“Rebuilding God’s Church in each generation”
Mothering Sunday Year C
**Update** This got preached pretty much according to the script at 8 o’clock – but at 9.30 we had real live children, so I ditched the script, and preached something along these lines, bigging up Moses’ story, our story and God’s story. It seemed to work – thank you God!
May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer
The story in our Old Testament reading starts in such an ordinary way. A man and a woman meet, they marry, and soon the woman becomes pregnant. At least it always seemed ordinary to me until I was the woman who married and became pregnant.
The older I become, the more aware I become of the other stories. The stories of people who never met the right partner, and so never had the opportunity to have children. The stories of those who are gay, and so for whom the likelihood of parenting is much lower. The stories of those who found the right partner, but could not conceive. The stories of those who conceived, but miscarried. The stories of those whose children were born safely, but then died, sometimes very young, sometimes much later in life. The stories of children born, but where the relationship fractures, sometimes very badly indeed. The stories of those who have fostered, adopted, tried to adopt. The stories of those who didn’t want children yet found themselves pregnant. The stories of those who never wanted to be parents but acquired step children. And that’s just from the parental point of view.
Add the experience of children, and we have all shared the experience of being children, into the mix and the possibility of things going wrong start to multiply…. from the point of view of the parent, siblings and child…not to mention wider family and community. Happy Mother’s Day.
There is nothing ordinary about the birth of any child. There was nothing ordinary about the birth of Moses – and his first three months were spent with his mother trying desperately to conceal his existence. Pharaoh had given the order – Israelite baby girls were to be allowed to live, Israelite baby boys were to be thrown into the Nile. Ethnic cleansing isn’t a recent event. So Moses was eventually cast into the Nile, but not as Pharaoh intended. Moses was safely in a basket made waterproof with tar and pitch, and his sister watched over him. Although he was cast adrift, and his future was hideously uncertain, he was protected to some extent. His mother had done her best to give him a chance of survival. And as we have heard, in this case her work and trust were rewarded – Moses survived, and she got some part in the upbringing of her son, at least in his early years.
We might chose to take from the story that life is messy and complicated, and not at all tidy – but we know that from experience. I’d like to draw a different parallel.
We talk about, and during the Creed affirm, our faith in God the Father and God the Son (not forgetting God the Holy Spirit). If we are feeling progressive, we might use images of God as Mother. We sometimes refer to our Mother Church – and of course returning to Mother Church, the church where we were baptized or brought up, was the origin of Mothering Sunday. That meant extended families tended to gather, and so Mothering Sunday became a day of celebration, Refreshment Sunday, a day of lightness in Lent.
So today, Mothering Sunday is about the Christian Church. Happy Mothering Sunday. How hard is it to start a new church? God became a Man, fully human and fully divine, and a few, a very few, people met Him, heard Him speak, became His disciples, and followed Him. In percentage terms, the numbers were tiny. He died on a cross, and that should have been the end of it. He rose again, and the rulers of the time did their best to suppress the stories, the rumours, the gradual increase in the numbers of those who heard the stories and believed, who saw the lives of others transformed by their encounters with the man who was God, the God who was human. They heard the Good News, the instruction to Love God and love your neighbour as yourself, they heard the hope of forgiveness for messy lives, they heard the evidence of those who were healed. There were many many small encounters, which became stories of turning points in real, messy lives. They were encounters that mattered, that made a difference, when people were accepted by God as they were and emerged transformed.
The Christian church grew slowly, as people talked about their lives and the impact that Jesus had on them. Some of these encounters were first hand, some were about friends of friends or a woman from my village or my Mum’s uncle. Those little bits of experience and encounter and transformation started to add up. And they added up because they mattered, they really mattered to the people concerned. If life is changed forever, haw can we not talk about that?
Eventually, as people travelled, the communities started to join up. We probably only have a small fraction of the communication between them – but our Colossians reading tells us a lot about what at least one person thought should be happening and shared in a Christian community. Paul wrote of the characteristics of individuals, (compassion , kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and above all love). He wrote of how to treat each other (bear with each other, forgive each other, teach one another with wisdom) and what to do together (sing with gratitude). And do it all in the name of Christ .
There are parallel difficulties between the tricky start Moses had in life and the birth of the Christian church. But they are relevant to us today. Each generation is a new Church, each generation needs to share its own stories of encounter with God – some of them inherited and stretching right back to the first articulation of the relationship between human and God, some of them in lives from last month, last week, yesterday, this morning. Each generation needs to reach out to those who have not heard, have not seen, have not understood. Not with browbeating Bible bashing, but with compelling stories of lives transformed – lives of real people, spoken of in ordinary language, speaking into the messy situations of our own generations.
To do this, we have to be properly equipped. We have to be able to identify the points where God has acted in our own lives. We have to be able to speak out loud about what has happened and why it matters. We have to be able to speak confidently, but with sensitivity – remember that compassion, kindness, gentleness. It’s easy for some people – or seems so, perhaps. Others of us find it much harder, and have had to practice where it is safe, with those who already know and understand. There is nothing wrong with practice – ask any musician, or linguist or mathematician or carpenter…or any skilled person. There are places to learn here– at Lent group for example, at Informal Worship here on a Wednesday night, in other groups around the Benefice. Come, learn, practise. Give thanks for those who are already engaging in conversations with others – and some of those conversations are very very long.
We must make our church new for our generation, that is our task, and no-one else can do it for us. But we are not alone – not only are there thousands of other churches doing this up and down the country, but we have God caring for us; God who enters into human experience, with all our joys and our sorrows; God who transforms us. May we always speak of God in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.