St Agnes Kennington 9 March 1997


2 Chronicles 36: 14-16, 19-23
Ephesians 2: 4-10
John 3: 14-21


A good place to begin thinking about Mothering Sunday is this morning's first reading.

The writer tells us that there had been a great falling-away from the worship and service of the one true God, whose service and belief had been Israel's particular glory and contribution to the history of the world.

Other nations had achievements of which they were proud - sometimes unhealthily proud: The Babylonians had their architecture and their military conquests; the Egyptians had their magicians, soothsayers and mysticism; the Assyrians had their armies; the Phoenicians their navies. All these were things to be proud of.

But to Israel and to Israel alone had the one true God revealed himself and said "You, Israel, are my people and I will be your God". Unlike the surrounding nations which walked in darkness, the Children of Israel had, in Isaiah's words, "seen a great light".

But Israel had rebelled and turned their back upon that light. In the words of the Chronicler we heard earlier "they added infidelity to infidelity, copying all the shameful practices of the nations and defiling the Temple that the Lord had consecrated for himself at Jerusalem."

Nor was it just ordinary people who had gone off the rails. It was "all the heads of the priesthood" we are told, and a great deal of the responsibility for this shameful state of affairs could be laid at the door of a succession of bad Kings and their Royal Families. Time and again we read in the Bible the statement that this Bad King died and So-and-So his son reigned in his stead; "and he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord" followed by a list of his particular misdeeds.

It all sounds terribly familiar today, doesn't it? Everyone, Royalty, bishops, priests and other leaders of the people have "sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" as St Paul expresses it.

But listen now to how the Chronicler goes on. "The Lord, the God of their ancestors, tirelessly sent them messenger after messenger, since he had wished to spare his people and his house. But they ridiculed the messengers of God, they despised his words, they laughed at his prophets, until at last the wrath of the Lord rose so high against his people that there was no further remedy.

These four downward-spiralling stages follow one another relentlessly, throughout history and throughout the Bible. (1) God's chosen people try to be like everyone else and base their lifestyle on what the nations round about them do. (2) God sends them prophets to tell them that there is no future other than disaster in such a course of action and pleads with them through the prophets to return into the way of righteousness. (3) The prophets' warnings are ignored except by a tiny minority of people, the Faithful Remnant as they are called. (4) The Temple and the city, priest and king and people, are delivered by God into the hands of their enemies.

Why is all this so relevant today? Because it is precisely in that same area, the knowledge and love of God, that the People of God, the Church on Earth, should be most clearly differentiated and distinct from the world that surrounds them; but the People of God, bishops, priests, laity, have chosen to take their cue and base their beliefs and practices on "what everyone else does" - just like God's faithless people of old.

That "area where they should be most clearly differentiated from the world" includes such institutions as marriage, motherhood and the family.

If you doubt this, just look at the number of divorces and abortions taking place today. One in three marriages ends in divorce; three-million-plus babies have been put to death before they are born for no better reason than that, had they lived, they would have been an inconvenience to somebody.

Well what baby isn't an inconvenience from time to time? Which of us, for that matter, hasn't found one or more of our fellow men to be an inconvenience. And who has not had to cope with an elderly person whose continued existence has been, to say the least of it, inconvenient to us?

It really doesn't take much imagination to see that once abortion becomes accepted in the way it has, then euthanasia or the killing of infirm and elderly nuisances isn't very far off.

Like abortion, euthanasia will be sold to people as a humane means of dealing with really difficult cases; like abortion it will become a part of life, an option which people have the "right to choose", first of course for themselves but eventually on behalf of others. This has already happened to an extent in Holland, for instance, where the authorities turn a blind eye to it; another 10 years or so and it will have become as common in England as it is there.

How very far these shameful deeds are from the revealed will of God, the faith and morality which he has entrusted his Church to safeguard and hand on from one generation to another!

As in the days of the Chronicler the Truth revealed by God now reposes in the hands of a Faithful Remnant who, thank God, are carrying it forward to the next generation so that our children and our grandchildren may believe and practise it too.

Let us look for a moment at what God revealed his will to be about marriage and motherhood.

"Marriage" (so the Prayer Book teaches) was "instituted of God himself in the time of man's innocence... to signify (represent) the mystical union between Christ and his Church.. It was ordained for the increase of mankind according to the will of God... for the avoidance of sin... and for the mutual society  that [husband and wife] ought to have of each other both in prosperity and adversity".

In other words, God created marriage to be a kind of "parable" of his own creative activity.

He revealed that it was his will that man, unlike other animals, was to be given a share in his responsibility for the work of creation as he willed it to be carried on through the process of procreation, resulting as it does in the conception, birth and upbringing of children "in the fear and nurture of the Lord and to the praise of his Holy Name."

Other animals are so designed that they become independent of their parents at a much earlier stage than human beings; indeed many species of creature never know their parents at all.

But man is called upon to provide intensive care for his children until they are at least (say) 16 years old, and that care is not intended to cease completely then. Children are still to honour their fathers and mothers for the rest of their lives and to be able to turn to them at any time for help or support.

Much of the responsibility for the procreation, nurture and upbringing of children devolves upon mothers. Much, but by no means all. For it is patently obvious that families which lack fathers for any reason are seriously handicapped as a result. Remove a loving and caring mother as well and the consequences are bound to be catastrophic.

We shouldn't be surprised to find that things have come to their present dis-graceful state. When people abandon the faith of their fathers, and either copy some novelty imported from the world outside, or else simply abandon the worship of God altogether - and remember "worship" here means "worth-ship" or giving God what is his worth and due - then something like this inevitably and always happens.

Whether we see it, like the Chronicler and St Paul, as "The wrath of God being revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness" or whether we see it as the logical and natural outcome of "doing what comes naturally", the answer is the same. Disaster follows in just the same way that however you add two and two together, in your head, on paper, using a calculator or on your fingers, the correct answer will always be four; and five or three will always be the wrong answer, leading to serious consequences if you are designing a bridge or running a grocer's shop.

For man-and-nature added together without the addition of God comprise a fallen creation, a spoilt world, a wrong answer from which we need to be rescued or saved.

As Jesus said to Nicodemus "God loved the world so much that he gave us his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but have eternal life"

Or as St Paul put it to the Ephesians: "We are God's work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant us to live it.

However, there is hope.

The Chronicler tells us that after seventy years of exile, a new generation of Jews emerged, led by that same Faithful Remnant who had gone into exile with them: Jews who were prepared to keep God's commandments and to listen to his priests like Ezra and his prophets like Ezekiel. And to them God gave back the Promised Land of their fathers from which he had expelled and exiled them to Babylon.

Jesus too, in his conversation with Nicodemus said that those who believed the truth as revealed by God in himself would "come out into the light from the darkness so that it may be plainly seen that their deeds are done in God"

When people talk about "getting back to basics" they usually have the wrong basics in their minds. They are thinking of such things as families, mothers, fathers, chastity, respect and responsibility.

All these things are vitally important; but they are not the real basics. They are, rather, the building materials designed to be laid on the only real basic, the foundation which is God himself, revealed to us in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

Without such a foundation as this, the other materials, bricks, mortar, wood, glass, tiles will just become a heap of rubble sooner or later - not because they are bad things in themselves, you understand; indeed they are the very material of which such things as human society is made - but because without a sure foundation no material, however good and sound in itself can possibly stand up for long.

So we are living in a generation which has lost sight of God and is therefore bound to fall down disastrously sooner or later. By imitating the nations round about, as the Jews did, we may indeed learn many useful skills: building, civics, hygiene, science, navigation to name but a few.

But that same nation (or any nation) which has been called by God to know him as their only Saviour will get nowhere fast if it chooses to ignore him as we are doing, however much its self-styled "leaders" may urge it to take its cues from the world around.

No amount of technology, no system of justice, no welfare provisions, however well-intentioned or far-reaching can possibly be a substitute for believing the fact that God has chosen to reveal himself to us as the God of Truth and Love who invites us men and women as mothers, fathers, priests, and laypeople to share in his work of creation and redemption which he steadfastly renews every morning.

Mothering Sunday is certainly a good day for going back to basics. But the one real basic that matters is the one which has been most completely ignored: none other than God himself.

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