these past few days pitting the traditional celebration of Mother’s Day against values that that say inclusivity, diversity and sensitivity should shuttle the annual public celebration to the dustbin of history after 109 years of existence and 103 years since Woodrow Wilson made it legislatively observable.
Personally, I think the entire telephone network of North America would collapse without this annual day. The phone system is built for a spike of 37 times the normal usage on Mother’s Day. Cancel this day and systems will erode and we’re back to Morse Code and telegraph in no time!
I know that I am twisting an old Spanish proverb a little when I say I believe that “An ounce of mother is worth a ton of pastor.” I hope you realize that it is no compliment when we are told that “We have a face only a mother could love!” Some of us must really wonder what our mothers saw in us to stick with us during the growing-up years when we made her life so miserable. David Finkelstein recounts how the mother of three notoriously unruly youngsters was asked whether or not she’d have children if she had it to do over again. “Yes,” she replied, “I’d have children, but not the same ones.”
I want us to look at a well-known episode in the life of Daniel, the same Daniel who was tossed into a lions’ den and lived to tell about it. He is the Daniel who was wrested from his family (his mother) at a young age when the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem and earmarked some of its youngest, brightest minds to serve the Babylonian court. By the fifth chapter Daniel has been shuttled to the background of national political life and is all but forgotten by the movers and shakers. The man who told Nebuchadnezzar his forgotten dream and provided the interpretation is living in obscurity while the new regime is governed by Nebuchadnezzar’s son, Belshazzar, who once in a while likes to liven up court life with a party. That’s how chapter 5 begins:
1 King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. 2 While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. 3 So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. 4 As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.
If you can determine that there’s something wrong with this picture then you are both discerning and absolutely right. The vessels that were dedicated to the glory of God were being used to toast idols. Pardon the crude comparison, but that’s like serving booze in a communion set. Or since our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit, it’s also like a Christian who hates others or thinks that God is not offended by some other breach of His Word. For all of those who see God as a benign, doting deity who winks at our insults, think again. God crashed the party in a unique manner:
5 Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. 6 His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way.
It’s only fitting that a king who is weak in the mind should have a moment when he goes weak in the knees. God may allow the parties to go on for a period of time, but like a mother who watches the antics of kids at home, once in a while the need for intervention rises and in this case, God wrote a prescription that became the bitterest of pills for Belshazzar to swallow. The handwriting on the wall and the drama of the hand that appeared to write it must have sobered him up in a hurry and he needed answers so he called for his advisors, a rather superstitious lot:
7 The king called out for the enchanters, astrologers and diviners to be brought and said to these wise men of Babylon, "Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom."
When they failed he went for the brain-trust of the empire:
8 Then all the king's wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. 9 So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled.
I trust that your imagination is vivid enough to see the looks of consternation on the faces of all those who stare at this mysterious writing. These wise people have no value if their wisdom can’t crack the code in which these words are written. Every personal pronoun up to this point has been “he” and the “wise” have all been labeled as “men.” Now out of this scene of concern, chaos and confusion comes a distinctly different voice. It is that of a woman:
10 The queen, hearing the voices of the king and his nobles, came into the banquet hall. "O king, live forever!" she said. "Don't be alarmed! Don't look so pale! 11 There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. King Nebuchadnezzar your father—your father the king, I say—appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. 12 This man Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means."
Out of the stunned silence and fruitless attempts comes a clear directive. This interjection by the queen mother has the power of experience, a memory of another episode from another time when again great wisdom was needed but not found in usual sources. It is likely the voice of the king’s grandmother, a woman known to historians and other biblical scholars to have great prudence. As I read this account again last week it was not hard to identify four characteristics of this woman that, if we had good mothers and grandmothers, we would love to be the traits of motherhood today.
The Queen-mother had Courage – She came into a room where the king, who had been enjoying his food and wine, was now frustrated by the amazing appearance of the hand and disturbed by the mystery of the writing on the wall. She stood among all of those who claimed special powers of insight and made her case when they were silent and without options. It took courage for her to enter and speak.
The Queen-mother was Calm – I can see people shifting uncertainly and nervous eyes darting to and fro. It was not uncommon for kings to execute the failed paragons of wisdom when they lacked answers for his dilemma. In fact, check the record and Daniel’s interpretation of the dream for Nebuchadnezzar actually saved all of the wise men and enchanters and soothsayers from death when he told the king both his dream and the interpretation. Conversely, the Queen mother tries to calm down the king telling him to conquer his fear and regain his lost colour. She had reached the age in her life when national emergencies did not constitute personal meltdowns. She stood her ground because there was something inside her that told her there was an answer.
I read a tribute one guy wrote about his Mom in the past week and said that she herded cattle to make ends meet for the family. The old bull on the ranch didn’t like her, and whenever there was a confrontation the bull backed down. She stood her ground calmly and her son said that perhaps it was because she carried a 12-gauge shotgun in case she needed it. I would have had nightmares, but I would have been a better boy if I thought my mother knew how to use a gun.
The Queen-mother gave wise Counsel – The woman just didn’t stand there in solidarity with the rest of the immobilized, half-drunk idiots – she had something to say. From her memory of another crisis came the instruction that there was someone in the Babylonian Empire who had the special ability to interpret the writing. He had served in a former administration and in fact had been placed above all of those who thought they were wise. She summed it up well that when all else failed and everybody else couldn’t manage a decent answer, this man had only just begun. She took a bad situation, a dark moment and shone a ray of light. If you read to the end of the story, this was not going to end well for Belshazzar and his party animals. The truth is: it never does. Cyrus was already outside the walls – the words on the wall were being put into action even before they were interpreted. When I look back I’m thankful for a father who sometimes used to say, “I can read you like a book.” But it was my mother who had already read the book and was ready to apply the lesson!
The Queen-mother was a portrait of Confidence – She just wasn’t groping in the dark for a possibility, but she was convinced! Her directive is filled with faith principles. She wasn’t hopeful; she was positive! She told Belshazzar that she had seen this Daniel character in action and that if he wanted to be rescued from his darkness and brought into the light, then he’d better make the call and get Daniel to take a peek and the words that made his knees knock. Most people wouldn’t mess with a half-drunken king, but she told him where to go AND HE WENT!
Dr. G. Campbell Morgan, the famous expositor, had four sons and they were all preachers. Someone once came into the drawing room when all the family was there. They thought they would see what Howard, one of the sons, was made of so they asked him this question: "Howard, who is the greatest preacher in your family?" Howard had a great admiration for his father and he looked straight across at him and then without a moment’s hesitation he answered, “Mother.”
Motherhood demands that kind of leadership and more so in our environment today. We live in a day of “father absenteeism”! Whether by death, divorce, detachment or desertion, the number of mother-led homes in our province and country has risen dramatically in recent decades. According to the 2011 census more than one-quarter of all families in Canada, 3.7 million homes, are headed by one parent, the vast majority being women. This means that a lot of extra demands are laid upon mothers. In fact 53.6 per cent of people in Canada over age 15 were unmarried in 2011, marking the growing trend of married people being outnumbered by unmarried in the census. Mothers, but women in general, will continue to bear a heavier load in our society.
Mother’s Day is traditionally a time to give moms a pat on the back, but most of us can remember that she used to apply the pats a little lower and a little harder when we challenged her authority or broke her sense of fair play. Rightly so! Mothers are God’s special gift to the human family. I’d rather end today by encouraging mothers that if you are going to be the kind of women that your children need today you will need to ask God to develop the kind of traits in you. Strangely enough, Courage, Calm, Counsel and Confidence are important whether you have kids or not. If you have a husband or thinking about getting one you need to be blessed and armed against all these moments of uncertainty.
Dr. Joseph Parker once said that when Robert Moffat was added to the Kingdom of God, a whole continent was added with him. A mother’s kiss did it. He was leaving home, and his mother was going with him part of the way. At last she could walk no farther, and she stopped. “Robert,” she said, “promise me something.” “What?” asked the boy. “Promise me something,” she said again, and he replied, “You will have to tell me before I will promise.” “It is something you can easily do,” she said. “Promise your mother.” He looked into her face, and said, “Very well, Mother, I will do anything you wish.”
She clasped her hands behind his head and pulled his face down to hers, and said, “Robert, you are going out into a wicked world. Begin every day with God. Close every day with God.” Then she kissed him, and Robert Moffat said it was that kiss that made him a missionary. The role of a mother is too important for us to understate it. The modern demands of motherhood have multiplied and you need divine resources. It’s your day ladies and I want to pray for you at the end of this service.