Mothering Sunday, 15th March, 2015
Mothering Sunday is a tough day to preach on. We celebrate motherhood, and whilst my mother died some years ago she was a great mum, and I’ve been blessed by having a fine mother in law. Whilst I have no children, I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in the nurturing of my God-children and niece. Motherhood and it’s connotations have always been positive for me, but if you have had difficult experiences in this regard, I hope that tonight’s sermon may offer some food for thought.
My mother struck me exactly once in my whole life. Considering I was born in 1961 (I leave you to do the calculations) in a community where a clip round the ear was often regarded as part of the morning breakfast ritual, I realise that that makes me sound like I was practising for Sainthood. Not so – my mum was just a tolerant woman, and at the same time I was keen to genuinely please my mum rather than dodge a thick ear.
The one occasion that the ‘wrath of my mum’ did descend on me was when I was about 5 years old, and she came in to a room to find me dismantling a mains socket (live!) with a knife. She told me years later that she yelled, grabbed me, gave me a good hiding and then sent me to my room. Of course, she’d been scared to death that Mr and Mrs Pritchard’s pride and joy was going to electrocute himself, and it’s a miracle that I didn’t. Her anger was her expression of love for me – I’ve since suffered electrical shocks on various occasions, so it could be that even in adult life I needed my mum to save me from myself!
Our reading from the book of Numbers has God sending snakes amongst the people of Israel after they complain about the food, the lack of bread and the lack of water during their time in the desert after leaving Egypt. God responds by sending poisonous snakes amongst the people, and many Israelites died from being bitten by the serpents. On realising they had sinned for speaking out against the Lord, the people apologise for their outburst, and God tells Moses to make a model snake that can be raised upon a pole, and that on viewing it anyone bitten would live.
God’s love of his people took them out of Egypt; his love provided them with water from the rock in the wilderness, and ultimately with Manna to sustain them. His love would eventually deliver them to the Promised Land, but in the meantime there were going to be moments when that loving God showed he had an angry and wrathful side – like here in Numbers.
But at the same time, when the lesson was learned, and the people said ‘Sorry’, His love provided a way forward; by looking upon the snake, people bitten could be saved.
In our second reading from John, we see Jesus discussing theology with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council. This reading contains one of the best known and most loved quotes from the New Testament:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but shall have eternal life.”
Again, we’re talking in a very direct way about the love of God for his creation. Furthermore, we hear that
“God did not send his son in to the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him”
Jesus is here to save the world; he’s not here to judge, or condemn us, point the finger of blame – no matter how much we deserve it. He’s here to save.
And take a look at the very start of this reading:
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
Jesus draws a connection back to the first reading – which would be well known to Nicodemus.
By Moses lifting the bronze snake and allowing people to look upon it, God was able to heal them from the snake bites, and save their earthly lives.
Jesus offers ETERNAL life to those who look up to him in faith.
God gave Moses the bronze serpent; God gives us His only son.
God’s anger towards the Israelites is replaced by a gift to allow those who wish to be healed to be healed by simply looking up to the snake. And he loves us enough to want to save us, even at the cost of the humiliation, suffering and death of His only son – all we have to do is have faith in Christ as our saviour and we will be saved.
In each case, God offers us a ‘way out’; His love for us is so strong, He cares for us so much, no matter how badly we behave, that He will constantly come back to us with forgiveness and salvation.
There are many definitions of ‘mothering’ – all feature words like creating, nurturing, protecting, loving, healing.
God creates, He nurtures, He protects, He loves, He heals.
Like my mother, He sometimes needs to protect us from ourselves – his wrath towards the ungrateful Israelites is soon replaced by an act of love.
Like a mother, God loves and cares, influences and teaches, and provides discipline and perhaps even punishment when appropriate. Like that of a good mother, the discipline and punishment is proportionate, delivered with love, and soon replaced by loving teaching as to what went wrong and how it can be fixed.
So God mothers us; which sounds a bit strange, given that for many of us the word we associate with God is ‘Father’. But in the Trinity we also have the Holy Spirit, and in Galatians 5:22 we read:
“the fruit of the spirit is joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control”
Now don’t they sound like the some of the attributes we would associate with a good mother? And let’s just remember what is said in Corinthians about love:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
In Isaiah God says “As a mother comforts, I promise to comfort you.” There you have it – God promises to be like a mother to us. There are times when we fall and hurt ourselves, when we’re hurt by others, when the world gives us a kicking or when we start to dismantle something dangerous with a kitchen knife when we need mothering.
And being able to call upon God at that moment, is something quite wonderful.