Slaves and Mothers

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, but I won’t be preaching a Mother’s Day sermon.  I want you to know why. 

By now you’ve surely noticed that I preach through books.  I don’t like to preach on topics, themes, or small passages.  The reason being, I want the text of scripture to hold me accountable.  Preaching is not an occasion for me to say whatever I wish.  It is an occasion for me to humbly submit myself to the message of Christ as expressed in each week’s passage.  As a preacher, I am a proclaimer of Christ and nothing else.  The practice of preaching methodically through books of the Bible keeps me focused.  If the passage is about humility then I’m preaching on humility; if sin, then sin; if pride, then pride; if hope, then hope.  Preaching, for me, is intended to be an exercise in submission. [1]

Do you know why priests wear a collar?  There are actually several reasons, but one is a reminder to the priest that he or she is a slave in the household of Christ.  Now slavery is not a popular or optimistic image in our time, but for a priest/pastor I think it remains a good one.[2]  Often times, we think of pastors as people with power, but really we’re people who have submitted to Christ’s power. We know that pastors and priests do live out of their own power and often abuse that power. That’s why I think it’s imperative for priests and pastors to remember our place. So, like priests wear their collar to remind them they serve out of someone else’s power, I preach through books to remember that I’m preaching someone else’s ideas. 

So this week, since I was sick last week, we’re talking about the Spirit and the first chapter of Acts.  That doesn’t mean that I’ll avoid Mother’s day or fail to appreciate our mothers.  It does mean that I’ll be remembering that my King and Master has called me to proclaim him and I must submit everything else to that . . . even mothers.  J[3]

* I hope you all know me well enough to know that I have no intention of ever saying anything positive about any human form of slavery. *

[1] Of course I still have to make decisions.  There are lots of passages that are big and intertwine many themes. I have to figure out how to communicate the passage’s complexity in a faithful and understandable way.  Enter prayer and conversation.  Many of you have heard me ask, “what do you think River Street needs to hear?”  That’s your cue that I’m wrestling with the week’s text and want to know what you think.  I also try to be in conversation with the saints of the past and a few contemporary scholars.
[2] Several drastic differences between the degrading practice of slavery in human history and the slavery I’m describing: 1) pastoral slavery is something I signed up for; 2) I can opt out; 3) I gain dignity from my position.  I’ll admit that I toyed with just avoiding the word altogether, but “servant” just doesn’t quite get to where I’m trying to go.
[3] We should also remember that a sermon should at least attempt to connect with everyone.  We have folks in our church who’ve had awful experiences with mothers.  There are those of us who, shocking as it may be, are not mothers.  The challenge is to find a way to be honest, not alienate non-mothers or those who had/have difficulties with mothers and still celebrate the mothers in our midst.


  1. I noted this and appreciated it very much on Memorial Day :).

  2. I didn't think you were around on Memorial Day, but thanks Debbie!

  3. Honest confession and deliberate obedience--two of the reasons I'm glad you and I are friends. You hold me accountable--or, in the spirit of your blog: God holds me accountable through your accountability.

  4. Matt, since my days at AU, I haven't really kept up with you, but love seeing someone else say something that we so desperately need to keep at the forefront in ministry, preaching, and so much more. Keep on keepin on, good and faithful servant!


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