I always find it tough to preach on Mother’s Days, not because I have any qualms in appreciating mothers and the impossible work they have been given. (I am profoundly grateful for my own mother.) I find it hard to preach on Mother’s Days because of folks in the congregation who want to be mothers but can’t. There are those who are married but who can’t conceive. And there are those who want to be mothers but are not married. Mother’s Days and Mother’s Day sermons can be unintentional salt in the wound, another painful reminder of what they want to be but can’t. That is why, on Mother’s Days, I remind the church that the church community is an alternative family and that we can be fathers and mothers of children in this community.
This is no pious consolation prize I am holding out to those who so badly want to be mothers (or fathers). The church is a real family, based not on marriage and sex but on our common bond in Jesus and the Fatherhood of God. Jesus Himself points to this spiritual family in Luke 8:19–21:
Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”
He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” (Luke 8:19–21 NIV)
Indeed, earlier in the gospel of John we already learn about the basis for this new family:
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12–13 NIV)
The irony is that our biological family is a reality for this life but our church family, our community in Christ, is both for this world and the next. Indeed, the church family is a foretaste of the perfect community we will experience in the new heaven and the new earth. Stanley J. Grenz writes:
Although the fullness of community with God is future, a partial, yet real fellowship may be enjoyed in the present. According to the New Testament, the focus of the present experience of the eschatological reality is the community of Christ, that is the present experience of fellowship with Christ and Christ’s disciples. Community with Christ, i.e., the relationship of believers with their Lord and therefore with each other, is designed to be a foretaste of the full eschatological community, the society of humankind in fellowship with God. (Stanley J. Grenz, Sexual Ethics, [Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997], 251.)
I am often asked to preach on 1 Corinthians 13 for weddings. But the Pauline exposition on love in that chapter is not referring to the relationship between a husband and a wife. 1 Corinthians 13 is a reminder of how followers of Jesus should love one another in the body of Christ. The church is a community where all are meant to experience deep loving bonds.
So, for all those with strong maternal or paternal feelings but who do not have children of their own, love the children in your church family. Even children who have their own biological parents can be enriched by the love of “god – parents” whether such relationships are formalised or not. In particular, teenagers can benefit from the nurturing input from other adults in the church. Teenagers are at a phase of life where they are undergoing differentiation and may at times find it hard to listen to their parents but may be willing to listen to other caring adults. And increasingly we will have to minister to single-parent families or children who have no parents for a variety of reasons. These are the demographics out there and if more people with such backgrounds become followers of Jesus, they will be family members who will need help nurturing their children. We need to hear afresh the words of Jesus on the Cross, when he saw a young man who needed the love of a mother and a mother who needed the care of a son.
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman,here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:25–27 NIV)
A short time ago I was having a chat with a young man from my church who had lost his dad to cancer when he was very young. I asked him if he missed his dad. He said no, because he was very young when his dad died and it was hard to remember what he was like. I then asked him if he missed having a father figure in his life. Without hesitation, he said no, because he had that in the church. I teared up.