Happy Mother's Day

Who is your Jehoasheba and who are you Jehoasheba to?
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Doing a sermon about Mother’s Day can be tricky because it’s a great day as we celebrate all the Mothers in our lives, but we can also admit that Mother’s Day is complicated.

Some of us had moms like June Cleaver. A few of you, like me, may not know who June Cleaver is, but she was a TV super-mom. But some of us didn’t have that mom. Some of us spend a hours each year agonizing over which Mother’s Day card to buy because we can’t find the one that says, “This card is empty, just like my heart.”

But there are also those among us that have lost their mom, which makes this a tender day. Others still are mothers with lost children, which makes this day even harder.

Mother’s Day can be a great day, or a day we’d rather ignore.

So we’re going to do things a little different this week and talk about the Bible’s worst mom, because I am confident that no matter what you’ve done, you’ll know by the end of the service that you’re a lot better off than her.

This is a story that could be found in Biblical true crime and I am so excited to dig into it with you all.

Even if you’ve read through the bible before the names of Athaliah and Ahaziah are probably not ones that you remember.

It’s an interesting passage of scripture but let’s be honest, it’s about a grandmother killing her grandchildren, which is not the most inspirational reading that we could find.

Because this isn’t the most familiar passage, let’s take some time to unpack it.

This story takes place in about the middle of the 800s BC and during this time, the Kingdom of Israel had been divided into two. After the reign of Solomon, and you might know that Solomon was the third king of Israel, but after his reign the kingdom of Israel split into two kingdoms, the northern kingdom stayed Israel and the southern kingdom became known as Judah. The capital of Judah was Jerusalem and the capital of Israel was Samaria. Now, an important detail to remember is that the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were made up of the twelve tribes of Israel which is to say that there all related one way or another, it was one big, messy family.

In the north there is King Ahab and he is married to a Phoenician woman named Jezebel.

How many of you have ever heard of Ahab?

But how many of you have heard of Jezebel?

2800 years later, and many of us know the name Jezebel and the connotations that name carries.

Most of the time, when you call someone a Jezebel, it’s not a nice thing. We usually think that a Jezebel is a woman that is cruel, unjust, evil, vain, and only caring for herself.

Jezebel would have grown up in Phoenicia which is one of the neighboring kingdoms of Israel. She would have grown up worshiping the ancient near east god Ba’al, the god of storms and fertility. In a politically arranged marriage she is, at 13 or so, married to Ahab when he was a prince.

Throughout her life, whenever anyone got in Jezebel’s way, she had them killed. Jezebel grew up as a princess ,and then a queen, so she was never told no, because if you told her no you didn’t stick around for too long.

There was a time when a man named Naboth had a vineyard, and it was near the palace and Ahab wanted it, but because it was Naboth’s family’s land he wouldn’t sell it, and that made Ahab mad, and when he told Jezebel about it she was confused and said aren’t you the king, you can do anything you want, but Ahab said no, it’s the family land, so I won’t just take it.

Jezebel said she would take care of everything.

And by take care of everything she meant I’ll cut off Naboth’s head.

I have to imagine that was an awkward dinner.

  • How was your day, honey?
  • Pretty good, but it was just busy, You know how your schedule gets when you cut off your neighbors head steal their property.

Ahab and Jezebl had kids, and one of their kids is Athaliah, who we just heard about in our reading.

When Athaliah was in her early teens she was arranged to be married to Jehoram, the crown prince of Judah, the southern kingdom. After Jehoram’s parents pass away, he Jehoram becomes the king of Judah and Athaliah becomes the queen.

I hope you’re able to follow along some, I know it’s a bit like Game of Thrones, but it’s getting us somewhere.

Jehoram and Athaliah are married and they have some children. They have at least one son, Ahaziah, and a daughter named Jehosheba. Ahaziah, who was the prince, the next in line to the thrown of Judah marries a woman whose name we don’t know and they have kids, but the Hebrew Scriptures don’t say how many.

Eventually, Jehoram passes away and Ahaziah becomes the king of Judah and he ruled for one year, until he was killed in a battle. It’s this death that brings us back to our reading this morning. Let’s read that passage again, ”When Athaliah, Ahaziah’s mother, learned of her son’s death, she immediately destroyed the entire royal family.”

The first thing a grieving grandmother does is kills of her family so she can be queen.

Can you understand why I think she’s the worst mother in the bible?

Athaliah grew up to be just like her mother. Like Jezebel, Athaliah killed anyone that got in her way, but at least Jezebel didn’t kill her own grandchildren. Athaliah became the only queen to rule in Israel and Judah. She ruled for six years because she killed all the heirs to the throne…or at least she thought she did.

Now let’s pause and leave that really depressing story alone for a bit. Remember, the good news of this morning is that no matter what, you can likely say at least I’m not like Athaliah – I haven’t killed any of my grandkids, maybe I thought about it…but still. The good news is that you are better than the Bible’s worst mom.

Now that we’ve looked at the worst mom in the Bible let’s take a look at some of the rest of the moms in there.

The first mother in the Bible is Eve and the name Eve in Hebrew means something like life-giver. Adam and Eve have two kids, Cain and Able, but before they have those kids do you remember what Eve does, she has a snack with Adam and things start to get complicated. One day Cain and Able are out in a field together and Cain kills Able. It’s an important story, because it’s a story that reminds us of what sin looks like in our lives and it’s a story that says maybe this first family was a little dysfunctional, like every other family has been too.

The next mom in Genesis is Sarah. For a number of years Sarah and Abraham weren’t able to have kids, but they kept holding on to the hope and the promise that they would. But Sarah is starting to get older and she thinks it’s too late for her, so she says to Abraham, take my servant Hagar and have a child with her. Hagar and Abraham have a child named Ishmael, but Sarah starts to get jealous of Hagar and resents Ishmael. When Sarah and Abraham have a child named Isaac, Sarah kicks Hagar and Ishmael out of the house and sends them away, never to be seen or heard from again.

Isaac grows up and marries Rebekah and they have two sons, Jacob and Esau.

One of the things that Rebekah didn’t read in a parenting book is that you’re not supposed to tell your kids that you love one of them more than the others.

Rebekah says to Jacob, you’re my favorite, Esau, you just don’t cut it.

I am my parents favorite son, because I’m their only son. I assume they love and care about me and my sisters the same, maybe in different ways. I know my sister Elisabeth is in the lead with the grandkids, but I know my parents wouldn’t say that out loud. Esau grew up with a mother that told him, “I love your brother more.”

Can you imagine the therapy Esau would have needed?

Because Esau was the first born he was entitled to a larger inheritance and a few other things, but he wasn’t Rebekah’s favorite, so do you know what Rebekah and Jacob do? They trick Isaac, their husband and father, into changing the will and the inheritance to Jacob.

Sometimes when it comes to family, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

That doesn’t quite sound like a June Cleaver mom to me.

Jacob, after stealing his brother’s inheritance, marries two women, Rachel and Leah. Rachel and Leah get into a contest with one another to see who can have more children. Eventually Rachel and Leah’s servants are in the contest too and Jacob has four wives, twelve sons, and at least one daughter.

As much as this sounds like bad reality TV, this is the word of the Lord, thanks be to God.

When people say they want to return to traditional, biblical family values I’m always want to ask if they know what the most traditional families in the Bible were like.

Now let’s think about the Bible’s best mom. I would argue that the best mom in the bible would be Mary the mother of Jesus. She was selfless and sacrificial, she was nurturing and caring.

The Bible doesn’t tell us much about Jesus’s life as a child, we know about his birth and then most of the Gospels skip to when Jesus was about 30 years old. In the Gospel of Luke there is one story about Jesus when he was around 12 years old. Jesus, Mary and Joseph go to Jerusalem and visit the Temple for Passover. On their way back to Jerusalem, Mary thinks Jesus is with Joseph, Joseph thinks Jesus is with Mary, and Jesus gets left behind.

For three days.

Can you imagine how terrible Mary and Joseph must have felt?

When I was a kid my mom took me grocery shopping once and I was a pretty quiet kid so I got in the car while my mom was putting the groceries in the trunk. She started to drive away and I was sitting behind her in the back seat. I’m sitting there quietly, and I’m so quite that my mom thinks she left me at the store. She does a quick u-turn and drives back to the store. I wait until she’s in the parking lot to let her know that I’m sitting behind her.

She thought I was lost for a few minutes and she was terrified, I can only imagine how Mary would have felt.

All of this is to say that there is no perfect mom and if you try to measure yourself against perfection you’re always going to come up short. We’re all going to make mistakes. The question is, will we learn from them, can we make amends?

As a pet parent, the bar is set pretty low for me, make sure they’re fed twice a day and clean out the litter box, it’s not too had. Once, I was carrying one of my cats around the house and I shut a door behind me. As soon as the door shut the cat yelped and scratched me because I had shut their tail in the door.

There’s no perfect pet parent, no perfect mom, no perfect grandma, there is no perfect parent…but we’re still not as bad as Athaliah.

And this things brings us to an important point, because Mother’s Day is usually about celebrating your mother, about blessing them and doing something nice for them, but I think part of Mother’s Day is about reconciliation and forgiveness.

It’s the forgiveness that you might need to give to your mom, or the forgiveness that they might need to give to you, even the forgiveness that you have to give to yourself.

A Gallup poll showed that 94% of us believe that it’s important to forgive, but only 48% of people surveyed said they actually tried to forgive and 8% of the people surveyed were honest enough to say they try to get even.

Forgiveness is kind of like the broccoli that your mom wanted you to eat as a kid. It’s a good idea to eat your vegetables, you know it’s good for you, but it’s not always what you want to do.

Fred Luskin is a professor at Stanford University and a leading researcher on forgiveness and according to their research forgiveness reduces stress, anger, and blood pressure. In addition to that, forgiveness can increase your feelings of hope and optimism while increasing your physical well being. Forgiveness doesn’t just make your mind feel better, it makes your body feel better too. Or as the letter to the Ephesians says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

God can and will change and transform your present to reorient your future towards hope and grace, but even God can’t change your past. That’s why forgiveness is God’s gift to us.

Forgiveness is never brushing something off, it’s not belittling what happened and saying it’s not really all that important. Instead, forgiveness is saying I choose to let go of my right to retaliate, I choose to refuse to make you feel terrible for what you did to me. Forgiveness is choosing to let go of bitterness, anger and resentment.

Sometimes it’s easy, other times, it isn’t.

There are times when you can forgive and not think twice about it, but other times forgiveness comes with a lot of work, and prayer, and therapy and counseling. But every step, no matter how small, every step that we take towards forgiveness is a step worth taking.

Forgiveness is God’s answer for us, because forgiveness not only sets them free, and it sets us free.

Forgiveness lets us remember our own short comings, because it reminds us that we’re not perfect either, that we all need and want forgiveness because it’s the only way we’re going to make it through this life.

Forgiveness helps us to assume the best, because what we often do is assume the worst of one another, we think we know why someone did something, but when you really talk to them, the reason they had in their head isn’t the terrible one you gave them. We assume the best for one another because it makes us treat each other the best.

Jesus teaches us to pray for our enemies, to pray for those that hurt us and in just a little bit we’re going to pray together, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

So as we bring this sermon to a close, let’s go back to our reading for this morning, back to the worst mom in the Bible.

Ahaziah ruled for a year following the death of his father, Jehoram who was married to Athaliah. Ahaziah dies in battle, so one of his kids and one of Athaliah’s grandchildren should have taken the throne, but Athaliah wanted that power so she had all her grandchildren killed. Or at least she thought she did.

A woman named Jehosheba, Ahaziah’s sister, saved one of the children, she saved Jehoash.

Now I want you to catch something that might get lost in all these names, earlier we talked about how Athaliah turned into her mother, she became as selfish and as cruel as Jezebel, but Jehosheba broke the cycle.

If you need to, you can break the chain. And this is exactly what happens with Jehosheba, because she says this is wrong, this isn’t right and I will not let this happen.

Athaliah thinks that she killed all her grandchildren. We already know that she’s not that great of a grandmother because she can’t even keep track of how many she has. She missed one, and she missed one because Jehosheba said I’m better than this.

What do you imagine Athaliah would have done to Jehosheba if she knew what happened?

Jehosheba risked her life for this child.

Jehosheba is an aunt. She never had any children, but she raised her nephew for 6 years, and when he was about 7 years old she presented him in the temple and says to the people this is Ahaziah’s son, a child of the line of David. He is anointed and announced as king and as a king he reigns for close to 40 years, with his aunt by his side.

I mention this because there are people in your life that have been your Jehosheba. There’s a teacher, an aunt or an uncle, a neighbor, there’s someone that made a difference in your life. Even if you had a great mom, are other people that nurtured and cared for you. They’re your Jehosheba. Maybe don’t call them that, they might think it’s a little weird, but they’re your Jehosheba.

We need to remember that just as we all have had a Jehosheba in our life, we all need to be a Jehosheba for someone. There’s no such thing as other people’s kids. Right now there is a child, a grandkid, a friend, a college student, a new parent, a neighbor, there is someone that needs to know you care.

This is why foster parents, adoptive parents, moms and dads, uncles and aunts, grandparents, neighbors and friends are superheroes. The Avengers have nothing on you, because Jehosheba is the hero that really makes the world a better place, you are and can be, God’s love in someones life.

Who is your Jehoasheba and who are you Jehoasheba to?

This story that starts with the Bible’s worst mother and ends with with one of the best Aunts. Jehoasheba did the right thing, she followed God’s call on her life to fight evil and injustice not with anger but with hope. Because of that her nephew Jehoash ruled for 40 years, which is pretty incredible for the 800s BC. He could have become like his great-grandmother Jezebel, he could have been like his grandmother Athaliah, but he doesn’t become like either of them.

He could have grown up angry and bitter with God, because he lost his dad when he was a baby, his mother was killed by his grandmother along with all of his siblings. He could have been angry, he could have found a Mother’s Day card that said thanks for nothing, but he didn’t. Instead, this is what we read about Joshoash in the book of 2 Kings, “Jehoash always did what was right in the Lord’s eyes…”

How did the child of one of the most dysfunctional families of the Bible, how did a child in the family of the worst mom of the Bible grow up to be one of the best kings of Israel?

You know the answer because you know her name.

Jehoasheba.

Today we’ve learned about the worst mom in the Bible, we learned about the best mom in the Bible, we’ve learned how we all need to give and receive forgiveness and grace because life is hard, and we learned about Jehoasheba, more than that, we’ve remembered who’s been that person in our life. Next year on Mother’s Day I probably won’t call you Jehoasheba, but for now, that’s your name, that’s your role, that’s who Christ is inviting you to be.

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May 11-16

Click on the day to expand the guide.

Monday

Read – 2 Kings 8:25-27, 11:1-3, Exodus 1:22-2:10

Notice – Athaliah was ruthless and did not seem to have any shred of caring for her family. Moses’ mother Jochebed (cf. Exodus 6:20), on the other hand, saved her son’s life from a murderous Pharaoh. She was even willing to nurse him and then send him to an Egyptian princess to raise. Moses played a pivotal role in the Bible story. He was the human instrument God used to deliver Israel from slavery in Egypt. How crucial were his mother’s (and sister’s) courage and creativity in saving his life? In what ways do you see God’s power at work with and through Moses’ loving family? What blessings and limitations do you see in your own life, past and present?

Pray – God, keep me from ever being so wrapped up in my own wants that I’m willing to harm others in order to achieve power, wealth or comfort. Give me the type of heart Moses’ mother had. Amen.

Tuesday

ReadMark 3:20-35, John 19:25-27

Notice – How could Jesus’ mother have so significantly misunderstood what her son was doing in carrying out his mission? Have your parents ever failed to understand you, or you to understand your children or siblings? How can you offer wisdom and support to those you love, and yet keep from heavy-handedly trying to control their lives? Jesus did not “disown” his mother in Mark 3, as his loving act toward her while he was on the cross showed. But he was serious when he spoke about his bond with those who do God’s will. How can faith and shared experience with God create ties as close as, or closer than, those we share with family members? Do you have any additional “family members” because of belonging to God’s family?

Pray – Jesus, you lived through the pain of malfunctioning relationships, and the beauty of caring and loving. Make me into a person who can maximize the beauty of all the relationships I’m a part of. Amen.

Wednesday

Read 1 Samuel 1:10-11, 19-20, 24-28, 2:18-19

Notice – The full story in 1 Samuel 1 said that when Eli the high priest saw Hannah weeping and praying silently, he at first thought she was drunk. In fact, she was simply turning to God to express her sadness and distress. When you experience anguish or distress, are you more inclined to take those feelings to God in prayer, or to distance yourself from God? We know that Hannah’s little boy Samuel grew up to be a pivotal, transitional figure in Israel’s history. In what ways would you expect that his mother’s faithfulness, both to her promise to God and to him as her beloved son, helped to shape the man that Samuel became? In what ways, if at all, was your mother’s influence on your life mainly a model of faithfulness to God?

Pray – God, I thank you for each person who helped to point me to your love and goodness. Help me to live in ways that are a positive influence on others. Amen.

Thursday

Read Proverbs 31:15-30

Notice – Scholar John Walton called the multi-faceted wife and mother in this Israelite wisdom passage “an idealized wife.” The purpose of laying out this ideal with such detail and strength, however, was not to make readers feel guilt or shame. Rather, the wisdom writers worked in the same spirit as the person who said, “Ideals are like stars—we may not reach them, but we can set our course by them.” Which of the qualities or activities this passage mentions, if any, have you experienced from a mother or mother figure? Are there any of them that you have been able to do for your own or someone else’s children? What are some activities for wives and mothers today that are similar to the ones the ancient Hebrew writer mentioned?

Pray – God, I wish I were always energetic and shrewd, loving and actively caring. Help me to set my course toward this ideal, and to grow every day a bit more into the person you call me to be. Amen.

Friday

Read – Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:1-4

Notice – When the letter to the Ephesians quoted the fifth commandment as “the first one with a promise attached,” it pointed to the need to respect and obey parents. It added an important qualifier: “obey your parents in the Lord.” It also pointed to the need for parents to treat children with respect, to be worthy of children’s obedience. In practical, everyday terms, what does it look like when parents “don’t provoke your children to anger, but raise them with discipline and instruction about the Lord”? How well or poorly did your parents find a way to live out those two commands? If you’re a parent, how would your kids say you’re doing on those two points?

Pray – Jesus, I give you my allegiance above all human allegiances, even family ones. But I also ask you to help me be the most loving, caring family member I can possibly be. Amen.

Saturday

ReadIsaiah 49:8-15, Matthew 23:37

Notice – Isaiah said God is less likely to forget us than a mother is to forget her nursing child. Jesus compared his caring for the people of Jerusalem to a mother hen. In what ways, if any, is or was your mother a reliable positive presence in your life? Did your mother help to make God’s steadfast love seem real to you? How does Isaiah’s imagery speak to your heart at those testing times when God’s presence and power are not on obvious display? Jesus’ picture of the mother hen showed God’s heart, but it also showed that we can choose to refuse God’s love. Have you found it easy or hard to trust that God loves you and will never, ever forget you? How has opening yourself to God’s nurturing love begun to heal any gaps left by the way you were treated as you grew up?

Pray – Jesus, thank you for never forgetting me, for offering to gather and shelter me under your wings. Guide me as I learn to rest trustingly in your mothering love for me. Amen.

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