Sunday, 18 March 2007

Mothering Sunday Sermon

Mothering Sunday (2007) Year C RCL
Exodus 2.1-10
John 19.25-27

Mothering Sunday

Mothering Sunday, which is today, always presents a few problems for those of us called to preach on this day. With the changing patterns of our world and society, the changes in the structure and nature of ‘family’, and the terrible misuse of power that has come from the concept of ‘Mother Church’ something which should be a relatively simple subject becomes something of a minefield for us humble preachers.

For we cannot pretend that families are what they were fifty, thirty or even ten years ago. Nor can we pretend that the Church has taken the responsibility it should have in caring for its members in the last few hundred years. So perhaps today is a good chance to remind ourselves what we should be thinking about, rather than pretending that everything is hunky-dory and having a nice bland sermon that affirms a no longer existent way of life.

And the reading we have had for today actually lend themselves to a little bit of counter-cultural application. They are good readings in fact – with plenty for us to get our teeth into over the next eight minutes or so…

Let’s begin at the beginning – with our Old Testament reading. It’s one that acknowledges that families aren’t straightforward and never have been. A good one to start our thinking about Mothering Sunday, and the issues surrounding our ideas of family. Moses mother recognises the danger to herself and to her son in a culture that is hostile to them, and being a canny woman finds an alternative to having her child executed. The extract from the book of Exodus that we heard this morning offers what seems like a happy ending, with Moses being brought up by his mother and then taken in my Pharaoh’s daughter to be brought up a prince. All a bit like a fairy story really, but we know that Moses goes on to grow up and to be thrown out of the royal court after murdering a slave master caught beating an Israelite. Not really a happy ending, then.

But through this act, and through Moses later obedience to God the children of Israel are brought out of slavery into the land promised to Abraham many generations before. God really does work in mysterious way and all beginning with the actions of a mother concerned for her child’s life, a mother willing to do things a different way, a dangerous way, in order that her son might live.

And the message here is perhaps one of being imaginative in our approach to families, to relationships, to taking risks. This is a message that applies to all of us, not just those who are mothers. The Christian faith has always been concerned with issues of fidelity in relationships and the importance of the family, but we have tied it up with our societal adoption of the nuclear family – the model of mum, dad and 2.4 children. This isn’t a model that we get from the Bible – far from it, we have concubines, various wives, extended families, families which are open to bringing in others and caring for them – anything but the nuclear family.

More important is an affirmation of faithfulness in any relationship – and the message that family exists where people are loving towards one another – not just where there are mum, dad and children.

I firmly believe our society needs to rediscover the extended family, and the fact that the family should be an open and inclusive group, not a narrowly defined exclusive unit. This makes it possible to affirm relationships that go beyond the narrow perception of family, and to talk in terms of loving relationships of commitment and honesty.

I do not advocate losing the traditional model of marriage, I believe that marriage is a sacrament that is given in grace by God. I do want us to stop idealising marriage as the only way of expressing relationships and being family. The Church must affirm single people, and offer love and support to those whose marriage has ended, through death or divorce. In the world in which we live the Church has to be both prophetic in condemning the lose approach to relationships and commitment that characterises modern society and supportive to those who fall outside of traditional frameworks, for whatever reason.

Above all we must learn in the Church to be family, to be a place where all are welcome – regardless of age, status, sexual orientation, race, class or any of the barriers we make to inclusiveness.

There is no room for judgementalism, closed-mindedness, exclusivity or arrogance in the Biblical model of the Church, the community of God. Though we often do not live up to this ideal, it is still something we should strive for. God calls us to be loving, open, forgiving – we must take this seriously and seek to be like this, for when we are, then people will want to be a part of our Church family.

I would go so far to say that if the Church at large, including ourselves, was known for being loving, and for reflecting the unconditional love of God, then we would no longer have to worry about any decline in attendance, people would be queuing to get in every day, let alone on Sundays.

We have another example of the love and support which we should be encouraging in our short, but poignant Gospel reading for today. We hear Jesus words at the scene of his Crucifixion, as he turns to his mother and says of the beloved disciple ‘here is your son’ and to the disciple ‘here is your mother.’

I find this short Gospel passage striking for two reasons. Firstly, it astounds me that even through the agony he suffers Jesus seeks to comfort his own mother and one of his closest friends by creating a relationship of dependence between them.

The second reason I find this striking is that there is again a statement about family, that family exists where we make it – it is not necessarily a given – not something that comes about just by birth, or blood, or tradition. Family means work, it should mean support and love and mutuality - but it also means effort. Jesus recognized that, so should we. Both in the relationships we have with our kin, and in the supportive, forgiving, loving relationships that should characterize our Church life.

And so this Mothering Sunday we have the opportunity to recommit ourselves to being the loving, open community that we should be. When this happens then we should be able to use the description of ‘Mother Church’ again without irony, and in creating a community that affirms and welcomes those within and without traditional models relationship we will be able to appreciate the work and love of those whose calling is to be mothers, and those whose calling is not.


Dr.John said...

Its not Mother's day here but this is certainly a good sermon.

Brian said...

Only 8 mintues Al!?!?!?

Can I join your family, especially when the sermons are so short, and yet meaty in a lean, fat-free way.