Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lent 4 2010 Sermon Notes

Again, not quite the whole sermon as preached, just the main points. Various of the Scriptures cited were expanded upon.

“Jerusalem … above is free, which is the mother of us all” +

Today is known as Mothering Sunday, because of the verse just quoted. This is the Church's Mother's Day, and it existed long before the world's did.

I begin with a quotation from a wise Protestant Pastor, Bob Gass:

'What a rich faith… handed down from your grandmother Lois to your mother Eunice… to you! 2 Timothy 1:5 TM

The Bible paints various portraits of mothers and, while they weren't perfect, each one tells a story. Moses' mother broke the law to ensure his safety and teach him the faith of his people. Then there's the mother who came before Solomon, prepared to forfeit her child rather than see him harmed. James and John's mother loved them so much, she wanted them to sit on either side of Christ in His future kingdom. And Paul saw in Timothy a young man of sterling character because of the faith "handed down from [his] grandmother Lois to [his] mother Eunice… to [him]." The most significant thing we know about Timothy's mother is that her mum was a believer because while faith can't be "inherited" it can be passed on through the influence of Godly parents.

A little boy forgot his lines in the Sunday School play so his mother leaned over and whispered, "I am the light of the world." The child beamed, then with great feeling announced, "My mother is the light of the world!" We smile, but the truth is, mothers write on the hearts of their children what the hand of time can't erase. E.W. Caswell said, "It's only in [later] life that men gaze backward and behold how a mother's hand and heart… shaped their destiny." Chuck Swindoll adds: "If you were blessed with a good mother you reap the benefits the rest of your life. If your mother neglected your needs… much of what you suffered can't be erased. For good or ill, a mother's mark is permanent." So, Mum, what kind of mark are you leaving on the lives of your children?'
But the question for the rest of us is, are we properly grateful for the care and love our mothers have shown us, continuing to be there for them as long as they live? And do we continue to draw upon the true lessons they taught us and the good example they gave us? The 5th of the 10 Commandments demands that we do this by calling on us to honour our parents: and this is the commandment with a promise of reward attached, as St Paul reminds us (Eph. 6:2). Similarly, the book of Proverbs tells us in the first chapter not to reject our mother’s teaching (v. 8) and finishes (ch. 31) with the wise advice of a mother to her son on leadership, responsibility, compassion, justice and relationships. The Scriptural portrait of Motherhood is a very dignified one indeed. It is implicitly and repeatedly used in the New Testament as an analogy for how the Church and Our Lady relate to us as spiritual children, including in the verse from the Epistle I quoted at the beginning, where the Jerusalem above refers to the Church (cp. Rev. 21:2 & Eph. 5:25, see also John 19:27, 2 John 1, 13, Rev. 12).

But what of unworthy mothers? They do exist, but God has made the maternal instincts so strong that he can compare his own care for us to theirs, and almost imply that only his is greater: “Could a mother forget a child who nurses at her breast? Could she fail to love an infant who came from her own body? Even if a mother could forget, I will never forget you” (Is. 49:15, CEV).

So, whatever our earthly parents were like, we know that God’s love for us transcends even that of the most devoted earthly parent. Trust in that love is at the foundation of the Gospel-faith (1 John 4:16: “we have known and believed the love that God has for us”). We cannot, in our weakness and sin, love the God who is merely the Just Judge or Omnipotent or Omniscient or even as Perfect Goodness. A God who was only that would be too high and too terrifying in his inaccessible Holiness. We could at most admire him in the abstract, as an idea. But the living God can only be joyfully known by us personally as we encounter him as Father, but a father with maternal aspects as well. (Luke 13:34b: God, in Christ, is portrayed as like a mother-hen trying to gather her chicks under the protection of her wings.)

What is the fundamental difference, in the final analysis, between the one who has the gift of living faith and the one who has rejected it? The former accepts God as merciful Father, trusts in the Son as perfect Image of the Father, repents of his offences against the holy love of Father and Son revealed in the Cross, and receives the Holy Spirit to become what he was meant to be, a loving and beloved child of God. But those who finally reject living faith falsely see God as cruel and hard because he reprimands their sin, and so come to experience him as their warped and self-enclosed hearts portray him (cp. Mt. 25:24-26). They can experience him no other way because of what they have become, rather than any change in God.

Let none of us consider ourselves abandoned in this world. Look up. Have faith in Christ and know the peace of adoption, as a child of God the Father, incorporated into his only-begotten Son. Rest in the knowledge that God’s heart towards us is a father’s heart, and so the trials and disciplines of life are for our formation and “upbringing” in grace, not for our destruction. Take joy in the motherhood of the Church and the Blessed Virgin Mary, recognising that they look after us through fellowship and prayer. But we must not forget to honour as well our earthly mothers with kindness, honest gratitude and appropriate respect, whatever their imperfections, for St Paul teaches that we cannot neglect and despise our family and claim to believe in and love God at the same time (1 Timothy 5:8). +

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