1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Today is a Sunday most preachers dread. It’s almost impossible not to offend or upset someone. Some celebrate, and others endure. For some it is an especially joyful occasion to give thanks for mothers, for others it is a difficult and painful time, in so many different ways.
A teacher gave her class of seven year olds a lesson on the magnet and what it does. The next day she set the children a simple written test, including the following question: “My full name has six letters. The first one is “M”. I pick up things. What am I?” When the test papers were handed in, the teacher was surprised to find that nearly half the children answered the question with the word “Mother”.
Mothers are valued for many things – not only for picking up all the toys and clothes the seven year old leaves lying around, but also picking up the child him or herself when the going gets tough. It is indeed a time to be thankful for so many things, even with mixed or negative emotions.
The point of today, though, is really nothing to do with mothers, and all the associated issues, but to celebrate God’s love for us, which doesn’t have all the human shortcomings, failings, or negative associations some endure, and far exceeds even the best experiences of human love.
So, if Mothering Sunday and playing Happy Families is hard going for you, remember this – whatever our family situation, we all have a place within the family of God. We are all God’s children – God is our Heavenly Father, God is our Heavenly Mother, whose love for us is incomparably more than even the very best of human experience.
We are of course heirs to millennia of patriarchal and male dominated thinking, so that traditionally God has nearly always been described as a male parent. Though there has always been a small stream of thinking celebrating the feminine side of God’s nature:
• Jesus laments over Jerusalem and says he would like to gather the people as a hen gathers her chicks (Mt 23:37)
• Some early Christian art depicted Christ on the cross offering humanity not only blood from his side but also a mother’s milk
• Anselm (11th C Archbishop of Canterbury) describes Christ as “the mother of all mothers who tasted death in thy desire to give life to thy children”
Another way of considering God as Mother is the description of this planet as Mother earth, which has also been a part of Christian thinking back to St Francis. A mother is one who gives of herself to bring life and growth – and so we rely on mother earth to sustain us and our sisters and brothers. The rebellious adolescent can so often turn his or her back on mother love, and escape the apron strings in a destructive way.
We need to ask whether we have become unruly and destructive, even matricidal children, tossing aside the gifts of mother earth and threatening our as yet unborn sisters & brothers. BAE Systems is Europe’s biggest weapons manufacturer. I am told – and assured that this is not a joke – that BAE have announced the production of “environmentally friendly ammunition” including missiles that contain fewer toxic chemicals such as lead. BAE have apparently stated that lead in bullets can “pose a risk to people.”
The Ministry of Defence has apparently supported the company’s initiative and has proposed manufacturing missile heads that make less noise and grenades that produce less smoke in an effort to curtail noise and air pollution respectively. Money is also being spent to develop biodegradable bombs.
Our responsibility to the next generation is not just to bequeath them a greener planet, but much much more than that – it is to work for a new heaven and a new earth where there shall be no more tears and where love and peace rule in place of hatred and war.
Dear mother earth, who day by day
Unfoldest blessings on our way,
The flowers and fruits that in thee grow,
Let them His glory also show.
As we give thanks today for Mother God, for Mother Earth, we can also offer thanks for Mother Church. This is the origin of Mothering Sunday – originally concerned with daughter Churches giving thanks for the mother Churches which had founded them. We can give thanks for Mother Church – those within the Christian tradition from which we have sprung – for the Church of England and the Church of Rome, from whence we came in generations long passed.
As teenagers grow up and leave home, they become individuals in their own right – they know best and often become critical of their parents. After all these years my mother still insists on reading the Daily Express, which action I can’t begin to comprehend. Sometimes children go beyond disagreement and turn on their parents. Church history has sadly seen not a few such family bust ups within the family of the Church – bust ups for which we should all be ashamed. We in our part of the Church family may well take issue with some who have gone before us, not least I might say in the context of this sermon those Churches which retain male hierarchy and domination, but to disagree is one thing, to fight is another. We are heirs to a two thousand year Christian family tree, and are beholden to “Honour our Father and Mother” – even when our ways have parted.
Finally, let me remind you of the scriptures with which we began. God is love, far beyond the very best of human experience. For some, thank God, it is a day when we can give thanks and make new commitments to our earthly mothers and children. For others that is not so easy, maybe it is impossible. But for us all we can give thanks for our place in the Church, the Christian family, and honour those who have gone before us in the faith, give thanks for Mother Earth, and recognize our responsibilities to the planet and all our fellow members of the human race, give thanks for our Heavenly Mother who made us, and seek in all things to be more worthy of our mother’s love.