There were probably way too many sermons from Proverbs 31:10-31 today. It’s the one day of the year most churches make sure they speak well of women. Not that they don’t have love and respect for the women in churches on other Sundays…but, well, Mother’s Day’s unique in our American church culture. And while there are some important issues that could be addressed in why it has to be so unique, I think the sermon type is more important to talk about. Because most churches that preached this text today probably reflected an interpretation that looks more like June Cleaver or Laura Petrie than Julian of Norwich or Aimee Semple McPherson. Her clothing is probably characterized more by high heels and oven mitts than Ruth’s grain-covered mantle. Not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with enjoying classic television, or with wearing high heels (though I still don’t understand them…), but that churches hold up this “type” of woman as the fulfillment of biblical mandate is, to me, a very serious problem.
Historically, Pentecostalism has been incredibly influenced by women of the Spirit. In the works that resulted in groups like the Assemblies of God, the Churches of God, the Church of God in Christ, and in the charismatic renewals of the 1950s and 60s, women have played a vital role of leadership, prophetic challenge, and Christ-like humility. Women have been and will continue to be veritable heroes in Pentecostal circles. Unfortunately, Fundamentalist influences have tamed that reality over the years, but you would be hard-pressed to find any Pentecostal leader, particularly men, who has not been significantly affected by the ministry of Spirit-led women.
I want to say that I’m not dealing with the issue of women’s ordination here. That’s another topic for another day and great deal more Scriptural reflection. What I’m here to say though, is that, thanks to the Pentecostal movement and its relatives in the charismatic renewal, the we in the Church again has the opportunity to acknowledge, honor, and love our spiritual mothers. They are not just “excellent wives” (which is the way most English translations would have you read Proverbs 31:10) but they are, each and every one of them, an ashet-chayil, a woman of valor. Filled with the boldness and joy that come from the Spirit of God, having experienced the love of the Father through the work of Jesus on the cross, they are life-givers, disciplers, prophetic witnesses, leaders and faithful ministers in the Church.
I’ve been blessed by several such women in my own life, but have had the blessing of two very special women: my Ma and my Nana. Before I ever had opportunity to make my own commitment to Jesus, Ma dedicated me to the Lord’s service. Before I ever heard a Sunday school lesson, Nana read me the Word. Before I learned to pray for others, they filled my life with prayer. While other kids were working on the pledge of allegiance, Me was helping me memorize the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes, psalms, proverbs and many other Scriptures. Through their ministry — oh so natural a ministry as loving their children and grandchildren! — I was brought to the Lord, instructed in the Word, led in prayer, shown what it is to love God’s Church, and thanks to them I know what being a Christian is. I am pursuing ministry today not because some pastor plucked me out of boyish wiles and took me under his arm, but because two women of valor proved to me that the love of Jesus is worth it. The love of Jesus changes hearts. The love of Jesus changes lives and makes us the people we could never be on our own and makes us take up lives that we never would have expected.
So, Ma and Nana. Thank you for loving Jesus, for following the Spirit, and doing the work that Father has given you. Thank you for your faithfulness, your service, your valor and strength, your prayers and commitment to the Word. Thank you for loving your husbands and children so selflessly and demonstrating what a life that’s lived in the light of the cross looks like. You’re heroes and saints. You’re leaders in the Church. Your lives are a testimony to the power of God and I can’t wait to see the fruit of your ministries.