Mothering Sunday Sermon 22 March 2020

Based on Romans 16: 1–16 and Mathew 20: 20–23

Spirit of the living God speak to our anxious hearts and minds and bring us the consolation we so desperately seek in Jesus’ name.


Friends, happy Mothering Sunday! It feels odd speaking to you through this medium, but desperate times call for innovative ways of communicating, and we thank God for technology. I must confess that when I was training for ministry the sixteenth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans didn’t do much for me. It annoyed me with its long presentation of people’s names, most of whom I could not pronounce; I still can’t! Over the years, however, I have modified my attitude after discovering that there is much more to it than I had first imagined. For example, it is interesting to note that, of the twenty-six people whom Paul singles out for his personal greeting, six were women. Now that strikes me as being rather odd, since Paul has frequently been accused of being a misogynist. I think it also shows us the tremendous influence that women had in the early church. In the male-dominated first-century Palestine, it is telling that Paul could not describe the church without mentioning the significant role of women. Verse 13 is particularly interesting, and it is one that scholars have struggled with over the centuries. Paul writes: Give my greetings to Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. Now this statement could be taken two ways. It could mean that Paul had two distinct women in mind – the mother of Rufus and his own mother. Or, he could be saying: I salute Rufus and his mother, who is like a mother to me. If that is what he meant, then it raises some interesting speculation. When and where did Paul meet Rufus’s mother? How did this woman and Paul form such a close bond that he refers to her fondly as being like his mother? We know from the Bible that Simon of Cyrene, the man who carried Jesus’ cross, had two sons: Alexander and Rufus. Was this the same Rufus of whom Paul was speaking?

No one knows for sure, but it makes no difference, because this text provides us an excellent springboard for a Mothering Sunday sermon. Some people ridicule Mothering Sunday as a lot of sentimental drivel. They say that it is nothing more than the creation of the global capitalist industry to mint money and has nothing to do with the church. True, Mothering Sunday is not the same as Mother’s Day and no matter how many times I teach people that they are not the same, they simply don’t want to know. So, on this Mothering Sunday, when everyone is free to worship as they wish and not just on a specific Sunday, let us take time to honour our mothers too. It is true there are some women in the Bible, such as Jezebel and the vindictive Herodias, who tarnish the institution of motherhood. But there are women in our times too who abandon, abuse, and corrupt their children and who create a poor role model. Nevertheless, I like to think that these are the exceptions. Most mothers do the right thing and deserve recognition. So, this morning I would like to join Paul and salute all the mothers; those with us and those who have left us. Here are three reasons why we should salute them.

First, mothers should be saluted for their tenacious love. My choice of the word tenacious is deliberate: let me explain. We read in 2 Samuel a very obscure story about Rizpah. Rizpah was not a very nice woman, but, of course that does not disqualify one from being a mother. She did in fact have two illegitimate sons by King Saul. Later, when David ascended to the throne, he had these two sons killed because of their involvement in killing thousands of Gibeonites. To appease the Gibeonites, David decreed that their bodies should be hung on public gallows for all to see. This is when Rizpah comes back into the story again. She goes to the execution site and begins a sad and lonely vigil beside the bodies of her two sons. We are told in this very grisly scene that she drove away the vultures by day and the jackals by night. When David heard of the tenacity of this mother’s vigil he was moved to compassion and he went to Gibeon personally and had the bodies removed and given a decent burial. It seems to me that Rizpah’s vigil speaks to the tenacious love of all mothers. Rizpah is every mother who sees her children sacrificed by the state during war or peacetime period. Another story of tenacious love comes to us from Wuhan in China, where a teenage girl, the only child of a Chinese single mother, was forcibly quarantined by the authorities, for fear that the shad the dreadful Corona virus. Since the mother was not allowed to set foot inside the hospital and could not afford a hotel, she built herself a makeshift shelter from plastic sheets right opposite the hospital and camped there for three weeks, waving to her daughter every morning and evening from her window until the teenager was released to her waiting arms.

The poet Rudyard Kipling beautifully captures this tenacious spirit in these words:

Mother o’ mine

If I were hanged on the highest hill,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine
I know whose love would follow me still.
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine
If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine
I know whose tears would come down to me.
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine

Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936)

Surely there is a tenacity in those words we must salute, don’t you think?

Second, I think that mothers need to be saluted for the tremendous impact they have had on the lives of each one of us. I am totally convinced that the person who influenced Jesus the most, second only to God, was Mary. That is not to diminish Joseph’s role. Had he lived, I like to think that he would have been at Golgotha with Mary that Friday. But very clearly Mary’s role in God’s plan did not end at the birth of Jesus. God used her, along with other persons and events, to help mould the personality and ministry of Jesus. On the cross before he died, he looked at John the disciple and said, ‘Behold thy mother.’ And then he looked at Mary and said, ‘Behold thy son.’ That same type of influence can be seen in other individuals in our word today. I firmly believe that you cannot understand who a person is and what motivates them until you understand their past. And you cannot understand a person’s past without understanding the source that co-created that person along with God – their parents, especially their mother.

Third, I would salute mothers because where they are, is where home is. I went visiting a new family who had just moved to Bolton in my former church and I asked the man if he was originally from Bolton. ‘No,’ he said, ‘we have moved a lot since I was child and so there is really no one place that I can say was home.’ After a brief reflection he added: ‘I suppose wherever my mother was, that is where home was.’ Wherever mother is, that is where home is. Maybe a lot of us can identify with that. I have found that to be true in my case because, since my mother passed away, I find that I have no real desire to go back to my village, even though I have siblings there. It is appropriate of course that we single out this day in the year to recognize mothers, but when we really think about it, there ought not to be a day that goes by that we do not rise up and call our mother blessed. The highest tribute that we can give to our mothers is not to praise them, not to give them flowers, not to visit them, desirable as all that is, but to be the kind of person that all mothers, the churches that nurtured us and our loving God  want us to be. A people who care for others just like mothers do, a people who respond to the cries and needs of those facing social isolation just like mothers do, a people who will risk everything for their brothers and sisters in need, just like a mother would. May the Lord bless you all with the heart and the love of a mother, especially during these testing times.