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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr. David's sermon


6th March 2005

Fr David Shepherd

Mothering Sunday

Today Mothering Sunday has become Mother's Day. Like many other special days in the secular calendar it has become very commercialised. In the past it was much simpler. In past times girls in service were given time off to visit their mothers, taking a homemade Simnel cake and picking wild flowers from the woods and trees on the way home.

The origins of Mothering Sunday are varied. It was originally Refreshment Sunday when the Church in her wisdom gave a half time break to Christians from the rigours of the Lenten Fast.

It was also a day to give thanks for Holy Mother Church and for daughter churches to link up with their mother parishes. Thus we might visit St. James Bushey, our mother Parish. There was a tendency to emphasise the institutional aspect of the Church as mother with the laity as 'children', despite the fact that the clergy were male and celibate. There are strengths in this traditional model but today we see the Church as the body of Christ, with all sharing in the priesthood of all believers. So to speak of the motherhood of the Church must now be to speak of the life, nurture and care that we give to and receive from one another through our membership of the Church.

To help us think about this we are given a selection of readings about biblical mothers. Today we have read of Hannah and Mary. Traditionally Hannah has been seen as the ante type of Mary. If you compare the Magnificat with Hannah's song you'll see they are similar.

Hannah prayed desperately to the Lord for the gift of a child in the presence of Eli in the Temple. In the fullness of time her prayer was answered and she gave birth to Samuel. God's time is not our time and there is a mystery to our prayer and the way that is answered or not. A prayerful waiting upon the Lord will turn the dry barrenness of our Christian lives into fruitfulness.

Hannah vowed to dedicate Samuel to the Lord as a nazirite - a holy man, a prophet. First he had to be weaned. Again the process of care and nurture is a long one. The things of faith cannot be rushed; God will act in his time not ours.

Hannah's lending of Samuel to the Lord, her giving him to the Lord reminds us how we should approach all that we are and have in life. Ultimately it is God's gift to us, a gift that we in turn offer to him. With our modern obsession with rights instead of duties we are in great danger of forgetting this. It is the principle that lies behind our Christian stewardship. Hannah left Samuel with the Lord. Possessiveness whether of our children or of anything we have been given in life is not the Christian way. Our faith is to be given away, shared with others, not kept to ourselves.

In the Gospel Mary also presents her child Jesus to the Lord in the Temple. In so doing she receives a blessing and a prophecy. 'This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed - and a sword will pierce your own soul too.' Such is the blessing and the cost of Christian faith something we are aware of as our Lenten journey takes in the way of the Cross. For Mary the gift of her son took all the way to the foot of the Cross - the scene in the alternative choice of gospel.

Those two short accounts of biblical motherhood give much for all of us to think about on Mothering Sunday whether or not we happen to be mothers. They remind us that faith is a gift to be gracefully accepted with thankfulness. It is a source of joy and yet it is not without its cost. (I'm reminded of all those mums who ask how much does a baptism cost - nothing but the death of Christ on the cross!) Our faith prayed for and received is to be given away in offering to God.

Amen

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