Happy Mother's Day!
(Tim) Tomorrow is Mother's Day, so here are pictures of David's and my mother, Mary Louise Bayly, and my father and mother-in-law, Ken and Margaret Taylor (Dad Taylor is deceased).
And honoring God Who gave us motherhood, here's a sermon on a wonderful Mother's Day text--Isaiah 60:10-14. This was the funeral sermon given several years ago on the occasion of the death of Bloomington's mother-in-Israel, Rita Cuffey...
So, in loving tribute to Rita, but also my dear mother-in-law, Margaret Taylor; and my dear mother, Mary Lou Bayly; but finally, my most excellent and dear wife, Mary Lee, who's been the best mother in the world, here's a transcription of that sermon. The transcribing was kindly done by Carol Blair, Chantal Incandela, and Sue Dugdale. I thank them for their work and count them dear sisters in Christ.
uneral Sermon for Mrs. James (Rita) Cuffey
Church of the Good Shepherd
February 22, 2003
AS ONE WHOM HIS MOTHER COMFORTS
Rita would know that although it’s a day of great sadness, it is a great joy to be able to take part in her memorial service. And I’m sure that those of you who knew Rita feel the same way. It is rare that you have an opportunity to celebrate so unequivocally the life of a man or a woman who knows God and who loves Him.
And as I’ve thought through the years about this day and its inevitability and what ought to be said, I’ve thought often of the book of Judges, chapter 5, verse 7, where the Old Testament prophetess, Deborah, is called “a mother in Israel.” Throughout Church history, this term has been applied to that certain rare woman of God who has excelled in Godly maternal care for the people of God. Such a woman has been thought of as the church’s “alma mater”—her “nursing mother.” And within her church, and often far beyond that church, such a woman would be granted the great honor of that title: mother in Israel. The usage is dying; personally, I can’t remember anybody using this label, other than my own parents and my wife’s parents. Times and language change, and today we think of motherhood more as an accident of nature, as biological determinism, nothing to make a big deal about—although every woman ought to have the joy of doing it once or twice. We carefully avoid honoring women for something seemingly as natural, and therefore mundane, as motherhood.
Rather, we honor the woman who’s elected Mayor, Senator, or Prime Minister. We honor the woman who’s appointed national security adviser or judge; the woman who writes Bible studies used in churches across the country and preaches to thousands in the largest arenas in America. In short, we honor women who have excelled in any calling other than motherhood.
But, God be blessed, there are still women among us who, by His grace, have not spurned their first calling. And such a woman was Rita Cuffey. Thus it is that within this congregation and other congregations around the country, Rita has been, and will continue to be known as our mother in Israel.
And as we have gathered to worship the God Who made Rita and gave such extraordinary gifts to His Church through her, we turn to a text of Scripture which demonstrates the glory of motherhood; a text in which God likens Himself to a nursing mother who feeds her baby and comforts her son grown to be a man. Please turn with me to Isaiah chapter 66. We’ll begin with verse 10. Isaiah 66, beginning with verse 10. This is the Word of God, and it is eternally true.
Be joyful with Jerusalem, and rejoice for her, all you who love her. Be exceedingly glad with her, all you who mourn over her. That you may nurse and be satisfied with her comforting breasts, that you may suck and be delighted with her bountiful bosom. For thus says the LORD, Behold, I extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream. And you will be nursed; you will be carried on the hip and fondled on the knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you, and you will be comforted in Jerusalem. Then you will see this, and your heart will be glad, and your bones will flourish like the new grass. And the hand of the LORD will be made known to His servants, but He will be indignant toward His enemies. (Isaiah 66:10-14)
This is the Word of the Lord.
Now our text this morning occurs in the last chapter of the prophet Isaiah, and it’s written to the people of God who are preparing to return to their homeland—to Jerusalem—where they intend to rebuild an altar of sacrifice and the Temple of God. But surrounding and enmeshed through those who are humble and contrite of spirit and who tremble at His Word are other false brothers—those who are returning to Jerusalem, not because of their love of God and their desire to honor and obey Him, but those who loved this world and yet had a desire to appear religious. They wanted to be in touch with the religion of their fathers and mothers, to observe the forms of religion while denying the power thereof. And as always, these hypocrites disdained the Godly minority among them; with contempt they looked down on those who tremble at God’s Word, cynically calling out to them, and if you’d look above, at verse 5, you’ll see their cry: “Your brothers who hate you, who exclude you for My Name’s sake have said, ‘Let the Lord be glorified that we may see your joy.’ ” And then God says, “But they will be put to shame.”
In the same way at the time of Christ, the scribes, chief priests, and elders cried out to our Lord as He hung on the cross, “He trusts in God, let God rescue Him now; if He delights in Him, for He said ‘I am the Son of God.’ ”
Here is the cynicism and disdain the wicked have for the Godly. Hypocrites are quite religious. They intend to kill an ox, it says; they intend to sacrifice a lamb; they intend to offer a grain offering and to burn incense to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; but their hearts are far from Him. And according to verse 5, they hate those who are humble and contrite of spirit and who tremble at God’s Word. Writing and speaking the very words God has given him, the prophet Isaiah exposes their wickedness, showing the mind of God concerning their religions acts and the coming judgment they will suffer. With God’s authority, the prophet Isaiah says that God hates their worship and considers every one of their pious acts to be an abomination in His sight, akin to murder and idolatry. And in verses 15 to 17, immediately following our text, the hypocrites receive God’s solemn promise that the day is soon coming when He will come upon them in fire, when His chariots will be as a whirlwind, when He will render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire, when He will “execute judgment by fire and by His sword on all flesh,” when “those slain by Him will be many.”
Now these are not my words; they are the words of God. So this is what the wicked can expect from the hand of God. What, then, may the righteous expect?
It’s very popular in a post-modern day for everyone to try to obliterate distinctions. Distinctions are one of the central hatreds of post-modernism, and as we look at Scripture, the one thing it clearly does is make distinctions. We see this all through Scripture. But here in this chapter, it’s so clear—the curses that God has for the wicked, but also the wonderful blessings God has for the righteous. What may the righteous expect from Almighty God, the Judge of all the earth?
Well, we see that there is a wonderful contrast.
Rather than judgment by fire and the sword, Almighty God says He will provide them a loving mother who will satisfy them with her comforting breasts, who will draw them to herself so that they may suck and be delighted with her bountiful bosom, verse 11. Then, in verse 12: They will be carried on her hip and fondled on her knees. And in verse 13, instead of speaking at a distance about what they may receive from Him, He now directly says this:
As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you, and you will be comforted in Jerusalem.
Now here is where I want to focus our attention this morning. This metaphor that is used by God’s Holy Spirit to describe the compassion He promises to those who are humble and contrite of spirit and who tremble at His Word. Almighty God, the Creator of the universe and Judge of the whole world, promises comfort to His people—the comfort of a mother who comforts her son. He speaks to us through His prophet Isaiah about the care His people may expect from Him in the time to come. And what a tender metaphor He uses—that of motherhood.
There’s a similar metaphor used in Psalm 103; many of you probably know it by heart. I read it as part of our opening sentences—Psalm 103, verse 13: “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.” And as Psalm 103 speaks of God being like a father, so here in Isaiah we see that He is like a mother. And this metaphor of motherhood is used in another text in Isaiah to illustrate God’s compassion, again, for His people. In Isaiah 49, verse 15, we read:
Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.
What a God! A God Who surpasses the tenderest ministrations of the most devoted mother in His care for His children.
Now when we meditate on what we see here revealed concerning the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we see how low He bends to conform to our weakness. He speaks of His care for the Godly in terms of a vulnerable and helpless infant; nursing at his mother’s breast, snuggling in her arms, and bouncing on her knee. He speaks of His comfort as the comfort a mother provides her adult son.
Now, right here you might wonder, “Where does that come from?” And if you’ll look with me at verse 13, you’ll see in the New American Standard Bible that it’s translated as “one whom his mother comforts.” We would expect the word translated “one” would refer to a child; maybe it would be ‘ben’; maybe it would refer to an infant; but in fact, it’s the Hebrew word ‘ish’ that’s at the root of this. And so it really is speaking not just of the comfort that a little baby, a nursing infant or little child, receives from the hand of God, but here in verse 13 it’s speaking of the comfort that a mother provides her grown-up son. Kind of a weird construction, isn’t it?
What would there be about the comfort a mother gives her grown-up son that would be different? Well, much, in every way.
God promises care for His children that parallels the care men across the ages have received from devoted mothers who, often to the distraction of their daughters-in-law, do not stop loving and comforting their sons to the very end of their lives. Yes, he is 60 years old; and yes, he is the father of sons and daughters himself, with his own grandchildren; and yes, he now has a wife to care for him; and yet, until death he remains the fruit of her womb and she comforts him as the mother she is, all life long doing everything she can to spare him danger and pain, suffering. And failing that, to stand by his side and help him in any way possible to bear his suffering.
I told Kenneth (Rita’s son) the other day that I’m not sure I’m remembering correctly, but I think there was only one time I expressed public irritation to Rita Cuffey. We were on vacation in Cape May. We were in a rented house, about 25 of us including several grown men. And our habit as a family is never to lock our house or our cars (or our vacation rental homes).
But Rita would scurry to the front door every chance she got, day or night, and she’d lock that lock. So every time someone would go to use the door, it was locked.
Finally, I looked at Rita and said, “Rita! Did you lock the door?”
She responded, “Well, yes.”
And I said, “Did you think we wanted it locked?”
Rita answered, “Well, there might be robbers!”
And here it comes: I said, “Rita, if I want the door locked, I’ll lock it!”
Well, of course Rita was doing what came naturally. She was protecting; she was comforting; she was taking care of a large 47-year-old man! I imagine Laurie (Kenneth’s wife and Rita’s daughter-in-law) had occasions where such care for her husband might have been a little more than she could bear.
Well, this is the comfort a mother provides her grown son. How many of us have seen our mothers sick over the suffering of adult children who have a terminal illness? How many of us have seen our mothers shedding tears of agony over their child who has turned his back on God? You ask the wife of a cherished son precisely when it is that a mother stops mothering and that wife will respond with a half-bitter, half-knowing, and maybe half-understanding smile, but a one-word response: “Never!”
Then, if a son is honorable, and if he lives a life of devotion to his parents, and if he is well-respected in the city gates, and if he is Godly; then that mother’s heart swells with pride and, were such a thing possible, her maternal care for him will grow even larger as the years pass.
As a man whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you, and you will be comforted in Jerusalem.
Mothers care for their sons, from the womb to the grave—just as they do for their daughters. Just so, God our Father cares for His children, also.
We know the Bible often talks about God’s care for His children from their youth. Probably the most vivid statement of this is found in Ezekiel the sixteenth chapter, where we read:
Thus says the Lord God to Jerusalem: “As for your birth, on the day you were born, your navel cord was not cut; nor were you washed with water for cleansing. You were not rubbed with salt or even wrapped in cloths. No eye looked with pity on you to do these any of things for you, to have compassion on you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for you were abhorred on the day you were born. When I passed by you and saw you squirming in your blood, I said to you while you were in your blood, ‘Live!’ Yes, I said to you while you were in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you numerous, like plants of the field, and then you grew up and became tall, and reached the age for fine ornaments. Your breasts were formed and your hair had grown, and yet you were naked and bare, and then I passed by you and saw you, and behold, you were at the time for love. And so I spread my skirt over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became mine, declares the Lord God. And then I bathed you with water; I washed off your blood from you, and I anointed you with oil.”
Hosea 11, the beginning of the chapter, shows us the same picture of God’s tender care for us in our youth—those who belong to Him. When Israel was a youth, Scripture says,
I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. It is I Who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them in my arms; I led them with cords of a man and with bonds of love, and I bent down and fed them.
The Bible doesn’t just speak of God’s care for us at the beginning of life; it speaks of His care for us at the end of life, also. Psalm 71, verses 17 -18:
O God, You have taught me from my youth, and I still declare Your wondrous deeds, and even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come.
How Rita fulfilled that text! What a testimony she had to the coming generations!
And again, speaking of loving us to the end, remember our Lord’s words in John 13, before the Feast of the Passover:
Jesus, knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.
And so, our godly mothers are just a faint shadow of the love and compassion of God for His children. All through Scripture, we see this theme of God likening Himself to a natural mother. At times He uses animals to express it. Deuteronomy 32, verse 11:
As an eagle stirs up her nest, fluttering over her young, spreading abroad her wings, taketh them, bearing them on her wings.
Then, of course, that famous text in Matthew chapter 23 where our Lord, coming to the end of His life, with great sorrow looks out over Jerusalem and says,
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. And you were unwilling.
So what is there for us to learn from this metaphor so common in Scripture—that God is like a mother to those who are humble and contrite of heart, and who tremble at His Word?
Well, first, speaking of this world, we learn how good God is to give us mothers who are still living; who still comfort us, who still teach us, and who still pray for us. What a gift we receive from God’s hand when we have a mother who is still alive! Much of my sermon today is taken from a sermon that Cotton Mather preached on the death of his mother. And he says this about those who despise their mothers in their old age:
He is a barbarous wretch and worthy to have his eyes pulled out in the valley of carcasses who does not count it so. Though it should be a decayed mother, a decrepit mother, one under all the inconveniences of old age, and one that must be entirely supported by her children, yet their presence of their mother with them is something for which they should be grateful, if there be not barbarity of ingratitude in the children.
What a gift to have a mother who’s living! How many times I have prayed concerning my own mother; also, my wife’s mother and father; and also, Rita Cuffey—and no more, just them—that God would keep them, that He would continue to support us with them.
Now, what else can we see in this text concerning God’s goodness to us?
Well, it’s not just a gift from God that we have mothers who are alive, but it’s a gift of God that we have mothers who comfort us. If, for the sake of clarity, I might be permitted a redundancy. It is the very natural nature of motherhood to comfort her children. God has placed this instinct in mothers so that from infancy, children will be spared much pain and suffering by the suffering of their mothers in their behalf. She labors for her child’s birth; she loses her food for her child’s milk. She stays awake to watch while her child sleeps. She goes to any length to comfort and protect this little one who is God’s gift to her to love and to cherish. And none of this is viewed as a violation of the first law of nature—self-preservation. Rather, it is calmly viewed and nonchalantly spoken of as “motherhood.”
But this tender solicitude and comfort provided by mothers to their children is viewed so highly by God that in the Old Testament there is actually a law decreed by God whose sole aim is to protect little ones—birds, to be exact—from having the comfort of their mother heartlessly taken from them. In Deuteronomy 22, verses 6 and 7 (Al Parker’s favorite text), Scripture says:
If you happen to come upon a bird’s nest along the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young; you shall certainly let the mother go.
Who among us, meditating for an instant on this text, can fail to see how unnatural and cruel is a society that sends mothers with “nests of young” off to fight a war in Iraq; to die in a spaceship over Florida or Texas; a society that encourages mothers not to waste their time comforting their children, but to do something useful with their lives.
We all have “Rita stories.” And I have two stories I treasure because of the mother and wife God has given me.
First story: Years ago, Rita told me quite matter of factly how she had been in possession of a graduate fellowship in astronomy at Harvard when she met her future husband, James Cuffey—or “Jimmy,” as she called him. As soon as Dr. Cuffey asked her to marry him, she went in to her supervising professor and told him she was resigning her fellowship so she could be a wife and a mother. “But why not do both?” you may ask. Surely Rita Paraboschi had the gifts to burn the candle at both ends. And she didn’t even have children, yet. What a foolish sacrifice!
Well, that is the world’s wisdom. And there are many, even in the church, who would look with disdain on such a decision. But Mrs. Cuffey was no man’s fool and her logic was consistent.
Second story: Years later, Rita and her husband, Dr. Cuffey, moved to Bloomington after Dr. Cuffey picked up an appointment in the astronomy department here at Indiana University. As Mrs. Cuffey told it, the faculty wives were in the habit of gathering mid-day for coffee klatches. They invited Mrs. Cuffey to join them. After attending once, she arrived home after her child (or children, I don’t remember) had already gotten home from school. She decided that day that she would never go back for coffee. She knew this would be likely to harm her husband’s academic advancement—socializing was, and is, a critical part of climbing the ladder in the academic world. But Mrs. Cuffey could not think of not being there for her children’s homecoming after a day at school. This is how she explained this to me:
When they first get home, children are ready to tell you all about what happened during their day; but if you miss it then, when they’re ready to talk, you’ll miss it completely.
Rita Cuffey was a mother. She swam against the current and chose to comfort her children rather than to allow peer pressure and considerations of social status to drive her off her “nest.”
How many of us have had such mothers who gave, and still give themselves sacrificially to our comfort? Both early, and late in life—as their hair turns gray, and then white. Those of us who have both mothers and mothers-in-law who live for our comfort, how good God is to us! How wonderful to be able to say, as I may, that I do not a mother-in-law, but a mother-in-love. What a gift we receive from God’s hand when we have a mother who is still living, who comforts us, and third, when we have a mother who instructs us by words and example.
You remember what the Apostle Paul said about Timothy in 2Timothy chapter 1, verse 5:
For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.
How different the influence and instruction King Ahaziah had from his mother. We read in 1Kings 22, verses 51 and 52:
Ahaziah, the son of Ahab, became king over Israel in Samaria in the seventeenth year of Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, and he reigned two years over Israel. He did evil in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the way of his father and in the way of his mother, and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin. So he served Baal, and worshiped him, and provoked the LORD God of Israel to anger, according to all that his father had done.
What a blessing to have a mother who instructs her children, who raises her children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, who demonstrates Godliness in her conversations, who presents her children with an example of devotion to the reading of the Bible and to prayer, who is humble in her relations with others, who willingly submits to her husband (Jimmy), who is modest in her clothing, generous in her charity to the poor, and constantly exhorting her children to recognize and grieve over their sin, and to place their faith in the Savior, Jesus Christ. A mother who teaches by word and example—what a gift from God!
What a gift from God’s hand when we have a mother who is present, who comforts us, who teaches us, and who prays for us. How many of our mothers pray for each of their children daily, crying out to God for each son and each daughter’s salvation? How many of our mothers have spent days in prayer and fasting for a child or grandchild who’s in great physical or spiritual danger? She considers her own inconvenience and suffering as nothing compared to that “pearl of great price” she seeks for her own flesh and blood. Like the persistent widow who would not take “No” for an answer as she sought protection from the judge, our mothers ask, our mothers seek and they knock, that God might have mercy on their sons and daughters, and on their grandchildren.
And so mother Monica prayed for years for her son, Augustine, until her prayers were answered: Her son humbled himself under the mighty hand of God, confessed his sin, and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. When their bodies are cold and in the ground, how many of our Godly mothers’ prayers live on, continuing to pour out fruit in their children’s lives as the God Who heard and answered continues to answer long after the loving mother’s voice has been silenced by death.
Thus, being dead, Rita, and all the mothers who with her gave themselves to prayer for their children—they all continue to comfort and protect and teach and love and serve us through their Heavenly Father, Who continues to answer their prayers.
Well, if we ended just pointing to the gift of mothers, we would be foolish not to remember there is a God in Heaven from Whom every good and perfect gift comes; and that God is the One Who made Rita, Who made every mother in Israel, Who gave us every mother who is alive still, every mother who comforts us. He is called “the God of All Comfort.” He is the One Who has given us every good gift. And so, to the degree that any father directs us to the knowledge of God, he is just a faulty image of the God Who is the Father from Whom all fatherhood gets its name. God is the archetype of presence; He never leaves us and forsakes us.
Our mothers and our fathers will go, but God will never go; He abides ever the same, and He says that he is near to those who fall before Him and cry out to Him for mercy.
Our God is a God Who daily instructs us. He’s not just some doting grandfather who thinks his grandchildren can do no wrong. Yes, I agree completely with Pastor Ferris and I would put it almost in the same words. Once I told Rita that, if she had a fault, it was that, as far as Kenneth and I were concerned, we could do no wrong. Yes, I tried my best to disengage her from that notion about myself, but she wouldn’t believe me. I should have had her talk to my mother!
But God sees with much better than 20/20 vision, and He gives us precisely the right instruction that we need. He gives us the encouragement, the strength, the comfort. But He also gives us the discipline. He also gives us the rebuke. He is perfect in His care and instruction of His children. God is an ever-present help in time of need. And it is true, what He says,
Comfort, O comfort, my people; speak kindly to Jerusalem, and call out to her that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed, that she has received of the LORD’S hand double for all her sins. Like a shepherd, He will tend his flock; in His arm he will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.
What a gift God gives us in mothers, but what a God He is Who created motherhood! What a God Who saw fit to give us women who would let us reside in their wombs, who would give us to drink at their breast, who would dangle us on their knee and hold us in their arms, who would comfort us, who would give up anything if they could save us from our suffering. Women who would teach us about the nature of our sin and lead us to a Savior—a Savior Who says:
Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest; take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you shall find rest for your souls.
I leave you with this question. If God in His kindness has given to you the tiniest picture of His nature—a mother who comforts her son—through Rita Cuffey, and if she has spoken to you of her Savior, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Father of the Heavenly Lights; how sad it would be for you to love the one that God made and not the God Who made her. He’s tender, He’s accepting of sinners, and He does promise that those who come to Him He’ll never cast out.
And so, with Rita standing behind me; being silent in church, but prodding me with every ounce of her being; I hold out Jesus Christ to you. One day you will face Him. One day the great distinction between the sheep and the goats will be made. And on one side will be a radiant and beautiful woman that you have known and loved. Which side will you be on?
I encourage you to humble yourself, to be contrite of heart, to tremble at the Word of God, and to take her God as your God—the God Who poured out His own blood for the forgiveness of the sins of all those He draws to Himself. Let us pray.
This sermon was preached February 22, 2003 at the funeral service for Mrs. James (Rita) Cuffey. For many decades, Mrs. Cuffey was a mother in Israel to the church in Bloomington, Indiana, until the Lord Jesus called her Home. The sermon was preached by Pastor Tim Bayly of Church of the Good Shepherd and was largely taken from an essay written by Cotton Mather on the death of his own mother, Maria Mather, on April 2, 1714. Here is the essay’s title page:
Maternal Consolations: An Essay on the Consolations of God; Whereof, A Man whom his Mother Comforteth, receives a Shadow And all the Children of God, enjoy the Substance. Made on the Death of Mrs. Maria Mather, The Comfort of the Reverend Dr. Increase Mather, and the Daughter of the Renowned Mr. John Cotton, who expired on, 4 d. 2 m. 1714. In the Seventy Third Year of her Age. By Cotton Mather, D.D. & F.R.S. and a son of the deceased Gentlewoman. 2 Corinthians 1:5 Able to Comfort them which are in any Trouble, by the Comfort wherewith, we our selves are comforted of God. Boston: Printed by T. Fleet, for Samuel Gerrilh, at the North-side of the Town-House, 1714.