Kum ba yah, My Lord

Sermon for Mothering Sunday, by Lucy Gildersleeves

Today is Mothering Sunday, when we celebrate ‘mother church’, and those who have been as mothers to us – those who have cared, nourished, protected and stood by us – and we celebrate God’s motherly love for us.

You might like to have a pencil and a piece of paper during this service, but if these are not handy you can join in by just tracing with your finger and holding in your mind and heart.

There is a Yoruba saying: it takes a village to raise a child.  It seems quite a good saying for us too in our rural context.  In effect, it says, we all have something to contribute to enabling a person to grow and develop potential.  We are all part of the mothering process.

We see this at work in our Old Testament story today (Exodus 2: 1-10).

How many different people were involved in the nurturing, protecting and raising of Moses?

  • His parents.
  • Quite possibly the midwives who are mentioned in the part of the story just before what we heard today.
  • His sister, who stood on hand to keep watch over Moses floating in his basket.
  • Pharaoh’s daughter, who paid for the foster care of Moses (by his mother – though Pharaoh’s daughter did no know this) and then who adopted him.
  • And as Moses grew up to a position of responsibility within the royal household, doubtless there were teachers and others.
  • And we know that God was watching over Moses in all of this, encouraging him and seeing how he was growing to fulfil the potential that God knew he had.

So let us pause for a moment to think all the people, mothers and others, who have loved us, looked after us, waited for us, shaped us, helped us along the way.  And give thanks for them.

Draw a heart or flower shape on your paper, and write in it the name of someone you would like to celebrate in your life.

Lord, kum ba yah: come by here and join the singing in our hearts for these people today.

Let us also remember that the context of our Old Testament story was bleak: this was a time when the Hebrew people were being persecuted and living in fear; their infant sons were in danger.  Moses’ mother saw how wonderful her child was – but the only hope for him was for her to hide him, and then to let him go in God’s care.

Let us remember also that Mary’s experience in our Gospel reading is both of astonished wonder and of uncertainty – Simeon’s prophecy promises her heartache.

This is also the nature of motherhood – to risk the pain of love for those we care for. 

  • We want the best for those dependent on us, but life is not a safe journey. 
  • We feel joy but also worry.
  • We are proud of them, but sometimes they turn their backs and walk away from us. 
  • We try to keep our loved ones safe, but sometimes we just can’t.

That pain of worry, of being unable to be present, of loss – has marked this last year.  And sometimes it is hard to feel God’s love in the middle of this.  But God has promised us that he WILL give peace and he WILL comfort you as a mother comforts her child. (Isaiah 66:13)

Draw another heart or flower shape on your paper and write in it the name of someone you know is hurting today.

While you do that, I would like to share with you a part of the poem entitled Mother’s Prayer by Liam Lawton[1]:

When Your mother let You go
Did she walk the dusty roads forever in her heart
Following You with love
Or did she learn to trust
Even when You walked that hill
For me
And all humanity?

Lord, kum ba yah: come by here and give peace to those who are crying today.

Remember that Yoruba saying: it takes a village to raise a child?  A community of people, to help us, to support us when the world is tough, to share in our joys.  We need each other; to belong as part of relationship.  We are not really made to be individuals in isolation.

We have seen that this year as people have been cut off from each other.  But we have also seen it at work as people have rallied round for each other, providing practical and emotional support.  Each little act of motherly care builds the relationship of love.

That love and spiritual nurture is what we, as the church gathered in a particular place, promise to do for all who are baptized into the Church.  We have promised to support and to encourage, to be there for each other, to be mothers to each other, whatever our age, our gender, our abilities.

Jesus came to give us life, life in all its fullness (John 10:10).  Through him we are all adopted by God as his children, made into family, one body, one ‘village’ to care for each other and to pray for each other as part of our worship of the God who longs to cover us with his wings and protect us as a mother hen protects her chicks (Luke 13:34).

Now draw one more heart or flower and write in it the name of someone you commit to praying for this week.  Keep your piece of paper holding these names by you this week.

While you do that, I would like to share with you another part of Liam Lawton’s poem Mother’s Prayer:

Help me place my life, my flesh, my child
Into Your care, Your arms
Mind him for me
Mind him well
Then one day Lord
He can tell his child
Of You and of love
As well.

Lord, kum ba yah: come by here and hear our prayers. Shelter us beneath your wings and show us how to be Mother Church in the world today.

[1] Liam Lawton, The Hope Prayer: Words to nourish the soul.  Dublin: Hachette Books Ireland, 2014