Sunday, March 30, 2014

Who's the Mummy?

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis, Rochester on the Fourth Sunday in Lent

So, it’s Laetare Sunday, Rose Sunday, Refreshment Sunday, the Fourth in Lent, Mothering Sunday, Mother’s Day. “Mother’s Day!”

It always causes a bit of a wince to those of us who were brought up on “Mothering Sunday.” However, just think about it. Perhaps it’s just an amazing coincidence that Mother’s Day falls on Mothering Sunday every year. We may indeed complain that today is not Mother’s Day but Mothering Sunday. In a sense, we are absolutely right to do so. There should be a clear distinction between Mothering Sunday and Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day is a day in which we take the time and energy to pay attention to honouring our mothers. This is a perfectly reasonable application of the 5th Commandment. While we should always honour our parents, a day set aside to remind us to do just that is fitting, hence Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. So what is Mothering Sunday about, if it’s not principally about honouring our mothers?


There is a big problem in Galatia because there are many folk out there who say that to be a good Christian, you have to be a good Jew first and follow the Jewish Law. These folk are going around saying that you had to eat only clean foods and circumcise your baby boys in order to be a Christian. The Galatians have been taken in by this and the consequence is that St Paul has to them a very hard letter telling them how foolish they are because they have chosen the wrong mother.


Chosen the wrong mother? How can you choose your mother, or your father for that matter? St Paul reminds us of the importance of history.

Agar and Sarah are both wives of the great patriarch Abraham. Agar is a slave; Sarah is free. For St Paul, Agar represents a life in slavery to laws which cannot free the soul. To choose the motherhood of Agar is to choose a life of slavery to rules and regulations that can neither free a person from sin nor bring them nearer to God. Sarah, on the other hand, represents a life which is free from arbitrary laws and free to love according to God’s way of living. To choose the motherhood of Sarah is to choose freedom from the law controlled by men and to choose a family relationship with God in Christ Jesus. To choose Sarah is to choose the Church.

In fact, St Paul goes on to say, ”Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.” The trouble is, this doesn’t sound very mothering, does it? Should the Church cast out those who are enslaved by the Law?


The key to understanding St Paul here is that he is not advocating casting out those in need, but rather those who not only refuse to receive the help of the Church but want to change the way that the Church operates in order to satisfy their way of living. Our Lord tells us that we cannot be the servant of two masters; St Paul tells us that we cannot be the sons of two mothers. We have to choose, one or the other.

The one we choose we cannot change to suit our whims.

It is our mother who tells us how to live, not the other way round. “Honour thy father and thy mother.” If we choose the Law, then we choose to live and die by the Law. The Law will condemn us when we are wrong, but it cannot lift a finger to save us. If we choose the Church, then we choose to live and move in the community of Christians in the way of life given to us by Our Lord and Saviour who does have the power to save us when we go wrong. St Paul bids us to reject utterly the teaching of all who would want us subject to Law rather than the grace, love and worship of God the Holy Trinity. We can only help those who are enslaved by the Law by showing them how to live according to the Love of God. If they cannot see the difference, then we’re not doing it right! They still have the love of God, and they still should have the love of the Church, but they cannot be allowed to convince members of the Church to become slaves to the Law.


We honour our mother and father by Love, not by fulfilling legal obligation. We love our parents because God has given them to us and us to them, and families suffer so much when that bond of love is compromised. It is, however, in the nature of love to suffer.

That is how we should see the Church and how the Church should see herself. Not as a legalistic body, not as a monarchy, but as a mother of a family. Mothering Sunday and Mother’s Day may coincide, but they are not the same. Father’s Day must have the same weight as Mother’s Day because fathers and mothers together bring forth families. How can the family work if there is no love? How can the Church work if it ceases to be the family of God?

1 comment:

Auriel Ragmon said...

One of your better ones, Father!
Keep up the good work.
James Morgan
Olympia, WA across the pond