“Influencing a Generation”

May 11, 2014
Jonathan Rumburg
Proverbs 31:1-9

A Word About Mother’s Day
Before I begin, I just want to say a word about Mother’s Day.

Today we honor and remember and celebrate mothers and those who have been like mothers to us in life.

It is a special day, and it ought to be—mothers and those who are like mothers deserve honor and celebration.

But while this day is special for many, for many others, today is a difficult day.

Mother’s day can be difficult because today is a reminder for some that their mother is no longer with them.

It is a day filled with sadness because today is a reminder for some that they are not a mother and that perhaps circumstance has made it that they will never be a mother.

It is a day filled with grief and perhaps even anger because of a fractured relationship—their mother was not very good at being a mother.  Sometimes character flaws result in brokenness.

So, for those who come to this day without their mother…
For those who come to this day longing to be a mother…
For those who come to this day fractured and broken… know that it will be our continued prayer that you will permit God to still speak to you this day, and tend to your spirit in whatever way you need.

For no matter what life’s varied circumstance may be, we are all children of God, who are loved and nurtured by our heavenly mother.

And that is worthy of honor and celebration this day, and everyday.

Mother’s day is always an intimidating challenge for a preacher.

Preachers have expending extra energy and prayer time in order to preach this day because Mother’s Day is no “regular Sunday.”

This is especially true for me.

Because of AJ’s dedication, my own mother is here as well as my mother-in-law.

In addition, my sister is here, the Godmother of my daughter Violet, along with my sisters-in-law who are mothers and Aunt’s alike.

And today my mentor of the last eleven years is here—Jim Singleton.

During my time in Wadsworth, Jim and I would all but arm wrestle to see who would have to preach on Mother’s Day.

So when it worked out, a couple of months ago, that the first Sunday in ours and our church’s calendars to have my son’s dedication was Mother’s Day, and thus he would get out of preaching today, well I told him I would be expecting a thank you card from him!

So when I say this is no “regular Sunday” you can be certain of that.

But beyond my personal reasons, the church is loaded up with expectations about what the message needs to sound like and meeting all of those expectations is impossible.

It’s an impossible day for the preacher, and often it becomes an impossible day for mothers, and all women of faith, when so often the preacher decides to use the familiar and nearly cliché Mother’s Day passage from Proverbs 31:10-31.

But as you heard I didn’t read the verses that are typical read from Proverbs 31 on Mother’s Day.  I didn’t read the text that gives a job description of an invaluable woman who sews, cooks, manages a household staff, plants a vineyard, runs a thriving textile business, makes a fashion statement, dresses her family to do the same, isn’t vain but is known for her strength and dignity, always speaks wisdom, advocates for poor, is never idle, and requires little sleep.

Add to all that, she is also “a woman who fears the Lord (and) is to be praised.”

All of which earns the praise of her family and community.

So, may I see a show of hands from the mothers here today who have met all of these expectations?

So the Good News is I’m not preaching on that part of Proverbs 31.

Rather, as you heard, I am preaching on the first part of Proverbs 31—a passage that speaks to not just moms but to dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, church family, teachers, coaches, next-door neighbors…all of us.

This passage speaks to all about the responsibility we have to influence the next generation—the generation represented in our dedication today—the generation that we say we want to be better and do better than the generations before them.

But in order to influence a generation, we need to first consider how, and with what, we will influence them.

Move 1

Our passage of scripture is a message from a mother to her son— a son who would one day become a king.

This mother’s son is Lemuel and the first verse of Proverbs 31 tell us, “The words of King Lemuel.  An ‘oracle’ that his mother taught him.”


When it comes to the teaching we offer children, we don’t use the word “oracle” much these days.  Instead we use words like “wisdom” or “advice”.

We could actually extrapolate the word “oracle” to mean: a challenge, a life lesson, a conviction, a sense of duty and responsibility, a core value to live out.

In our text King Lemuel, is remembering the wisdom that his mother taught him.

And what did she teach him?

“Do not give your strength to women… It is not for rulers to desire strong drink”

Sum that up in today’s language, and the king recalls his mother telling him, “Don’t chase loose women and don’t get drunk.”

Interesting—that sounds exactly like what my mother told me!

Now if that was the point of these nine verses, we could end there and head to lunch.  But it’s not.

The king’s mother was giving her son an “oracle”, a challenge, a life lesson, a conviction, a sense of duty and responsibility, a core value to live out.

This mother, this parent, this influencer of children recognized that she was in a position to influence a generation, that she herself had an oracle—a challenge, conviction, a duty and responsibility to that generation.

And what she does with that oracle goes beyond a simplistic command to stay sober and find himself a nice girl.

She is asking the question that we all ought to ask: “How will you live your life… How will you use your power and position, to impact the lives of those around you?”

In particular, “How will you influence the next generation?”

She asks this of him, but she’s answering it herself.

King Lemuel’s mother taught him to use his strength to serve others—teaching him to not use his power and influence to serve himself, but to use it in service to others.

Move 2
Now teaching children to serve others and not just themselves is nothing we all don’t already know and do.

We hold the aim that we want our children to live better than we had it when we were kids.

We want things to be better for them; we want them to be better than we were.

We want this and so we teach our children to share toys and not hit.

We encourage a child not to bully, but rather to befriend the kids who are ostracized or ignored.

We tell our teenagers to reach out to the girl who is ridiculed because she is out of style or the boy who doesn’t fit in because he is a “geek”.

We implore young people to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves and to use their position and influence to care for the least of those among us.


What it comes down to is that the way we want our children to live tomorrow, is the way we should live today.

But the question becomes how can we do this when as a society we are enamored with using our money, power and position to satisfy our own needs?

How can we do this when we hold the belief that today’s younger generation is already lost because they are too spoiled, too coddled, too lazy, and too whatever else negative we say.

Well it’s as simple as this—We consider the “oracle” crafted by the mother of our text today, and then teach our children the same challenge, life lesson, conviction, sense of duty and responsibility, and core value.

We teach the next generation to speak up for others, to defend the rights of the poor and needy.

And the way we teach this is by modeling this behavior today in such an influential way that it becomes an oracle, a conviction, a core value and a sense of duty and responsibility on the hearts of the next generation.

We are not born with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—we are taught them.

But just like the fruits of the spirit, we are not born with indifference or hate—we are taught indifference and hate.

We know the best way to teach is to model it in our own lives.

But to live in such a positive and influential way will require us to take a long hard, introspective look at the “oracles” of our lives.

Do we truly hold convictions and core values that are influenced by scripture and faith?

If we do, do our decisions and actions reflect such in real life—day in and day out?

Do we live out the duty and responsibility we hope for and expect from the next generation?

Or are we living life in ways that amount to the same as chasing women and getting drunk—actions that benefit no one?

Move 3

There are many who found a way to live out oracles for a faithful life.

The mother of King Lemuel.  The mother of another King—her name was Mary.

Another mother comes to mind.  She wasn’t a king’s mother, but almost.

Today she is know as Miss Lillian.

Miss Lillian was the mother of President Jimmy Carter.

Carter’s father was a successful farmer who taught his son to be a driven worker which led to him being a successful peanut farmer, politician and eventually president.

But it was his mother who taught him to “speak up for those who cannot speak, defend the rights of others.”

Growing up in Georgia, racial segregation was the rule of the day, but Lillian Carter fought it, working as a nurse practitioner, providing medical care for the African-American community.

She opened her home to whites and blacks alike, insisting that all of her guests enter byway of the front door.

Then, in retirement, she entered the Peace Corps and at age 68, served a leper community in India.

Miss Lillian certainly fits the description of Proverbs 31:10-31 about a capable mother.

She opened her mouth with “wisdom, and the teaching of kindness was on her tongue.”

But she also opened her hands “to the poor, and reached out to the needy.”

It’s not surprising then that when Carter told his mother he was going to run for president, she said, “President of what?”

It is also not surprising that history will likely declare that Jimmy Carter has distinguished himself in a far greater way after his presidency than possibly any other president.

His work with Habitat for Humanity has been exemplary and the Carter Center for Peace has netted him global recognition and the Nobel Prize all because his mother taught him to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves… defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

Two kings and a president were given an oracle from their mothers—and it without a doubt influenced generations.

Each one of us here today has children around us—children who are becoming the next generation— be it as mothers, fathers, family members, or church family members.

And each of us will influence that generation.

The question of the day, and not just Mother’s Day but everyday, is “How will we live our lives, and use our power, to influence a generation?”

I hope we will open our hands to the poor and reach out to the needy.

I hope we will open our mouths with wisdom and have kindness on our tongue.

And I hope each of us will speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

It’s not just a Mother’s Wisdom.  It is an oracle that will determine how we will influence a generation.

It’s our oracle, our challenge, our conviction…from the word of God, for the people of God.  Amen.

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