A sermon on Mark 7.24-30.
Happy Mothering Sunday! Or, perhaps not. For some, this is a happy day, when we celebrate and thank our mothers, and tell them how much we love them. For some of us, it’s a sad day, when we mourn mothers or children who are no longer with us. For some of us, it’s uncomfortable day, when we feel we don’t fit in, or can’t participate, for a whole host of reasons. All of that is part of Mothering Sunday, because all of that, the whole range of human emotion, is part of the way people relate to each other.
But if you look at the card displays in the shops, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s all – Mothering Sunday, relationships between mothers and children, between any of us – all much simpler, fluffier and more two-dimensional than that. You could be forgiven for thinking that being a mother is all about cooking the dinner, cleaning the house, enjoying a glass or two of wine and – above all – being the “Perfect Mum”, “Best Mummy Ever”, just like all the cards say.
Hopefully we can all see beyond those stereotypes, can all recognise that mothering, whether it’s done by our biological mothers or others, is very much more than that.
Certainly today’s gospel reading should challenge any twee images of motherhood, along with any lingering ideas that ‘Biblical womanhood’ is something meek, submissive, or bland. Here we see a woman, a mother, challenging a man – challenging Jesus himself – and standing up for her child. It’s a risky thing to do. But she’s prepared to take that risk, to make herself vulnerable, in order to stand up for justice, and for the daughter she loves. She’s brave, she’s feisty, and she’s not about to take any rubbish from anyone.
I want to tell you about another mother, who perhaps has something in common with the Syrophonecian woman. This week is Fairtrade Fortnight, and the woman I want to tell you about is a Fairtrade Farmer called Rosemary. She’s a 43 year old widow with 3 children, and she grows bananas. This is what she has to say about Fairtrade:
Being a single parent, a permanent employment contract and a secure income is incredibly important to me and my children.
Fairtrade has changed a lot, Women and men now have the same rights. There are regular working hours, fixed leave days, and significantly improved safety regulations. It is especially important for the women workers, as they were often not aware of their rights. Now they are much stronger than before.
I am happy and proud that my sons have been able to study. Fairtrade has had a very positive impact not only on our working conditions, but also on our family life,
Rosemary, like the woman in our gospel story, is involved in standing up for justice for herself and her children. For both mothers, their willingness to speak out, to stand up for their children, and to seek justice for them, is part of how they show their love for their children. It’s all a long way from your typical Mother’s Day card, isn’t it?
But it’s not a long way from the love of God – not at all. In God’s kingdom, love and justice are very closely connected indeed. “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice,” says God through the prophet Isaiah. “Let justice roll down like waters,” says Amos. And the prophet Micah couldn’t be clearer: “What does the Lord require of you? Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God.” Jesus himself is very often shown standing up for the people who find themselves on the receiving end of injustice.
Commanded by God, with Jesus as our example, we are called to justice, to make justice part of the way we love our neighbour. But how? The injustices which surround us can seem too huge to know how to start tackling them: poverty, homelessness, violence, inequality, discrimination. But we can and must do our part to stand up for justice, like the two mothers we have heard about today.
One of the ways we can do that is by supporting movements like Fairtrade which, as we have seen, make a huge difference to farmers like Rosemary and their families and communities. But there is still a very long way to go before all the people who produce our food live in the conditions we would want for our neighbours. We all have a part to play in seeking justice through the choices we make when we buy food and other things.
Another way we can make seeking justice part of the way we love is by speaking out against unjust situations. Many people in our local community are speaking out at the moment against plans to close our local children’s centres. Many are mothers, many are not, all are driven by care, concern, love for local children and families, and a desire to see a just allocation of resources, especially for the most vulnerable families.
“Let justice roll down like waters.” Our small attempts to make the world more just may seem tiny, not enough to make a difference. But if justice is to roll down like waters, an ever-living stream, then that stream of water must be made up of a million tiny droplets – each of our individual actions and prayers joining together to become an unstoppable force, a tidal wave of grace, the kingdom of God breaking through.