Sermon: Mothering Sunday

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Preached on 10th March 2013
by Andrew Black

Mothering Sunday

10 March 2013


What day is it?

 Mothering Sunday

So what’s been happening so far?

Who has done something nice for their Mum?

Who had breakfast in bed?

Who is going to do something nice?

You don’t have to do anything nice - sometimes you can just stop doing something not nice - like arguing.

So what do we know about mothering Sunday? A few random things:

  • No one is absolutely certain exactly how it began – some people think that Christians adopted it from a Roman Spring festival celebrating Cybele, their Mother Goddess.
  • In the Book of Common Prayer the epistle for the fourth Sunday in Lent gives a special place to the theme of maternal love: Galatians in chapter 4 vs 26 says "Jerusalem which is above is free; which is Mother of us all."
  • During the sixteenth century, people used to go ‘ a mothering’ on this Sunday – meaning they had gone back to their mother church - the main church or cathedral in the area, for a service to be held on the fourth Sunday in Lent.
  • In later times, Mothering Sunday became a day when domestic servants – particularly girls were given a day off to visit their mother church, usually with their own mothers and other family members. (It was quite common in those days for children to leave home for work once they were ten years old). It was often the only time that whole families could gather together, and on their way home they would pick wild flowers along the way to place in the church or give to their mothers. This turned into the tradition of giving your Mum a present.
  • It could be a long way from the big house where you worked as a servant to your home , so the housekeeper or cook would let the maids bake a cake to take home for their mother, and perhaps some eggs or flowers.
  • Other names - 'Refreshment Sunday', Pudding Pie Sunday (in Surrey) or 'Mid-Lent Sunday'. The feeding of the five thousand is sometimes the bible reading for today so that means that the fasting rules are relaxed- so arguably you have permission to go home and eat the chocolate you have given up for Lent.
  • It’s sometimes called Simnel Sunday because of the tradition of baking Simnel Cake - a fruit cake covered in marzipan decorated with 11 marzipan balls representing the 12 disciples minus Judas, who betrayed Christ. But you aren’t allowed to eat it until Easter Sunday.
  • But it’s not the only cake- there’s "Mothering Buns" or "Mothering Sunday Buns" - sweet buns topped with pink or white icing and the round, multi-coloured sprinkles known in the UK as "hundreds and thousands".
  • Any others-?


Reading 1-Isaiah 49 14-16

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.”15 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;    your walls are ever before me.

Luke 13 3434 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.


Talk 1 – Some people will tell you that God is a man- and they are convinced of this because we say the Lords prayer beginning with Our Father.  Some years ago I met on the way out of church someone who was similarly convinced - to the extent that she was clear that the female local preacher who had just prayed Mother God should be struck off. I wondered whether her opinion had a strong theological basis as on a separate occasion she had remarked that a lady preacher should be struck off for wearing sandals, but no tights, whilst preaching. This set my mischievous mind wondering  how this lady might react were she to reach the pearly gates of heaven to find that God is a woman – perhaps someone like Whoopi Goldberg in Sister act.

Whilst there are many remarkable female characters in the bible, mothers don’t get much of a specific mention, but there are several instances where the image of a nurturing and protective mother is used as a way of describing what God is like.

In that first reading we heard from Isaiah the complaint that God has abandoned Jerusalem is answered by what is a universal truth –‘can a woman forget her own baby and not love the child she bore?’; the verse we heard from Luke’s gospel paints a nurturing female image - a hen gathering her chicks under her wing to describe God and how he wants to protect Israel. Elsewhere in the Old Testament Moses, in a prayer of desperation, speaks of God as one who gives birth, asking God, “Why have you given me all these people- I didn’t create them or bring them to birth (Numbers 11:12). Hosea describes God as a mother bear, attacking those who steal her cubs (13:8). And of course there is Jesus mother Mary and her veneration as the mother of God in the Roman Catholic church.

Over the years a number of saints, theologians, and spiritual writers have described God in maternal terms. Many of you will have heard of Julian of Norwich - she wrote “As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother,” “To the property of motherhood belong nature, love, wisdom, and knowledge, and this is God. . . The mother can give her child a suck of milk but our precious Mother Jesus can feed us with himself and does. . .” (referring to the Eucharist here?)

St. Catherine of Siena compared Christ’s sacrifice on the cross to a mother who takes a bitter medicine so her nursing baby can get well again; St. Teresa of Avila, compares quiet, contemplative prayer to breast feeding because God nourishes the soul without the need for words. Not being properly equipped for feeding a baby that way so I wouldn’t know, but  I have it on good authority that it feels like you and the baby are one- so what an accurate picture St Teresa has left us.

People sometimes describe a mother’s love as sacrificial and self giving- clear parallels there with God’s love for us.  In feeding her baby a mother feeds it from her own body which reminds us of Christ giving his body for our spiritual nourishment. So this image of mother God does work- and gives us cause to celebrate motherhood - a mother who searches for the lost coin, the lost sheep, the lost son; a God who suffers pain and self giving for us His children; and like any child our response to this plentiful love often falls short of what it should be.

Whilst some people are quite comfortable with these descriptions of how God works they wouldn’t be happy to call God mother. But we perhaps need to remember however you try to describe God it won’t be perfect- that’s just not something we can do – but these illustrations are there to help us understand what God is like and what he is trying to do.

Of course Mothers aren’t perfect people–and neither are fathers, but we can see how God is like a good, loving earthly father and like a good, loving earthly mother.

So I don’t think it matters too much what gender our own personal image of God is. What’s more important is how these descriptions of God as Father or Mother help us begin to understand how great God’s love is - better than the best any human Father or Mother could give.  Yet we must acknowledge that this can be difficult and might not work for anyone who didn’t know one or both of their parents, or whose experience of having a mum or dad wasn’t very good.

So today is mothering Sunday- and it should be a day to celebrate and thank God for  the positive aspects of motherhood, and God’s love for each of us, and perhaps we might stretch it a bit to and celebrate the love and care we receive from people all around us . 



A dilemma

Anyone know what this is? Show iPhone Image

Anyone get one for their birthday?

Imagine for a moment that tomorrow is your birthday and you desperately want one of these- you have nagged and hinted for one and you know that your Mum, Dad, wife, husband whoever got one- but you are so desperate you want it now so you winge and whine on for hours and finally you wear them down so much that they give in and say – it’s Sunday you can have it now when there’s time to get used to it there you are, now shut up and give us peace.

And you stuff it in your pocket and have fun with it all day and go to bed happy.

Next morning it’s the first thing you look for but hold on you can’t find it- now where did you leave it – oh no -  you left it in your jeans and they are in the washing machine- been there all night. So the iPod is really clean now- in fact you drowned it.

To say you are upset is an understatement – not just you the person who gave it to you isn’t very happy either.

Now imagine you are the one who bought this present and gave it.

What would you do? Four choices -

A –I’ll never forgive- I’ll never give them another present

B – Well that’s that- they’ll have to wait until Christmas for one.

C- Oh dear what a shame – maybe the house insurance covers it

D- Oh well –I’ll just go and buy them another one

Show Image choices – count the hands up


And what should your answer be? - what’s the right answer- well I’ll leave you to work that out- it should become clear later.

Reading 2 - Luke 15 1-3; 11b -32Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”Then Jesus told them this parable: 11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

Talk 2

Image iPhone

The question I asked you before about the iPhone was in some ways a bit like the situation the father was in when his long lost son suddenly turned up. In "The Prodigal Son,” as this story is called the father was very forgiving; his older brother was very angry and upset. Like our describing God as Father or Mother this tale is another way of trying to describe how immense God’s unconditional love is for us,

It’s interesting to wonder which character you would be if you were in this story – could you be as generous and forgiving as the father, who didn’t just wait for his son to reach him he ran out to greet him- in a culture when fathers didn’t run anywhere.  Or would you have the courage to swallow your pride and come crawling back home after you had wasted everything.Perhapswe would be like the older brotherreally angry at the seeming unfairness of welcoming back with a party this brother who had caused his father such heartache, while he had stayed at home doing what his Dad asked and all the work. But whilst we can see how this story is very much about how God forgives us no matter how bad we are, we can also see how the older brother is just like the Pharisees whining and complaining and so concerned with their own religious rules that they miss the grace of God and all that he offers. How fortunate was the returning son that he met the father first rather than the elder brother.

It perhaps raises a challenging question- at which end of the spectrum are our churches today in how they work and present themselves to the world- closer to the critical judgemental son or the unconditional welcome of the father.

At an individual level I guess many of us could identify with the prodigal son- he had to get to that point- rock bottom – before he reached the turning point when he really understood what he had done – he   turned round and went back home.  That is just what the Bible means by “repentance” - more than just feeling sorry, or remorseful – this  is about changing direction and turning back to God – and finding , like the father in the story, that God is already on his way rushing out to meet us.

This story reminds us that no matter whom we are, no matter what we have done, God loves us and really cares about us. Many people find that really hard to accept.

Image space galaxies

Have you ever looked up at all the stars on a really clear night or thought about the world we live in, all the plants, animals, all the galaxies spread out up there – ever wondered - how could a God who created all of this be bothered with you and me?

Our friends the Steels sang similar words to us last Sunday when 13+ went to see them- to quote from Universal song – which we played just at the beginning this morning -








shape, the

stars, the


part, makes


Many of us must have wondered- and continue to wonder - space is so big and we are so tiny so why should God bother with each one of us?

Yes, many people would like to believe in God, or believe in God more than they do but something stops them. It’s a big problem.

Some people think that they aren’t good enough to be loved and forgiven by God and that God does not want anything to do with them.

In Jesus’ time people felt that way too- in those days the message the religious people gave out was that you had to be extra good and clean to be acceptable to God. You had to follow lots of rules but Jesus came with a different message - that no one is beyond the love and reach of God.

God is much kinder to us than we are with ourselves. Jesus describes God as the one who actively goes out until he grabs hold of those who are lost. In the story of the Prodigal son, God the father waits longingly, eagerly and anxiously until the lost child, you and I, comes home. More than that – God like that loving father is already on the way down the road with arms wide open ready to give us a big hugas soon as we are spotted.


Mothering Sunday is a day when a lot of Mum’s get a present.

Who likes being given a really nice present?

And it’s nice giving someone a present too isn’t it- especially when they really like what you have given them.

When we said before about imagining you had just given someone an iPod for their birthday- well God is in a bit of a situation like that with us. He has offered us the wonderful gift of friendship with him, but many people reject it.

Some people do accept it but then mess it up by doing things that must surely hurt and anger God. And when that happens God isn’t like us because He has no hesitation at all in deciding what to do - again and again he forgives us and says, “Welcome back I still love you”, whatever, who ever, wherever, despite anything you have done.

 You just have to choose to accept.


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