Worship at Jesmond URC on Mothering Sunday 2015 was led by synod moderator Lis Mullen and TLS student Ann Sinclair. Both mothers themselves, they decided to look into the experience of some of the mothers of the Bible about whom we are told very little.
This is the day set aside during Lent for us to think about Mothers. We know and understand this day has become corrupted, secularised and commercialised over the years, but it does give us a chance to think about the mothering love of God as exemplified in the lives of some of the mothers that history has told us had a significant part to play in our Bible story – and our understanding of God’s love for us.
We have chosen to let our creativity run a little wild this morning as we imagine what it must have been like for some of the significant mothers in the Bible about whom we really know very little.
Perhaps it is time they had a chance to speak, and in sharing what might have been their story, they can tell us something of the difficulties we all have to face when we take on a parenting role. As we all do, at some time or another.
Parenting involves giving and receiving love and joy in abundance, but it also involves pain and heartache. We all have to learn to let go.
We often feel shame, anger and fear, but we also have to learn to forgive and start again.
One thing I am absolutely sure of:
the will of God will never take any of us where the grace of God does not protect us.
Letting go – Ruth’s mother
Bible verse – Ruth 1: 16
She’s not coming back.
She has moved further away.
I gave birth to her
I cradled her, fed her and nursed her
my beloved daughter
she has gone, I shall not see her again
Of course I knew she would leave home to marry,
I had to let her go
it’s what we women do
She married into a family of refugees
Yes well we are not exactly on friendly terms with these incomers, the Canaanites
but what can we women do…
another girl from our settlement married into the same family
but the girls were lucky
their mother-in-law, a widow, was kind to them welcomed them…
that doesn’t always happen
but now, they girls too are widows, –their husbands dead
the family have no other sons or male relations to care for their old mother or for the girls to marry,
that’s what should happen
….there is nothing worse than being a widow
three women poverty stricken,
what’s to become of them?
what is to become of my daughter?
I heard the old woman wanted to return to her homeland;
the drought is over in the land of Judah
I heard they set out on the journey back
And then the old woman pleaded with the young widows to stay here in their own lands
to marry again and have sons
But the young women didn’t want to leave their mother-in-law
there were tears
but one daughter-in-law turned back,
she has stayed
she will marry again and have sons
but the other daughter-in-law—my daughter?
she hasn’t turned back she has stayed
my child, my daughter
she’s gone to a strange land
without any thought for herself
she is walking to Bethlehem with her old mother-in-law
and to what?
It is she who will be an immigrant there
but my daughter is strong and a hard worker
she will care for the old woman and look after her-
but I don’t know how…
I heard my daughter has turned from our gods
she worships their God -the God of the Israelites
for what it is worth I pray to my gods that their God will protect her
and her mother-in-law,
and be gracious to my daughter
I have no choice but to let you go my child, my daughter
I let you go with love
my daughter Ruth,
what will become of you?
Shame – Mary’s parents
Bible verse: 2 Corinthians 12:9
I can see them,
they have stopped talking now,
when I come near them, they turn away from me
I should have risen earlier— –
come to the well before the other women …..
they have turned their faces away from me now
but I know, I know they are talking about us
and who can blame them ?
the shame she has brought on this family.
and what has she done?
She’s pregnant, unmarried and pregnant
and not only that
she is betrothed too
and it is a legal binding!
This could mean divorce
the scandal of it all!
and who would blame Joseph?
He is just an ordinary hard working man,
but now Joseph can’t raise his head round the town either,
the neighbours whispering behind his back —cuckolded
She tells us she is still a virgin
that she hasn’t slept with any man
and not Joseph
She has come up with a story that she has become pregnant by the Holy Spirit
and will give birth to a Son
She tells us she was asked by a messenger from God to be a servant of God
and she willingly obeyed
is she crazy?
what can we make of this?
I can hardly speak to her
and her father is broken he just sits
She was a good girl
always helped with the household chores,
But now! she has shamed us
she has brought shame on the whole family
and now we have become the talk of the town.
Thank goodness she has gone for a while
gone to our relative Elizabeth
away from the town
out of the sight of neighbours away from us
But she spoke with Joseph
and he is going to marry her!
I wonder what happened there?
she and Joseph will be going away
before this baby is born
Joseph has to go to Bethlehem to register for the census
a good thing
this will take them away from here from the talk
and yes the pain and heartache
we are a respected family,
we worship at the synagogue together
as a family
I look at her and Joseph …
We should pray for her, for them
ask for God’s forgiveness and grace
but not right now…not right now
my child what have you done to us
what will become of you Mary?
and what will become of your baby?
Anger and love
Bible verse John 1:16-17
They were always so different, my boys.
Daniel was an easy baby and never more content than working on the land with his father, learning how to manage the animals and grow the best crops.
Benjamin was a different story altogether!
He gave me trouble in the womb and was born kicking and screaming….
Trouble and Ben were constant playmates.
But he was bright, adventurous and a dreamer.
Always looking for something better than what was under his nose. I’m afraid Daniel tended to be rather jealous of his brother’s free spirit and they never got along.
But they were both adored by their father.
Whatever they did, he forgave them.
The other women could see my problems and shared my desperation that their father wouldn’t take a firmer line with the boys.
I suppose we should have seen it coming.
The day Ben broke our hearts.
He hated the farm.
It was like a prison to him.
He couldn’t understand that the land had been in the family for past generations;
that it was for his future and the future of generations to come.
He wanted to go away.
And wanted his share of the land now, to keep him.
Our son told us he wanted his share of what would be due to him when his father was dead.
It was as if he said ‘I wish you were dead!’
And of course, the whole village knew,
for that is the way it is.
The women would suck their teeth at me and the men would look threatening.
They wanted village discipline – and that was the death sentence!
But if he left us, that would be as though he had died, too.
But my husband did sell half our farm,
gave the cash to Ben and he left us.
The whole village heard my wailing.
I don’t know what we’d have done without Daniel.
He kept the farm going – what was left of it.
His father never really worked the land again.
It was as though the heart had been taken out of it.
He would sit on the roof top and look into the distance.
As for me…
well like all wives and mothers I just had to get on with life.
I’d a home to run, servants to organize, floors to sweep, flour to grind and bread to bake.
And all the while my heart was breaking….
for the loss of my son,
for the loss of family life,
for the loss of respect in the village
and most of all, for the loss of a future and our family name.
I prayed constantly to God to bring my son back.
Time passed, as it always does.
But slowly, slowly…….
Then one day I heard a shout from the rooftop where my husband sat, day after day, peering at the horizon.
The times I had tried to persuade him to come down and eat.
Begged him to pay some attention to Daniel….
who was getting more resentful each day
with the extra burden of work and the sense that no matter what he did, he couldn’t fill the gap that Ben had left.
I tried to reassure him,
but he was so filled with anger, his life was turning sour.
He couldn’t see that he’d become as trapped and enslaved by his own emotions
as Ben had felt trapped and enslaved by the boundaries of our land.
But when I heard the shout I thought my husband had taken ill.
All I saw was the heels of his feet,
and his arms outspread as he ran down the stairs
towards the ragged figure in the distance.
I knew it was Ben.
And I’m ashamed to admit it,
but my heart sank for a brief moment as I realised his father’s undignified response would set the village tongues wagging once more.
I was frightened for Daniel too.
My heart ached for him, for he was just as lost.
Pleased as I was to see Ben,
I also wanted to tell him how angry I was with him.
I wanted him to know what he had done to us as a family.
I wanted him to be sorry for the hurt he had caused us.
And for what he had done to Daniel.
I didn’t hear what he said to his father.~
But I’m fairly sure his father wouldn’t wait to hear him say sorry.
It was enough for him that he had come home.
Daniel’s response was just as I thought it would be.
His anger and resentment prevented him from being gracious and forgiving enough to find any welcome for his lost brother.
In the midst of my happiness that my lost son was found,
I was so very sad to see the other one still so lost……
But my husband has shown us all the way to a new life.
Through his gracious love and forgiveness
he has offered to create a clean sheet for Ben to begin again…..
and he has shown Daniel the way towards life and love rather than resentment.
And he has shown me that he is more of a forgiving, gentle, loving parent than I was able or prepared to be…such grace.
From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
Fear and grace
Bible verses: Ephesians 2:1-9
You haven’t heard of me.
Nothing is written. I have no name.
I have no voice.
Like so many women, I am invisible and unheard.
But I want to tell my story, for above all else, I am a mother and no matter what he has done, I love my son.
My boy was always one for his friends.
Well, I say friends, but I’m not sure if they really were.
He was happiest when he was one of a crowd,
but I could see that he wasn’t always accepted by the others.
He worked hard to please them, to be one of them.
Never really confident of himself…. and easily influenced by the others.
Mind you, he always tried to please me too.
He was always very careful to see me right.
We were close, him and me, since his father died.
He’d only have been about four and so we only had each other,
and times were hard for a widow with a child.
My husband’s family were good enough,
but he had no brothers to take us on and they only had a small shop, and that took all their time and energy and didn’t bring in much.
I’d help out sometimes.
I suppose it began to get difficult when Judas was about twelve.
Its difficult to explain,
but it was as though he began to notice that the poor were getting poorer
and the rich people had all they needed – and more.
He began to notice the cruelty of the Roman soldiers
and how they abused us – especially the weaker ones.
He saw them rape his friend and he felt afraid because he was so helpless.
I think he grew up that awful day.
But that fear slowly turned to rage as he saw more unfairness and abuse – and not only from the Romans
but also those of our people who kowtowed to them.
I was the one who became fearful then – of his political opinions and his expression of them.
I was pleased when he joined the group who followed a teacher called Jesus,
but again, I could see when they came to my home that he was always a bit on the edge.
But I liked what his teacher was talking about,
and I knew that Judas would.
It was about honesty, justice, concern for the poor and the women.
I could see his eyes and enthusiasm shine when they talked about change and challenged the people he disliked so much.
I was so hopeful that Judas had found his way at last.
But I’m not sure when it went so badly wrong
and I really don’t know why.
I’m afraid it was because of the way I’d brought him up.
Some say it was all in God’s plan.
Others say that Judas got fed up with Jesus’ gentleness and graciousness.
And others said he was disillusioned that Jesus wasn’t acting like the Messiah the prophets had foretold,
and that Judas had wanted more serious action to rid the country of those who sought to govern it unfairly.
All I know – my own fear turned to terror.
Now, all I can think is, should I have stopped him?
I could have tried at least.
I spend hours saying ‘if only’.
But my boy’s betrayal of his teacher led Jesus to a cruel traitor’s death on a cross….
and to my boy losing his own life and soul too.
Such waste of two young lives.
The other mothers in the group ignore me now. I’m frightened for my own safety too….
I find my comfort is in the words I heard Jesus whisper at the end.
Its the only comfort I can hold onto in this time of darkness….
He said: ‘Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing’.
Judas, if you can hear me from wherever you are,
I know you are forgiven, my son.
And I believe I am too.
Now I begin to understand what that teacher was talking about:
Grace flows even from the cross.
Especially from the cross.
Such extravagant grace.
And somehow, I don’t think this is the end of the story……..