Counter-counter cultural Mothering Sunday

Proverbs 3:1-12, 21-24 1My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart. 2 If you do this, you will live many years, and your life will be satisfying. 3 Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart. 4 Then you will find favour with both God and people, and you will earn a good reputation. 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. 6 Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. 7 Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. 8 Then you will have healing for your body and strength for your bones. 9 Honour the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce. 10 Then he will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine. 11 My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. 12 For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. 21 My child, don’t lose sight of common sense and discernment. Hang on to them, 22 for they will refresh your soul. They are like jewels on a necklace. 23 They keep you safe on your way, and your feet will not stumble. 24 You can go to bed without fear; you will lie down and sleep soundly.

Ephesians 4:4-7, 11-16 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all. 7 However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ. 11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

Matthew 28:16-20 The Great Commission: 16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted! 18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Happy Mothering Sunday. (All Together worship 11.03.2118)
How inclusive is the church? How radical? How counter-cultural? 

The world marks Mother’s Day and perhaps rightly so, mothering over the centuries has failed to receive the attention it deserves; it’s a tough vocation but today the church enlarges our view of family; is boldly radical where a Mother’s Day is not. 

Ultimately, we all know the brokenness and the nurture of wonderful and also very imperfect earthly parents (I am a an imperfect mum to my two) but God fathers us with a perfect love and the church will nurture us, like a mother, into His love, if we let her, if we, as church, pray for the discernment and common sense of the book of Proverbs; as we show loyalty to our church here and are kind to one another. I love the lines about wearing loyalty and kindness around our necks like a necklace in Proverbs; about how common sense and discernment are jewels we can add there. This is why as I speak today there is an activity for the children who are invited to thread the beads you have been given so they might become reminders of today's message; that we are to build family here sure that God's love is perfect but the church, full of human beings, will often be a very imperfect kind of parent. We are the church. We are not perfect. May those beads also remind all of us that we are to simply apply here - loyalty to our church (we speak well of her and one another), kindness (which we can show to one another) and that as we grow and seek to fulfil God's mission through us, we are not being asked to do anything more, really, than use our discernment and common sense; that when the vicar seems to have a good idea, it's right to challenge that idea, that we adapt, take risks and listen to one another as we venture into the new. 

Mothering Sunday comes to re-tune our ideas about family. Jesus came to challenge our conventional views about family – kept blood family waiting outside when they made demands of him and exploited their kinship bonds. "These, who do the will of my Father, are my mother, brothers and sisters," he said and he continued to sit with the crowds. 

In that most famous of scripture for Mothering Sunday he hands John to his mother Mary and Mary to his beloved disciple John and creates a new kind of family. 

Jesus challenges convention so that our definition of family here as church might know no bounds.

The book of Proverbs educates us as children. If you haven’t read it, it is full of wise guidance in pithy sayings which can be applied to your daily life, better than any parental help book as God nurtures us, his children. 

Today, then, we are invited to think about the mothering of the church and the fathering of God. How here together as family, loved by the Father and trained by the mother church we can all grow in kindness and loyalty, in common sense and discernment. These seem like quite ordinary gifts but in many ways they are the making of a community: loyalty to our church here, kindness to one another, common sense as we journey forwards and discernment as we work out who God is calling us to become.

We are invited after Jesus to yearn to grow family, in whatever configuration we find it, by calling it home to mother church and into the love of the father and the disciples shared this yearning with us. In the New Testament Paul describes his discipling of others in terms of becoming a parent to them (1 Cor 4) – I became your parent in Christ Jesus. In Galatians 4 he speaks of being in labour awaiting our development as Christians; addresses those growing in God as my little children. In the first letter to the Thessalonians he describes how he will bring the gospel to these Christians gently as a mother might nurse her children; at other times, perhaps with a little human impatience he describes how some still need the message as formula, first foods or breast milk when really by now they should be on solids. I think if we are going to join with God in his mission to make more disciples for himself there are various strategies required, different approaches depending on the people we hope to win for him.

We continue to think through as church how we grow people new and old in God here and want to always hear your ideas. As we hear from our gospel today the first thing we do is baptise. Verses 19 and 20. This I where we understand that rather than ‘blood being thicker than water ,’ which is often what we say to sure up our familial connections with one another, instead, and to the contrary, ‘water’ might be said to be ‘thicker than blood’ – or in other words family is formed in the church by our shared 'dying to the old self and rising to the new' under the water (sprinkled over us in our denomination at baptism and usually when we are infants). Family is formed in the church through our connection, our being flooded; our sharing in the waters of life; the waters which are the life giving waters of the Holy Spirit. We all swim in the same stuff, drink from the same life-giving streams and so are connected.

The prophet Isaiah pictures Zion as a mother and Paul describes the church as a mother in Gal 4. If the church is our mother and disciples us this lifts the pressure off our each going and discipling in our own sometimes erratic and ebbing strength and it encourages us to seek out the church; this mother and help her in her purpose. We let All Saints be our discipler, our source of life – there are still places on our discipleship course The Creed course and the Alpha course – you might think of signing up.

A Christian Mothering Sunday, unlike a secular Mother’s Day, celebrates that the church is our source of nourishment; a place intent on our flourishing. 

Is church a central part of your life; your mother? 

Is this a very distinct kind of family for you, not first and foremost because of your relationships with others here, which are important but because you come here to seek nourishment and then participate in your own discipling and are nurtured into the perfect parenting of God? Can you think again today, after Jesus, about what family means in God? We are going to be helped to think this through in our prayers today too. 

We are not supposed to be detached from our mother or grow up and away from this mother? We don’t leave home; the learning is ongoing because knowing about and knowing God is a lifetime process. The church will never stop being our mother until we come to the full measure and stature of the fullness of God as Paul tells us in Ephesians (4) and that will only happen in glory and so this is life-long. This family and this relationship, though it changes because its people change and you change, is one of constant nurturing. 

St Cyprian of the third century said “You cannot have God for your Father if you do not have the Church for your mother....” 

If that’s how Christ configures the church then we become family to one another here.

And remember you are church; you are this imperfect parent. You are ministers in God's church - this is not left to those of us robed this morning - you are also each an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher - some of you have many of those gifts and why because we are each called to equip the saints for the work of ministry - we are to school and be schooled; to shape and be shaped; to nurture and be nurtured and to disciple and be discipled. We are each to play a part to build the rest of the church up as Paul reminds us in his letter to the church in Ephesus.

Today the church thanks you for the part you’re playing in this family to befriend and to nurture. There is nothing like the church on earth, this mother that she is, this church of Jesus Christ growing God’s family. Today we give thanks for the church, our mother, and we thank her for one another: for her unique family here in God and we pray that we grow in love for her so that she might change us and shape us for the continuing adventure here at All Saints. Amen.

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A little background reading so we might mutually flourish when there are different opinions