As a hen gathers her chicks.
A sermon given by Margaret Houston at the All-Age Service for Mothering Sunday, March 15th, 2015, St. George's, Campden Hill.
Today we heard the stories of different mothers. In our first story, Moses’ mother gives him up to keep him safe – setting him afloat on a dangerous river in nothing but a little basket, in the hope that someone will find him and save him. We heard about Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses’ adoptive mother, who saw in the Hebrew baby not an enemy but a child in need of her care, and reached out in compassion.
And in our second story, we heard about Jesus’ mother, standing at the foot of the cross. She’s there with one of Jesus’ followers and friends, John. And Jesus gives them to each other – this is your son, he says to his mother, and to his friend, this is your mother.
But there are many more mothers in the Bible. There are many mothers’ names on the hearts of God’s people.
There’s Eve, whose name is close to the Hebrew word for “living,” because she is the mother of all living. The first woman, part of the story of how God made us all to be very good, but we messed up the world and ourselves and each other. Eve was the mother of Cain and Abel, the first to know loss and sadness.
There’s Sarah, chosen by God to be the mother of his chosen people, the people of Israel, the people of the promise. She was old and childless, worn out by grief, when God promised her a son. And she laughed, unable to believe that God would keep his promise after all this time, when she was too old to have children. But in the next year, she had a son, and called him Isaac, which means laughter. And Sarah’s descendants became the first people of God, as many as the stars in the sky and the sand in the desert.
There’s Rachel, whose family was nearly broken with jealousy and anger – jealousy between her and her sister Leah, between their husband Jacob and his brother Esau. Who trusted God to heal the divisions and bring them together again.
There’s Hannah, who longed for a child for years, who wept on the Temple in front of God who had failed to give her what she wanted more than anything. And when she did have a son, in thanks and wonder, she gave him to God to be raised in the Temple, and he became the great prophet Samuel.
There’s Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist – another woman who spent years longing for a child. When Mary was pregnant with Jesus, and Elizabeth with John the Baptist, Mary came to visit Elizabeth, and the child leapt with joy inside Elizabeth’s womb. The two women and the baby John were the first to recognize Jesus as the Messiah.
And there’s Mary, the mother of Jesus, who we heard about in the second story. The one who said yes to God’s plan, even though it was hard, even though it meant growing up to watch her son die. The one whose womb was the door between earth and heaven, who created her Creator, whose Son was the Father and whose birth pains were the beginning of the salvation of the world. Mary who, when Jesus gave her and John to each other, blessed every adoptive family, every family we choose for ourselves.
I wonder what words you think of when you think of a mother, or when you think of these mothers.
I wonder if "love" is one of those words.
I wonder if "brave" is one of those words.
I wonder if "caring" is one of those words.
I wonder if "sacrifice is one of those words.
Mothers often are all these things. The mothers in the Bible are these things in different ways – and many of them have suffered lots of pain as well. Being a mother, and wanting to be a mother, mean accepting, as Simeon told Mary when she brought Jesus to the Temple, that “a sword will pierce your heart too.”
But no mother can be all these things all the time.
And sadly, many people have had mothers who are not loving or caring at all – perhaps some people here have suffered abuse from their mothers, and stories of child abuse fill our papers and television screens.
And there are many people who have these qualities who aren’t mothers – many men are loving, brave, strong, caring, and good listeners, and many women who don’t have children of their own are the same. There are teenagers who come to this church who I see start to take on a mother’s role with the younger children – they are kind, caring, and loving to children who aren’t their own.
So I have one more mother I want to put up.
This is a picture of “Mater Ecclesia,” or “Mother Church.”
The idea of the church as a mother started about 200 years after Jesus. Many Christians thought that God and the Church made a pair – God was the Father, the Christian community of the Church was the Mother. Together, they nurtured Christians. You needed both.
As the Christian community of the Church, as part of Mater Ecclesia, we are called to be mothers to each other and to our community. We are called to join with God in the work of parenting all those who need our love, sacrifice, and kindness.
The Reverend Ally Barrett writes, “If mothering were only done my mothers, it would be very hard indeed to ensure that everyone received the nurturing, the protection, the love, the sacrifice, the guidance that we need to become the people we are meant to be. As a church community, we are called into a role of mothering that sometimes might need to be just as desperate, fierce, loyal, and grieving as the mothers in today’s readings. If we, as a church, truly love our community ... as God loves it ... then we will feel the pain of the world’s suffering, and we will be willing to sacrifice something of ourselves in order to bring to birth God’s purposes for the world.
On the cross, God’s love is nailed firmly to the world so as never to let it go – is our love for the world so firmly fixed as this? Are we this passionate about nurturing the world into becoming the place that God created it to be? A truly parental love is one that would give anything and everything for the child. This is the love of God that we see on the cross, but this is also the love that we are called to have for one another and for all of God’s creation. When we love like that, we make our Mothering-God visible in the world.”