Mothering Sunday 2011

Sermon Date: 
3 Apr 2011
Bible Base: 
2 Corinthians 1:3-7 and Luke 2:25-35

David Jeans

Mothering Sunday is one of those days which many have mixed feelings about – especially when it becomes Mother’s Day. It can become a day of frothy sentimentality with everything being sweetness and light with no acknowledgement of the pain this day can bring to those who have not had the privilege of being parents, or to those whose memory of parents are painful because their childhood experience was difficult, or because they mourn the loss of their parents.
The readings set for Mothering Sunday are actually very helpful in their acknowledgement of the reality of life, that it is a mixture of joy and sorrow. There is no promise to the Christian that life will always be easy, though there is a promise that God will be with us and that there will be an end to sorrow when God makes all things new and all tears will be wiped away. In the meantime, however, while there will be foretastes of the glorious future to come, we live in a world where alongside our joys there are sorrows and difficulties. Bishop Roy Williamson, a former Bishop of Bradford, described the Christian journey as walking eastwards along a dark road at night, a road which has occasional lampposts. We are walking towards the glorious dawn, but it is not yet light. Along the journey there are moments of light and blessing which are trailers for what comes with the dawn, but in between there are periods of darkness. But all along the journey God is there to comfort us.
In our Gospel reading, Joseph and Mary have taken the infant Jesus to the temple to dedicate him to god according to Jewish custom. There they meet Simeon – a man waiting for God to act, a man filled with the Holy Spirit of God, a prophet who believed the arrival of God’s Messiah was about to happen. He was awaiting the dawn of God’s salvation – and when he saw Jesus he knew by the Spirit that the dawn had arrived.
My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations; a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.
Simeon knew that his prophecy had been fulfilled, and so he says that God can now release him from his task. He reassures Joseph and Mary that this child is indeed the Messiah of God, who will bring healing, salvation and joy to countless people – as indeed Jesus has.
But there is reality in this prophecy – there is darkness as well as light. Our OT readings at Morning Prayer are in Jeremiah at the moment. Recently there has been a lot about false prophets who prophesy peace when there is no peace, who tell the people what they want to hear and don’t say anything difficult or unpleasant. Prophets like those optimistic horoscopes you get in magazines at the dentists.
Simeon is a real prophet – his message connects to the realities of the world, his prophecies contain the reality of suffering as well as the joy of hope. Having proclaimed that Jesus would bring the dawn, that he would bring the joy of salvation to many, he blesses the family. But that blessing is not followed by a life of untroubled joy and peace, it is followed by prophecy of opposition as well as response, and by those dark words to Mary that a sword will pierce her own soul because of her son. A prophecy that came true when she stood at the foot of the cross as the fruit of her womb was hung upon it to die a terrible death for the sins of the world.
Of course she also had the joy of witnessing his resurrection, but those of us who are parents know something of that sword piercing the soul, because we know the anguish of seeing our children struggle with disappointment, sickness, broken relationships and so on. We know something of Mary’s anguish. But of course that anguish belongs to God the Father as well. Words from our final song today:-
How great the pain of searing loss, the Father turns his face away, as wounds which mar the chosen one, bring many sons to glory.
Mary would experience anguish – but through the event that caused that anguish countless millions have found joy in the presence of God. The suffering that Mary would go through was so that blessings would come to others. And that is part of parenthood too, of course.
Let’s move on to 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (p 1094).
The passage begins with a great burst of praise:-
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all compassion and God of all comfort.
Notice what follows – not “because he has removed all obstacles from our path”; not “because he has blessed us with lots of money and a comfortable standard of living”; not “because everything always comes out right in our family”.
No, Paul praises the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ because he comforts us in all our troubles.
Again, not he rescues us from all our troubles, or he makes all our troubles go way. Of course, God does rescue us from some of our troubles, and he does make some of them go away. And we praise God when he does do that. But some of our troubles remain. What God does promise is that He will comfort us in all our troubles, that he will be with us, that in the imagery of the Footprints poem he will carry us through times of trouble.
Why does God not always remove our troubles? That is a deep question – but part of the answer to it is here in 2 Corinthians. God comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
Some of you will know that our coming back from New Zealand to Deepcar was not a smooth ride. I gave in my resignation in December 2007. Our work visa expired in early June 2008. Our furniture would need to be on a boat in early May. In mid-February we were in England looking for where we would go next, having had a word from God through someone else’s prayer that God was in all of this, but there would be hitches. We returned in early March with nothing. 3 months to go to when we had to leave NZ; perhaps 7 weeks to when our furniture would have to leave. Strangely we did not panic – we knew that God was with us. I emailed the Senior Staff in Sheffield Diocese and by return they said would I look at Deepcar. And the rest is history – though not settled until March 27th – just 10 weeks before we would have to leave, and just over 4 weeks before our furniture would have to leave. So thank you to those who were praying!
This week I was talking with a fellow clergyman who has given in his notice to leave his parish in June – but he does not yet know where he is going. I was able to share my experience with him.
God comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
In what is now a fairly old book David Prior writes about these verses . 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 had not had a struggle coming here, I would have had nothing to offer the person I was talking to this week. 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.