Sunday, 10 March 2013

Mothering Sunday, 4th Sunday of Lent, Year C, Shaftesbury

Lk 15: 1-3,11-32
I was thinking this week, and trying to figure out: Who was the first person to ever forgive me? Who was the first person ever to welcome me back after I'd done wrong? When was the first time I ever said, "I'm sorry" and had someone forgive me? It happened so early on in my life that I can't remember. But I feel quite confident in saying that it must have been either my mother or my father. When we are children, they are the ones we first become aware of sinning against. In fact, when we are children, our first, very limited, understanding of sin, of doing wrong, is simply the awareness that doing certain things displeases Mom or Dad

We are now in Lent, when we are taking up our fasting, prayer, and almsgiving as the traditional remedies for sin. And we think more about sin in this season that at some other times of the year. We are also, today, on Mothering Sunday, and so it’s suitable to recall, with thanksgiving, the vital, if somewhat unhonoured role that our parents had in teaching us about sin, about right and wrong. How would I know I had sinned if I had not been taught these things? I say this is an ‘unhonoured’ role because I'm pretty sure I never said, "thank you" after being spanked, or after being firmly reprimanded. Yet without such things I would never have learnt was is sin what isn't.

But, to return to my opening question, about the first person to welcome me back after sinning, the first person to forgive me: we heard in our Gospel text today one of the most famous parables in the gospel, the Prodigal Son. It's often remarked, however, that in many ways the parable is less about the son and more about the father, showing us an image of how God the Father wishes to welcome us home after we sin: all we need to do is "come to our senses"(Lk 15:17), confess that we have "sinned against heaven and against you"(Lk 15:18), and we will be welcomed home.
There are many reasons why this is such a famous parable, but I suspect part of the reason is that there is so much about this that, for so many of us, echoes our experience of our own parents, at least for those of us who have been fortunate enough to have been blessed with good parents. And the importance of giving thanks today on Mothers’ Day is echoed in this too.

Of course, there are others elements of this story where the Father seems too good to be true, too good to be like any earthly father. And in as much as that is true, it conveys another point:
God the Father is NOT just like my dad.
When the Lord Jesus reveals God as Father to us He's not just saying that He's like my dad and your dad. God the Father is much better than that, much more than that. When I preached about the holiness, the ineffableness, the utterly different-ness of God a few weeks ago I was speaking of this very thing. When we speak about God there are many things that we say about Him that are true, but He is EVEN MORE than what we are expressing. And, with respect to Him being our loving Father, He is much more than any earthly Father. Such that we can name earthly fathers after Him rather than Him after earthly fathers. C.f. "From whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name"(Eph 3:15).

So today, let us remember what this parable teaches us about what an incredible heavenly Father God is. And let us also give thanks for what our own parents, and particularly, today, our mothers, give thanks for what they taught us about right and wrong, taught us about sin, and what they showed us about forgiveness and the welcome home.