Sermon for Mothering Sunday & Diamond Wedding Anniversary. (Proverbs 31, 10-31; Luke 2, 41-52)
The creation myths in Genesis teach us that God wanted human beings to be in close relationships. In the first creation myth in Genesis 1, God made male and female and commanded them to have children – and proclaimed that this was very good. In the second myth in Genesis 2, God made a human being and set the human being to live in the garden of Eden, but then decided it was not good for the human being to be alone, so set about creating a companion. God tried animals and birds first, but none of them was suitable, so at last God split the human into male and female. Only then, when the companion was another human being, were the closest of relationships, so necessary for human flourishing, possible.
Today we celebrate particularly all mothers and other people – male and female, family members and friends, teachers and carers – who have mothered us. Being mothered is a very basic human need, and human infants cannot thrive without it; but that love, nurture and emotional support that good mothering provides is something that we continue to need during our whole lives if we are to develop into the whole human beings that God intends us to be. So we give thanks today for for our own mothers particularly and for everyone who has given, and continues to give us, that love and support.
This is not always and easy thing to do. Some mothering has to cope with difficult circumstances: war and civil disturbance that is a constant threat to the lives, security and happiness of the young and vulnerable; natural disasters that mean family life is disrupted and has to be built up again after destruction of homes and livelihoods; and poverty and malnutrition and lack of education, that mean the hopes that mothers have for their children and families are not easy to realise. We thank God, not just for the love and nurture that those who mother give us, but also for their strength and courage and persistence.
Mothering brings joys, but also, sometimes, stress, anxiety and disappointment. The one story we have in the Gospels of the childhood of Jesus, tells how Mary suffered every mother’s nightmare, when her child went missing, and then had to cope with the strange response of her firstborn, which faced her with the reality that he no longer put family ties first, but would follow his own destiny. Letting go is a difficult but essential part of mothering, and most mothers will know heartache at some time for this or another reason.The story the young people acted for us earlier is a reminder of that. We thank God also that people who love and care for others are prepared to suffer as they mother them.
Today we are also thanking God for the gift of marriage, and in particular for the long marriage of G. & S., who are celebrating their Diamond Wedding Anniversary today. Every marriage is both unique, and an example of a particular human and religious institution. Today we celebrate and give thanks for both the institution and this particular unique expression, and for our own unique experiences of it, whether that is in the past, through treasured memories, in the present, or perhaps in an eagerly anticipated future.
We heard in our first Bible reading of a marriage in which the wife was far from being the stay at home domestic figure in the background, but operated as a successful producer of goods and landowner. Marriage is not defined by the roles that people play within it, but by the qualities the spouses demonstrate. The true measure of an intimate relationship is not what each of the partners is, but (as the Quakers say) its degree of selfless love, a love that isn’t proprietorial or exploitative, but tender, responsible, committed, equal; a love that feeds its transforming messages of hope and happiness benevolently into society day after day.
At its best, marriage shows those same qualities of mutual care, support, nurture, faithfulness, permanence and stability that good mothering does, the qualities that allow those who are part of it to grow into the people God means them to be. That is why the church blesses marriage and celebrates mothering, as we are doing today.
Because marriage, mothering and family life are so central to human flourishing, they are used as metaphors to help us understand the mystery that is God.
The Old Testament often speaks of the relationship between God and the people of Israel as like one between a husband and a wife, and as a parent for a child, where God cares and protects and feeds like a nurturing mother creature, and continues to be faithful, even when the spouse or the child deserts them.
The New Testament also speaks, particularly in the parables of Jesus and the letters of Paul, of God as a loving parent to even the most wayward of children; and of the relationship between Christ and the Church as like that of spouses, based on the love – agape in Greek, or hesed in Hebrew – which is the love characteristic of God. God is talked about as father, son, brother, and as mother, feeding new disciples with spiritual milk. Jesus speaks of those who hear his word and do it as his mother and brothers and sisters. The church at its best becomes the family for all who believe.
Because the love of God is extended to all human beings, good and bad, believers and non-believers, Christians can never confine their family relationships to those to whom they are joined by blood or marriage. Jesus taught us that the caring, the support, the nurturing which we give to our children and our spouses is also to be shown to all those with whom we come into contact, and especially to those who are vulnerable because of poverty, illness, loneliness and prejudice. What we learn about loving relationships in our close family is to be lived out in the world, as we show to everyone the love which God and our families show to us.
So as we give thanks today for our mothers and all who mother us, for the marriages from which we were born and those which support and nurture us now, and particularly for that of G & S; and for the close relationships which help us to grow and flourish, we also bring to God in prayer those within the family of humanity who are in trouble or difficulty at the moment, and through our prayer commit ourselves to work so that the whole human family may be able to flourish as God means it to, and know, not only human love, but also the divine love which is greater than anything humans can offer.