Puddletown, Milborne and Dewlish
Sunday 11th March 2018
Colossians 3.12-17; John 19.25-27
I wonder how long you took to decide what to wear for church this morning. I tend to make that decision the previous evening, so when I get up each day I don’t actually have to think about what I’m going to wear – I need a bit of wake-up time in the mornings before I have to make decisions! And I tend to go onto automatic pilot the minute I get up – the routine is the same. Six days a week anyway.
Perhaps some of you still need to put on your Sunday best to feel right when you go to church. Old habits die hard, but many people now dress no differently on a Sunday from any other day of the week.
After all the Bible clearly tells us that it’s not the outside that is important but what our heart is like, that we shouldn’t worry about what we eat or wear and so on.
Though perhaps there is still for some of us the residue of the idea that we should be our best for God, that church is a special time that should somehow be different from the everyday because we are gathering not for ourselves but for God – not many of us would, for instance, turn up to a garden party at Buckingham Palace dressed in our everyday clothes.
As you will know, today is Mothering Sunday, a celebration often swamped by the commercialisation of Mother’s Day, which is something entirely different.
There’s nothing wrong in celebrating mothers, and in world which is quick to condemn, any celebration that is based on thanksgiving and encouragement and an acknowledgement of what we can sometimes take for granted has to be a good thing.
But Mothering Sunday is not just about mothers; it is about our Mother Church. As I was thinking about this during the past week, it struck me that the qualities we see in a good mother, we should also see and celebrate in a good church.
The reading we heard from the Epistle this morning is often read at weddings, but it’s a good guide to any flourishing relationship. And it’s a good guide too for what a church should be like. I wonder how we measure up against this scale.
I’ve often heard people moaning about the Church not doing this or that or doing something that has upset them.
It’s very easy to blame a faceless organisation, but of course we need to remember that the Church is not merely some faceless institution – it is you and me.
If a person has failed to be met with compassion from “the Church”, who is at fault? The Church only exists as a body of people.
So what clothes did you put on this morning? How does our mother church display itself? Is it wearing Sunday-best on the outside only or are these clothes that show what is in our hearts as well?
Let’s look at what Paul has to say?
Where is our compassion? How do we suffer with others? Is this a church where people feel they can be real and not have to hide behind a Sunday-best face that gives nothing away about how life really is? Are we able as individuals and as a church community to put ourselves in the shoes of others, and encourage them not condemn?
Did we dress ourselves in kindness this morning? Are we always kind in thought, word and deed? Or does unkindness sometimes creep in, perhaps particularly when we are tired, stressed or feeling grumpy? It’s so easy to slip when we’re not at our best.
Where is our humility and meekness? This is not about being a doormat that everyone tramples over, but in the words of St Paul in his letter to the Roman Church, not thinking about ourselves more highly than we ought (12.3).
Does our behaviour change, for instance, when we get behind the wheels of our car? There’s a lot of arrogant drivers out there on the roads.
Are our lives me first, or are we able to put God first, which is one way that humility and meekness automatically follow. We don’t need to put ourselves down in order to be humble, it‘s more about knowing who we are.
Often the human race forgets that it is not god itself. Technology and advancements make us forget that we are not all supreme, that we owe our existence to God.
Thinking we know better than God goes right back to the start of time – after all what is the story of Adam and Eve about if it’s not about human will against God? The serpent persuading man and woman that he knew better, and leading them deep into temptation and the destruction of their relationship with the one who had created them.
Patience – in all sorts of ways? Is that a garment that you have on this morning? It’s a great temptation in our fast-moving world to become impatient, whether we are stuck in a traffic jam or waiting for a medical test. We’ve come to expect things now, and those expectations are so often not healthy or real.
As we age, we slow down, and that can be frustrating and make us impatient, with ourselves, with others, perhaps even with God. If we don’t like something, we want it changed NOW.
But whoever learned or developed or became a better disciple by getting everything they want now? If everything did happen the moment we expected it to, we would easily become selfish, and pressurising of others.
I watched a small girl outside the Puddletown village shop this week, having a tantrum because her mother wouldn’t let her have what she wanted from inside.
It would have been so much easier for the mother to give in and buy the child whatever it was she wanted, but ultimately that would have been detrimental. When we are impatient, we can be a bit like a two year-old having a paddy. Waiting for God to answer our prayers can make us impatient and metaphorically wanting to stamp our feet and scream.
Bear with one another – it always pains me when I hear Christians saying that they won’t join this or that because so-and-so is part of it. None of us is perfect, and there will be people we naturally get on better with than others.
But God accepts all of us and that is the attitude that the Christian community should also bear. Be slow to condemn. Perhaps they’re thinking the same about you. And I know from personal experience too if we start to pray for someone we find difficult, God can work miracles.
Forgiveness – what about that person who upset us? What about the one who caused us pain that still lingers after many years? What about the person whose name still causes us to weep inside? Yes – them too.
Forgiveness is costly but like so much in the kingdom of heaven what is costly is also what is of true value. We have the utmost example – Jesus on the cross: Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing?
It is love that holds all the above together. A church full of love is a church that shows compassion and kindness, humility and meekness, patience and forgiveness. It is love that is reflected in all these clothes. It is love that enables us to become a Church that can truly be a mother church, a place of acceptance for everyone.
A true mother puts her child first and will do pretty much anything for him or her. A true mother has to exhibit all the virtues above if they are to be a loving mother.
A true mother knows that her child is not perfect, but will always accept them and love them as they are.
How do we rate as a true mother church? How do we walk alongside those who need compassion and kindness?
There is much to learn from Jesus about mothering, for at heart it is about a relationship of nurturing and caring, of love, of forgiveness, and we see that most clearly in the life of Jesus Christ, the man who even in his death throes on the cross was re-creating a new family for John and Mary.
This is the pattern for us who make up the mother church. As a mother binds up the wounds of her child, let us help to bind up the wounds of the world.
Mother Julian of Norwich
As truly as God is our Father, so just as truly is he our Mother.
In our Father, God Almighty, we have our being;
In our merciful Mother we are remade and restored.
Our fragmented lives are knit together.
And by giving and yielding ourselves, through grace,
To the Holy Spirit we are made whole.
It is I, the strength and goodness of Fatherhood.
It is I, the wisdom of Motherhood.
It is I, the light and grace of holy love.
It is I, the Trinity.
I am the sovereign goodness in all things.
It is I who teach you to love.
It is I who teach you to desire.
It is I who am the reward of all true desiring.
All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. Amen.
(Revelations of Divine Love)