Numbers 21:4-9, Ephesians 2:1-10,
Today is set down in the church calender as Mothering Sunday. It originated as a time when people who were living away from home in jobs like service or farm labouring could make a visit home to their mother, and take her a special cake, or a posy of flowers. Some church still make posies for children and young people to give to their mother, or to someone who has been like a mother to them.
Now, looking around us here, not very many of us still have mothers living, so that’s not the focus of our commemoration today. We could take it as a time of remembering our mothers, and all they have meant and still mean to us,- and for those of us whose mothers were wonderful, that’s fine! But mothers are only human, and some of us may have had a bad experience with their mother. We are not going to echo sentimental Mothers’ Day cards and just tell our mums how wonderful they have been to us. For some, the relationship between mother and child has been difficult, to say the least. Let’s look instead at what is meant by the ideal of a mother.
A mother gives us birth -we are created and nurtured within her womb. A mother goes through agony so we can be born, then nurtures us so we can grow.
This sounds like it could be a metaphor doesn’t it? God can be seen as our mother. God creates us and nurtures us. But hang on, you may say. I’ve always thought of God as a man, a bit like a stern grandfather with a long beard and white flowing hair. Well, that’s one image for God, and painters and poets from previous centuries have a lot to answer for. In the book “The Shack” God the creator is portrayed as a large black woman with a rich laugh. In Scripture God is shown as neither male nor female, but we don’t have a gender-neutral pronoun for God. We can’t call God ‘it’ this seems a bit disrespectful. So we have gone to a default male pronoun, because that’s how English has evolved.
Let’s turn it around. We are made in God’s image. God created us male and female. Therefore the female form is in God’s image too.
Traditional ideas of mothering involve nurturing, big cuddles, a shoulder to cry on, a hanky to wipe away our tears, and something nice and hot from the kitchen to fill our tummies. Unconditional love. This is definitely a Godly attribute. In our Gospel reading today we heard the most famous line of scripture – “for God so loved the world that God sent God’s only son, so that the world might not perish, but have everlasting life. “
This is unconditional love isn’t it? The love that leads to sacrifice, is selfless, only looking at the beloved. We are the beloved, my friends. It’s better than a human mother who might have got grumpy and snappy, tired and overworked. God nurtured us like a perfect mother, which don’t actually exist, no matter how many times my children tell you they do!
As we have grown in our faith, we have needed people to help us on our journey. Just as in life when a mother may have been the one to encourage our first steps, to hear our times tables, to give us advice, we have needed spiritual mothers to help us grow in faith. Have you known someone like that? It might have been the grandma who took you to Sunday school, the neighbour who prayed for you, the co-worker you could talk to when things got tricky. Many of us can point to a
particular person who has had that influence for us. In my life, it would be Christine. Let me tell you about her. I first met her when I moved to Tawa in 1999. I was separated with two small children, and she ran a group called ‘Pop-in”, for mums and dads and caregivers with small children. Christine lived her Christian faith, caring and nurturing everyone who came in the door, and she prayed for us too. As I got to know Christine better and work with her – yes, I ended up being a helper at Pop-In, I was greatly nurtured by her love and her example.
God provided what I needed when I needed it. God did that for the Israelites too.
In our Old Testament reading, the Israelites had a problem. They needed healing from snake bites. God told Moses what to do so that they could be healed. They needed to look to God. The people were grumbling that they had been brought out from a place where they had food and security into this horrible place where there was nothing. God got their attention in a vivid way with the snakes. I don’t think subtlety would have done it.
The reading from Ephesians explains what was happening here –
“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our sins, made us alive together with Christ.”
The episode in the wilderness was a foretaste of life with God. We have all been dead through our sins. Our own personal sins, our corporate sins, our sins by being part of a society that turns its back on the vulnerable. God’s rich, mother-tigress love has been with us for ever, and that’s why Jesus had to suffer on the cross. Moses lifted up the serpent on a stick so that those who saw it were
healed. God lifted Jesus up on a cross-shaped stick so that those who look to the cross can be saved, so that we may not perish, but have everlasting life. There will always be evil in the world, but there is a remedy, an antidote, a medicine for the snake-bite. Think of Adam and Eve and the snake and the apple.
Our Gospel reading tells us that ‘people who love evil love darkness, so that their deeds may not be seen, but those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God’.
This is an interesting idea I think. If we are doing what is true, that means we will be happy to be seen by others, happy to own who we are in Christ. Maybe a Christian faith-mother was like that for you – her deeds proclaimed her faith, whether or not she even mentioned God, or church, she lived out her faith, glowing like a light that attracts moths to the flame.
As you remember mothers in your faith journey, may you also be like that light, living your faith in a glowing way, knowing that God loves you so much, so much that God sent her only Son, so that whoever believes in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life!