Mothering Sunday traditions in the church can be dated back to the 16th century. It is told that this was the day when people were encouraged to return to worship in their ‘mother church’ where they had been baptised. People who usually attended the local parish church, would make a longer journey to the ‘mother church’ or cathedral of the Diocese. On this day, many girls who were in domestic service were allowed time off from their chores to visit their mothers and their family. A tradition arose where they would bake a gift to show their mothers their new skills and that this was often a Simnel cake.
Today Mothering Sunday is a popular day when Christians choose to use the occasion to think about all things which concern motherhood. We give thanks for the Church as Mother, the Virgin Mary as the mother of Jesus, we remember that God cares for us like a mother and, last but not least, we give thanks for our own mothers.
In our readings today we see that ‘mothering’ is not a role reserved solely for those who have given birth; if it was, I believe that it would be very hard to ensure that all the required nurturing, protection, teaching, loving, guidance etc that is needed to make us the people we are meant to be, would be delivered. Our own children have benefited enormously from this extended love and care; indeed, it was just this kind of care present in the local church that encouraged us to keep our home in the old mining town in the West Riding of Yorkshire.
They are the richer for it and have a long list of ‘honoury’ Aunties and Uncles who helped us to speak the truth and love of Jesus into their lives and they still do.
Moses received the motherly love and care of three women: Jochabed, his birth mother, Miriam his sister and the Pharaoh’s daughter. The richness of personal experience they brought to him and the sacrifice and bravery of these women helped to create Moses into the man that God required him to be.
At the foot of the cross where all the men bar one have abandoned Jesus, we see faithful, grateful, courageous and loving women remain. It would have been a dangerous thing to associate yourself with a man sentenced to death by the Roman authorities and yet it is they who remain.
Mother’s in the Bible are never twee or sentimental; they are brave, and determined and given to their role. In their love, they exhibit so many of the characteristics of the love of God himself and of the sacrificial and servant role that the Church is to give to the community it serves.
Bill Hybels, the head of Willow Creek Church with an average weekly attendance of over 24,000 states that the ‘Local Church is the hope of the world’. As the church of God here in Upper Wensleydale, we are called to display all of the qualities present in these women and to love the community around us with the love of God himself. ere to edit.
As I stood on the top of the Austrian mountain, I believed that the parachute would work. I had read about parachutes working and I had seen films of parachutes working but now, as the man I was strapped to started walking swiftly towards the edge of the cliff, I had to decide if my belief was well founded; and then we jumped.
I understood that day that there is a big difference between knowing about parachutes, understanding the qualities of a parachute and placing your trust in the parachute to save your life.
Nicodemus was a very learned man with considerable responsibility for the Jewish community in that area but he was also a very puzzled man, a man with something missing in his life and a man with something missing in his experience of God. Nicodemus knew of God, he knew a great deal about God but he didn’t truly know God and so he seeks Jesus for help; the perfect place to start.
Jesus’ instruction is simple but challenging. The flesh is born of flesh but the spirit must be born of the spirit. For anyone to enter the Kingdom of God they must experience a rebirth. You can’t enter the Kingdom trusting in your own goodness, your own knowledge or your own works. It’s all about Jesus. He is the way in. As we respond in obedience to His call our relationship with God is put right. It’s a decision to be made.
Our readings have a common theme in that they are all extolling the fruits of a right relationship with God. Abraham trusted God and was blessed, Paul in his letter to the church in Rome reminds us that a right relationship with God is based upon trusting Jesus and the psalmist directs us to turn away from self-reliance and to trust in God. It’s all about perspective and looking to God.
Abram’s obedience leads to a blessing and those who are blessed by God are then directed to become a blessing to others. It’s a physical as well as a spiritual truth that a person cannot give away what they do not first possess and so Jesus directs Nicodemus towards the truth of what he needs. The greatest act of obedience towards God is acknowledging and accepting his son Jesus – who He is and why He came. To continue my opening analogy; Jesus is our spiritual parachute. He is the only one who can save us from falling towards our death: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ Jn.3:16
Lent is a wonderful time of the year to re-examine our understanding and our gratitude as to why Jesus came to live amongst us; that we might have life and life in abundance. Now and for ever.
Temptation is big business. Last year the UK spent a record £20Bn on advertising in the sole aim of getting us to succumb to their temptations and to part with our cash. Some of the adverts are great fun to watch with McVities biscuits and Specsavers topping the bill.
The account of the events surrounding Jesus’ time in the wilderness is told in three of the gospels and must have come from Jesus himself, telling his disciples what took place. He clearly thought they needed to know how to handle temptation and the subject matter is still very relevant as it deals with contemporary subjects of greed and power and the danger of compromise.
Temptation comes in all shapes and sizes with varying degrees of consequence, but the Bible teaches us that temptation isn’t the real problem; no, the real problem lies in what we choose to do with it. There are two basic responses to temptation and we see them in the extracts from Genesis and Matthew’s gospel.
The world’s way is shown clearly in how Eve responds to the temptation of disobeying God’s guidance and instruction and then there is God’s way of handling the situation, shown in how Jesus deals with it. The outcomes are very different.
Eve makes a fundamental mistake right at the start; she enters into conversation with her tempter. Once this has begun she has given permission for that voice to continue to speak into her situation and to say the things she wants to hear even though she knows they are not what she should be listening to. Been there? I have. I know when I shouldn’t be thinking or considering certain things, but once I allow the voice to take even the smallest hold on me it’s an easy downwards slope into allowing it to happen and to take root in my imagination.
Eve is manipulated very skilfully. The surest way to persuade someone into doing something that they shouldn’t is to attack their personal identity; to undermine the truth of who they are and what they are capable of.
Verse 5 in Genesis chapter 3 reads: ‘For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God’ – Her ignorance of her special identity is used to attack her. How? Because she was already like God. She had been made in God’s image and as such had all the resources she needed to rebuff the temptation. After that initial acceptance, it is then easier for her to be drawn deeper in and she begins to reinvent the truth into a form that is more convenient for her argument. Been there? I have. She says that God told her that she ‘must not touch it’, which is not what was said at all but reinforces her sense of indignance against not getting her own way.
Contrast this with the way in which Jesus deals with the same tempter. Notice in the account from Matthew that the voice starts straight away with the same method of attack as had been used on Eve. He attacks Jesus’ identity: ‘If you are the son of God’. Jesus knows exactly who he is and doesn’t waste a single breath on entering into discussing it. Instead he rebuffs the voice with a piece of spiritual truth that cannot be answered and so the tempter tries again with a different situation but using the same method. Eventually he realises that this isn’t working and so leaves Jesus alone until, as Luke’s account puts it; a more ‘opportune time’.
Whatever our battle ground is; physical, emotional, spiritual, food, finance, morals, doubt, anxiety etc., follow the example of Jesus. Don’t enter into conversation with the tempters voice; instead, speak God’s truth and life into your situation. That’s why knowing scripture and the truth of who God is, is so important to us.
Jesus responded just as scripture tells us to: ‘Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you.’ – James 4:17. So when that voice next makes an appearance, do as Jesus did. Declare that God is in control of your life, speak the truth out loud and he will go.
Rev Dave Clark
Vicar of the Benefice of Upper Wensleydale