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'How Many Mothers?'

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'How Many Mothers?'
A Sermon For Mothering Sunday

Read : Exodus 2: 1-10; St John 19: 23-27; 2 Corinthians 1: 3-7(NIV) 

On this Mother's Day, I hope it won't come as too big a surprise when I say that each of us has at least six mothers. But it's all right: you don't have to buy presents for all of them! But you can tick them off as we go along.

There is mother earth for one, and we don't always treat her as well as we should. Shirley Murray, the New Zealand Author and hymn writer, tells us that we should 

Touch the earth lightly,
use the earth gently,
nourish the life of the world in our care:
gift of great wonder,
ours to surrender,
trust for the children tomorrow will bear.

('Church Hymnary: Fourth Edition' no. 243 Canterbury Press 2005)

Mother earth, then, for one. For two, there is our motherland. Some people may see it as unwholesome nationalistic pride, but can it really be wrong to repeat the sentiments of John Reynell Wreford, a 19th century Birmingham clergyman, when he wrote, 

Lord, while for all mankind we pray,
of every clime and coast,
O hear us for our native land,
the land we love the most.

Our fathers' sepulchres are here,
and here our kindred dwell;
our children, too: - how should we love
another land so well!

('Church Hymnary: Third Edition' no. 518 Oxford University Press 1973)

Our third mother is, of course, our birth mother, and nowhere is there a more telling story of a mother's love and care for her child than in that passage we heard from the Book Exodus, where Moses' mother hid him so cleverly in the bulrushes on the banks of the Nile river. 

That story of the good sense and practicality of a mother reminds me of an incident in the life of Thomas Carlyle. When he was a small boy at Ecclefechan, his father took him with him to visit a neighbour. The neighbour lived several fields away and across a stream which had to be forded. While they were at the neighbour's house there was a violent thunderstorm, and they had to wait until it was over. On the way home, when they came to the stream, it was a stream no longer but a raging torrent of a river. There was no way the small boy could wade across it, so his father tucked him under his arm and battled his way across the turbulent water.

Reliving that experience as an old man, Carlyle said that he was never so terrified in his life as he was on that occasion. He remarked that if his mother had carried him there would have been no fear, for she wouldn't have held him face down where he could see and feel only the swirling, splashing waters, but face up so that he could see only her face. The comfort and common sense of mothers are boundless, and for that we give thanks today. 

The fourth mother we all share is Mary, the mother of Jesus. In our Reformed tradition, we have shown little or no interest in the Blessed Virgin Mary. True, we mention her name in the Creed - 'born of the Virgin Mary' - but we pay no more attention to her than that. Yet no less a person than the reformer John Calvin said that 'She deserves to be called blessed, for God has accorded her a singular distinction, to prepare his Son for the world. We cannot enjoy the blessing brought us in Christ without thinking at the same time of the adornment and honour God gave to Mary in willing her to be the mother of his only-begotten Son.' When we see in today's Gospel lesson just how much Jesus honoured and cared for his mother, even from the Cross, perhaps we might be encouraged to give her more of a place than we do in our thoughts and devotions. 

Our fifth mother is Mother Church, which is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as 'The Church, considered as a mother in its functions of nourishing and protecting the believers'. The Church as mother offers to a divided and bewildered society the hope that nurture, compassion and loving acceptance are for everyone, regardless of sex or age or culture. Wouldn't it be wonderful if our St Cuthbert's had won for itself the reputation of that kind of mothering! 

And now for our sixth and final mother, Jerusalem, which, as St Paul tells us, 'is the mother of us all.' ('Galatians 4: 26'). He is, of course, referring to the heavenly Jerusalem. Shakespeare, you remember, in his 'Hamlet', spoke of 'an undiscovered journey from whose bourne no traveller returns', but long before that a Christian monk in a French monastery, St Bernard of Clairvaux, taught the Church to sing, 

O sweet and blessed country,
O home of God's elect!
O sweet and blessed country,
that eager hearts expect!'

('Church Hymnary: Fourth Edition' no. 747 Canterbury Press 2005 )

St Bernard wrote 'Jerusalem the golden' in the Dark Ages, when the world seemed to be plunging into ever increasing darkness, and Christians everywhere were looking wistfully beyond earth's miseries and sorrows, homesick for heaven. They knew that this earth was not their rest, that it was too narrow to hold them, that they were pilgrims and sojourners as all their fathers were, and that their citizenship was in the heavenly Jerusalem. And so with high hearts and heroic spirits they sang with St Bernard, and in a moment, on this Mothering Sunday, we too, who also sometimes feel homesick for heaven, for Jerusalem which is the mother of us all, we, too, will sing with them 

'Jesus in mercy bring us
to that dear land of rest,
who art with God the Father,
and Spirit ever blest.

Rev Charles Robertson, March 2018


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