Sermon 14 March 2021


Mothering Sunday 2021

It is always difficult to preach on Mothering Sunday without falling into the danger of over-romanticising the role and almost worshipping motherhood. Of course, we all have mothers in that to be human means that we have been birthed by a woman, but we may not have grown up with a mother and certainly not all women are mothers or men fathers. We can all be grateful for being born and the women who carried us, we can be grateful for all that our mothers or children mean to us, but celebrating mothers is so much more than that. What does it mean to be a mother?

A mother is anyone who provides care to the world. Or anyone who considers herself one. Simply put, being a mother is not a definition; it’s a feeling. Undefining Motherhood

This definition widens what it means to be a mother but I want to suggest that motherhood that we see in the Bible is deeper than this definition and more than the cosy image of mother and child we see portrayed in the media.

First, we start with the story of Hannah. She was desperate to be a mother, but it seemed that God had closed her womb. Month by month she faced disappointment - it simply wasn’t happening. Not only did she want to be a mother but in her society, you weren’t considered fully a woman unless you had children, so she also faced taunting from those around her especially her husband’s second wife. Her arms must have ached to hold her own baby, her heart longed for a child and without one her identity as a woman and wife, and her sense of purpose was missing. We know the heartbreak that this caused when we read the early part of 1 Samuel 1 when we get a glimpse of her desperate prayer to God.

Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.’ 1 Samuel 1:11

And the Lord answered her prayer! She gave birth to a child, not just a child but a son! What a gift! How gracious was the Lord! He met her at her point of need. She was so grateful she wrote and sung a song in celebration. This precious son became her life, she spoilt him and was there for him every day, fighting his battles, planning for his future in his father’s affluent business and caring for his every need. Except this isn’t what happened. It may have been what she wanted but she had made a promise to God that she would give this child to him. And once he was weaned this is exactly what she did. We cannot imagine it. It seems slightly cruel to abandon a small child in the house of God, but what is going on here? Samuel may have been young but unlike today children were weaned later so he was not likely to be a baby, but he would have been able to walk and talk. Also, although we often picture him alone with just Eli for company there would almost certainly have been a household including lots of women to feed and care for Eli and his family, who would have taken the young child into their care.

What about Hannah? How could she as a mother leave her child? I think that she understood that as parents, children are not OURS, they are a gift from God (whether you pray desperately for them or they are unplanned surprises).

Every mother is like Moses. She does not enter the promised land. She prepares a world she will not see. Pope Paul VI

It cannot have been easy for Hannah to give him up. I sense that she stretched out the weaning for as long as she could, but she had promised God this child and she was prepared to place him in the Lord’s care. Of course as a parent our role is not to cling to our children but to prepare them to go out into the world, equipped with the skills and abilities to thrive. For Hannah she let go of her son earlier than normal. She gave him all she could and then gave him to God. She did it to keep her promise and God responded by graciously giving her further children (it says in 1 Samuel 2:21 that she had 3 sons and 2 daughters), even though she did not know this would happened when she took Samuel to the House of God.  

I remember years ago when after a crisis in her education our daughter needed to go to a boarding school. I had never imagined my children going to boarding school, I didn’t want to let her go, I felt I had so much more to do as her mum, but I knew that it was right to let her go. I sat by my bed and in the quiet of my own room I gave my daughter back to God, to care for, to look after when I could not be there and to entrust to my heavenly Father. It wasn’t easy but I am sure my daughter would not be the woman she is today if I had clung to her and refused to let her go.

Not every mother will have such dilemmas, but I think that it is important to regard our children not as our own but as God’s, a gift that he has entrusted to us and which we dedicate back to him. Like all gifts that God gives we can hold them tightly as ours and use them for our personal fulfilment or give them back to him to use for his glory. When we do this the Lord mostly works with us – not expecting us to give up his gifts entirely. As disciples as well as parents we are stewards not owners of all that God gives to us.

So we come to the story of Jesus dying on the cross looking out at the women including his mother and the disciple whom he loved (usually assumed to be John). Mary is saying goodbye to her son. This is the ultimate letting go. Staying with him as he dies. Jesus was not her only child, but he was her first-born, her special one, and she was losing him. Yet in the midst of his own pain and agony Jesus knows what she is going through and his heart goes out to her.

He said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ John 19:26-27

We know that Mary had other children because the apostle James was Jesus’ brother, and we know that John had his own mother because she came to Jesus to ask permission for one of her sons to sit at his right hand in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 20). Which makes you wonder what Jesus was doing when he said these words.

This was more than seeking to find replacement figures because something was lacking. We do not know what kind of children Jesus’ brothers and sisters were to Mary or what kind of mother, Zebedee’s wife was to John. We do know that Jesus was instating new relationships within his kingdom. Not relationships born from blood connection or adoption but relationships that reflected the depth of love and commitment within the family of Christ’s followers.

This was not about an abandoned child but two adults who needed one another. John takes Mary into his household and provides for her a home and in return he has someone to look after and nurture him. I think this is an example to follow. You may have your own children or maybe you don’t but there will be people around you in the family of God who need a spiritual parent – someone to nurture them in the faith, to pray for them and to encourage them. They might even be older than you are yourself! Maybe Jesus is saying to you, ‘YOUR NAME, here is your child’ of another member of your church family. They may come from an amazing and close family or they may be broken and alone – but Jesus wants them to know a special and new relationship with you.

Mother is a verb, not a noun. Shonda Rhimes

Jesus may be asking you to “mother” someone within the family of God.

Or perhaps you come from a wonderful family (or not) and yet you feel a need for someone who will support you. You feel isolated in your faith. Maybe Jesus is saying to you ‘YOUR NAME, this is your mother’ – someone to foster you in the faith, to be there when you fall, to pray for you, to nurture you and to guide you.

This in no way reflects on your natural birth relationships but God wants to give you that little bit more. A spiritual mum or a spiritual child (or both). As with Hannah these will be a gift from our Almighty God who loves us. As with Hannah we can pray for God to give us such a relationship. As with Hannah it will be a relationship that we dedicate to the Lord.

This Mothering Sunday let us thank God for our mothers, whether they are alive or have died. Let us entrust and dedicate our offspring to God, whether they are children or adults. And most importantly whether we are male or female, let us seek to nurture and care for members of our church family as Jesus asked Mary and John to do.

 

 

 

 

 


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