Mothering Sunday/ Fourth Sunday in Lent

27th March 2022

Joshua 5:9-12

The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.

While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

Psalm 32

1 Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, *
and whose sin is put away!

2 Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, *
and in whose spirit there is no guile!

3 While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, *
because of my groaning all day long.

4 For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; *
my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, *
and did not conceal my guilt.

6 I said,” I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” *
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

7 Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble; *
when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.

8 You are my hiding-place;
you preserve me from trouble; *
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.

9 “I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go; *
I will guide you with my eye.

10 Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding; *
who must be fitted with bit and bridle,
or else they will not stay near you.”

11 Great are the tribulations of the wicked; *
but mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord.

12 Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; *
shout for joy, all who are true of heart.

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So Jesus told them this parable:

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe–the best one–and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'”

Reflection 

Today, as well as being the fourth Sunday of Lent, it is also Mothering Sunday – for which alternative readings are given. Mothering Sunday has come to be Mother’s Day, a day when we tell our mums how much we love them and appreciate what they have and do do for us. Saying thank you and showing one’s love, is always a good thing to do! But sometimes one can feel uncomfortable about being unduly praised especially if others equally deserving of praise are overlooked. Or the focus on mothers may bring back painful memories: not everyone has happy experiences of being mothered or of being a mother; not everyone who would wish, has had the opportunity of being a mother. 

As a child I was taught that Mothering Sunday was about giving thanks for Mother Church. What might we mean when we say ‘Mother Church’? It sounds rather hierarchical! A central church in charge of all its offspring? Or should it mean the mothering nature of God that can be expressed by a church community? Last week’s Psalm talked of clinging onto God and from that I digressed to the images of ducklings following their mother and of lambs sticking close to their mums. (One could also include baby elephants who tag alongside both mum and aunts). Mothering in the context of a church community might be that which helps us stick close to God, as well as to one another. We know that both ducks and sheep will respond when their young get lost, quacking and bleating for help and reassurance. So mothering in the context of a church community might also be about responding to people’s needs and pleas. 

At this point comes aptly today’s gospel with the parable of the lost son. All the characteristics of the father – love for his offspring, the desire to treat them fairly, the letting them go their own ways, the forgiving and welcoming of them when they go astray – are as much a mother’s as a father’s. God is both our Father and our Mother. 

For the young man, the story is a rollercoaster ride of change and transformation. At the beginning of the story, we might describe him as eager but immature, self assured, self confident that he can do better with his inheritance than can his father. He goes from being a child living within the support – to him perhaps, the confines – of the family home, to being an independent person of means,  off to experience all that life has to offer. 

His life goes downhill, money and friends gone, he confidence goes and he becomes a drudge, the lowliest of the low, effectively a slave labourer, reliant on an employer who has no regard for his well-being. Reliant too on the pigs that their appetite will be satisfied before they have eaten every scrap of food. This bottom of the pit moment becomes another turning point in the young man’s life. Understanding dawns. He is aware that he is where he is because of his own actions. He has the option of staying or leaving. He owns his failure both to himself and, later, to his father. He sees there is another way of behaving. He now accepts the need to be dependent on the goodwill of others. He accepts the need to change his attitude. He accepts the need to amend his life. Home he goes, penitent and remorseful, willing to forgo all that he had had, to be under the charge of someone far wiser than himself. He knows where he wants to belong.

And the final transformation, the one he least expected: the young man is restored as a son of the household, as his father’s beloved. His humility and acceptance of his own short comings and his recognition of his need for the benevolence of his father, have changed him into a mature, life-scarred young man. 

The father is a figure of constancy, always there, always loving all his children. He is not a dictatorial figure, nor a disciplinarian. He is not a ‘helicopter’ parent nor a ‘tiger’ parent: he doesn’t hover around his children, never allowing them to learn through experience, nor does he push them to be someone they are not.   Yet he does remain the back stop, the one who will always love them. 

The short reading from Joshua is also about a time of change. Up until this point the people of Israel have been wanders in the desert, fed each day by God. Now they will no longer be wanderers but established as farmers and town dwellers, living on and from the land which God is giving them. They will have to contribute their effort to the process of producing food to eat. In the wilderness they were guided every foot of the way by God – as column of fire by night and as a column of cloud by day. Now on, they will have to ensure they spend time with God, checking in and making sure that they are on the right path. Rather than just being led, they will have to plot a route and follow it. As it says in the Psalm, “Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding” – rather take responsibility for your actions, be savvy!

Paul’s letter to the community at Corinth is also about new beginnings: specifically the new beginning that we all have through Jesus Christ. Just as the young man at first only saw the world through the rose-tinted  self-assurance of his youth, but then through the recognition of his faults and the love of his father, saw life in a completely new way, so Paul tells us that whilst we had at first seen Jesus only as a human – or only seen him through human eyes – we now are transformed into a new creation, seeing the world as those who have been reconciled to God through Jesus. Through Jesus we are given a new way of understanding the world. And we are tasked with enabling others to experience this transformation. 

Let us then return to the mothering church – knowing that to be motherly is also to be fatherly. We are God’s new creation, called to help each other stay close to God and close to one another; called to listening out for cries of help; called to share the means and gift of reconciliation with everyone. 

Happy Mothering Sunday!

Sunday next before Lent

27th February 2022

Exodus 34:29-35

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Psalm 99

1 The Lord is King;
let the people tremble; *
he is enthroned upon the cherubim;
let the earth shake.

2 The Lord is great in Zion; *
he is high above all peoples.

3 Let them confess his Name, which is great and awesome; *
he is the Holy One.

4 “O mighty King, lover of justice,
you have established equity; *
you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”

5 Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and fall down before his footstool; *
he is the Holy One.

6 Moses and Aaron among his priests,
and Samuel among those who call upon his Name, *
they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.

7 He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; *
they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave them.

8 O Lord our God, you answered them indeed; *
you were a God who forgave them,
yet punished them for their evil deeds.

9 Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and worship him upon his holy hill; *
for the Lord our God is the Holy One.

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.

Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]

Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”–not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

Reflection

Ascending Mount Sinai, Moses draws close to God. It is a transformative experience: God’s glory shines through him. But is is not just Moses’ appearance that has changed; so too has his understanding of God and what God desires. Moses comes back down from the mountain with a new teaching, a new way of living that is in accordance with God’s will. Moses presents this to the Israelites through the medium of the Law.

The psalmist presents God as king. A king is one who reigns, one who determines how people will live within the  bounds of his kingdom.  God’s kingdom, God’s rule, says the psalmist, is characterised, by justice, equity and righteousness. 

I think Paul in his letter to the Corinthians is being a bit harsh in its condemnation of the the Jews. But then we too can equally be blinkered especially if we do not expect to see or hear a different interpretation – and that is as true of what we may hear on the news as of what we hear from scripture. We need to question are assumptions and to be enquiring. 

What Paul does want to say is that when we see and hear through the medium of our relationship with Jesus, our understanding will be completely transformed. It will be a route to freedom, a route that will see us being daily transformed by the glory of God. 

As with Moses’ experience, so for the disciples. When they are in such close proximity to God’s presence, they are overwhelmed by God’s glory. When Moses came back down from the mountain, he brought with him the Law, enscribed on tablets of stone. When the disciples came down from the mountain, they return with Jesus. Jesus is the living embodiment of God’s will for humankind. In Jesus’s example and teaching, we learn what is God’s will for the world. And as God says, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’

Today’s readings are about hearing and seeing differently – hearing and seeing as God, and not the world, would have us hear and see. If we did, we would experience the world as a place where justice and equity and righteousness flourish. 

Pause a moment. What would such a world be like? Would there be people going to bed hungry? Would there be people fearing the loss of freedom and citizenship? Would there be people exposed to bombs and bullets? Would there be widespread destruction of rain forests, the depletion of soils, the loss of habitat and extinction of plants and animals? Would there be extreme weather patterns caused by human exploitation? Would there be a super rich 1% and an impoverished 90%? Would there be families dependent on food banks,  people with no stable income, young people unable to afford  homes, old people unable to afford care? 

If we know Jesus Christ, if we have faith in his teachings, if we were to follow his example, then through us God’s Spirit would be transforming the world. We can see it happening in small ways.

A couple of week’s ago at Christ Church we heard about the work of Partners for Change transforming the lives of Ethiopian communities. This fortnight we are marking the work of the Fairtrade Foundation, seeing both how it transforms the lives of others and protects and enhances the natural environment, and are being reminded how we can actively participate in that change. In our intercessions today we will be praying for the work of Christians Against Poverty which provides support and life skills and encouragement for people whose lives have been eroded by debt. 

We can use the time and discipline Lent gives us to hear anew what Jesus teaches, to reshape our lives to express his love for the people we meet day by day, to care for the natural world in which we live, and to support the work that is bringing justice and equity and righteousness to prevail. Let God’s kingdom come on earth!