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Last Sunday’s Sermon

Mothering Sunday

Did you realise that human beings are the only species on the planet that gives presents or cards on Mothering Sunday? That’s quite remarkable when you think about it, because everything bigger than a microbe has a mother.

But turtles don’t give flowers on mothering Sunday, for instance! Baby turtles don’t even know who their mothers are! Mother turtles heave themselves up a beach one day, dig a hole with their flippers, lay their eggs, and head back out to the sea. A couple of months later, the eggs hatch out, and all the little baby turtles try and make it back over the sand to the safety of the ocean. They never even meet their mothers! Huge numbers of animals and fish are the same: they don’t take care of their children in any way, nor even know who they are.

Birds do a bit better, don’t they? In a month or so they will all be furiously building nests, from the smallest to the largest. The path outside St Cuthbert’s will soon be covered in twigs, because the rooks build nests in the bell-tower, and they are not very good at recycling. And once they’ve laid their eggs, birds work night and day to feed their chicks.

We once had blackbirds’ nest in a bush right next to a window, from where we could watch the clutch of egg. First one, then another, until there were five, I think. We didn’t see them hatch, unfortunately; but we watched each day as these revolting-looking chicks, that only a mother could love, grew spikes that turned into feathers and eventually covered our handsome young fledgelings. We waited for them to fly the nest, of course; and one night we heard the most insistent alarm call from outside. The mother blackbird was making a terrible racket; it was as if she was calling us outside. And we discovered why. Seated beneath the nest, peering greedily up at its clutch of teetering chicks, was next door’s cat. Once we’d scared the cat off, the chicks all jumped out of the nest, and fluttered down onto the ground, before frantically flapping their way to the nearest tree.

You’ll have seen programmes, perhaps of polar bears, emerging from their dens with a couple of new-born cubs; or big cats teaching their young to hunt; or monkeys, helping their offspring to swing through trees. Not pandas, though. Pandas are hopeless. You can see a mother panda looking at her tiny, mewling offspring and saying ‘what?!?’ Mind you, you can sympathise when she hears one day, ‘mummy, I think I’m going off bamboo shoots.’

Some animals need our help with their children. The fields will soon be alive with new-born lambs. So will our farmers have simply left all their ewes to get on with it, promising to look in sometime over the summer? Not a bit of it. Farmers hardly sleep at lambing time. Instead they are up every night, helping their ewes to give birth, helping to keep the new lambs warm and dry, fishing them out of ditches if they stray, sometimes putting little plastic raincoats on them to keep them dry; and generally doing all they can for their sheep. The lambs don’t give presents to their mothers on Mothering Sunday, of course; but I do wonder whether the ewes themselves are not a bit grateful to the farmers.

Jesus was a carpenter, until he started preaching, and teaching and healing, all around the country. Yet in our reading, he describes himself as a shepherd. ‘I am the good shepherd,’ he says. Is he mixing things up here? Or is he perhaps wanting us to understand that he’s here to help, rather like the shepherd who feeds and protects and looks after his sheep?

Obviously there are lots of times when mums need our help: cooking for instance. When you need flour or sugar or rice to be spread all over the kitchen floor, you need children to help. When your mobile phone needs a good bath. When you need a thick layer of toys strewed across the living room because someone is coming to visit, then you need your children’s help. When you need one of those little tins of Humbrol paint shaken all over a wall, you need a teenage boy.

But there can also be times when you need a different kind of help. When the day has been so stressful you could scream. When it cost an arm and a leg just to fill up the car with petrol and you can’t imagine where the money will come from. When other people’s children can walk or talk before yours, or pass more exams or get a black belt in judo or a scholarship to Oxford. When everyone else is making demands so that you never have a moment to yourself from one month’s end to the next. At times like these, you need someone who will understand what you are going through. Someone who won’t tell you that it’s all your fault, or that other people manage, or un-subtly bask in their own childrens’ success.

Jesus remains the good shepherd, because, like a shepherd in New Testament times, he journeys with us. He understands our needs. He knows what it’s like to struggle. He doesn’t judge or put us down. But he also knows the joys of family life, and wants to share those with us too: the precious times like the first time you stood up and walked, and your first day at school. The day you cleared up your bedroom without being asked. The day you made breakfast in bed for mum. (I’m only saying). What he wants is very simple, really. To know us, and to be known by us. To be for each one of us the good shepherd, who knows each one of his sheep, and counts them precious.

The Sermon is based on the following passage from the Bible: St John, chapter 10, verses 11 - 55

© Jon Russell 2018

A Preacher’s Tale:

Explorations in Narrative Preaching

by Jon Russell

Available from SCM Press, priced £16.99