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Sermon 10th March

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    Readings: Exodus 2: 1-10 and Colossians 3: 12-17

    Mothering Sunday presents something of a challenge to the preacher. Its roots lie in the celebration of Mother Church, a concept found in a rather difficult passage in the letter to the Galatians, which describes ‘the Jerusalem above as the mother of us all.’ Over the years the focus moved from Mother Church to our human mothers, and now, of course, the church ‘element’ is all but forgotten as society keeps Mother’s Day. With the much greater fragmentation of family life and family lifestyles, the day is difficult for many people, and especially for those whose relationships with their mothers or memories of them are painful. Nor we should we overlook mothers whose children have caused them pain; maybe heartache is part of the vocation of motherhood.

    I don’t know if you have ever watched one of those programmes called House Swap, where two families of very different incomes and backgrounds swap homes for a week or more. So, residents of a spacious country house find themselves in a housing association flat; and the usual occupants of that flat move into what must seem to be comparative luxury. Of course, those programmes are a bit contrived; but they do highlight divisions in society. Often, the two families have very little in common, except that they are small units of parents and children, the parents doing their best for their children in differing circumstances. But occasionally, however high the walls are between communities, real encounter still happens, and common humanity can become the exceptional ground for communication.

    From Exodus just now we heard of the raising of the child Moses. The Hebrew people are in slavery in Egypt, and Pharoah has ordered that all Hebrew baby boys be thrown into the Nile, lest the race becomes more numerous and strong, and so a threat to him. In this case, the child’s mother did not throw the boy into river, but placed him carefully amongst the reeds in a basket, perhaps with no real plan other than that she had to do something as she couldn’t hide him any longer. And Pharoah’s daughter comes across the child in the basket. Compassion overcomes division, and pity leads to care.

    Now Pharoah’s daughter led a life carefully designed never to hear the cry of the oppressed Israelites; but she heard this baby’s cry, and she responded. But it seems she doesn’t have the innate resources within herself to care for the child, and so is willing to pay for the child’s upbringing by someone else. And who gets called? You’ve guessed it – the child’s mother.

    The story is, of course, heart-warming in itself. But it has great significance when we consider the later life of Moses. The Israelites were oppressed people, but this baby boy, pushed out in a basket on the Nile, is later to lead the Israelites to liberation through the waters of the Red Sea. And today’s story also has echoes of the account of Noah: Moses’ papyrus basket being rather like the ark which saved the righteous Noah and his family. God’s people – represented by Israel at first, and now also by the Church, have always seemed vulnerable, and even today the Church’s very existence seems to be in danger in many places.

    Going back to the rescue of Moses from the Nile – despite all her riches and her status, Pharoah’s daughter did not have the ability to provide the care required for the baby. It was interesting in some of those ‘House-Swap’ programmes how, when the two families met at the end of their challenge, the richer parents often expressed great admiration for the ways in which the poorer managed their lives. It sometimes seems that we live in an increasingly polarised world. I recall in my last parish how an expensive preparatory school was less than a quarter-of-a-mile from an often-failing community primary school. I tried to get the headteachers of all the schools in my parish together once – it never happened, in fact. But the Head of the prep school had to admit that it would be a good idea, and talking of the community school, he said “We’ve got absolutely nothing in common with them.”

    I sometimes wonder if Little Malvern Priory, and indeed any parish church anywhere in Britain, is viewed much in the same way by so many people ‘out there’ – to use an overworked phrase. We have to admit that what we do here week by week is a thousand miles from the experience and understanding of so many people in our communities. But, of course, the Church was not designed to be like that. It’s perhaps worth reminding ourselves that one of the customs on Mothering Sunday was for lower class workers in grand country houses to be allowed back to their homes to accompany their mothers to Mother Church. The Church, at its best, should be what the Dean of Southwark Cathedral describes as ‘a school for relating’ where, as Colossians puts it, there is love, acceptance and forgiveness in the one body; where all with gratitude sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God. May we be judged in the way we welcome people ‘not like us’ or even people ‘like us’ but with whom we disagree in some way. The Prime Minister recently spoke of the rise in extremism in our society, fuelled by intolerance of other peoples’ views, and urged us to stand together to combat the forces of division.

     The Church should be able to set an example in all this. St Paul urges the Church in Colossae: “clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony … Bear with one another, and if one has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you.”

    He also mentions six virtues, which we should put on – as he uses the image of new clothing. Compassion is one of those virtues – a word which we also heard in the story of Moses – Pharoah’s daughter having compassion on the baby she saw. Yes, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience and love are the virtues mentioned by Paul; as those Christians should seek.  These are qualities which may of us found in our mothers, and should ideally be found in any parent, but also in devoted followers of Jesus. Paul says ‘do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

    Many Christian writers have seen God and Jesus as our protecting mother, giving in love to the uttermost. Nearly 900 years ago St. Anselm wrote: “Jesus, like a mother you are gentle with us as a mother with her children.” And in the 14th-century Dame Julian of Norwich said “God chose to be our mother in all things; Christ came in our poor flesh to share a mother’s care.”

    By way of inspiration as I close, and as a challenge for all of us, I will mention a mother who had no children, yet had a big family. This was Mother Theresa, who worked tirelessly with her order, the Missionaries of Charity, amongst the poor and neglected in Calcutta. She often said, ‘Let us do something beautiful for God.’ And she did it, time and time again. Giving thanks for all that is and has been good in our lives, may we show our gratitude, as ‘do something beautiful for God.’

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