Mothering Sunday 09:00 Service 2012

Sermon Date: 
18 Mar 2012
Bible Base: 
2 Cor 1:3-7; Luke 2:33-35

David Jeans

As I am sure you are all too aware there are some sermons you remember (and probably quite a lot you don’t). I remember a sermon on our Gospel reading preached at least 15 years ago by Lindsey Urwin, the Bishop of Horsham. The occasion was when my first curate at Wadsley, Alastair, was being instituted as Vicar of St John’s Copthorne (near to Gatwick Airport in Sussex). The actual date was March 25th. I remember that date because in the Church’s year March 25th is the festival of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary – when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be giving birth to Jesus. I have always remembered the date of March 25th because I couldn’t quite work out why we were having Christmas readings in March ...and then I worked out the arithmetic – April, May, June .....December!
In his sermon Bishop Lindsey talked about the joys that Mary would experience as a mother; but he also talked about the sorrows – a sword will pierce your heart. And then he talked directly to Alastair about the joys of leading a church – and then said – but a sword will pierce your heart too. It was a very striking sermon.
Why this reading today? Because while Mothering Sunday (Mother’s Day) is so often full of sentimental unreality (and can be painful for many people), this reading ( and the reading from 2 Corinthians that we also heard this morning) is a real mixture of joy and sorrow. And that reality connects with our experience as mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, grandparents, grandchildren, friends whatever. Because we give love and receive we experience great joy – but because we give love and receive love we also experience great sorrow. Sorrow of parting, sorrow of being let down, sorrow of letting down those we love, sorrow of seeing those we love go through difficult times.
Simon and Garfunkel sang a song in the sixties (my era) called ‘I am a Rock’ with these words in the song:-
Don’t talk of love; I’ve heard the word before, it’s sleeping in my memory; and I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died. If I never loved, I never would have cried. I am a rock, I am an island; and a rock feels no pain; and an island never cries.
The character singing the song cannot face the pain of love, so he cuts himself off from others. But he also cuts himself off from joys as well as from pain.
Mary knew the joy and pain of love – and of course God also knows the joy and pain of love. The joy when we follow his way; the pain of when we don’t.
Why this mixture of joy and sorrow? Why can’t it all be joy?
That is a question to which there are no easy answers. At the heart of it, I think, is that the only route through to God’s final vision of a new creation in which people freely love God and freely love each other is through this old creation being redeemed and transformed through the work of Christ. Until that new creation comes we see glimpses of it, which bring us great joy. But we don’t yet have it all.
And Paul encourages us in our first reading from 2 Corinthians to use our experience of being comforted by God in our troubles as a resource to help us comfort others in their troubles.
Listen again to verses 3 and 4:-
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from Christ.
If God somehow rescued Christians from all the troubles of this world, and smoothed everything over for us, what would happen?
First of all it would not be very just.
Secondly, it would not produce patient endurance in us – one of the Christlike qualities we needed to grow into; our culture wants everything sorted instantly; but we need to learn patient endurance.
Thirdly, if everything was instantly sorted for us, we would not have the experience of being comforted by God.
And finally we would have no resources from which to comfort others. We would be denying others blessings that we have received.
Mary’s sorrows too were part of others being blessed through the ministry and death of her Son. The picture is always bigger than just us – that’s one of the reasons we don’t always see things clearly.
The heart of the 2 Corinthians reading is the verse
God comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
Last year preaching on these same 2 passages I quoted from a fairly old book by David Prior, and I am going to repeat that today. This is what he writes about these verses[1]. He has been talking about those who pretend that nothing is wrong because they have been told that Christians should always be receiving blessings, and should never have failures or difficulties or weakness:
We share God’s comfort with those who are suffering. A situation where suffering is denied or covered over also prevents God’s ministry of mutual support and encouragement ...Put simply, if I do not admit I am suffering, nobody can come alongside me with God’s comfort. We are, as Christians, called into this mutual ministry, by virtue of being members together of the body of Christ. The rhythm of suffering and comfort is not accidental: it is God’s specific purpose and intention. As Denney writes, ‘Some mysteries would be cleared up if we had love enough to see the ties by which our life is indissolubly linked to others’.
If we have a totally smooth life, we have little to offer those for whom life is a struggle. Prior goes on
When the Lord gives us his encouragement and strength in our affliction, we should immediately be on the lookout for others around us who need similar help....It seems to me that the best way to preserve our blessings is immediately to share them. Naturally this requires sensitivity and compassion, but most of us need to be more ready to give away what we have received from the Lord. Whatever God gives is for passing on.
Like Mary we cannot avoid suffering in our lives. But her suffering was part of the blessing of the whole world. When we go through troubles we can thank God that God’s last word will be healing and joy – though we may have to wait for it – but we can also thank God that through receiving his comfort we can be in the place where we can comfort others.

[1] David Prior The Suffering and the Glory (Hodder & Stoughton 1985) p 23