Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Mothering Sunday

Fourth Sunday of Lent
14 March 2021
Morning Service

Revd Nicholas Mercer

When I started writing this sermon for Mothering Sunday, I was drawn to an article in the newspaper about a man called David Thomas

Or, to be more accurate, he used to be called David Thomas and is now Diana Thomas

He was formerly a man who transitioned to being a woman at the age of fifty seven

After an all boys’ school, Cambridge and three children, he realised that he wanted to be a women

Having recently come through all the surgical procedures, she pointed out

trans people like me, are at the centre of one of the most bitter wars raging through our culture.

On the one hand [there are those]who maintain that no one born male can ever truly be considered female…

On the other are those who insist that all a person should have to do to change sex is wake up one morning, say, ‘I’m a woman,’ or, ‘I’m a man,’ and that is enough

But continued

My experience of coming out as transgender and living as a transwoman has overwhelmingly been one of kindness, acceptance, tolerance and well-wishing.

This is one of the most difficult issues of our time

And there will be a broad breadth of opinion on this matter whatever group you select

Recognising the difficulties and strength of feeling, the Church of England has recently entered this arena with the publication of its book “Living in Love and Faith”

It seeks to tackle tough questions among Christians

A Society in which understandings of gender, sexuality and marriage continue to change

How are Christians to understand and respond to these trends in the light of the good news of Jesus Christ?

And how it is that we draw different conclusions – which I am sure we all do?

Although I have not, until now, initiated a conversation on this issue, it is being encouraged across parishes in the Anglican Communion

Today is Mothering Sunday

Mothering Sunday was revived by Constance Adelaide Smith in 1913 to honour

“Mother Churches, mothers of earthly homes. Mary Mother of Jesus and Mother nature”

A considerably wider definition than the narrow focus which seems to have been settled upon today

But nevertheless, it is a day honouring mothers and mother churches and traditionally celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent

However, I was struck when I read both readings today that neither were about mothers in the strictest sense of the meaning

First, we heard the classic story of Moses in the bulrushes

I love this story – but when it comes to Motherhood, the story is complicated

First, Moses’ real Mother in an act of desperation, places Moses in a papyrus basket which she places in the reeds in the riverbank

The basket is then found by the Pharaoh’s daughter who then hands it to another woman to raise on her behalf

When the child is grown up Pharaoh’s daughter takes the child back and then “took him as her son”

Arguably, Moses has three women he could call “Mother”

The second reading is about Mary, exactly, as Constance Adelaide Smith had intended

However, although Mary is the Mother of Jesus she is not like other women

She is entirely different, having been overshadowed by the Holy Ghost

Unmarried, with a very understanding partner, she is the sort of family some would still look down upon today’s

But these different models of Motherhood are not confined to Moses and Mary

I remember as a student studying sexual ethics being intrigued by the story of Abraham

The Father of the Patriarchs, he produces a son as a result of his union with his slave Hagar

Indeed, with a seemingly barren wife, God encourages surrogacy

Abraham then goes on to have another child with his wife Sarah

Described by Anna Goldman-Amirav as the “Biblical ‘battle of the wombs’”, it is intriguing to see Abraham’s family tree

With separate branches stemming from the birth of his two children – who would call whom “mother” at a family gathering?

But if you think that Motherhood is complicated, then so too is God particularly when it comes to gender

This is not just a modern construct by radical feminism, but one that goes back to the Bible itself

Although Jesus teaches us to say “Our Father, who art in heaven”

There are numerous Biblical quotes where God is assigned a different gender

The prophet Hosea (13:8) describes God as a mother bear protecting her cubs

Isaiah (49:15) compares God to a nursing mother showing compassion for the “child of her womb”

And Matthews Gospel likens God to a mother hen – gathering the chicks under her wings

Even at the end of the Bible, the Book of Revelation compares God to Hagar who has protected her child in the wilderness

And over nine hundred years ago, in our very own country, St Anselm, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said of God “are you not also our Mother”?

As we can see from the content of this sermon, gender is complicated and motherhood is too

Not only is gender sometimes fluid but there are many who act as our mothers at the same time –

Mothers, surrogates, slaves, nurses and most importantly God himself

As the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have also said in the new debate

“We need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church. This must be founded in Scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology and the Christian Faith as the Christian Faith as the Church of England has received it”

“truth may often be challenging but it transforms us “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

But at the end of the day I would return to the words of David, now Diana, who said of

my experience has been overwhelmingly been one of kindness, acceptance, tolerance and well-wishing

On this Mothering Sunday may we give thanks for all those we call Mothers who have given their love so freely and generously for us all