Milborne and Dewlish
Sunday 26th March 2017
Exodus 2.1-10; Luke 2.33-35
I wonder if you have wandered the streets of Dorchester in the past couple of weeks and looked in the shop windows.
I wonder how many advertising e-mails you have had delivered in the past fortnight.
I wonder how many newspaper or television advertisements you have seen urging you to spend money over the past days.
Periodically we are bombarded with advertising connected to a particular day – Christmas, Easter, Hallowe’en and so on.
Of course, this past few weeks it’s been Mother’s Day, which for some strange reason seems to demand sweet and saccharine celebrations involving pink, pink, flowers, pink, chocolates, pink, prosecco, pink, cupcakes, balloons, inflated prices on everything that could possibly be bought for a mother, pink and not so pink. And I say that as someone, who as you know, has a particular favourite colour.
Mother’s Day, like – believe it or not – grandparents’ day, aunties’ day, siblings’ day, brothers’ day, sisters’ day, nieces’ day, is a marketing strategy gone mad. It is not what we are celebrating here this morning in church.
Now please don’t misunderstand me – I don’t want to see headlines in next Sunday’s Mail decrying the vicar who refuses to celebrate. By all means celebrate your mother if that is appropriate for you, but don’t do it just today, do it every day. My own mother will have a card and present from me today and that’s fine, but be aware of what you are celebrating.
Mothering Sunday, which is the church festival, is much bigger than Mother’s Day. Mothering Sunday is a festival which can include all of us here this morning in the way that Mother’s Day can’t.
Look around you – there are people here who cannot ever be mothers – they’re called men.
There are other people here who have lost mothers, and perhaps even more painfully, children.
There are others who longed for children but have not been able to have them for whatever reason.
There may be people who had poor relationships with their mothers or children.
All these are excluded from Mother’s Day.
I wonder if it would surprise you to know that quite a few regular churchgoers don’t actually go near church on Mothering Sunday, because it is too painful for them to do so.
Mothering Sunday is something different – it can include everyone of us here.
As you probably know, traditionally Mothering Sunday was nothing to do with mothers, but about returning to one’s mother church. It would usually involve meeting up with one’s family who would all be doing the same, but ultimately it was a festival of faith not of shopping.
What does it mean to say that the church is our mother?
Most of us will have moved far from the churches where we were baptised because we live in a much more mobile society than in the past. The sense that our baptism church or the local cathedral is our mother church is probably not one we think about much today.
But the church is our mother in the sense that it is where we are nurtured in faith, where we grow together as part of a family, where we can be ourselves and be accepted as we are without needing to put on a false front. The church as our mother is the place where we learn what it means to be a disciple of Christ.
The church as our mother means that it should be the place where everyone can flourish because the church cares for every one of its members in the way that a good mother cares for all the family. It is the community in which everyone has a place.
That sounds great, doesn’t it? And at its best the Church does all of those things.
But there is a sting in the tail. The Church is not an amorphous entity with power of its own. The Church is the Body of Christ, but that actually means you and me.
So we are the community that nurtures faith.
We are the community that welcomes and accepts people as they are, and longs to see them grow and develop in faith.
We are the community in which people don’t need to put on a false face.
We are the community where we learn together what it means to be a disciple of Christ. We are the family of Christ.
Does it always feel like that? I’m not sure it does.
So what will enable us to become more effective as a mother church?
If we look at our Bible readings, we do see some clues.
The first is trust in God. Moses’s mother had a hard decision to make. Her marriage seems to have started well but then came Pharaoh’s instruction that all baby boys should be thrown into the Nile.
He was feeling threatened by the increasing numbers of Israelites in his land.
Like many mothers the thought that her child might die was something she couldn’t contemplate. Being separated from him but keeping him alive was a better thought than that he die. So she does indeed throw him in the Nile, but not quite in the way Pharaoh desired. She puts her baby in a basket, and trusts God that things will be well.
And indeed they are. Out of a bad situation, God brings good. Moses’s mother gets to nurse him until he grows up, and then gives him back to the Egyptian princess who had found him. And we know how God used Moses mightily later.
So how do we as a church trust God?
It seems as if I’m always banging on about prayer and Scripture, but that’s because those two things are at the heart of our faith.
How will we ever learn to trust God, if we don’t spend time with God? And God will not let us down.
Sometimes it feels as if that has happened, but when we look at things from God’s perspective and not the human one, we will come to see that God’s promises are never broken, for God is faithful.
As Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans: We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
Another way of becoming more effective as a mother church is by learning to be thankful in all circumstances.
St Paul again, this time to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 5.16-18): Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,
and in Ephesians (5.18-20): be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is important because it enables us to be more focused on God’s blessings and on God as the source of all that we have – it shifts our minds from earthly things to heavenly ones, and even in the hardest of times helps us to remember that there is much good from God.
As we become more thankful, we are able more and more to see the good things of God and the work of God in the world, and in so doing become more aware of how we might join in with God’s mission.
As a mother church we need too to become more outward looking. A mother who cares only for herself and her own survival will have very neglected children.
As a church, we are not here primarily to ensure our survival – but to follow Christ and bring others into the kingdom of God.
And as a mother church, we need too to ensure that our treatment of others both inside the church and outside is ruled by God’s values.
St Paul again, this time to the Colossians (3.12-14): As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
What better advice could there be?