As these are particular times, I am starting my sermon with a picture – courtesy of Dave Walker (CartoonChurch.com), the regular cartoonist in The Church Times. However we worship and pray together over the coming weeks and months, we start with the recognition that God is with us and binding us together, wherever we are, whatever we are doing, and whatever is going on. Christ’s Church will continue to gather, whether in homes or in church buildings, and Christ’s love will be shown in acts of generosity and care to those who live around us. As for producing a sermon which I know will not be preached, well, that feels a little strange, but hey ho, here we go.
Today will be a difficult Mothering Sunday for many. Some will not be able to travel, to be with their mother on this special day. Others will still be grieving the loss of their mother over this past year. Many of us will be worried about our mothers, especially the more elderly amongst them, as the threat of the Coronavirus develops. Mothering Sunday was traditionally a day of returning home, of sharing family life together for a day, before returning to the routine of work and separation. The world of work and family life has changed immeasurably since those days, and this year’s Mothering Sunday will not be like that for many. Do today’s readings have anything to say to us? Samuel is taught not to look at outward appearances, but to examine the heart with the mind of God. The healing of the man born blind rules out any notion of the transmission of sin and blame from one generation to the next, but after that it is all about seeing Christ for who he truly is, not really about mothers.
So we need to go elsewhere. We have been given Psalm 23 to read together, a psalm of comfort and calm, a psalm which talks of the gentle but wise leading of God. The Psalmist describes how God leads us to safe places, brings refreshment and shelters us from fear and threat. Food and wine are shared, as we move seamlessly through to the eternal presence of God, our shepherd. The usual reading of these verses is to draw a parralel between God as shepherd and God as king, referencing King David, the boy who was taken from being a shepherd to become the king of Israel. But our God is not a tyrant: rather, he is a king who provides for us in all ways, both physical and spiritual, so that we may live in peace in his presence.
However, today is not a normal Sunday, and therefore the normal way of reading Psalm 23 has to go. So I am going to attempt to replace that with approaching Psalm 23 from a mother’s point of view. It can fairly be argued that I am in no position to do this, but I have a mother, I am an observer of mothers, I live with the mother of my children and I have a certain amount of imagination, so bear with me, please.
In this world, there are many mothers who cannot provide for all their children’s needs. Many mothers in our country are choosing between food and heat, their children eating and them going hungry. These mothers’ desire is to see their children happy, warm and fed, but many factors are working against them. Therefore, if God is one who provides fully and lovingly, that is an easy parallel to agree.
How many of us are brought up sharply with our mother’s voice ringing in our ears, “Don’t do that, please” or “You’re not going out dressed like that!” Yes, the moral teaching within the family is a shared function, but whose tones do you remember when that teaching of long ago rises subtly to the surface?
Who tucked you up when you were ill, or afraid, or anxious? Who brought out the blanket, or the tissue, or the story book at times of distress?
I grew up in a family where my mother was the only cook, despite being a head teacher. Things are different now, but who really plans those family feasts or picnics? And who stormed up to the school, outraged at another child’s behaviour towards you, or challenging what appeared to be an unjust decision by your teacher? Ask any teacher how the gender breakdown looks of parents who come into school to complain, and I think I know the answer. To see our mother on the warpath might well have made us cringe as children, but ultimately, she did it for our very best interests.
“Goodness and loving mercy...” what are they but every parent’s desire for their children, and much as we may roll our eyes at our teenagers, the best times are when they come home again and comment that our food tastes better than their attempts at making it, and that our sofa is more welcoming than theirs.
Truly this is a psalm of divine parenthood, which today, Mothering Sunday, puts God right in the centre of the maternal role. The creator God who brought the world into existence, who gave birth to us all, desires nothing more than to tuck us up in the blanket of her love and forgiveness and keep us safe and warm from all that might harm us, especially during this time of crisis.
Keep this psalm close to you as we journey together through these strange times. Acknowledge God’s loving protection as we offer care and comfort to those around us, as best we can. And talk to your loving Mother God, daily, because she wants to hear everything you feel and know, and to share with you in bringing answers to this troubled world.
Rev Peter Hart
Cover image by CartoonChurch.com