A Sermon for Mothering Sunday
March 24, 2012
My mum was a real multi-tasker. Dad said she could knit, watch TV, read a book and tell him off all at the same time!!
I guess I inherited my love of reading from her. I love reading books, but it is a frustrating past-time! A good book is one you cannot put down, a real page-turner, the one you have enjoyed more than many…so, by definition, it will soon be finished!
So, maybe gardening is a better hobby. One thing is for sure, it never ends, which should be seen as a positive, but is often seen as a negative.
And, like gardening, being a parent never ends! And, being a parent is the hardest, the best, the most fulfilling, and potentially (if things go wrong) the most devastating job in the world.
When our children were born (twins first) as a Christian I saw this as another part of my Christian life, but I know then I was expecting it not to be the most important. I did ponder Isaac and realise his main job was to raise twin boys, but he seemed an exception in contrast to other Old Testament figures who had much more demanding and exciting adventures. After 3 months’ of twins, I changed my mind! What Moses, Abraham and the rest had to tackle was a doddle compared to Isaac’s task!!
I would now say that the role of fatherhood has been THE most important thing I have done along with being a husband. Trouble is, we men often are slow on the uptake as far as priorities in life go. As a father, I claim to have learnt more about parenting from my wife than I could have imagined! I suspect the same is not true the other way round. And I suspect many of us would acknowledge the same.
Today, mother’s day, we honour mothers.
One day four ministers stood talking and, as so often happens, the conversation soon drifted to shop talk. “I prefer the King James Version of Scripture,” said one, “for its eloquent use of the English language.” A second minister reckoned that no Bible could match the New American Standard for its faithfulness to the original Greek and Hebrew text. “That may well be,” said the third, “but I prefer the New International Version for its contemporary language and easy readability.” There was a thoughtful period of silence, and then the fourth minister said, “I like my mother’s translation best.” It was with some surprise that the others said: “We didn’t know that your mother had translated the Bible.” “Yes, she did,” he replied. “She translated it into her daily life, and it was through her translation that I came to know God.”
Motherhood is probably best epitomised in the person of Mary, mother of Jesus. Here is a girl who said ‘yes’ to God and gave birth in the most difficult of circumstances, risking the condemnation of Jewish society (Joseph did after all intend to divorce her).
She watched as visitors barged in to the stable and allowed them to worship her son. She received wise men later and their gifts symbolising her baby’s greatness but also foreshadowing his death.
She sees Jesus stir up hatred, and opposition. And, of course she watches as Jesus is led to His death and crucified.
As far as we can see, all the time through these events, she affirms and supports Him.
I was very spoken to by Bishop Jack’s sermon here at our 50th anniversary celebrations. He made two simple and powerful points about buildings. One referred to a visit he and his wife made to Notre Dame in Paris, the Roman Catholic Church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. As a protestant Christian Jack was uncomfortable about the God-like veneration that can be given to Mary by the catholic tradition. But he was moved by the guide taking them round who explained that in every image of Mary in the building she was pointing to Jesus or presenting Jesus to the world. The whole building bearing her name was designed to do that now. That was her motherly role.
And as I have observed our family, that seems to epitomise the role of a mother. Whatever a child does, however a child develops, the job is to support, encourage and enjoy. A friend of mine once told me she only really understood her role as a Mum when she realised a lot of her parenting was based on what others would think – her own parents, the church, friends etc. She realised that it should not matter if her son chose a career others would not approve of, or did certain things other would condemn. What mattered was what was right for him, and she needed to support that.
Most of us in the UK (and Europe) mainly experience joy and fulfilment with and through our children. Of course there are tragedies and sorrows as well. Simeon refers to this when he prophesies of Mary that a sword shall pierce her soul.
And we see the ultimate fulfilment of that in John’s gospel as she stands at the foot of the cross. There Jesus speaks to her as ‘woman’ (John only mentions her twice in his gospel, and never by name). Many infer from this that John is referring to Mary as a symbol of motherhood, through whom we understand that our pain is understood by God.
A friend of mine preached a sermon a couple of years ago on this passage from John, and here is a modified version of part of that…
The mother of Jesus then is seen as an archetype, a symbol of all our waiting, for all who persevere through the hard times for spiritual illumination, who observe and have experienced the Golgotha truth of life, who ask quietly to themselves the question why? The mother of Jesus, in all her distress and bewilderment stands and waits………….. a representative of the parents who wait for victims of the coach crash in Switzerland where darkness, horror and sudden death broke in. The mother of Jesus embodies the waiting, lingering activity of a parents whose child died tragically, the parents or guardians of thousands of children in the Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan who have been lost or killed during ongoing wars. The mother of Jesus stands and waits with those who stand at the hospice bed of a loved one, with those who look into an empty grave, with the parents of detained hostages.
Yes, God knows that our parenthood is often wonderful, as we understand our children in their development – Mary said to those at the wedding feast in Canaan ‘do whatever He tells you’ acknowledging the Lordship of her son, His adulthood and competence. I see that as our children now start helping us and in some ways caring for us. He also knows of the frustration and puzzlement. Mary and Joseph lose 12 year old Jesus in Jerusalem and clearly do not understand him (‘did you not know I had to be in my father’s house’). How often is that true of us as our children catch us out with knowledge we did not expect them to have! He also knows of tragedy and trauma, as at the cross for Mary.
Of course our parenthood does not end with our children. The wonder and joy of being a grandparent brings again another chance to experience the pains and joys.
So today we honour the mothers who exhaustedly change yet another nappy and soothe the tears at 3am; who calmly say yes to another request to ferry children to the pictures or a sleep-over; who cajole and encourage over school work, and career choice; who worry and wonder where the 16 year-old is the first time out in town with friends; who get up at 2am when the young adults come in slightly the worse for alcohol and see the positive side (they speak with no inhibitions then and share more with you than at other times); and who say an unconditional yes to babysitting their grand-children.
And in doing all those things, and more, translate the Bible for their children, husbands and family, and like Mary, point us to Jesus.
Steve Ellis, 18 march 2012