Sunday Sermon - 14th March 2021

For Mother’s Day, Sunday March 14th, 2021: Sermon, “A big shout-out to mothers and others…” (Please read Psalm 131, Psalm 116 & 1 John 4: 7-21)

 

One of the things that really strikes us when we read our bibles carefully is just how important little, ordinary people seem to be to the LORD our God. The message of the sermon last week was, essentially, that those whom the world sees as stupid or insignificant will often be just the ones the LORD chooses to serve Him (1 Cor 1). Remember two weeks ago we met two characters, Simeon and Anna? (Lk 2) They were “nobodies” in the grand scheme of things…easily overlooked; but, being loyal to Him, they were big in the eyes of the LORD. There are thousands of names in the good book, some more pronounceable than others (!), some more well-known than others, of course. But, we can be sure, the Spirit has put all of them there for a reason…that we may learn from them and apply their lessons in our own little lives…

Over the years, I have openly acknowledged a certain personal ambivalence about Mother’s Day preaching. I want to acknowledge again that what we have come to call Mother’s Day is not everybody’s favourite day of the year. It can be a pastoral minefield. Your mother may have died, even recently…you may have bad memories of your mother…you may have longed to be a mother and were not able to be one biologically… you may have failed as a mother, in your or others’ estimations (the Bible records a few of those). Your children may not be in contact with you…you may even be a mother grieving over the death of a child.

 

Mother’s Day is not easy – someone has said it can be a “complicated joy”. I am sure you agree. But perhaps there is something about this particular year that makes a Mother’s Day message all the more necessary for many people…and no-one ever said sermons should be easy in the creating or the hearing! “The year of the pandemic has conspired, in the most cruel ways imaginable, to keep mothers and their children apart. The year has seen mothers and fathers die alone from Coronavirus, in hospitals and care homes; countless children were unable to say their goodbye to the mothers that bore and loved them. Their grief is compounded…” (Letter 35)

 

I recall a year ago to the day when we had our last Communion service together and, days later, we closed the church doors. That was a difficult day for us. It was, as I later described it, the most significant sermon I ever preached and the most difficult emotionally.  So, today (a year on) we need a reminder of the God who loves us as fiercely and unconditionally as any mother did (or does) her child. “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands…” (Isaiah 49:15-16a)

Today (the Fourth Sunday of Lent) we need to acknowledge also that God has the highest view of motherhood. It was He who after all  who commanded His people to, “Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Dt 5)

 

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul sends a message of thanksgiving and encouragement to his young charge, Timothy whom he loves as a spiritual parent himself:  “I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy…”

 

The great missionary Paul gives, as we would say, a “big shout out” to the mother of Timothy (his protégée) and to his grandmother. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.” They are named…Lois and Eunice.  In doing this Paul honours these women. They are the women who were not only the biological vehicles for Timothy’s coming into the (physical) world; they were the women who gave Timothy a vision of what to believe and how to live. “This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you.  For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord.” (2 Tim 1: 6-8)

What God gave Timothy came not only through Paul, but that powerful, loving spirit came through a grandmother and a mother who were not ashamed to tell others all about Jesus.

Many a teacher and preacher, many a prophet too, would do well to remember that they may be, in very many respects, the products of good mothers. How many a mother has given their child life, then given that life to the LORD…in the great tradition of Hannah who, in her joy at having a child, honoured God (and motherhood) by dedicating the young Samuel to God. This is the greatest thing a mother can do for her child. (1 Samuel 1:28)

If you think about it, every Christian mother (parent) and grandmother is a missionary. Jesus’ Great Commission to go and make disciples starts in the home, surely, in the raising and the teaching of children. In contemporary language, these mothers are workers on the front-line.  If Paul could find the time to remember a young man’s mother and grandmother, so probably should we today. It is nearly 20 years since my mother died. I am more grateful today for her love and teaching than I ever was when she was alive! No matter!  We can bring to mind our mothers long-since-passed…honour them and thank the Lord for them…especially, as many of us believe, they were instruments in leading us to a saving knowledge of the Lord…

 

The Letter to the Romans is a huge doctrinal masterpiece. But, at the very end of it, there is a hidden gem of a passage…again, easily missed, a diverse list of the names of Paul’s friends, men and women, and fellow workers in the Lord. Paul wants to commend and thank them all…including Rufus and his mother: Greet Rufus, whom the Lord picked out to be his very own; and also his dear mother, who has been a mother to me. (Romans 16:13)

Do you know who Rufus is? (Probably not)  He was the son of Simon of Cyrene who carried the cross of Christ on the last leg of Good Friday’s Via Dolorosa. This means that Simon (probably) went back home all the way to North Africa… from an experience that must have changed his life and the lives of everyone he met ...and he must have shared the power of that moment with his wife who then, likely, shared it with her sons, Alexander and Rufus (Mark 15:21).

I wonder if it warms your heart when you imagine that she (the unnamed mum) heard from her husband about his close encounter with Jesus…and that their two boys, Alexander and Rufus, heard it as well. And then, in a remarkable loving confluence of faith and circumstance, she just might have shared it with Paul. But imagine this: she was like a mother to Paul of Tarsus, who may have learned about the final moments of the life of his new Lord from the wife of the man who carried the Lord’s cross, Simon of Cyrene. Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. (Matthew 27)

She was like a mother to him, and a bearer of good tidings. Whatever that meant for Paul, we should be thankful for her, too…Probably without knowing who he would become; she was a mother to the most significant convert in the history of the church. You just never know. Thank God for a mother – and a mother who was a mother to others, just as Jesus’ last act on earth was to give His mother to his best friend (John 19: 27). So, the biggest shout-out to those women who loved us, fostered us, adopted us, and took care of us. This is their day, too…

 

The greatest name of all belongs to Jesus Christ. The message of the Bible in its entirety is that He came to save sinners. We must never forget the central truth of the Gospel or the first directive of His church which is to preach and bear witness, boldly and unashamedly, to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But neither should we ever forget that (as the old divines would remind us) that, by His gracious condescension, He chose to come through the womb of a willing woman, Mary…just like you and I did. “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption as children.” (Gal 4:4) God chose this way. Think about it for a moment…a mother’s womb would be the instrument God used, a “borrowed womb”, to go with the borrowed stable and then the borrowed tomb…

 

But let’s be clear, God has always loved mothers so much so that the “masculine” God has often described Himself in maternal terms. When we honour mothers, as we are asked to do, we honour the God who is love, the God who never stops loving His children, no matter how rebellious they are…

 

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.  It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them.  I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them…” (Hosea 11)

MFR 14/03/21

 

Let us pray: “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you…”

 

Creator God we praise you as the one who loves us with a mother’s love, and comforts us as a mother comforts her child. In Jesus Christ we see you as the vulnerable child of a teenage mother: loved and treasured, nurtured and protected.

 

And so we thank you for the calling of motherhood, and pray that you would encourage all mothers as they live their calling.

 

Thank you for the memories they create in our hearts and the selfless devotion they offer.  We thank you for their commitment, for the compassion they feel and the comfort they bring.  We remember those who may not be biological mothers but are nonetheless mothers in ways that really count because they have changed lives for the better.

 

Today we pray for the countless mothers in our world - who cannot care for their family as they would wish, for those who feel defeated in their call to motherhood.

 

We think of those who have been unable to protect their children with food and watch helplessly as poverty and malnutrition take their toll.

We think of those who have been unable to protect their children from the ravages of war and violence…

 

We think of those who have been unable to provide a stable home and must take to the road to live as refugees for the sake of their children’s safety…

 

Lord we praise you for the unspeakable love that so often flows from mothers, even in the darkest of situations, because it points us to the love you show to each of us. 

Move us to see your heavenly love reflected in those you have appointed to motherhood in all its variety…

 

Move us we pray to support and prize the mothers who live in our home or town, as well as to support those who struggle in stricken parts of the world.  (Amen)

 

An adapted Baptist Union of Great Britain Prayer of Intercession for Mothering Sunday


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