Mothering Sunday

Here’s a random collection of stuff for Mothering Sunday – all in one post so it’s a one-stop shop. Help yourself, and enjoy.

Some thoughts that might drift into a sermon

heroicbiblemumsThe Bible’s stories of mothering are never twee, sentimental or saccharine – how might you describe the mothers in today’s readings (or whichever combination of lectionary readings you are using)?

  • Exodus: cunning, determined, desperate, protective, nurturing (in being the ‘wetnurse’)
  • 1 Samuel: passionate, generous, sacrificial, brave, joyful, trusting and faithful
  • Luke: faithful, responsible, aware of the double-edged sword of caring
  • John: still present even in sorrow, faithful, grieving, caring and cared-for, love that is stronger than death

What if you added to those readings the Old Testament stories of Sarah, Ruth, Rachel and Leah, Rebecca, Hannah, Moses’ mother and sister…. and from the New Testament, the story of the annunciation, the nameless Syrophoenician woman’s refusal to take no for an answer, henchicksand Jesus’s own tears over Jerusalem as a mother weeps for her children,longing to gather them like a hen gathers her chicks.  The list of characteristics associated with mothering grows ever longer and more diverse.

Mothering is all those things, and more.  Without someone to do those things for us – without someone to look out for our interests, to defend us, to protect us; without someone to enable us to learn our purpose in life, without someone to model trust, faith, and joy; without someone who will love us enough to let us go our own way; without someone to take the risk of loving us, even knowing that that love may bring them pain; without someone to stand with us in our times of greatest suffering – without someone to do those things for us, we are missing something crucial.  And if we ourselves have nobody for whom we can do these things, we are also missing out.

childrenssocietyWho does all this for people who would otherwise never experience this kind of mothering?  Charities like The Children’s Society protect children in danger, act as an advocate for children in trouble with the law, enable children who are struggling to reach their God-given potential, take a risk and invest in the future of children in the knowledge that they must have their own integrity, and yet at the same time walk with them on their journey of self-discovery, and affirm that all children are, in the words of Moses’ mum “beautiful before God”.

Sometimes the Children’s society, and other charities that work with vulnerable children, is involved in finding out of situations of extreme suffering, tragedy and crisis, new and life-giving ways of creating family and community, just as Jesus did from the cross when he asked his mother and his best friend, John, to care for each other when he had gone, and just as Moses’ mum did when she risked everything to give her son a chance at life.

We might think about our own lives – our experiences of mothering or of being mothered; remembering with thanksgiving the people who have done those things for us.  And perhaps we might also think of times when we have been failed by those who were supposed to care for us, or those times when we ourselves have failed.

If mothering were only done my mothers, it would be very hard indeed to ensure that everyone received the nurturing, the protection, the love, the sacrifice, the guidance (etc) that we need to become the people we are meant to be.  As a church community, we are called into a role of mothering that sometimes might need to be just as desperate, fierce, loyal, grieving etc as the mothers in today’s readings.  If we, as a church, truly love the community in which we are situated, just as God loves it, and if we are to be God’s holy people for God’s needy world, then we will feel the pain of the world’s suffering, and we will be willing to sacrifice something of ourselves in order to bring to birth God’s purposes for the world.

On the cross, God’s love is nailed firmly to the world so as never to let it go – is our love for the world so firmly fixed as this?    Are we this passionate about nurturing the world into becoming the place that God created it to be?  A truly parental love is one that would give anything and everything for the child.  This is the love of God that we see on the cross, but this is also the love that we are called to have for one another and for all of God’s creation.  When we love like that, we make our Mothering-God visible in the world.

Other activities

Heroic Bible Mums colouring booklet
Pick the bible mums you’re going to focus on (see sermony thoughts, above) and search google images for a line drawing for each of them – caption them with a sentence explaining what each one’s special gifts and characteristics are.  The booklet can then be photocopied and given out for use during the service or as a take home gift.  Don’t forget to include bible references so that families can read the stories again.
Bible Mums is the version of the colouring book idea I made one year – I’m afraid the images were downloaded, and the copyright belongs to the artists – no infringement is intended by posting it here.

Heroic Bible Mums activity, for during the talk
Draw round someone on a large piece of paper (maybe two widths of wallpaper liner taped together at the back) and get people to come and write inside the outline words to describe what mothering is like, or the characteristics of someone who is in a mothering role, perhaps taking a lead from the examples of mothering in the readings – pictures are fine too, if writing words is hard.  The end result would be super-mum, with all the possible gifts on one person – explain that no one person is perfect at all these things, and that’s why we help each other out, and share some of our responsibilities, and that’s why we look to God for help, and not just to ourselves. Wonder together about which of these gifts you could offer to someone else, and which gifts you think you need help with.

Giant greetings card
Give out small bits of paper shaped like flowers on which people can write a greeting addressed either to mothers, to children, or to others that they feel they want to greet on mothering Sunday, or draw a picture of a mother figure who they want to give thanks for or pray for.  It might be particularly appropriate to encourage people to think of the people who have taken a risk for them, or who have invested in them in some way – perhaps including teachers, leaders of cub / brownie packs etc.  Invite everyone to come forward and stick their flowers to a large (A3 size or  bigger) blank greetings card.  After the service the card might be left in church and seen by all the church community, or better still, left somewhere (together with some spare flowers and instructions) where the whole local community can see it and add a flower if they wish to do so.

Flower blessings #1
Prepare some paper flower outlines – a simple centre circle with circle petals round it the same size as the centre, and give them out during the service.  Get everyone to write on their flower a simple blessing for those who care for them – it can be just one word if they like.  Get them to fold the petals in to the centre (making the creases really nice and sharp) and then bring them forward to a large tray with water in it.  Gently lay the folded flowers (with the folded petals uppermost) on the surface of the water.  As the water seeps into the paper, they will magically unfold!
Variation on this: if you have too many people for this to work (eg if you’re doing it in a school assembly) and you have access to an OHP and screen, then write people’s ideas on a hand full of flowers and float them in a glass dish of water carefully balanced on the OHP – the paper will cast beautiful shadows of the flowers gradually opening.

Flower blessings #2 (blessings by post)
You can make flowers as above, but tell people to take one home and use it as a tiny letter to someone they love but don’t often see – maybe a parent or a child who lives far away.  Invite them to write a blessing or other message on the flower, fold the petals in, and then send it by post together with instructions on how to float it open. I’d love to get an interactive Mothering Sunday card like this – wouldn’t you?

Here are some pictures so you can see what they look like – and you can use the first one as a template:

Cut it out, then write your message:

then fold the petals in, and float it on water- and watch them open:

 

The posies

daffodilsdifferentlWho gets them? Just mums? All women?  Just parents? Everyone?  It’s one of the recurring dilemmas of Mothering Sunday, so here are some funky ideas that neatly distract from having to answer the underlying question about who gets the posies:

1. Do enough posies so that there’s not only enough for everyone, but enough for spares that can be taken to the housebound, and make sure people know they can take one for their neighbours

2. Do enough posies so that people whose loved ones have died can have one to put on the grave

3. Suggest that for people whose mothers live far away and aren’t going to be visited on the day, the flowers from the posie might be dried in a flower press, and stuck to a card and posted!

4. Offer daffodil bulbs as an alternative, so that they can be grown at home and given to geographically distant mums at the next visit.

5. Take a collection to buy a gift from www.presentaid.org – there are sections related to ‘green fingers’ and to children, either of which might be a suitable alternative to giving flowers on mothering Sunday.

sunflowers6. Give out sunflower seeds, with spare packets available for people to take to their neighbours, to start a community sunflower festival – pick a date later in the year when the sunflowers will have all grown, and invite everyone back for a special service.

7. Here’s a radical idea: what if someone in each church in the whole country offered to be the local contact point for people who live a long way away but who love it if someone local would visit the grave of a loved one on their behalf on Mothering Sunday and place some flowers there?

Two hymns for Mothering Sunday

All our blessings
Tune: All things bright and beautiful

All our blessings, all our joys
With thankful hearts we sing,
God of love and faithfulness,
Accept the praise we bring.

For parents and for children,
For partners and for friends,
For those whose care enfolds us
With love that never ends.

For fellowship and friendship
For all we have to give,
For those who’ve shared our journey
And taught us how to live.

For all who’ve shared our sorrow,
Walked with us in our pain,
Who’ve held our hand through darkness
And showed us light again.

In sacrifice and service
Your love is clearly shown,
Your outstretched arms embrace us
to bring us safely home.

For those who give us life and breath
Tune: O Waly Waly

For those who gave us life and breath,
For love that’s stronger far than death,
Today we bring our thankful hearts,
For all a mothering love imparts.

For kindness, patience, warmth and care,
For each embrace, each smile, each tear,
Each word of peace, each healing touch,
These simple gifts which mean so much.

We look to you, our mothering Lord,
Who shows love’s cost, and love’s reward,
Your passion fiercer than the grave,
Nailed to the world you came to save.

So teach your people how to live,
How to endure, how to forgive,
Teach us to trust, to sacrifice,
To share the love that has no price.

Lent 1: Matthew 4.1-11

There was once a short-lived reality TV show called ‘SAS: are you tough enough?’ in which ordinary people undertook SAS style training and were, one by one, eliminated from the programme.  I remember watching one episode, and reflecting on the title that no, I really really wasn’t.

There’s a strand of the Lenten tradition that teeters on the brink of being all about whether we are tough enough.  Fasting, strict disciplines, and onerous rules for Lent can, if we’re not careful, become a matter of will power.

But that’s precisely the opposite of what Lent is really about.  The Eucharistic Prayer for Lent speaks of how we are to “learn to be God’s people once again” – in other words, we are on a quest not for self-improvement, but for a deeper rootedness in our identity as people of God.

If we give things up for Lent, we do so so that our usual props  – the things we think we are relying on but are really just cosmetic, with no real strength – fall away, and we are left with only the real, structural, load-bearing columns that really are keeping the building standing.  Sometimes it takes some time in the wilderness to find out what those columns are.

In Jesus’ time in the wilderness we see a process of stripping away.  Jesus fasts, giving up the comfortable feeling of having enough. And he heads out alone, giving up the tangible signs of support from his family and friends.  And he goes away from the towns, away from the trappings of human civilisation, and from the sacred places of his Jewish practice.   And there, he faces temptations to make himself comfortable, to take the easy route to power, and to test the love God his Father.

So what is it that enables him to survive this brutal wilderness experience?  Is it simply that Jesus was “tough enough” when we are not?  Undoubtedly Jesus was strong spiritually, mentally and emotionally, as well as physically, but if we make him out to have some sort of souped-up will power, then we deny his full humanity, and ignore all the evidence from the rest of the gospels that he was “tested as we are”.

When I read this passage it seems to me that we see Jesus finding, in his battle with Satan, that even without many of the things that he had relied on, there were certain things that were deeper sources of strength and courage in the face of adversity. He turns to scripture, refuting each of Satan’s advances with his own, deeper understanding of the Bible’s witness to the eternal and irrepressible love of God for his people.  And, I suspect, he also went into the wilderness with the words of God his Father ringing in his ears at the day of his baptism: “You are my son, I love you, and I am pleased with you.”

It is a fundamental need of each human being that they know they are loved unconditionally.  This applied to Jesus just as it does to all of us.  It is the foundation of our psyche, the ground of all our loving, the sound basis for our risk-taking, our growth and development, and the central core of our ability to love God and love our neighbour as we love ourselves.

Jesus shows us that it is not, and never was, about being tough.  It is about being human. And to be human is to be loved for ever by a God who reveals that love through scripture, and through his calling us by name at our baptism, and through his presence with us in every one of our life’s wilderness challenges.

 

Love Life Live Lent: have a pancake party

When I was at theological college, we had a workshop on personality type, based not on Myers-Briggs or enneagrams (though we did that, too), but on recipes for Pumpkin soup.  It was very revealing.  The handout we were given provided four sets of instructions for pumpkin soup: at one end of the spectrum was a highly scientific method, with every ingredient specified, weighed and measured, and each part of the process timed to the second; at the other end of the spectrum was a vague description including the line “don’t worry if you don’t have any pumpkins, you can use pretty much any vegetable….  throw it all in the pan….  etc”.  We were told to go and stand in groups, based on which version of the instructions most appealed to us.  Those of us in the ‘vague and improvisatory’ corner looked with horror at those in the ‘scientific and precise’ corner (and they looked back at us with equal horror), and the other two groups simply laughed at both of us!  It was a quite wonderful illustration of the reality that we may think we’re looking at something in a completely ‘normal’ way, but that doesn’t mean we’re seeing the same thing as the person next to us, and we may think that our way of doing things is perfectly good, but that doesn’t mean that others will be able to work with us in the same way.

So, why the sudden interest in Pumpkin soup?  Because one can approach pancake batter in a similar way.  I once read a recipe for pancake batter, and the first time I made it, I even used my kitchen scales.  Thereafter, I’ve reverted to type and estimated everything (and no, I don’t even consistently use the same flour each time – sometimes it’s self-raising, sometimes plain, and sometimes I put butter in the batter and sometimes I don’t – on a whim – and yes, that would drive some of you mad….).  To be honest, I make a pretty good pancake – my children have endorsed my skills in this area, and they don’t really care about the method as long as the end result tastes good with honey, or chocolate sauce.

Reflecting on the pumpkin soup and pancake batter, though, is a great way of reminding ourselves that just as we each have a slightly different ‘default’ setting when it comes to cooking, we also have our own comfort zone when it comes to our spirituality, our prayer life, our style of worship, the way that we express our lives as followers of Jesus, and the way that we approach the season of Lent. There are those who have a set discipline and follow it every year, and there are those who pick something different each time and explore new things; there are those who give things up and those who take things on; there are those whose Lenten journey is reflective and those for whom an active approach is more fruitful.  There is no single right or wrong answer for how to keep Lent, because we are each unique.

Lent can be a time to get out of our comfort zone, especially if we’ve got stuck in a rut in our spiritual lives.  But it can also be a time for finding what’s at the heart of our real comfort zone, and learning to root ourselves in God, becoming more truly who we are.

Remember that when Jesus went out into the wilderness to be tempted for 40 days and nights, he went out with the sound of encouragement and love and affirmation ringing in his ears from the day of his baptism: “You are my son, I love you, and I am pleased with you.”  Jesus was able to take that ‘comfort zone’ with him into the discomfort of hunger, loneliness and temptation.

May this Lent be a time for all of us to work out what is at the heart of us. A time for becoming more and more who we are, and finding that when our roots are deep, the walls that prevent us seeing things from others’ points of view will crumble and fall.

 

Are you ready to love life and live Lent?

Yes! It’s time to spring-clean the soul, work out what really matters, and do some things that bring heaven and earth a little closer for you and for everyone around you.

If you haven’t managed to pick up a Love Life Live Lent booklet, you can find out each daily action by following @livelent on twitter – the Love Life Live Lent website also offers a range of additional free resources for churches and schools and at home.

You can also check in here, where I’ll have another go at doing a daily blog, based on the action of the day – last year I got about half way through Lent before I fell asleep and missed a day; this year I’m hoping to be a little more lively and make it all the way through to Easter!

It all starts tomorrow, Shrove Tuesday, with the very pleasant first task of having a pancake party!  Here’s to a Lent that has prayer and parties, kindness and calm, activity and reflection in equal measure.

Love life live lent: have a pancake party!

No doubt there will be pancakes at tonight’s fundraising meeting, but just in case, my daughter and I had some for breakfast.  In fact, I was woken up especially early “because it’s pancake day!” to give me time to make them.

As I groggily mixed the flour and egg and milk and set the frying pan to heat up, it occurred to me that everyone probably has their own favoured pancake recipe.  When I first made pancakes I used the Delia recipe, but these days I don’t weigh or measure anything, I just chuck stuff in a bowl and stir it until it looks right. It generally works, and it suits my personality much better than getting out the kitchen scales and doing things ‘properly’.

Everyone has their own favourite toppings, too. My daughter and I love golden syrup and lemon juice, while one of her friends will only eat pancakes if they are coated in tomato ketchup.  One of the tutors at my theological college used to make the most wonderful orange pancake sauce which I’ve never been able to replicate.  Our taste in food is as unique as we are, clearly, and some of the best pancake parties I’ve been to have been those with a ‘bring and share topping’ rule – enabling each person to try everyone’s favourites, perhaps enjoying something new, perhaps confirming their own preferences.

Whether it’s syrup, lemon juice, orange, or ketchup, there seems little point in trying to be frugal about pancakes.  Their whole function on Shrove Tuesday is to use up some of the luxuries that will be denied during Lent. So making the most of this last ‘feast’ is absolutely related to the way we approach the fast of Lent, whether or not we’re actually going to be giving up a particular food.  ‘Deny yourself’ we are often told at the start of Lent.  But this isn’t about denying who we are – we are still unique people, with unique tastes, preferences and desires. But Lent is a good time for each of us to reflect on how the person we are impacts on those around us and on the wider world.

So much in Love Life Live Lent is not about denying ourselves, but rather about revisiting who we are; doing things a bit differently in the belief that what we do can profoundly affect who we are, as well as affecting others.

As you eat your pancakes (whatever topping you put on them), think about how the person you are, in all your individuality, makes a difference to the world around you, and how, during Lent, you are going to make that impact even more into something which really does change things for the better.